Bearded Theory provides a busy weekend of family entertainment

Bearded Theory 2013 review

published: Wed 22nd May 2013

around the festival site (2)

Friday 17th to Sunday 19th May 2013
Kedleston Hall Park, Derby, Derbyshire, DE22 5JH, England MAP
weekend with camping from Thursday - £89
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Mon 29th Apr 2013

One of the earlier festivals in the summer calendar, Bearded Theory, is a family friendly affair. A festival that's become a regular haunt for us. We took the kids along for a weekend in a field only to discover there's more than a weekend's worth of activities to be had and that's without everything else going on!

Our house is buzzing with excitement during the week build up to Bearded Theory 2013. It's our first festival of the year and we're looking forward to seeing some good friends who have been hibernating for the winter! Whist developing elaborate ways to break our kids (aged 8 and 12), out of school in an A-Team style (with mobile brassica launcher), rucksacks are repacked and lists checked. The journey seems to take forever and voices get squeakier as we get closer to our destination. On arrival it feels like I'm transporting several dolphins.

To National Trust visitors, the grounds of Kedleston Hall, in Derbyshire would usually seem more the home to Pimms on the lawn and a game of croquet than thousands of bearded festival goers. Not this week though, what a transformation. The hall does make for a stunning backdrop but it's easy to forget our historic surroundings with a site that has been so wonderfully decorated, it brightens an overcast start to the proceedings. A huge amount of effort has gone into making what is already a beautiful site, look like a spectacular playground for all ages and a feast for the senses.

around the festival site (2)

As I wander around, I'm impressed at how well the ground has held out given the amount of rain in the run up to the festival. With the number of vehicles that move around festival sites during setup, the organisers have done a great job of keeping most of the pathways looking green and squelch free. The area directly in front of the main stage seems a little smaller than previous years which seems to work quite well. At other festivals, the main stage area often feels empty early in the day, this year the balance feels pretty good - never feeling overcrowded or like we're rattling around. With the number of stages at Bearded Theory and activities going on throughout the day, the whole site does seem a little busier but not packed.

After a quick bimble and a mooch, and with a thirst worked up, a trip to one of the bars is in order. This year, the bar is staffed by Thornbridge Brewery who supplies us with a fantastic selection of beers. The 'Bearded Theory' ale is my tipple of choice for most of the weekend but a 'Reverend and the Makers' Ale was also available. Ed from the band is a keen home brewer and helped in the development and brewing process. I sample a lovely strong porter too which is a welcome alternative as well as their 'Jaipur' IPA. Cider drinkers have at least 4 ciders (I try a Thatchers Cheddar Valley and a pint of their Heritage too). The bar staff are great all weekend and I don't recall having to wait for more than a minute or two at even the busiest of times.

Our 2 kids are well entertained all weekend too with a huge array of activities designed to keep parents of kids of all ages from hearing the dreaded 'I'm bored'!

around the festival site (1)

Our eldest spends hours perfecting his circus skills on his diablo and in the hula hooping workshops while our youngest gets involved in the needle point felting workshops which - although aimed at slightly older children - she loves and gets stuck in with some help from mum.

As in previous years, our youngest makes a beeline for The Angel Gardens. It's a comparatively quiet place where there are all manner of activities for kids to get involved in. The fantastic volunteers assist in Puppet making, face painting and hair braiding, soap making, Lego car racing and circus skill workshops. It doesn't stop there! There's loads of fun to be had for the smaller children and it's a place for parents to forget the million and one jobs they have to do when they're at home, and spend some time having fun with their kids!

For me, the best bits of festivals are the bits that don't appear in a programme, those moments of comedy gold, unscripted or unexpected. Often those moments happen late at night chatting near a campfire that you stumble across by accident.

The Lancashire Hotpots (crowd)

Watching our mate's toddler dancing, singing and throwing rock horns on a picnic bench was one such moment. She loves the Levellers and is usually fast asleep by the time they play but she managed to stay awake for what I think was one of the best sets I've seen them play! The Bearded Theory organisers have wanted to get Levellers to play for years and in the festivals 6th year, they have achieved that goal. There are many similarities between Bearded Theory and Levellers' own Beautiful Days festival. Musically, it's similar with a bit of a punk, ska and old school feel to the lineup, but more than that, the vibe is similar and it's as friendly and upbeat (even in the pouring rain on Friday night).

It's not all kids' entertainment and drinking at Bearded Theory! There's music and beards too. Tornado Town - the second stage – plays host to The Beards all the way from Australia. They're all sporting real beards while their audience are dressed in fake beards. All of their songs are beard related and between songs, there's beard related banter. I'm in a parallel universe where this kind of nuttiness just happens and nobody else has noticed – This isn't helping my fragile morning state!

From such a musically rich and diverse lineup, picking a highlight is tricky but I think Macka B just about edges it. He and his Reggae Roots Band add some pseudo Saturday sunshine through their bouncing rhythms. The unfeasibly infectious lyrics of 'Wha Me Eat' make me chuckle, while the perfectly executed 'Ganja Lady' leads to me having an interesting conversation with my son! The best ever cover I've heard of 'Legalise It' was another highlight, almost surpassing the great Peter Tosh original and then rounded off with 'Everybody Loves Bob Marley'. It's a storming set.

I really enjoyThe Farm and their set brings back a few memories. They put on a great show.

Asian Dub Foundation (crowd)

Saturday night headliners Asian Dub Foundation are another highlight. They fuse bouncing dance rhythms beefy basslines with thought provoking lyrics and an Asian musical twinge. Flautist Nathan Flutebox Lee is well worth seeing on his own, but when he appears with ADF, it's the results are spine tingling. His flute solo wows the audience and I have to admit I'm a little gutted when our daughter decides she's sleepy half way through the pounding drum and bass of 'Naxalite', but we've had a busy day. Just as we walk back the set draws to a close with 'We Want Your Oil'. We've had a long day. Actually, it's not quite long enough and as soon as the Mrs and a few friends make it back to our camp, I head back out with another friend to see A Guy Called Gerald over in the Magical Sounds dance tent.

In previous years I've been absolutely floored by the calibre of acts that have been added to the Magical Sounds line-up. I personally reckon that alongside Alex Patterson of The Orb, Gerald may be the biggest legend of old school dance music. When I get there he's playing pounding drum and bass, which mellows through techno, trance and then house music. His genre shifting skills take us through a dance music history lesson and the evening ends where his career started with his 1988 hit 'Voodoo Ray'. The tent looks stunning and the lighting rig and decor combination coupled with a crystal clear sound system is the result of many keen ears and huge attention to detail.

Timmy Toil

Magical Sounds has Drum Machine as the opening act on Friday, Saturday AND Sunday, and I'm, really pleased I see them on Saturday and were able to go back again on Sunday. If you get a chance, please give it a try, they're a live percussion band, they play a cross section of different types of music but it all has a huge amount of energy. At the end of the set they receive a well deserved round of applause them out of the tent. I was tired just watching them!

Another smiley musical moment was a late night wander into the lavishly comfortable Something Else Tea Tent to catch Doozer serenading a group of people with a cover of Sultans of Ping FC's 'Where's Me Jumper' and he did a bloody great job of it too! I reckon that's a lovely song to serenade someone to.

Our lad's favourite act of the weekend was The Lancashire Hotpots. Their special brand of folk music with amusing lyrics had him in stitches. He thought the best songs of their set were 'I Fear Ikea', 'Bitter Larger Cider Ale Stout' and 'Chippy Tea'.

Our mate Beardy Keef and The Uke Ellington Orchestra played a cracking set of tunes where the audience was invited to bring along a ukulele and join him in a jam session – Our favourite track was 'Sit Down' by James. The Lock Inn tent was packed and we couldn't get in to see it but is sounded brilliant from just outside the tent! The Lock Inn had a slightly later night acoustic billing allowing the evening to go on a little longer.

around the festival site (bearded record attempt)

One of the bits that separate Bearded Theory apart from most other festivals is the bearded aspect. Sunday sees a huge crowd draw into the main stage area at lunch time and most are sporting some kind of fake beard. Many are also sporting real beards, on stage are The Beards. It's all getting a bit much again! The Beards are helping to pull their favourite bearded people out of the crowd and judge the 'best beard' competition. It's fierce this year but fake facial fungus is eventually whittled down to a beard made from flip-flops, and two people dressed as robots with beards on. A robotic beard is a sight to behold and they are crowd favourites and win.

Time for lunch! There's a huge selection available and over the weekend, we make it our mission to try as many different meals as we can. Ghandi's Flip-Flop does a great Thali meal which goes down well with one of our group. I try a Pie Minister pie one evening and Welsh chips with gravy on another. Our lad can't decide if he prefers the nachos or the pasta stall. There really is an opportunity to eat every meal from a different food stall if taste buds and budget allow and the prices seem pretty reasonable at most stalls with about £5 - £6 being the average for a main meal.

Our daughter has a small pasta meal from the Kindred Café in The Angel Gardens and it's only £2 which is great value and perfect for a small person!

around the festival site (1)

There are a few new festival stalls this year and the ladies in our party are drawn to the shiny things at Sequinporium while our lad seems content to try to extend his collection of festival hats. Possibly the most frightening is the cut throat shave stall which I notice is very close to the First Aid area. I'm sure that can't be coincidence. Pete Loveday also has a stall here and I enjoy a browse, a chat and admire his artwork on the front of this year's programme. We enjoy watching wannabe potters getting guidance in casting pots and kids having a go at zorbing across a pool.

There's a pretty reasonably priced funfair and both the helter skelter and big wheel offer some cracking views over the festival site!

Sunday seems to be a pretty busy day for the festival and even as it comes to an end, when the crowds normally begin to thin out before the last act, but today it still seems really packed. The Levellers set is full of the gems that you'd expect like 'Beautiful Day' and 'Boatman', but with a few added gems like 'This Garden'. They seem really together too and it's a great closing to one of my favourite festival weekends. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what makes Bearded Theory so special but I think it's a number of things. It's got that happy festival vibe, it feels safe for the kids and there are loads of things for them to do. We even had a sun kissed Sunday this year too. The Bearded Theory organisers always manage to pull in an incredible musical lineup, a smiling crowd and raise a huge amount for charity too. I think the key for many, is that it's their first festival of the year, and we like to hit the ground running!

around the festival site (bearded record attempt)
review by: James Tayler

photos by: Phil Bull

Friday 17th to Sunday 19th May 2013
Kedleston Hall Park, Derby, Derbyshire, DE22 5JH, England MAP
weekend with camping from Thursday - £89
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Mon 29th Apr 2013


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