Bearded Theory 2024 - The Review

The Weather comes home to Roost

By Kris Taylor | Published: Wed 12th Jun 2024

Bearded Theory 2024 - Around The Site
Photo credit: Phil Bull

Bearded Theory 2024

Thursday 23rd to Sunday 26th May 2024
Catton Park, Walton upon Trent, Derbyshire, DE12 8LN, England MAP
currently £219.95 incl booking fees for the weekend (adult)
Daily capacity: 9,999

I've never been to Bearded Theory but every year, people I know come back from there with wonderful tales of its close proximity to Yorkshire, solid yet eclectic line-ups and modern, family friendly values. Taking place between 23rd - 26th of May at Catton Hall near Burton-on-Trent in Derbyshire the weather forecast is good and after a rough couple of months in reality land, I'm more than ready to let my hair down, blow off some steam, wreak some havoc, run amok, go wild in the country etc but having lightly researched Bearded Theory, I remind myself that this is marketed as a family festival so maybe I'll keep my clothes on for most of the long weekend.

The Site Of Bearded Theory Festival 2024
Kids welcome at Bearded Theory

Having arrived promptly on Friday lunchtime, I picked up my pass for the weekend from the super friendly people at the production office and proceeded to the campervan field where I rather quickly got my vehicle stuck in the boggiest section. Having rained the previous day, the lower parts of our field were becoming impassable in parts, and it turns out that I'm really great at finding the worst bits. In quick time though, my friends are found, my accommodation is set up, my flask is filled with brandy and coke, and I've got my all-terrain boots on. It is muddy in places but it's the kind of mud that forms at the merest hint of rain but dries up again as soon as a sun ray pokes through a cloud, upon it. Any person who has attended a festival in summer, in England will be more than familiar with this king of sludge. It's only troublesome once it gets over the knees and it's nowhere near that right now. Unperturbed, it's time to insert myself into the festival proper for the first time.

This festival started on Wednesday, so the paths are already trudged up and even though it's only early Friday afternoon, I feel like a latecomer. There are a total of eight stages at Bearded Theory 2024. The Pallet Stage is the headliners platform, and the line-up is so good for all the weekend, it's hard to imagine I'll have time to visit all the other seven stages. Walking through the festival turnstile, I show my wristband to the two stewards who smile and welcome me. Being a veteran of the good old English festival, it's hard to be open-minded in terms of what to expect but every festival I've attended has had something unique about it, so I'm quite excited to see and be a part of this gathering.

Main Stage Crowd At Bearded Theory Festival 2024
Crowd at the main stage

My first foray is somewhat bewildering. While the site is by no means enormous, it covers a fair few acres and is fully packed with delights which are thoughtfully placed as to not feel claustrophobic. It's immediately apparent that this festival welcomes children. There's a sizeable children's area here and a few fairground rides. Families are in abundance but mix seamlessly with the typical festival warriors and the atmosphere feels wholesome. The main walkways are slick with trodden mud so maximum attention is needed to negotiate them. Add to that the myriad festival sounds and smells, the brandy and coke flask getting steadily drained and the riot of colourful people in their hundreds, revelling, my senses are overloaded. It's so good to finally be here.

I walk from one end of the site to the other and arrive at the Pallet Stage just in time to catch the start of Ibibio Sound Machine's set. Perfect for anyone's carnival, ISM derive their sound from a fusion of West African funk and disco with modern post-punk and electro. Singer Eno Williams looks so spectacular in a Kiminoesque outfit, adorned with, what looks like to me, aboriginal art. She holds the crowd in the palm of her hand as she and her band moisten us with licks of electrofunk. The band are tight, well drilled and seem to be loving their time here. I can't stay seated for long.The groove is infectious, and I end up bouncing along with a few thousand strangers for company. Fantastic vibes is one way of putting it. The show clears out my mental cobwebs and stokes my appetite for more of the same. The set flies by and before I know it, the music has stopped, people are being to move around and I need a sit down.

Ibibio Sound Machine at Bearded Theory festival 2024
Ibibio Sound Machine

After sampling some divine mango cider from the beer tent (getting served was a mini-odyssey in itself but I'll spare you the details) and perusing the myriad of take-away foods available to all who can afford it. At this point I'd like to give a shout out to all who performed in the Maui Waui tent. This was a small stage I had to pass by many times on my way to the main events. I never went in there once; I was always on my way to see something else. But every time I walked past, I was thoroughly entertained by the soft rock covers and folky vibes that emanated out from there. By the end of the weekend, I'd started to feel guilty about not taking more time to at least get the names of some of the performers but there's just so much to do here.

For a compact festival, it never lets up. Most of Friday afternoon and evening, I wandered, drank brandy and coke, and just unhurriedly soaked up the atmosphere of what was turning out to be a very well-organised festival. Highlights of Friday evening were Dexys featuring the magnificent Kevin Rowland. There short set included most of their hits like "Geno" and the massive "Come On Eileen" and "Jackie Wilson Said". For a seventy-year-old rock star, Mr Rowland's voice is holding up rather well and the songs are delivered with verve and passion. There was an odd time-wasting exchange of words onstage in the middle of the set, but the music made up for it. It must be difficult to do justice to tunes that were originally written more than four decades ago but Kevin does really well, and the band are fantastic.

By far the most enjoyable show for me on Friday night was Therapy? The penultimate band on the Meadow Stage, the tent was heaving already by the time band came out. It's rare that I get this excited these days, but goosebumps erupt all over my skin as the ferocious opener "Die Laughing" savages the audience. Therapy? Are only three men but they have the sound of a hundred juggernauts in a demolition derby. The whole tent pulses and chants out the chorus to "Going Nowhere". I revel in the deliciously dark "Diane". A cover version of a Husker Du classic that Therapy? have made their own. Then the killer anthems "Screamager" and "Teethgrinder" finish off a high-octane performance that leaves me, and evidently many others, breathless and satisfied. New Model Army are playing this stage next, and I'd dearly love to stay and watch but I'm beat. There's no way I'm going to make it to the midnight showing of The Big Lebowski and Roni Size's set at 1:30am in the dance tent. I walk off on my own, find a quiet spot just outside the festival to sit quietly, finish off my brandy and listen to the militant but joyous refrains of NMA, from a safe distance, near my tent.

Therapy? at Bearded Theory Festival 2024
Therapy? delivering their huge sound at Bearded

Saturday morning(ish) sees a lavish breakfast of sausages and bacon butties, 3 in 1 coffee sachets and more brandy and coke get demolished by our battle-weary gang.  Most of the early afternoon is spent recovering, reconnaissance missions to discover nearest toilets and water sources and gently strolling around the festival site, cementing my bearings as it took three perimeter walks to finally realise, I was in the wrong field to find my tent last night.

The first show I catch is Punk Rock Factory. They're playing to a huge audience on the Pallet Stage. Punked up covers of children's television themes and classic songs such as "Mamma Mia" and "Running Up That Hill" are the order of the day and the crowd seem to adore it. This band was surely made for an event like this and it's great to see young children and their parents rocking out together. It's also more than a little surreal. The band know how to work the crowd and at some point, get kids crowd surfing in blow-up dinghies to race atop the audience. They play a really stonking version of the Power Rangers theme that left my knees wobbling for quite a while.

Jim Bob (from Carter USM) is next. He plays some Carter stuff and some solo stuff. I'm not a Jim Bob specialist but I do love him, his attitude, and his music. Highlight for me was his old pal Fruitbat (the other half of Carter USM) joining him on stage for the finale, a Jim Bob original Angel Strike. Jim Bob hinted that some American band were dissatisfied with their rider, having not received the brands that they had asked for. We all knew he was talking about Jane's Addiction. I'd love to have the inside scoop on that controversy but could dig up no more.

Sleaford Mods, again on the Pallet Stage, drew what to me at least, looked like one of the biggest crowds yet. The band being almost on home ground had a huge following at Bearded Theory as evidenced by the hundreds of people wearing their t-shirts. Being just two men and a tape player, for me their performance lacked the spectacle of a lot of the other acts The huge Pallet stage seemed to engulf them and reduce them to two men swearing at imaginary opponents in a bizarre collage of role-play scenarios set to aggressive edm. Art? For sure. Interesting? Yes, but musically, to me at least, not in the same league as most of the other acts on display here. I mean no disrespect. Sleaford Mods have some banging tunes, and the audience here loved them, but they put me on a bit of a downer to be honest. So, after perking myself up with a burger and chips and searching for my mojo in another glass of the delightful mango cider, I was ready for the big Saturday night finale, Jane's Addiction.

Jane's Addiction at Bearded Theory Festival 2024
Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction commanding the stage and crowd

I know music is not a contest. But if it was, on this day, Jane's Addiction would have won. They had the best drummer, the best guitar player, the best singer, and performer. They were tighter, sharper, oozing class and experience. They came out and instantly claimed that stage and our ears as their own. They drifted effortlessly from dreamy soundscape to awesome pop melody to pounding rock. I never realised how much I love this band until now. They played thirteen songs plus a one tune encore. I didn't want to be star-struck by the big American band, but I just couldn't help it. Being in the same field as Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro, listening to them play such beautiful music will remain a highlight of my life forever. Nothing can top that. I'm off to bed.

Most of Sunday morning, and into the afternoon is spent chilling with my friends, listening to their festival tales and highlights so far. Some of my group have spent the entire weekend at the Coda Stage, aka the dance tent and are having the time of their lives. They've seen Utah Saints, Leeroy from Prodigy, Roni Size, 808 State and Orbital not to mention hours and hours of Bez spinning the turntables like the Trojan warrior he is. There's so much here to sample, one person could never do it justice but it's so nice to have such a brilliant choice of who to see. For me though, there is no choice. Unless I'm dead, tonight I will be watching Dinosaur Jr. I've loved these guys since forever and I seriously can't wait.

Even though I've been pacing myself, two days of debauchery have taken their toll on me so today I'm slow to start out. The weather has been changeable all weekend and the mud has never had a chance to dry out. The paths are passable in good boots and no problem at all for wellies but it's still a challenge to get across the site and it requires maximum concentration at times. It's worth mentioning that the toilets have remained clean all weekend and the staff have been almost invisible, but their presence is ever felt in that the site has been fantastically maintained despite the awkward conditions vis a vis the mud.

As I finally make it back to the Pallet Stage, I arrive just in time to catch the set of Gentlemen's Dub Club. Hailing from Leeds, this slick dub reggae outfit seem quite at home on this huge stage and it's a mellow entry for me on this final day. By now, my body is used to swaying with a crowd en-masse and we all groove together, symbiotically for a blissful half hour. I need food bad so decide to bite the bullet and get a pie with chips and peas. It silly expensive but really tasty and sorely needed. I catch Bodega playing Bob Dylan songs on the Meadow Stage. It's a short but very, very sweet set which has stayed in my mind ever since. Mental note to check out them playing their own songs later.

More food, more drink, more walking, and it's finally time for Dinosaur Jr. I've followed this band almost every step of their career and love them dearly. Appearing on the Pallet Stage, there's a good-sized crowd forming. I'm right at the front in awe watching J Mascis (Guitar, vocals) fiddling with his guitar setup. Notoriously slack, this band doesn't do anything in a rush so after what seems like forever, Lou Barlow (bass) and Murph (drums) finally join J on stage, and they launch into "The Lung". I know many people don't get Dinosaur Jr. But this is my heaven. They blaze through the set, kicking out "In A Jar", "Little Fury Things", "The Wagon" and "Start Choppin'". Scott Helland from Deep Wound guest on bass for a cover of "Training Ground". Obligatory festival songs "Just Like Heaven" and "Freakscene" precede an early album two for one finale of "Gargoyle" and "Mountain Man". Loud, chaotic, and absolutely brilliant. I stick around for Amyl and the Sniffers who were a real treat for the eyes and ears as was the fireworks but at this point my mind was blown and my helpless shell of a body needed to be dragged back to camp to allow my brain to catch up with the evening's insanity.

Dinosaur Jr at Bearded Theory Festival 2024
Dinosaur Jr

I need to wrap up this review so here goes. The festival was excellent on all levels. The organisation was great, friendly, and helpful. The site was well thought out and the line-ups were curated brilliantly. Certainly, something for everyone. Families were in abundance and seemingly plenty of non-musical activities for the kids to do. Whilst I moan about the expense of food, it's no more expensive than any other festival and there was a great selection of vendors for a compact festival. I had a really, really, really good time. Highly recommend.

review by: Kris Taylor

photos by: Phil Bull / Danielle Millea

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