Words Reg Richardson & Adrian Hextall
Picture Credits: Reg Richardson & Anthony May
If you rewind to 2014, it was the turning point for Bearded Theory. The festival had to move sites (not for the first time) and decided to locate to the independently owned 250-acre estate Catton Park in South Derbyshire. Local festival goers will also recognise the name if they’ve attended Bloodstock, a festival that features bands far less likely to perform at Bearded Theory. In 2014 the bands on the bill included Carter USM, UB40, Stranglers, Peter Hook, Wonderstuff, Pop Will Eat Itself, Reverend & the Makers and more. Indie heaven for those of us that grew up in the late 1980s and 1990s. Since then, the festival has gone on to attract a diverse range of acts and, with a 5 year contract in place to keep returning, the organizers have assisted with some impressive improvements making the festival and the location one of the favourites on the summer music circuit.
How many other festivals can cite a school on their CV? Bearded Theory can. In 2015 whilst bands like The Mission, James, Afro Celt Sound System, Lab 4, Cara Dillon, Neville Staple, Alabama 3, Gun, Hugh Cornwell, British Sea Power, Buzzcocks and Misty in Roots have all been turning up to play at the festival since they moved, the Friday saw the introduction of the onsite school. The school met key learning criteria at each age level and classes included Science, Home Economics, Math’s, English, History and lots more. The P.E classes were operated by Derby County FC. The school assisted parents taking children out of school without being fined and was a festival first. How many other festivals can offer that as a service making the decision for parents to ensure the entire family can attend so much easier.
In 2016 and 2017 the lineups got bigger and better, selling out and winning multiple awards, including the coveted ‘Best Family Festival’. The capacity crowds continue to come in and again, 2018 sold out before the festival had commenced.
We arrive full of the joys of spring and thankfully so does the weather. With record temperatures forecast for the summer in the UK, it looks like this could be a fantastic year for festivals and what better way to start with a headline set from Reverend and the Makers on the Thursday evening for those that had made the effort to get there early. Whilst the majority of the other stages are closed, the event starting proper on the Friday, it’s the little touches like this that count, ensuring that if you get there early there’s something to keep you entertained and putting you firmly in the festival mood from the off.
As with all multi stage festivals it’s a tough balance to place acts against each other in the hope that you don’t destroy someone’s weekend by putting their top five side by side on the first day making the ‘who to see?’ decision nigh on impossible.
My main problem was choosing between The Last Great Dreamers, Jesus Jones and Jesus and Mary Chain. Clearly anything where Jesus comes into the equation is enough to tempt me but the choices were made for me when The Last Great Dreamers set time trampled all over JJ and JMC. Jesus saves once more.
Surprise of the day came from Anthrax U.K. Assuming what we would get would be a covers band performing thrash hits from the 80s, they instead are a band from my local county, Kent and are a unique punk outfit who (although originated in the 80s) have reformed and and out on the scene once more. Check out their debut album All for the Cause which they finally managed to finish and deliver in 2012, some (cough) years after forming.
The punt of the day came with Blossoms. Hailing from Manchester and not necessarily one of the bands I’d have considered going to see on their own tour, the stars aligned and they and I find ourselves in a field at the same time of day. Me with a beer and a carefree attitude and them with a top 5 album, Cool Like You, released back in April of this year. Getting some serious airplay on Radio One at the moment would typically see me running for the hills but fair play to the band, they know how to put on a show and the crowd seemed to agree. The combination of the setting sun, good tunes, great vibes and another pint or two drew the evening to a perfect close.
When you’re a rock music site, then the Saturday was, for us, the key reason to be at the festival this year. Rock legend Robert Plant was to be headlining later that day, what more could we ask for? Reg it would appear has quite a long list to answer that question but read on as thankfully he also got to sample the delights of what else was on offer:
[Reg] Fortunately for me, my arrival at Catton Park was delay-free, unlike those that had arrived at the event on the Thursday afternoon for the opening when delays of up to 6 hours or more were experienced by festival-goers trying to get on site.
In the days previous there had been some rain but I was hoping that I wasn’t going to experience another Amplified  experience. My fears were unfounded, the initially soft ground gradually gave way to dryer conditions as the sun came out. For the first few hours of the afternoon it was a bit like a sauna as the heat and humidity generated from the wetlands but this soon passed, along with the mosquitoes, to give a very pleasant day.
Bearded Theory is a family-friendly ‘hippy’ festival, supported by colourfully dressed fans of all ages from pram-bound infants to OAP’s. The event has everything such a festival needs, stuff for the adults, lots of stuff to wear kids out, interactive stuff….you name it, it’s there.
Despite this being the fifth iteration of the festival there’s still a lot for the organisers to take away to make the next event better, not least removing the need to queue for toilets both inside the arena and in the camping areas. Queues of 30+ were not uncommon and should be a thing of the past. On the upside there was more food than you could shake a stick at (or should that be a dowsing rod) catering for every possible dietary need.
The festival-goers did their share too, dressing for the occasion, probably the only colour you didn’t see much of was black (except for me), this is, by far, the brightest festival I’ve been to by some distance.
So, passes in place, cameras assembled and hooked up, we’re ready to go. First thing was getting my bearings, there were 5 band stages spread across the site two of which were outside the main arena and a bit of a trek to get to one of those, which turned out to be the second stage, and so the location of that was a bit of a disappointment. The main stage (Pallet Stage) was big and roomy with plenty of space out front for us press gang and in no time at all it was time for the first of the main stage acts, Kerri Watt, a Scottish singer/songwriter who is making poetry ‘fashionable again’. In keeping with the event feel Kerri delivered a set of acoustic-focussed songs that were highly musical and just the thing to let anyone feeling a little groggy from the night before wake up gently.
At the same time (grrrr!) on the second stage (Woodland Stage) was Cara Means Friend, a laid back duo playing acoustic pop/punk/ska, a little bit of everything. Dreadlocks were waved, guitars were strummed, box drums were thumped and, best of all, the sun was shining. This was another very entertaining set watched, and applauded, by many.
Back to the main stage for Tide Lines, another bunch of lads from Scotland with a decent following playing a sort of folk-pop. While not entirely my thing it was the thing of a very large, and growing, crowd of people in front of the stage. The band have more energy than the Proclaimers but are less rocky than Del Amitri and sound nothing like Chvrches!
A quick visit to the Convoy Cabaret tent was, in hindsight, not the best plan. Circus Insane were on stage, cue blood and mayhem. For fans of the Circus of Horrors, you’ll know Dok Haze the MC, here you have Doc Insane who is seriously into his S&M as he takes a chainsaw to his head (well, almost) and has his face ground into a pile of broken glass on the stage by his assistant jumping on his head. This is CoH without the bells and whistles, the blood is real enough though!
Headed back to the main stage for Random Hand (which I first read as Random Band and expecting anyone to show up) who made the trip from Keighley. I almost reached for the eye bleach after seeing guitarist Dan Walsh flinging himself around the stage in a pair of bright green shorts; this may be in keeping with the event remit of staying bright but this was really too much for my poor old eyes. Energetic is a bit of an understatement, the band brought together a mixed bag of rock, ska, punk and a trombone, very entertaining.
It was way past my lunch time so, time to eat while I wait for the UK Subs to mount the main stage.
Fronted by the very popular Charlie Harper the band deliver their own style of blues-punk to the masses. The band has been around for what seems like forever (1977 to be exact) and continue to be incredibly popular despite appearing to have failing restaurateur Jamie Oliver on drums (only joking!). Most of the energy seemed to have siphoned into bass architect Alvin Gibbs who constantly threw shapes and gave the full punk show brilliantly. That’s not to say he wasn’t well supported by Steve Straughan and the blue-haired Oliver, on the contrary.
A stroll around the gigantic site was followed by taking in Idles on the main stage. There was plenty of talk in the press office about this band, so I had to see if the hype was earned. The word ‘nutters’ doesn’t do this bunch justice, Frontman Joe Talbot is a bit of a whirlwind, flashing a set of teeth that would not be out of place in any cemetery. The man is crazy. The music only slightly less so. Was the hype lived up to – hell yes! One of the bands of the day for me and set opener, Heel, was just madder than Mad Jack McMad!!
I had planned to drop in on the Urban Voodoo Machine, another of my favourite bands, but the Maui Waui tent they were playing in would have needed to be twice the size and I’d still have struggled to get close. I listened to the usual funeral march intro then moved on.
Catton Park gets a taste of New York City as Huey Morgan hits the stage with his Fun Lovin’ Criminals and the band kick off with their self-titled song. Nothing more needs to be said really, Huey conducts the proceedings with his chit-chat to the audience and leads the way song after song. He’s an extraordinarily talented guitatrist, playing blues/jazz with ease. I think I even heard them sharing Scooby Snacks later in the set!
It’s getting late and my day is almost over. Looking forward to seeing Robert Planet (in the words of Frank Zappa) shortly….or not as the photographers are told no photo’s from the pit. Seems a bit odd when there are plenty of fans superglued to the barrier with cameras that are probably just as good as many press cameras, so the photo’s will get done, just not by the press. Instead we have a negotiated appointment with the disabled platform 100+ yards away for 1 song. Anyway more of that shortly. First up though it’s the Sleaford Mods. This is another of those bands I never really got. Two people stood on stage, one standing pretty much idle (apart from pressing a few computer keys and drinking beer), the other doing all the work. The pair produce a post-punk sound that’s actually quite good, but for me I’d prefer to see real musicians on stage producing the sound. Jason Williamson (the active one singing) is very theatrical, great to watch and the vocal style bordering on spoken word at times, sometimes aggressive but always emotional. A very good set.
My swan song (if you’ll pardon the pun) to finish the day was not the experience I’d hoped it would be. Trying to shoot Robert Plant (and hear him) from 100 yards away was really no fun at all and put a dampener on the day. So, up on the disabled platform it was, a negotiated relocation…but we still took abuse from the people on there even though we were stood at the back out of everyone’s way and it was only for 4 minutes of a 90 minute set. Ho Hum. Couldn’t hear him, could barely see him, the lighting was grim. Review over.
A poor end to an otherwise very enjoyable day. This is a good, and very varied, festival. It still has a few things to iron out, not least the fact that the press were virtually held hostage at one point needing an escort to cross certain parts of the site behind the main stage, a decision that was utterly ridiculous.
On the flipside, most of the music was excellent, the colourful crowd adding to the atmos wonderfully and seeing so many kids enjoying themselves was super. Let#s see who’s on next year.
With what should have been a huge highlight on our gig calendar spluttering slightly, we put the memory of trying to shoot Percy from the disabled platform behind us and looked forward instead to the final day in the sun.
A nice bit of rock and roll courtesy of Sheafs got the ball rolling and before long we were up and running with smiles all round once more.
Recommendations from Anthony about where to go next saw us take in the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican (who comes up with these names?) who, it seemed had been on everyone else’s list as well as the Woodland stage was heaving. “You also need to check out The Everley Pregnant Brothers” Ant tells me, only for us to discover they are on at the same time as Val’s lads. Both bands make for a very nice change for someone who’s used to attending heavier music festivals where style, comedy and light hearted approaches are not at the top of a performers list. Typically, heavy, brutal, assault on the senses etc.. yeah we’ll take that so this, for once, made a wonderful change as Val’s boys rework classic tunes and add a layer of comedy into the lyrics. A smile on everyone’s face was present by the time they wrapped up.
Now I’ve seen Rammstein live before and managed to see their keyboard player crowdsurf in a rubber dinghy over everyone’s heads. Whilst not on quite the same scale, Scott Doonican follows suit and heads off to the sound desk in his dinghy, pausing long enough to pick up a pint and return to the stage.
As you’ll see from the pictures, a fair selection of people attend in all manner of garb. Partly ‘just because’ but also as a result of the fancy dress competition offering tickets for 2019 as a prize. I’d happily dress up as Fat Elvis if there was a chance of winning a pair for sure. .
Another act on my list and one that didn’t clash anywhere was Dub Pistols. Anything with a dash of ska will always go down well with me and thankfully they didn’t disappoint.
Dubioza Kolektiv also manage to throw in a touch of ska (there has a to be a band with that name out there somewhere? ‘A Touch of Ska’ ?) they just managed to complete their energetic, almost ramshackle but fascinating, set the weather then threatened to bring things to a premature close. Thunderstorms had been attacking the UK for most of the weekend and the news reports were full of amazing lightning shots. The stage was then completely shut down due to the risk of the light show potentially striking the metal work so it was a sensible thing to do.
Thankfully it didn’t last long. A rapid kit change and Jake Bugg finally got to play, slightly later than expected but nonetheless he gave it his all to a rather damp and deflated crowd.
Now festival closer Jimmy Cliff is known for that lyric “I Can See Clearly Now Lorraine Has Gone….” [The Rain Adrian, The Rain, Not Lorraine you chump!]. As it was explained to me about my lack of clarity over the lyrical content, it seemed wholly fitting that the rains did indeed stop and the skies cleared so that Jimmy could accurately state that he could see clearly now. Laid back, relaxed, chilled, everything Bearded Theory is known for.
A great weekend even if Percy doesn’t like having his photo taken anymore!