This year was the 7th Bearded Theory and the festival has been on my ‘To Do’ List for a while. I didn’t think that I would be able to go this year because my lovely wife just couldn’t take any more time off work and my son was still at school. Some of the other festival chat groups were buzzing with excitement as the festival approached and I gave wistfully at the Bearded Theory website rueing the fact that some of my favourite bands were playing and I would not be there. I had written off attending until just two days before the event. We were having dinner when my wife mentioned that she had no idea what to buy me for my Birthday (which is in a week). I suggested tickets for Bearded Theory. After a brief conversation it was clear I would have to go alone. It didn’t take me long to decide so Wednesday found me loading up my Camper Van with my festival essentials, mostly beer, red wine and Whiskey (a very fine single malt) waterproofs, walking boots and wellies. I did find room for Sausages, Bacon and eggs 🙂
Thursday morning saw me jumping into my trusty Camper Van and heading for Catton Hall on the border between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The journey was uneventful and I arrived in good time at the festival site. I was immediately struck by two things. Firstly the site was already becoming muddy and secondly what a superb site it was. The festival site is literally yards from the banks of the river Trent and is a very beautiful location. The approaches to the site were well signposted and it was very easy to find, though I did choke a little at having to pay £10 for 5 minutes on the M6 Toll Road.
On arrival I was greeted by friendly smiling stewards and soon had my armband, parking pass and a place to park, all without even having to get out of my Van. I was feeling great as I got out of the van and said hello to my neighbours. Getting friendly with your neighbours is essential at festivals, it helps to ensure that both they and you will recognise people who are out of place if thieves are operating and makes for a great atmosphere. By pure coincidence when I introduced myself to my immediate neighbours I found they knew me from my posts to the Beautiful Days chat Group on Facebook. Within minutes I had been handed a beer and we were helping each other to set up and chatting way like old friends. Festivals are like that.
Music Started before 5pm on Thursday Evening and I was looking forward to seeing a couple of old festival favourites Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs and Dr & The Medics. Hobo Jones, Miser Bill and Wino Tyrone treated us to their usual madcap skiffle versions of everything from Greendays’ ‘American Idiot’ to Led Zeppelin. They are a brilliantly entertaining festival band who never fail to put a smile on your face. Dr & The Medics are not really my cup of tea to be honest but they did put on a very entertaining show and they did like to remind us that ‘Spirit in the Sky’ wasn’t their only hit as their single ‘Burn’ got to number 22 in the charts. I was very taken by Charlie Bateman from the band Thinker. I was expecting to see the band as that was what was advertised in the programme. Charlie played a short set of self penned songs which made excellent listening. I was very impressed with his guitar playing.
Friday was always set to be my day by the main stage as I wanted to see every band on the line up. The day was opened by one of my favourite bands the fantastic Leatherat. The band played their usual high octane set of Folk- Rock with an understandable focus on their brilliant ‘Snake Eyes’ album though a few old tunes such as ‘Large One’ were revisited and pleased the crowd, most of whom were dancing a singing along to every tune. Next up were the Membranes fronted by the inimitable John Robb. The bands driving punk inspired rhythms soon had me dancing in the mud. John complained about the heat and had soon stripped off his shirt and leaped off the stage over the barrier and into the crowd. Great theatre, great fun. The punk and Ska rhythms of Culture shock and Dub Pistols had nigh on worked me into a frenzy before the highlight of my weekend arrived in the shape of Peter Hook and the Light. I will confess that I couldn’t imagine Hooky being able to pull off a set of Joy Division tunes without the voice of the tortured genius that was Ian Curtis. It didn’t take long before I was convinced. The driving bass lines, the almost overwhelming pulse of the drums, the gruff dangerous edge to the vocals it was all present as Hook and his band moved through classic Joy division songs like Shadow Play, Transmission, She’s lost control, Isolation and even Love will tear us apart. If my weekend had ended there I would have gone home a very happy man. Joy Division were a huge part of the soundtrack to my youth but unfortunately I never got the chance to see them live and with Ian Curtis having tragically ended his own life aged just 23 I never will. This however was a very good substitute, an evening I will never forget.
The evening on the main stage was closed by Carter USM. Now I have a confession to make. I have never (at least in my conscious memory) seen carter perform before. Bizarre considering they have a huge cult following and have been festival favourites for many years. Almost everyone I spoke to was looking forward to their last ever festival performance with very eager anticipation and after their set everyone I spoke to was raving about it. Perhaps I am in a minority of one but (whilst I hate to admit it) I didn’t get it, I didn’t like them. Perhaps it was a sense of anti-climax after Peter Hook, perhaps it was the rain dampening my spirits, perhaps I was starting to come down after a huge amount of booze, perhaps a combination of all of these things. More likely it was because I could see two guys on stage playing guitars and yet I could hear Synth’s, Bass & Drums. This means sampling and Drum Machines etc. I have just never been able to get on with this style of music maybe because it means everything is contrived before the artist gets on stage, any opportunity for spontaneity is removed and to me it somehow feels like I am being cheated. I also felt that the backdrop of high power spotlights was over the top and it started to give me headache. As I say most people loved them so I daresay I am in a minority. I left halfway through their set and took my self off to Gail’s Something Else Tea Tent.
The Tea Tent was the worst kept secret of the festival small, intimate chilled and acoustic. The vibe was very laid back with the lineup quite fluid and posted on a blackboard outside the tent. This was the area where you were guaranteed to rub shoulders with some of the artists and where a number of the artists who had played on other stages came to play acoustic sets. If Gail isn’t careful her little secret festivals will be secret no more. Now for a confession!! One act I was determined to see over the weekend was Gaz Brookfield. Gaz is rapidly becoming a festival legend as he puts on a superb show with acoustic tunes about life that would not be out of place in a Levellers set. His set was due to be on at midnight and I was in place ready for it when I fell asleep. The combination of too much booze, a long day and too much excitement meant I just could not keep my eyes open. As a result I toddled off to bed before his set started. To make matters worse everyone told me the next day how brilliant it was!!
I awoke on Saturday morning to very heavy rain, strong winds and a distinct chill in the air. I was wasn’t too concerned to be honest. Friday had been my main stage day and Saturday was set to be a day in a large tent (Tornado Town) as most of the bands I wanted to see where playing there. After a hearty breakfast (well OK Lunch) I set off to the arena. I had donned full waterproofs and wellies and must admit to feeling a little despondent as I framed through the mud. By this stage the whole site was a sea of mud and the constant passage of thousands of feet was not making things better. We are talking serious mud, the type that gets everywhere. My waterproof trousers quickly turned from black to brown all the way up to my crotch. It was sticky horrible mud and my mind turned to thoughts about how difficult it might be to get off the site on Monday morning. There were hundreds of Camper Vans in my field and I was sure that the passage of all those heavy vehicles trying to leave was not going to help. To be honest this problem should have been anticipated by the organisers. We have just had the wettest winter on record, a very wet spring and the forecast for the weekend was horrible. It should have been anticipated that this would cause problems and the busiest thoroughfares could have had tracks laid before the festival started. They did try to rectify the issues as the weekend wore on but it was too late.
I started my Day at the ‘Locked in the woods’ stage. This was a great idea. A small stage on a woodland glade surrounded by trees and decked out with lights etc. Logs had been cut for people to sit on. It was a very pretty area. I was really keen to see Doozer McDooze another who is sure to be a favourite on the festival scene for years to come. Doozers blend of politically motivated songs has been described by none other than Tom Robinson as being ‘like a scrap between the Pogues and the Levellers being broken up by Billy Bragg’. High Praise indeed. I love Doozers take on politicians, especially in his aptly titled song ‘I think Politicians should be put on Minimum Wage’. It is great to sees guy on stage who so thoroughly enjoys what he is doing. Something he shares with Leatherat and my next Festival highlight the mighty Ferocious Dog. The dogs played in Tornado Town which was thankfully covered. Fiddle player Dan Booth had warned fans to get into the tent early as it only held 2000. It was a fair warning because the venue was mobbed by the bands ever growing band of followers known as hell hounds. Now saying that Ferocious Dog gigs get a little bit raucous is akin to saying that it got a little bit damp at this years Bearded Theory. The rain during Saturday was of biblical proportions it hammered out of the jet black sky driven by crashing thunder and heavenly pyrotechnics. So came ferocious dogs set, carried along in a frenzy driving guitar, crashing drums and punctuated by flashes of fiddle. This band are good, no scratch that they are superb good enough to ensure that I missed most of the Wonder stuffs set and a chunk of the Stranglers set to ensure I saw all of theirs.. Their brand of high energy Folk – Punk is right up my street and I am sure the band have a very bright future on the festival scene. I can’t wait to see them again later in the year.
I did manage to see most of the Stranglers set and have to admit they far exceeded my
expectations. They played a superb set which included Nice and Sleazy, Get a grip, Peaches, Golden Brown and No More Heroes to name but a few. Whilst I loved the Stranglers set I must confess I was put out to see that their T Shirts were on sale in the Merchandise tent at £20. Most of the other bands had priced their T shirts at £10 – £12 and the festival T shirts were similarly priced. I find it ironic that a band who grew out of the punk & new wave era are now embracing the type of commercialism that the punk movement rebelled against.
I finally made my journey back to Tornado Town through the pouring rain to catch the end of a set by The Men they couldn’t Hang. I had seen them at festivals before and really enjoyed them, to be honest I had sort of forgotten how good they are live. My final act of this years Bearded Theory was a set by the marvellous Hayseed Dixie. Now if you have never seen this band they are hard to describe. A lot of their music is cover versions of famous songs but performed in a bluegrass country fashion. Now if you imagine Motorheads ‘Ace of Spades’, Queens ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ done with crazy banjo’s mandolin and fiddle etc you begin to get the idea. Of course no Hayseed Dixie set would be complete without the Bizarre “I’m Keeping your Poop in a jar”.
On Sunday morning I made the decision to come home a day early even though it meant I would miss Mark Chadwick and Dreadzone. I was worried about the bank Holiday Monday traffic and getting off the site after a nights heavy rain (not very Rock and Roll I know). My final comments relate to three closely related subjects. The bar, the food and the toilets. The bar was good value with most drinks under £3.50 which is reasonable for those of us who live in the South of England and are used to paying more. The for was generally £7 – £8.50 a portion which was a bit more than last years prices at the festivals I attended but I suspect will be the norm this year. There was a good range of food stalls, something for everyone. My one criticism of Bearded Theory is the toilets. There were nowhere near enough of them and they were not cleaned regularly enough (especially overnight). Suffice to say they were the worst I have seen in some time at a festival.
So that was my weekend at Bearded Theory. In all I saw a total of 28 Bands, made some new friends and had a brilliant time. I am already looking forward to a return visit (hopefully in better weather) next year.