Well it’s all change for Beard­ed The­o­ry fes­ti­val this year. The three ami­gos who brought it to life have final­ly hung up their beards and sold on the favourite Mid­lands fest. And this is its first prop­er year under the new ban­ner of DHP Fam­i­ly. No doubt the new team know they have a very loy­al crowd ready to pounce on every teen­sy fault, so they’ve prepped the crowd with a fan­tas­tic line­up to soothe any sav­age beasts. And they’ve also made sure that female artists – often over­looked on festie line­ups – are well rep­re­sent­ed.

One issue the new team have addressed is the ever-grow­ing prob­lem of Beard­ed Theory’s pesky sec­ond stage. Increas­ing­ly, the Wood­land Stage, osten­si­bly designed as a chill­out spot for qui­eter more acoustic-dri­ven acts in a scenic for­est glade – had become just a gen­er­al alter­na­tive stage. And with queues to get in. Not what you want at a festival.

To share the load, the Mead­ow Stage is now in place (you can’t miss it, it’s huge) – as far away from the Main stage as pos­si­ble, no doubt to coun­ter­act any sound bleed. It’s also a tent, with a roof, which would be great if it rained. But, as hap­pens every year at Beard­ed The­o­ry (well, almost), the fes­ti­val gods made sure the sun blazed down all week­end long. How­ev­er mem­o­ries of that del­uge of the first year at Cat­ton Hall are still lodged in my memory.

Oth­er­wise, things seem to be in their right­ful place; the main “Pal­let” stage is still there in all its glo­ry, Some­thing Else Tea Tent starts out with a reas­sur­ing­ly plen­ti­ful sup­ply of cakes (but sold them all by Sat­ur­day night) and Mag­i­cal Sounds Dance Tent is its usu­al love­ly self.

It took a while to find The Cat­ton Fid­dle, no, not The Cat and Fid­dle – the new much-tout­ed ‘pub’ with craft ales and even one from Bass. It turned out to be one of the glass-roofed bars which did­n’t look par­tic­u­lar­ly fes­ti­val-like – hope­ful­ly next year they’ll give them a suit­ably atmos­pher­ic vibe.


Open­ing day and the music revved into action ear­ly evening. Long-term BT friends 3 Daft Mon­keys kicked off the main stage action with a set that felt fresh and per­fect for such an aus­pi­cious occa­sion. By track two – Days of the Dance, they’ve got a folky equiv­a­lent of a mosh pit hap­pen­ing. Over on the Wood­lands stage, Heart­worms made her appear­ance. Jojo Orme is a mes­meris­ing pres­ence on stage and presents a raft of good mate­r­i­al with Ret­ri­bu­tions of an Awful Life wrap­ping the set. The Orielles pack the Wood­land out for a set that drops recent mate­r­i­al amongst some of their pre­vi­ous dis­co-flavoured numbers.


Emerg­ing band Pan­ic Shack are a great way to start the first full day’s music offer­ing. They’re a fun and feisty Cardiff out­fit with some amus­ing lyrics – their par­ty atti­tude reminds me of Los Bitchos. Mean­while the new Mead­ow stage opened cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly with Girl­band. There was a slight mix-up with anoth­er Girl­band, who were fea­tured on the Beard­ed The­o­ry playlist. They may have only formed last May but they have assem­bled some killer tunes and are cool pres­ence on stage. The Mead­ow tent also gets a thumbs up – it’s a capa­cious, wide space with­out that sense of claus­tro­pho­bia you can get inside packed fes­ti­val tents. 

The Go! Team were an after­noon high­light – their usu­al high-ener­gy set delight­ed the crowd. And lat­er The Bug Club gave one of their enjoy­able garage-band-on-speed per­for­mances. They bash out their short songs, each one with a catchy riff and vocal­ist Sam Will­met­t’s dry deliv­ery. I had to dash around at this point in order to catch Amer­i­cana band Mor­gan­way on the Maui Waui stage – they even sound a tad Fleet­wood Mac-like at times. It’s an enchant­i­ng and tight set with impres­sive harmonies.

Rock roy­al­ty made a vis­i­ta­tion in the form of Beth Orton. There were a few sound prob­lems that marred the start of her set but she even­tu­al­ly found her feet – or voice. She played a thrilling ver­sion of Lone­ly. Mid way through the set, Beth announced she would sing a song on her own – this was an under­stat­ed announce­ment for the atmos­pher­ic Stolen Car, fol­lowed by the band join­ing her for She Cries Your Name.

Leeds based Yard Act gave an inspired per­for­mance. Despite the impos­ing size of the main stage, James Smith man­aged to bring an inti­ma­cy to his per­for­mance, and he real­ly con­nect­ed with the crowd. He prowled the stage, spit­ting out the lyrics – quite dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous time I saw him at anoth­er fes­ti­val – maybe he was hav­ing a bad day. This was one of the my top per­for­mances of the festival. 

With the Mead­ow Stage ful­ly up and run­ning, the Wood­land resumed its right­ful place as a qui­eter space and Cor­nish artist William the Con­queror was an absolute gem. It seemed sur­pris­ing to read ‘indie rock’ and ‘like Nir­vana’ in the brochure notes – this was more like a bluesy Amer­i­cana folk mix with wit­ty and amus­ing lyrics. 


She Drew the Gun are led by the for­mi­da­ble front woman Louisa Roach, a cool and mes­meris­ing per­former, who belt­ed out her rous­ing polit­i­cal anthems about social prob­lems and injus­tice, and the plight of refugees. They cov­ered some of their most catchy songs like Resister. And lat­er indie-pop act Pale Blue Eyes, who have been absolute­ly smash­ing the hell out of live shows this year, played at Mead­ow stage with an ever-grow­ing crowd danc­ing to Dr Pong and their oth­er propul­sive and ecsta­t­ic numbers. 

All cred­it to the BT team for lur­ing Gary Numan to Cat­ton Hall. Honed to per­fec­tion, his show is curat­ed with immac­u­late detail – from the styling and colours of the band mem­ber’s out­fits to Gary’s expres­sive and dra­mat­ic move­ments. With smoke machines on over­drive and his two gui­tarists look­ing like ter­ri­fy­ing crea­tures from a sci-fi film, they pow­er through a set with some lat­ter mate­r­i­al like My Name is Ruin and a smat­ter­ing of oldies: Met­al, Cars and Are ‘Friends’ Elec­tric? It’s a full-on impres­sive assault both musi­cal­ly and visu­al­ly. Pho­tos of Gary Numan at Beard­ed Theory

The oth­er big draw of the night was Echo and The Bun­ny­men and, in com­mon with the last time I saw them (at Fes­ti­val No 6), the tent was full to burst­ing with excess crowds sit­ting out­side where the sound, and the inten­si­ty of the expe­ri­ence, was dilut­ed. Maybe a main stage slot would have been a bet­ter decision.


Beard­ed The­o­ry tra­di­tions have been upheld for ‘fam­i­ly Sun­day’ and the usu­al fun shenani­gans take place around the main stage. The dress-up theme for this year is “Fairy­tales and Folk­lore”. Pre­dictably there is an abun­dance of large, hairy men dressed as Snow White and such­like. The win­ners are cho­sen before we move onto anoth­er tra­di­tion – huge­ly pop­u­lar band The BarStew­ard Sons of Val Doon­i­can with their sign lan­guage inter­preter. Their set includes a song about the woes of tour­ing and find­ing a cheap hotel for the night, called ‘Where the sheets have no stains’ (no prizes for guess­ing the tune).

Mag­i­cal Sounds tent has been pul­sat­ing away all week­end as usu­al with DJ Gin­ge and oth­ers keep­ing a steady out­put. Merv Pepler and Ban­co de Gaia crowd­ed out the tent on Sun­day, and Flu­ta­tious played a lay­ered and beau­ti­ful­ly tex­tur­al set. 

It was a joy to hear Chrissie Hyn­de – her vocals remain as flaw­less as ever. Mid­way through her set, she had to restart a song, some­what dis­tract­ed. ‘Wait, I’ve just seen Bob­by Gille­spie’, she informed us. And indeed Pri­mal Scream duly made their entrance onto the stage for their Beard­ed The­o­ry head­line slot where they pulled out all the stops: a gospel choir dressed in white, impres­sive visu­als and a spot-on fin­ish in time to her­ald the fire­work display. 

The bones of Beard­ed The­o­ry are still there and its fam­i­ly-friend­ly ethos remains intact. And the biggest change, the new Mead­ow tent, has suc­cess­ful­ly tak­en the pres­sure off the Wood­land – I did­n’t hear any com­plaints about this new addi­tion over the week­end. Hope­ful­ly the new own­ers have com­plet­ed their changes, and will be con­tent to sit back, con­grat­u­late them­selves on a job well done, and set about build­ing a dream line­up for next year’s festival.

Pho­tos of Beard­ed The­o­ry
Thurs­day / Friday,Saturday / Sun­day bands / Sun­day crowd

Beard­ed The­o­ry fes­ti­val, Cat­ton Hall, Der­byshire. 25–28 May 2023 

If you’ve enjoyed read­ing this review, please give us a ‘like’ – thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *