The weath­er gods smiled down on Beard­ed The­o­ry again this year: I can only imag­ine it was at the sight of so many hir­sute indi­vid­u­als dis­port­ing them­selves in the Mag­i­cal Sounds dance tent, stomp­ing along to The Lev­ellers on the main stage, or maybe it was the giant pink pup­pets pranc­ing about the fes­ti­val site.

Each year, Beard­ed The­o­ry fes­ti­val puts in a few tweaks and improve­ments, while stay­ing true to its orig­i­nal ethos. It’s a for­mu­la that obvi­ous­ly works as the fes­ti­val con­stant­ly sells out in what has become an extreme­ly crowd­ed marketplace.

For this year the love­ly lit­tle Wood­land stage, set in a shady glade behind the main stage, had been giv­en a spruce-up with some cosy look­ing ham­mocks and mush­room-themed dec­o­ra­tions. As well as its own bars, it was a plea­sure to see Nana’s Kitchen again, offer­ing sus­te­nance in the form of huge slabs of home-made cakes (lemon driz­zle and Vic­to­ria sponge were deli­cious) plus roast din­ners. With the Wood­land this year host­ing Jack Savoret­ti and Stiff Lit­tle Fin­gers, the area is no longer con­fined to the more folky/hippy acts.

There’s not much improve­ment need­ed to The Pal­let main stage but it was adorned by two huge sculp­tur­al steam­punk torch­es which belched flumes of fire, com­plete with men­ac­ing spi­ders. And I would haz­ard a guess that the sound sys­tems had been over­hauled as both the main stage and Wood­land had impres­sive, full and well bal­anced sound.

There were oth­er stage changes, with the new Maui Waui tent host­ing main­ly a series of ener­getic elec­tro swing out­fits – we enjoyed The Lounge Cat Ideals (below).


The fes­ti­val’s famed OFST­ED-approved school was in oper­a­tion again – I spoke to one of the maths teach­ers and was amazed to dis­cov­er just how much work BT put into run­ning it, they even pro­vide one-to-one sup­port for chil­dren if it’s required. There’s more than school going on though, as the chil­dren’s vil­lage is a huge, safe­ly bor­dered area burst­ing with activ­i­ties, and even its own cafe.


Beard­ed The­o­ry sta­ple, The Lev­ellers, cre­at­ed a set wor­thy of their head­line sta­tus, ini­tial­ly pro­ject­ing bliz­zards of con­fet­ti into the crowd before ush­er­ing in a tried-and-trust­ed blast of hits such as Eng­land My Home and One Way.

The music high­light for me and seem­ing­ly for plen­ty of oth­ers, judg­ing by the recep­tion, was a late-night appear­ance by Turin Brakes at the Wood­land stage. It’s good to see they have a legion of fans, despite their slight­ly under-the-radar sta­tus. They deliv­ered a set of utter beau­ty, with the unique­ly expres­sive vocals of Olly Knight set against their easy-going acoustic feel. The band are cur­rent­ly tour­ing their new album Lost Prop­er­ty and announced they had not played a fes­ti­val set for a long time. It was good to see them feed­ing off the pos­i­tive crowd vibes and giv­ing it back to us. They played their lat­est sin­gle Jump Start from the new album, and end­ed with a pepped-up ver­sion of Under­dog. 

Over the week­end, the Pal­let stage played host to a pro­ces­sion of old-school bands with sets from Black Uhu­ru to Squeeze to PIL.

Black Uhuru at Bearded Theory 2016
Black Uhu­ru

Sat­ur­day after­noon pre­sent­ed slight­ly more reflec­tive enter­tain­ment. Wilko John­son showed he’s back in fine form, hav­ing regained his vocal pow­er and the sta­mi­na to play a full set plus an encore. He remains a mag­net­ic stage pres­ence, giv­ing us the crazy star­ing eyes and the slidey walk.

Wilko Johnson at Bearded Theory 2016
Wilko John­son

He was fol­lowed by Bil­ly Bragg, who played in the main a solo set, open­ing with The World Turned Upside Down. Bragg was on great form, with ban­ter between num­bers that veered from the amus­ing to as always, the polit­i­cal. With the force of his con­vic­tions, he found a way, even on the huge Pal­let stage, in front of thou­sands, to make you feel as if you were watch­ing him at some inti­mate lit­tle venue.

Billy Bragg at Bearded Theory 2016
Bil­ly Bragg

On Sun­day there was a slight clash as Stiff Lit­tle Fin­gers were set to appear on the Wood­land stage while Asian Dub Foun­da­tion took to the Pal­let stage for the clos­ing act. Asian Dub Foun­da­tion, no strangers to Beard­ed The­o­ry, came out all guns blaz­ing and played a tru­ly pow­er­ful and ener­getic set. There was an enter­tain­ing moment when Nathan Lee, on flute, man­aged to beat box at the same time. We were treat­ed to Fortress Europe, which sud­den­ly seems top­i­cal all over again, plus many oth­ers includ­ing Fly Over and La Haine.


Sun­day at Beard­ed The­o­ry is as always as much about fun as it is about music. The annu­al beard com­pe­ti­tion took place, with those who had made a cre­ative and orig­i­nal effort called onto the stage. The final two were a group of young min­ions and a bloke who had fash­ioned a beard from back­stage pass­es. The min­ions won the day.

Were you there? Maybe you’re here (above)

Mag­i­cal Sounds dance tent con­tin­ues to be one of Beard­ed The­o­ry’s most trea­sured and unique des­ti­na­tions and it had under­gone quite a makeover, now sport­ing beau­ti­ful over­sized glow­ing lanterns. The tent pri­mar­i­ly fea­tured a blend of trance, dub, psy­che­delia and punk. On Sun­day it was a plea­sure to dis­cov­er Kan­ga­roo Moon. The glob­al group’s start­ing point is folk in celtic/aboriginal style, which takes unusu­al and exper­i­men­tal paths, veer­ing into jazz and elec­tron­i­ca with the didgeri­doo blend­ing seem­less­ly into their more elec­tron­ic compositions.

Wilko Johnson
Amy and friends

So it’s all over. Back to work, and cold weath­er, but with some great mem­o­ries of this year. What always comes across at Beard­ed The­o­ry is the feel­ing that behind the scenes are a pas­sion­ate and com­mit­ted team, it’s most def­i­nite­ly not one of the cor­po­rate fes­ti­vals squeez­ing a few more thou­sands onto the site each year. You can ‘organ­ise’ your fes­ti­val as much as you like but what you can’t fac­tor in is the vibe, and the friend­li­ness of the peo­ple, and this is what Beard­ed The­o­ry man­ages to pull off, year upon year. I’m already look­ing for­ward to the next.

Beard­ed The­o­ry fes­ti­val, Cat­ton Hall, Derbyshire

26th – 29th May






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