Every­thing looks spark­ly and fresh at Beard­ed The­o­ry’s new venue at Cat­ton Hall. The grass is lush, green and springy. The main stage stands at one end of the remark­ably flat new site, with a dance tent and the more inti­mate Tor­na­do Town tent just far enough away to be out of earshot, while a secret stage lies hid­den in a clear­ing in the woods. What bet­ter way to start pro­ceed­ings than with a Thali at Ghandi’s Flipflop for £8 and a cel­e­bra­to­ry rasp­ber­ry cider.

The main stage’s pri­mar­i­ly retro line­up kicks off with the superb Leather­ats (pic­tured below) – a band famil­iar to the fes­ti­val, whip­ping up the atmos­phere with their dancey, upbeat folk rock led by mad Gan­dalf looka­like Pete Bailey. Leatherats

In the Tor­na­do Town tent, Funke and the Two Tone Baby, in the form of Dan Turn­bull, offers a whirl­wind of intense vocals and accom­plished light­ning speed gui­tar work. Enthu­si­asm and ener­gy are pay­ing div­i­dends for this young musi­cian, he announces at the end of his set that he has 29 fes­ti­val appear­ances lined up this summer.

As the day turns to evening, Dub Pis­tols play a per­fect­ly pitched set with singer Bar­ry Ash­worth look­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly chilled and smi­ley. This is the time of the day to relax and lux­u­ri­ate in a feel-good moment: admire the sun­set, sip a drink, con­tem­plate a din­ner you won’t be cook­ing, and think of the week­end ahead full of joy­ous music. Look­ing upwards, that sun­set is notice­ably absent, the clouds are omi­nous­ly rolling in, and rain is already pat­ter­ing onto that gor­geous lush grass. Will a sea of mud ensue?

Dance tent Mag­i­cal Sounds appears to have been grant­ed a five-star bud­get for dec­o­ra­tion, we admire the impres­sive Christ­mas-influ­enced tableau com­plete with san­ta, pen­guins and mush­rooms. On Sat­ur­day night, Astralasi­a’s set is thrilling old-school mys­ti­cal trance, I Feel Love is a mes­meris­ing, drawn out ver­sion which I don’t want to end.

On Sat­ur­day, Beard­ed The­o­ry favourites (and mine) 3 Daft Mon­keys, play a good-natured after­noon set, mix­ing num­bers from their lat­est album Of Stones & Bones, pep­pered with clas­sics such as Days of the Dance. After hav­ing seen them sev­er­al times before, it’s good to catch them at Beard­ed The­o­ry –  it is their influ­ence that helped kick the fes­ti­val into gear at the very start. 3 daft monkeys Bearded Theory


The roll call of retro-Brit bands con­tin­ues, with Pop Will Eat Itself who inject some rel­e­vant polit­i­cal com­men­tary into their impres­sive set (such as cor­rup­tion in Brazil pre-World Cup), fol­lowed by 90s out­fit, The Won­der Stuff. But the night belongs to The Stran­glers. It’s a glo­ri­ous – and long – set, tak­ing in Get a Grip on Your­self, No More Heroes, Peach­es, Go Bud­dy Go, Skindeep, Hang­ing Around, Always the Sun… The band sound just incred­i­ble, remark­ably sim­i­lar to their orig­i­nal record­ings, despite those line­up changes. The Stran­glers remain a charis­mat­ic, pow­er­ful, mus­cu­lar force, that dri­ving bass which gets you some­where in the guts, the goth­ic fair­ground organ, and prowl­ing Baz Warne. 

By Sun­day the grass is no more, and the sea of mud is a con­tin­u­ous gloopy pres­ence – not that any­one seems to par­tic­u­lar­ly care, in fact noth­ing dents the mood. It is notice­able that fan­cy dress Sun­day has become more sub­dued how­ev­er, and the Mag­ic and Sparkles theme isn’t too much in evi­dence. Mon­ster Ceilidh Band play an ener­getic set at the Tor­na­do Tent, play­ing their rous­ing mix of ceilidh and drum ‘n’ bass. Ear­ly evening, crowds gath­er at the mud pit in front of the Main Stage for the Block­heads, who run through their clas­sics:  Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Sweet Gene Vin­cent, What a Waste, Rea­sons to be Cheer­ful, Clever Trevor and end with Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick – they ded­i­cate a song to Wilko John­son, who should have been per­form­ing at the fes­ti­val but is cur­rent­ly recov­er­ing from treatment.

 The mighty Dread­zone are on next – they catch the mood just right for a chilled Sun­day evening slot before the big head­lin­er UB40. After a few num­bers we leave Ali Camp­bell and the boys, and head over to catch The Orb Soundsys­tem for a final dance before wend­ing our way homewards.

The Blockheads at Bearded Theory
Chaz Jankel of The Blockheads


Fam­i­lies are always well catered-for at Beard­ed The­o­ry, the chil­dren’s ded­i­cat­ed Angel Gar­dens pro­vid­ing a wealth of activ­i­ties all day, there was even a well-orches­trat­ed chil­dren’s flash­mob to ‘Hap­py’, in front of the main stage pre-Block­heads. Food stalls pro­vid­ed a diverse range of choice, includ­ing zebra burg­ers, with out­lets sit­u­at­ed at both ends of the fes­ti­val site, and a cafe out­side the are­na too. Mov­ing to a new site was always going to present the organ­is­ers with some test­ing moments, no doubt this was exac­er­bat­ed by two days of fair­ly con­stant rain. The organ­is­ers apol­o­gised for the toi­lets, which cer­tain­ly need­ed to be cleaned more often, and the car parks could do with more stew­ards on site. No doubt these issues will be addressed for next year.

Musi­cal­ly, Beard­ed The­o­ry takes you on a com­pre­hen­sive – if almost exclu­sive­ly male – voy­age back through the ‘Best of British’ over the last few decades, with plen­ty of punk, ska, folk and reg­gae, and a chance for new acts to make an appear­ance at the small­er tents. It’s hard to think of anoth­er fes­ti­val with quite the same lev­el of friend­li­ness as Beard­ed The­o­ry; as a ‘brand’ it cer­tain­ly has found its niche (just hope it keeps up the beards com­pe­ti­tion), plus it pos­sess­es that ele­ment which I feel helps no end – a real­ly even spread of ages with every­one get­ting along together.




Did you go to Beard­ed The­o­ry this year?


Leave a Reply

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