Sit­ting in the brand new upstairs bar with a cider in hand, we sur­vey the fes­ti­val scene unfold­ing. It’s a Bank Hol­i­day, it’s the start of fes­ti­val sea­son and here we are at Beard­ed The­o­ry for three and a half days of music and good com­pa­ny. Last year’s woe­ful traf­fic queue into the site has been resolved – Beard­ed even reduced atten­dance num­bers for this year – and every­one I’ve spo­ken to has got in fair­ly seamlessly.

Beard­ed The­o­ry ‘Spring Gath­er­ing’ as the offi­cial blurb wants us to call it, is small enough to feel more like a big par­ty than a fes­ti­val. Strolling around the man­age­able site, it all looks like busi­ness as usu­al with a few tweaks – Mag­i­cal Sounds dance tent has been moved to the oth­er side of the site (which, in Beard­ed The­o­ry terms, means not very far) to help with sound bleed. Mag­i­cal Sounds is not everyone’s cup of tea but for those who love old-school trance and glob­al psy­che­delia, it’s pret­ty much heav­en. And this year fea­tures some star acts such as Trans­glob­al Under­ground, Ban­co de Gaia and Dr Trippy.

We drift into the Some­thing Else tea tent on Thurs­day and catch the fun Cor­nish band Slack Mal­lard who play ‘folk with an edge’. Day and night, Some­thing Else is a great lit­tle space to sit and chill and inevitably get chat­ting to your neigh­bours. The only stress is decid­ing which cake to pick as there are about 20 flavours.


The first full day of music. We head for the open­ing band on the main stage, Pat­tern Push­er, expect­ing some­thing pleas­ant­ly melod­ic to accom­pa­ny a beer or two. What we don’t expect is to hear one of the most enjoy­able acts of the fes­ti­val. Pat­tern Push­er are an inter­est­ing and pro­gres­sive mix of dance music with effec­tive visu­als, I’ll def­i­nite­ly be look­ing out for them again. Next up are vet­er­an ska punk out­fit Spunge who are as good as they used to be, accord­ing to my Spunge obsessed fes­ti­val friend.

The Der­byshire air has been fizzing with excite­ment as local band The New­cranes have got back togeth­er. The band, with a new front man, are back after near­ly 25 years off the scene and it’s evi­dent why they are so fond­ly remem­bered, it’s an ener­getic set. Amaz­ing to think that at one time they sup­port­ed Bob Dylan.

Back on the Pal­let stage, Hol­lie Cook and her band of top-notch musi­cians play a mid after­noon set – she hits us up with some cool reg­gae with a punk edge, very slinky stuff to get the after­noon crowd danc­ing. Although it’s dis­ap­point­ing to note that Hol­lie is one of only a very few female artists on the line­up this year.

New Mod­el Army are favourites at Beard­ed The­o­ry… but they’re not play­ing this year. Any­one suf­fer­ing NMA with­draw­al symp­toms can get their fix at the Wood­land stage where Justin Sul­li­van puts on a rare solo set.

As evening falls, Edi­tors take to the stage for their much-antic­i­pat­ed Beard­ed The­o­ry debut. Edi­tors are a pow­er­ful band live, due in part to the dis­tinc­tive vocals of Tom Smith.

They prove to be one of the high­lights of the fes­ti­val, deliv­er­ing a well-paced set cov­er­ing much of their mate­r­i­al and end­ing on a high with a new song. It’s not even on the new Blanck Mass-pro­duced album – an upbeat track called Franken­stein. Quite bold to end with a new track but Edi­tors nail it.

Fri­day clos­es with Suede… the smoke machine is on over­drive and Brett Ander­son is in excel­lent front man mode. The set is a reminder of just how many hits Suede released in their hey­day. How­ev­er the set flags slight­ly in the mid­dle but towards the end every­one ral­lies for the final few num­bers like Ani­mal Nitrate.

Brett Anderson of Suede sings on stage


There’s a lot more going on around the site. Con­voy Cabaret remains a bit of an enig­ma – most of the time I pop in to find it’s between acts, and next time it’s fit to burst­ing. How­ev­er I do man­age to catch Mr Mar­caille, who some­one rec­om­mends, ‘plays a cel­lo in his under­pants’. I pre­sume the cel­lo is not actu­al­ly in his under­pants. Mr Mar­caille has quite a pres­ence, and growls his way through a punk/heavy met­al set.

Kids area at a festival with a dance troupe

The Children’s Vil­lage, cen­tred around a green, is always very busy. There’s a messy play cen­tre, lots of Lego and craft areas, a healthy food van with some veg­an options. A dance troupe called Folk Friendzy enter­tain every­one. The famous Beard­ed The­o­ry school is still in oper­a­tion on Fri­day too, offer­ing a prop­er school day (but more fun, obvi­ous­ly) to those quick enough to sign up.

Sat­ur­day evening we go down to the Wood­land Stage. This is Beard­ed’s ‘sec­ond stage’ and is my per­son­al favourite – it’s carved from oak, and set in an atmos­pher­ic shady glade where lights twin­kle in the trees. A per­fect set­ting for an appear­ance by folk supre­mo Seth Lake­man. I first saw him at this fes­ti­val in 2013, where crowds (main­ly female, can’t think why) queued at his album sign­ing. He’s now back again (although he did accom­pa­ny Robert Plant last year). Seth plays a dra­ma-infused foot-stomp­ing folk set, switch­ing from gui­tar to fid­dle, and plays some mate­r­i­al from his new solo album.

Lat­er we wres­tle with a head-on clash: The Cult or Slow Read­ers Club. Deci­sions, deci­sions… but “Read­ers, Read­ers” wins out. The young Man­ches­ter band who have a mad­ly loy­al fan base have recent­ly giv­en up their day jobs, com­plet­ed a Euro­pean tour and released their third album Build a Tow­er. Per­form­ing live, Slow Read­ers Club are com­pelling. Their tim­ing is impec­ca­ble and Aaron Starkie’s vocals define the band’s sound with an inten­si­ty and, some­thing unex­pect­ed, a huge­ly emo­tion­al deliv­ery. Read­ers, read­ers indeed. 

The path­way lead­ing to the Wood­land Stage has over the years trans­formed into an entire avenue of arti­san food, work­shops and quirky indie busi­ness­es which suit the more chilled atmos­phere of the stage itself. Such as the steam­punky Cow­ley’s Fine Foods with their Uni­corn Jerky, and Bacon rel­ish. The Alpaca Soundsys­tem tent has a lit­tle dis­co going all day with some superb after­noon chill­out sounds, and Sig­na­ture Brew pro­vides an appeal­ing alter­na­tive to the main bar lagers. The music-inspired brew­ery has a bespoke Slow Read­ers Club lager, and it has been hand­ed out free to any­one wear­ing the band’s T‑shirt. Good lads.


The Lan­cashire Hot­pots set the scene for Bead­ed Theory’s famous Sun­day shenani­gans and it’s a plea­sure to revis­it the fiendish rhymesters. I fear Ikea ade­quate­ly describes those hell­ish pur­vey­ors of Bil­ly bookcases.

The annu­al beard and fan­cy dress com­pe­ti­tion is always a focal point. This year’s theme is ‘Dis­co’ and there are some beau­ties out there in the crowd. BT’s MC picks out the best ten who are sum­moned on to the stage for the final judg­ing. Despite a touch of clever lat­er­al think­ing, the lady in a pack­et of Dis­cos doesn’t win but the space­men win­ners (pic­tured above) deserve their free tick­ets to next year’s festival.

A festival crowd at Bearded Theory

The Maui Waui tent has a diverse range of music on its stage, and Neb­u­la Sun caught my eye and ears with their glob­al sound, part jazz, part Afrobeat and some­thing a bit prog as well. I par­tic­u­lar­ly loved the sax – it was a very thought­ful and inspir­ing set.

Since Doves reformed this year, fans have been snap­ping up tick­ets to their rare gigs so it’s quite a feat for them to appear at BT. They are the penul­ti­mate act and it’s as if they nev­er went away. “This is our first fes­ti­val for ten years”, Jimi Good­win announces. They run through a set of their back cat­a­logue includ­ing The Cedar Room and Win­ter Hill, and I can see plen­ty of hap­py look­ing men of a cer­tain age singing along, word perfect.

Doves play on stage at Bearded Theory

In con­trast to Jimi Goodwin’s min­i­mal approach to stage antics the final act pro­vides a pletho­ra of visu­al appeal. Lit­tle Steven & The Dis­ci­ples of Soul bring show­man­ship and a huge spec­ta­cle to the Beard­ed The­o­ry main stage (helped by a pesky rumour of Bruce Spring­steen mak­ing a sur­prise appear­ance) and pro­vides slick, all-round fam­i­ly entertainment.

We decide to end the fes­ti­val at Mag­i­cal Sounds. Despite its move to a qui­eter part of the site, the tent has been more pop­u­lar than usu­al and we find there’s no room to move, let alone dance. Where­as Mag­i­cal Sounds has tend­ed to attract pri­mar­i­ly old­er peo­ple, this year there’s a big influx of younger peo­ple and the tent can hard­ly cope. So, sad­ly we leave The Orb to it, and head over to the Wood­land for a final pint and a dance to the Skatalites.

Well done to every­one con­nect­ed with Beard­ed The­o­ry, it was yet again a bril­liant event. There were bands we missed (Henge, The Cult, The Blind­ers, for starters ) but the acts we saw more than made up for it. But then it’s not just about bands, it’s about atmos­phere, and Beard­ed The­o­ry man­ages it every time.


Beard­ed The­o­ry festival

4 thoughts on “Review: Bearded Theory 2019

  1. A great write up.

    This fes­ti­val is vir­tu­al­ly per­fect now, they’ve tak­en on board everyone’s com­ments over the years and got some great acts in, old and new. As you said The Slow Read­ers Club was total­ly the right choice over The Cult, they just blow me away every time I see them. It’s a shame you missed a The Blind­ers who gave a ‘blind­ing’ per­for­mance (excuse the pun !) Oth­er great per­for­mances came from Thee Oh Sees and Heavy Lungs ! The only down side of the whole fes­ti­val side was catch­ing the end of The Cult set and hear­ing Ian Ast­bury talk­ing through the start of She Sells Sanctuary 😡 !

    1. Thanks for leav­ing a com­ment. From what I’ve heard, the own­ers make a point of real­ly lis­ten­ing and act­ing on peo­ple’s com­ments, espe­cial­ly the neg­a­tive ones. Sor­ry I missed The Blind­ers, I heard they were good. I was in the Mag­i­cal Sounds tent, lis­ten­ing to the bril­liant Mon­ster Ceilidh Band. You’re always going to miss some­thing. I agree with you about the Oh Sees though, they were very good.

    1. Thanks for your com­ment! It’s a great fes­ti­val and I’m just glad the organ­is­ers keep it independent.

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