Beard­ed The­o­ry fes­ti­val or “Spring Gath­er­ing’ as they like to call it, has been silent for the past three years, but due to the strange elas­tic­i­ty of time, once we’re on site it feels more like a week or so since we were last there. Things are look­ing com­fort­ing­ly famil­iar – we don’t want too many changes, thanks. The flags are flut­ter­ing, stages are ready for action and bathed in gen­tle sunshine. 

Apart from the stages, anoth­er favourite place beck­ons… the Some­thing Else Tea Tent where you can relax in a com­fy chair lis­ten­ing to a ros­ter of artists with one (or sev­er­al) slices of cake – there are about 15 vari­eties after all. Any­way, enough about cake.

The line-up is the sort of Beard­ed The­o­ry mix we’ve come to expect: some well-loved returnees like Fero­cious Dog, Three Daft Mon­keys, Gaz Brook­field and The Bar Stew­ard Sons of Val Doon­i­can. There are the heavy­weight head­lin­ers includ­ing leg­endary Pat­ti Smith, plus there’s the joy of dis­cov­er­ing sur­prise new artists fur­ther down the line­up. Mag­i­cal Sounds dance tent is still there – loved by many (me includ­ed), avoid­ed by oth­ers, and it also has a great line­up includ­ing Astrala­sia and Eat Sta­t­ic. Some peo­ple pass by and won­der why they’re play­ing the same thing all day and night, but my advice is to just walk in instead and you’ll be sur­prised at the vari­ety of DJs and live bands… and you might just dance your socks off.

Thursday

One of the open­ing bands on the main or Pal­let stage is Aus­tralian duo Pierce Broth­ers – and there’s no mis­tak­ing the fra­ter­nal con­nec­tion. They play an enthu­si­as­tic, rous­ing set of their folk-based mate­r­i­al, enhanced by their warm, rich harmonies. 

Next up are the Dub Pis­tols who have graced many a fes­ti­val stage. I can hon­est­ly say this is the best per­for­mance I’ve seen yet from the col­lec­tive. They were on fire. Upbeat and invig­o­rat­ed, it was a per­for­mance of absolute joy and the crowd gave it back in spades. There was some new mate­r­i­al to air at the end of their set too. Lat­er, we head for the Wood­land stage for a Par­ty in the Woods with Craig Charles.

Friday

Fri­day is the first prop­er full day of music with all the stages open. Ear­ly in the after­noon we’re treat­ed to a blind­er of a set from the Nova Twins, lead vocal­ist and gui­tarist Amy Love and bassist Amy South, two feisty young Lon­don women who strut the stage like they own it. They have toured recent­ly, sup­port­ing Skunk Anan­sie, who is a huge fan of theirs – if you were at Beard­ed The­o­ry in 2017 you will no doubt remem­ber her head­lin­ing show. Their set is a mix of heavy (ish) alt rock, rebel­lious­ly grungy. 

Dubioza Kol­lec­tiv first appeared on the Beard­ed The­o­ry stage in 2018 and that per­for­mance won them an absolute legion of fans. Word must have got out as the main stage is crammed and expec­tant as the Bosn­ian col­lec­tive swarm over the stage in yel­low and black out­fits. Dubioza ener­get­i­cal­ly dance and play their way through a full-on set of swag­ger: hip hop, reg­gae, punk, gyp­sy folk; it’s all there and with a dose of humour, too. And let’s hope Dubioza Kol­lec­tiv get their wish to be a Euro­vi­sion entry.

In anoth­er part of the fes­ti­val some­thing else is going on – school. The famous and famous­ly pop­u­lar Beard­ed The­o­ry OFST­ED-approved school day takes place in the Chil­dren’s Vil­lage every year and it is leg­endary. So – prop­er edu­ca­tion­al activ­i­ties for the chil­dren, guilt-free mosh­ing for the parents. 

Fat White Fam­i­ly tend to be fair­ly Mar­mite, if you get my drift. The intense Lias Saou­di does his own thing, regard­less of what any­one thinks. Although I have seen him throw a hissy fit at talk­ers in the crowd, so maybe he does care what peo­ple think of him. For the first num­ber the band, bathed in pink light, just got on with – you know, play­ing their instru­ments – while Lias swigged from a whisky bot­tle before rather alarm­ing­ly launch­ing his white-linen suit­ed self off the stage, over the bar­ri­er and into the crowd. 

Saturday

One of the first things you notice are the amount of Fero­cious Dog T shirts walk­ing around the site. Their set was a fes­ti­val high­light. They weave ancient Celtic sounds with a punky ener­gy and there’s a strong emo­tion­al pull too. It looked as though the Beard­ed crowd, jump­ing around, was left as hap­py as I was.

Folky, dub­by, mul­ti-genre Taran­tism play at the Wood­land stage mid after­noon with the fid­dle and flute cast­ing a calm­ing and mys­ti­cal atmos­phere over the crowd. This is the sort of band I envis­aged for the Wood­land stage when it was first unveiled many years ago, rather than a more gen­er­al sec­ond stage. Taran­tism have a new album out too. It seems incred­i­ble that this band have been togeth­er for over 25 years, bring­ing the spir­it of ear­li­er fes­ti­vals to their live act. They fin­ish the set with a song called I Drank The Lev­ellers’ Rid­er – and tell us how sur­prised they were to dis­cov­er that some of the crowd at a pre­vi­ous fes­ti­val had no idea who The Lev­ellers were. 

Gail­s’s Some­thing Else Tea Tent is a con­stant stop off over the week­end and once you’re in there it’s hard to haul your­self out again. Polit­i­cal folk punk artist Efa Super­tramp played an enjoy­able and impres­sive set, end­ing with the song Pros­ec­co Punx. And big thanks to Frank Turn­er and the Sleep­ing Souls who took to the main stage ear­ly evening. He’s a big sup­port­er of grass­roots music venues and recent­ly played the final night at Nam­buc­ca in north Lon­don before it closed its doors. He asked the crowd to keep sup­port­ing their local venues – we can’t afford to lose any more.

There are plen­ty of peo­ple rock­ing their fan­cy dress out­fits for the whole week­end. I meet one lady drink­ing shots from a large bot­tle with a label say­ing Fish­er­man’s Friend, a vod­ka drink if I’m cor­rect. And a past win­ner who had con­struct­ed a beard out of Lego is wan­der­ing around drink­ing from a Lego mug. 

And so onwards to Pat­ti Smith’s Sat­ur­day night set which was every­thing and more that we could have want­ed. It was notable for its sim­plic­i­ty, allow­ing Pat­ti’s stir­ring vocals to com­mand the stage. She has a rare way of open­ing up to the audi­ence with a refresh­ing hon­esty and direct­ness that is very per­son­al and inti­mate. At one point even telling us how ner­vous she felt before com­ing out on stage but say­ing we’d helped her through it. The set includes Because the Night, After the Gol­drush and a shiv­er­ing­ly beau­ti­ful ver­sion of Nine.

Sunday

The ear­ly bird catch­es… the sound­check by The Flam­ing Lips. Those wan­der­ing around, bleary eyed, were caught by sur­prise by Wayne Coyne – resplen­dent in full bub­ble mode – on the main stage play­ing Do You Real­ize?

Sun­day at Beard­ed The­o­ry tra­di­tion­al­ly starts out as a fam­i­ly day and that means Fan­cy Dress – the theme for 2022 is ‘Heroes’, with beards and a com­pe­ti­tion for the best out­fit. The Bar-Stew­ards of Val Doon­i­can enter­tain the main stage crowd. The Heroes theme appears to have res­onat­ed with every­one this year in a very per­son­al way – there’s a group of suf­fragettes, plen­ty of com­ic book heroes, two Princes, and a Robert Smith. Plus count­less oth­ers, includ­ing 2019’s win­ner, a space­man who has recy­cled his out­fit and turned it into a wash­ing machine. The tim­ings were all askew though; the usu­al stage call-up of poten­tial win­ners nev­er hap­pened and a mini com­pe­ti­tion was rus­tled up in the pho­to pit, which was not very vis­i­ble. A tal­ent­ed young lad as ‘The Ghost of Fred­die Mer­cury’ took first prize. 

Not sure if it’s inten­tion­al or not, but Sun­day after­noon unveils a ros­ter of strong, inde­pen­dent women play­ing solo and in bands, which hope­ful­ly exon­er­ates Beard­ed The­o­ry from the oft-crit­i­cised ten­den­cy for fes­ti­vals to put on male-heavy line­ups. A late addi­tion is Emi­ly Capell who has sup­port­ed Dread­zone and has amassed a fol­low­ing here and and abroad. The bee­hive hair and eye­lin­er wings give at least a hint where we’re going with sound – a raft of mate­r­i­al that wavers through ska, 60s pop and doo wop and she impressed every­one I spoke to.

There’s a much antic­i­pat­ed per­for­mance from LIINES, the Man­ches­ter band. They are a force of ener­gy from the start with Zoe’s rous­ing and pow­er­ful vocals soar­ing out from the stage and over the crowd. It’s an intense and raw expe­ri­ence – there’s no let up, just those dis­tinc­tive vocals, dri­ving gui­tar and Leila’s drum­ming. They have def­i­nite­ly attract­ed some new fans today. I man­aged to catch them for an inter­view after they came off stage, check back to Gourmet Gigs. 

As The Flam­ing Lips came on stage, part of me wish­es I’d nev­er seen them before just so I could appre­ci­ate their cre­ative mad­ness for the first time. Beard­ed The­o­ry likes to go out with a full-on show – and The Flam­ing Lips cer­tain­ly ful­filled the brief with Yoshi­mi and the giant robot, con­fet­ti can­nons and more. Stage props aside, what struck most of all was Wayne’s down to earth per­son­al­i­ty. After the morn­ing sound­check he took a wan­der round the site just like any fes­ti­val goer with his fam­i­ly. And dur­ing the show he stopped for a good 15 min­utes as a med­ical emer­gency was dealt with. The set was a per­fect end­ing and meld­ed per­fect­ly with the fire­work finale. 

There were loads more notable per­for­mances. But then a fes­ti­val isn’t just about the music. It’s about seiz­ing a feel­ing of free­dom for a few days, to float about in a dif­fer­ent and ‘safe’ envi­ron­ment for a while, a break from real life. It’s about chat­ting to new peo­ple, hav­ing a laugh and com­ing home feel­ing inspired and opti­mistic. On that note, I think Beard­ed The­o­ry man­aged to do just that. 

For more pho­tos: Beard­ed The­o­ry Pho­to Album

Beard­ed The­o­ry Spring Gath­er­ing festival 

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