Beard­ed The­o­ry Spring Gath­er­ing or “fes­ti­val” as it is usu­al­ly called, has reached an impor­tant mile­stone – its tenth birth­day. The hairy-faced con­trib­u­tor to the fes­ti­val world has grown and blos­somed, from bum fluff through design­er stub­ble to full beard. The cel­e­bra­tions opened on a per­fect sun­ny Thurs­day after­noon with a sur­pris­ing­ly large crowd, per­haps due to the line­up being stuffed with Beard­ed The­o­ry favourites, or an audi­ence adept at writ­ing con­vinc­ing sick notes.

To mark the big birth­day, Thurs­day’s line­up was a vir­tu­al repeat of Beard­ed The­o­ry’s first year, with much-antic­i­pat­ed Dread­zone tak­ing the head­line spot. What­ev­er Dread­zone do, they man­age to sound fresh and rel­e­vant, and their lat­est album Dread Times bears wit­ness to this abil­i­ty. Their dub-reg­gae infused upbeat set was a true head­line act, front man MC Spee expert­ly stage-man­ag­ing the crowd from his seat. For the finale, as the thrilling orches­tral open­ing notes of Lit­tle Britain filled the air, the  con­fet­ti can­nons went into over­drive and sent whirls of con­fet­ti over the crowds as fire­works lit up the clear sky. A fit­ting finale to the occasion.

The sun shone down on Beard­ed The­o­ry on Fri­day too, as crowds lazed by the Pal­let Stage – Amer­i­can band Jaya the Cat returned by pop­u­lar demand with a set of reg­gae-road­house rev­el­ry – they may per­haps car­ry more weight as an evening act but nev­er­the­less it was good to see them back. Cat was fol­lowed by dog– Fero­cious Dog that is, and an obvi­ous Beard­ed favourite with their folk-rock num­bers man­ag­ing to rouse a sun-soz­zled crowd.

Mag­i­cal Sounds was now up and run­ning; each year the pop­u­lar lit­tle dance tent excels itself in dec­o­ra­tive styl­ish­ness – this year rev­ellers danced under a psy­che­del­ic canopy with twirling but­ter­flies. Man­ches­ter’s Big Unit played a pow­er­ful and uplift­ing set –  a pump­ing anthemic mix of dancey acid rock riffs. And lat­er, Tetchi, the elu­sive Heb­den Bridge based out­fit who I’ve seen at The Trades, played a remark­able set, skil­ful­ly weav­ing and build­ing com­plex rhythms.

There was plen­ty going on else­where around the are­na, includ­ing stuff for chil­dren. Beard­ed The­o­ry’s OFST­ED-approved school was in action and kids were occu­pied with learn­ing – in a far more plea­sur­able way than real school by all accounts. The Chil­dren’s Vil­lage was a hive of activ­i­ty all week­end long – the area is almost like a mini fes­ti­val all of its own and even offers a veg­gie food trad­er too with wraps and a deli­cious veg­gie breakfast.

Over at the Some­thing Else Tea Tent, peo­ple crowd­ed in to sit down, drink tea and enjoy a suc­ces­sion of grass­roots acts. It’s tempt­ing to while away the after­noon in this tent, there’s always some­one to chat to, some famil­iar num­bers to join in with, and a plen­ti­ful choice of cake to try (cour­gette and lime flavour, for instance).

Time to drift over to The Wood­land stage which has been a fes­ti­val trans­former for Beard­ed The­o­ry, offer­ing a wel­com­ing qui­et shady space to chill out among the trees in between acts on the impres­sive oak­en stage. Any­one feel­ing peck­ish can head to the Wood­land’s quirky mar­ket, home of the amaz­ing steam­punk food empo­ri­um, and Cheezy Vinyl (eat cheese, feel sexy!), a cheese and port bar for one of the fes­ti­val’s more – ahem – refined din­ing expe­ri­ences. Hope­ful­ly there will be even more traders here next year.

Skunk Anan­sie head­lined on Fri­day night and I doubt any­one present will for­get the expe­ri­ence. From the moment Skin, the dra­mat­ic and visu­al­ly pow­er­ful front woman, burst onto the stage, every­thing else just fell away. A hyper­ac­tive fig­ure clad in sun­glass­es and an over­sized pink coat, Skin held the entire crowd in the palm of her hand. She strut­ted, she dart­ed here and there – at one point she bounced out into a delight­ed crowd before being hoist­ed back onto the stage, a dynam­ic ball of ener­gy, her voice as pow­er­ful and emo­tion­al as ever. As the set pro­gressed, off came the sun­glass­es and the coat, leav­ing her in a slinky black out­fit. It was good to see Skunk Anan­sie back and it was equal­ly a wel­come sight to see a female head­ing the main stage as Beard­ed The­o­ry does tend to lay on a male-heavy lineup.

The Maui Waui tent real­ly estab­lished its place this year and came up with some star turns – Bo Weav­il played a rous­ing mix of folk which got a fair few peo­ple danc­ing. And per­form­ing a late-night set, nine-piece out­fit Cut Capers played exhil­a­rat­ing swing, jazz and hip hop. This was a tight set suf­fused with ener­gy and the applause at the end was deafening.

The mighty Alaba­ma 3 are reg­u­lars at Beard­ed The­o­ry – their back­woods deep-south rene­gade look appears to have had a bit of a Vogue-style makeover judg­ing by their suave out­fits. Lar­ry Love, Rev D Wayne Love and chums belt­ed out a hit-heavy fes­ti­val set includ­ing gems such as Hypo Full of Love and Too Sick to Pray, accom­pa­nied by two danc­ing nuns.

The Alarm also made a pop­u­lar appear­ance, with a group of devot­ed fans, which amused Mike Peters.

Mike Peters, The Alarm

BT17 Alabama 3

Sea­sick Steve’s mel­low and intense per­for­mance was a pleas­ing con­trast to an after­noon of bands, and it felt as if the audi­ence had a lot of love for him. He men­tioned how delight­ed he was to be appear­ing at a fes­ti­val with the word ‘beard’ in it.

On Sun­day, fol­low­ing Beard­ed The­o­ry tra­di­tion, the ear­ly part of the day was tak­en up with a flur­ry of fam­i­ly activ­i­ties and gen­er­al silli­ness. Out­side the Some­thing Else Tea Tent, a Kate Bush flash­mob took place. This year’s Fan­cy Dress theme was “Mob­sters and Lob­sters” – for those who had for­got­ten an out­fit, traders were help­ful­ly sell­ing tight, shiny green leg­gings which looked rather attrac­tive (or unat­trac­tive, depend­ing on your opin­ion) on sev­er­al of the men present. It was also time for the False Beard Wear­ing World Record Attempt. The crowds gath­ered at the Main Stage, out­fits and beards in position.

Judg­ing the pro­ceed­ings was John Robb, singer from Gold­blade who had just fin­ished his set and took to his new role with great enthu­si­asm. The even­tu­al win­ner was 7‑year-old mob­ster Pop­py, against whom Evil Kniev­el with a giant lob­ster claw for a hand just could­n’t com­pete for sheer cuteness.


The Selecter with Pauline Black, and lat­er, The Sug­ar Hill Gang, were huge­ly pop­u­lar draws and with good rea­son – both deliv­ered fan­tas­tic, upbeat sets. Set against such heavy­weights, it was dif­fi­cult for Scot­tish indie band Glasve­gas to ful­ly engage with the crowd, they may have worked bet­ter on the more inti­mate Wood­land Stage.

Lat­er was the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see a new act to the fes­ti­val – rhythm and blues act Vin­tage Trou­ble, with a riv­et­ing per­for­mance from front man Ty Tay­lor – he’s got the moves like James Brown. At one point, Tay­lor got down from the stage, made his way out into the crowd and crowd­surfed back to the stage, which delight­ed everyone.

Mad­ness deliv­ered their head­line slot with a raft of hits towards the end – Wings of a Dove accom­pa­nied by con­fet­ti and a great burst of fire­works, to her­ald the end of a great festival.

We all have our tra­di­tions, and mine is always to see out the fes­ti­val at Mag­i­cal Sounds, this year it felt right to sched­ule a live act, and Trans­glob­al Under­ground, with their African and Asian dance mix, fit­ted the bill. A mini dra­ma unfold­ed as mid-set, Noise Abate­ment threat­ened ear­ly clo­sure which upset vocal­ist Nat­acha Atlas, but, hur­rah, the prob­lem was solved and so we all danced on till our mid­night curfew.

And so to the end of the birth­day bash, and yet anoth­er suc­cess­ful Beard­ed The­o­ry – even the weath­er com­plied. Every­one I talked to was beam­ing – it’s that mix­ture of great music, the friend­liest peo­ple and some­thing spe­cial – the Beard­ed The­o­ry spir­it – which descends on Cat­ton Hall one mag­ic week­end a year.

For more pho­tos of Beard­ed The­o­ry, see Sam Daw­son Photography

Beard­ed The­o­ry festival 

25th – 28th May

Leave a Reply

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