It’s the festival of Beards, Bands and DJs, and that just about sums it up. Now in its sixth year, Bearded Theory is set in picturesque Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. With something like around 8,000 revellers it’s a nice size, and manages to feel like one big party.
Bearded Theory’s line-up leans towards punk, ska and folk while the Magical Sounds Dance Tent is heavy on the psytrance and psybeats. And there’s plenty of local-ish talent featured. Entering the arena, we get ourselves into party mood with some dancing to Sheffield’s breakbeat DJ, Kickflip. Magical Sounds is a great little dancing spot – the visuals, the giant puppets wandering around and dancing with you, and the fantastic hairy guy with angel wings dancing on stage.
Later on, just for old times’ sake, we head over to the main stage for New Model Army where I imagined I’ll be having a bit of a nostalgia fest. I had neglected to keep my finger on the pulse with NMA, and it’s great to discover that they are still experimenting, still working on new material, and they they sound fresh and vibrant. It helps that there’s an excellent sound system at the main stage. Especially rocking are No Rest and High with Sullivan’s voice sounding extra growly. NMA have a new album, and a tour, heading our way soon. We look for the Fire Show but never find it so head back to Magical Sounds for Sicknote’s entertaining and energetic set. The younger members of our party inform me next day that Subgiant was the best thing of the day but at 12.30-2am it’s way past my bedtime.
On day two it’s freezing cold but no luckily no rain. There’s plenty for kids to do in the Angel Gardens area, which is busy with kids drawing, painting and having races. The tiny tots are being pulled around the arena in cute little carts. There’s a funfair area in the centre with a stunning Helter Skelter and Big Wheel, both at only £1.50 a go. On the Main Stage, it’s the turn of rising folksters Ahab. Despite being bundled up in coats, they deliver a rocking set, just as good or if not better than when I saw them at King’s Place, click here.
I’m looking forward most of all to Seth Lakeman‘s set, and he predictably draws a huge crowd to the main stage. He plays a mix of old numbers and ones from his new album Tales from the Barrel House. Watching him sing and play the fiddle is extraordinary, as is his versatility as he moves from one instrument to another. The only downside of his set is that’s it is too short, it’s not the hour long we were expecting, and it leaves everyone a bit in limbo.
A while later Asian Dub Foundation entertain the crowds with a powerful and muscular set which gets better and better as the band and the audience warm up, and as its hypnotic rhythms draw you in.
Sunday is hot and sunny and helps create a fabulous mood for the final day. This year’s fancy dress theme is Australia, and this combined with the beards competition adds up to some bizarre and wonderful creations – there are even beards made out of corks and flip flops. An amusing set from the Lancashire Hotpots sets the right tone, and their Ikea song has a particular resonance: “I fear Ikea, I don’t want to go there again, I don’t want a bookcase called Billy, Or a table called Sven.”
A folk-fest awaits as Celtic fusion band Shooglenifty set the scene, followed by the mighty Peatbog Faeries. Worthy of a main stage appearance, they are shoehorned into the Magical Sounds tent, but no matter.
It’s a blinder of a set, uplifting and passionate, and everyone is going crazy. Later on The Levellers close the main stage with a fittingly rousing set played to an huge and appreciative audience. Over at the dance tent it’s time for the closing DJ set, Magiclantern, with Leeds DJ Stephen Mckeown. The hairy fairy is there, twirling an octopus umbrella, and as music comes to an end, he thanks us for coming to Bearded Theory and tells us it’s all over for another year.
Bar A great selection of beers, including a Festival Special Ale which is light, refreshing and similar to a wheat beer. Also a Reverend & The Makers special beer. Nice selection of ciders, including a guest one each day. Prices £3.50 a pint average. Knowledgeable and friendly bar staff, very little queueing.
Loos Portaloos generally very clean, with toilet rolls put out even on the Monday morning. Perhaps there could have been a few portaloos down at the far end of the camping field. Hardly any queueing.
Security Very friendly at all times, bearded or otherwise.
Age range A really great mix, from babies to people in their 60s and perhaps older. Some teens but not overwhelmingly so.
Stages Main Stage, Magical Sounds Dance Tent, Tornado Town and Lock Inn.
Food A smallish but adequate range of food stalls. Ghandi’s flip-flop vegetarian food, their Thali at £7.50 well recommended.
Negatives? Although the site was well maintained, it would have been nice if we could have been a bit more ‘eco’ with our rubbish and sorted it for recycling.
Overall, Bearded Theory is a fantastic festival, it’s friendly, unpretentious and gets the balance of good music and fun just right. Everyone appeared to be enjoying it. Our own party from 22-50s enjoyed it all equally.
Bearded Theory tickets: adult £79 plus charges.