Bearded Theory is a festival that covers a wide range of music – Rock, Punk, Ska, Reggae, Folk, Dance and almost anything else you can think of. Held on the same site as Bloodstock festival it’s a great weekend, with a great layout, wonderful family friendly atmosphere and plenty of great music. For this review I’m going to cover the acts most likely to appeal to rock fans. Before moving on to the music, I should mention the bars – forget lukewarm tasteless lager, or bland bitter, the bars here are stocked with real ales – and not just one or two varieties, more like a dozen of them plus ciders. The food too is great – Chinese, Indian, pizza, burgers, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free – most tastes are catered for and the quality is excellent. Normally at a festival I eat before I get there so I don’t have to pay a fortune for tasteless crap, but at Bearded Theory the food is so good I enjoy eating there.
As with Bloodstock, Thursday at Bearded Theory is mainly about setting up your tent and then relaxing before 3 days of music, but there are a few bands on to entertain people in the evening.
One of the highlights of the Thursday evening was Dr & the medics. They’re a band I’ve never managed to see live, but I’d heard plenty of good reports so was looking forward to them. When the first thing you see on stage is an inflatable dalek, you know it’s going to be a fun night, but that was barely the start of it. As the intro tape blasted out, one of the crew came on stage in a cyberman outfit (complete with feather duster), followed by the rest of the band. Over the course of the set, the cyberman changed into several different outfits to add a bit of extra fun or silliness to the show. What can I say about Dr & the medics except they are one of the most fun bands around. They played covers of a string of pop hits including “Kids in America”, “Love shack”, along with rock songs such as “Proud Mary” and “She sells sanctuary”. To end the set, it had to be the song that made them famous – their cover of “Spirit in the sky”. For an encore they picked two songs that had the whole place dancing – “Teenage kicks” and “Ace of spades”. A superb fun set.
The job of getting things started on the main stage today fell to Red Monroes, a local alt-rock band. It’s always hard for the first band to make an impression as the arena is still fairly quiet, but the band put in a good set and seem to go down well with the fans who are up and about this morning.
Zombie met girl awere next up on the main stage. With a rock sound with a hint of punk, they’re a good choice to help wake the crowd up this early after a night of partying and get them ready for a day of music. The band played Bearded Theory last three years ago but this was their first time at the new site. It’s a good set and goes down well.
Between bands on the main stage, I took a stroll round to the Woodland stage where alternative rock band Strange rivers were playing in front of a good sized crowd. The scorching hot weather may have killed the crowds in the tents, but bands on the main stage and woodland stage definitely benefitted from the weather bringing more people out. I only caught a few minutes of their set but enjoyed what I heard.
Folk-Punk band Roughneck riot were going down very well on the main stage. Playing with a stand-in drummer, they put in an excellent set that definitely justified their presence on the main stage (last time they were here they played the Tornado town tent).
errorvision reformed after a few years away earlier this year and played with Thunder on their UK tour including a date at Wembley arena, and it’s good to see them here at Bearded Theory. Having had several chart singles, they know how to play catchy songs that get people enjoying themselves, and their hit “Tequila” is an essential inclusion in the setlist, and unsurprisingly it goes down a storm. It’sa great set from this Yorkshire band.
Killing Joke were next. I’ve seen them several times before but it’s always been in the darkened setting of an indoor venue, so the bright sunshine during their set was new, and didn’t seem to suit their music. It’s now 8 years since the original lineup reformed, and they continue to release great albums. Singer Jaz Coleman has a powerful stage presence, but in the sunshine it doesn’t seem to come across as strongly as normal. Despite that it’s a great set from them and they go down very well.
Finally it was time for tonight’s headliners – Levellers. They always go down well here at Bearded Theory, and it’s no surprise – they’re a band that never disappoints live. This year marks 25 years of their classic album, “Levelling the land” (which really makes me feel old). It’s perfect festival music and they draw a large crowd of people there to have fun. It’s not long before “Beautiful day” has people singing along, and everywhere you look people are enjoying the show. Fans further back may get a worse view of the band but they do get to see the jets of flames coming from either side of the stage, whereas fans at the front don’t tend to see them as they’re focussed on the band directly in front of them. It’s a fantastic set and the first full day of the festival ends on a real high.
Cockney rejects were on the main stage with a front-man who clearly loves boxing as he dances around the stage as though he’s in a boxing ring, and throws punches too. They probably weren’t in the best of moods after being ejected from their dressing room to make way for John Lydon’s ego, but they still focussed on their set and put in a great performance.
Wilko Johnson was next making a long overdue appearance. His previous appearance was cancelled due to his cancer battle, but having beaten cancer he was here to bring a bit of class to the stage. Dressed smartly, he and his bassist along with drummer put in a great performance. His bassist in particular is full of energy and is a joy to watch.
Finally it was time for tonight’s headline act – Public Image Ltd. Featuring punk legend John Lydon, this is a band I was really looking forward to seeing. Oh dear, what a disappointment. It appears Mr Lydon has become a complete diva in his old age, and wasn’t prepared to share a dressing room with his band mates (probably not enough room for his ego), so he had another band thrown out of their dressing room so he could have one of his own.
Then before the show his manager had the backstage area cleared of everyone – including the stage crew, and the previous band was reportedly ordered to remain in their dressing room till Mr Lydon had waddled over to the stage in case he encountered another human being. It’s amazing his ego managed to fit on stage really. I’ve never known a band or individual act in such a diva-like manner at a festival that they demand the crew that runs everything on stage and sets things up etc be removed from the area, so for it to be a “punk” that acts like that was doubly disappointing.
Once he made it on stage things just got worse – what should have been a fantastic set was bitterly disappointing as his voice was so bad that I barely recognised one of my favourite songs, and he clearly can’t be bothered to remember the words to his own songs anymore so has them printed out in front of him so he can just read them. He’s clearly gained a little weight in recent years (ok lets be honest he looks more like Mr Creosote than the John Lydon people remember and bears little resemblance to his photo in the program), which may explain why he was so reluctant to allow photographers to photograph their set. Frankly there’s little sign of the punk John Lydon left now – just a fat old man who appears to be only in it for the money.
After a short time I decided I just couldn’t cope with any more of their disappointing performance and took the opportunity to have an early night.
One highlight of Sunday at Bearded Theory is the beard competition where the best false beards are voted for. It always displays a huge variety of ideas and you get a huge number of people dressed up. You have to look through the photos to see just how impressive some of the beards are, and a huge amount of work must go into creating some of them.
The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican took to the woodland stage in front of a huge crowd (in fact with the exception of Stiff Little Fingers later in the day, this was probably the biggest crowd the woodland stage saw all weekend). It would be wrong to just dismiss them as a comedy band as they can play, write great songs and are so entertaining that they’ve rapidly become firm favourites at Bearded Theory pulling large crowds whenever they play. Antics like crowd surfing with a pint of beer or as they do today, crowd surfing in a rubber dinghy just add to the entertainment. It would be hard to watch these guys and not have a good time.
Bad Manners are an amazingly fun band – there’s something about ska anyway that makes you want to party, but Buster Bloodvessel and his band seem to make it extra fun, and their set really does have a fun party feel to it.
From the Jam, led by former bassist of The Jam, Bruce Foxton were running through a set of songs from The Jam. It’s almost like a cover band even if it does feature a member of the actual band, but the songs are so good it’s great to hear them played live.
Squeeze came on earlier than advertised, having swapped with Asian Dub Foundation. Although it wasn’t announced why the change happened, there was speculation they didn’t want to play at the same time that Stiff Little Fingers were playing on the woodland stage. It was actually a good call anyway – Squeeze were great, but lack the dance vibe of Asian Dub Foundation that left the festival to end on a high. I was slightly puzzled by the decision by Squeeze to include a couple of covers in their set, including one by Dolly Parton but they did play plenty of their own songs and it really was a great set, and a chance for me to see them live for the first time.
So, another Bearded Theory is over. It really is an amazingly well run festival – everyone is friendly and helpful, the toilet facilities are some of the best I’ve seen at any festival with large numbers of toilets around the site, although the organisers were still talking about how to improve things for next year. The food stalls are excellent – cheaper than at most festivals and great quality – Gandhi’s flip flop being a stall I visit every year for their great Indian food. The bars have an excellent selection of real beer rather than just the usual mass produced tasteless lager sold at big festivals.
The convoy cabaret tent and something else tent had music to enjoy – in fact the something else tea tent was almost invisible behind the crowd that gathered when the bar-steward sons of val Doonican were there. The convoy cabaret tent is a new addition to the festival and with it’s unique vibe I really hope it’s back next year.
There’s also random entertainment around the arena, whether its belly dancers, drum machine, jugglers or other entertainers, life is never boring here.
The arena and site was well laid out, car parking worked well – in fact if I was asked how they could improve things, I’d struggle, and given how much people tend to complain, to not be able to think of anything wrong with the festival is a great sign.