REVIEW: Bearded Theory 2013

REVIEW: Bearded Theory 2013

Snuggled away in the depths of the Derbyshire countryside and set in full view of the magnificent and looming Kedleston Hall, it’s fair to say that Bearded Theory has being doing something very right indeed since 2008. There’s much to be talked about and admired when it comes to supporting smaller festivals in favour of the big ones but the balance is still a fine one: try to be too boutique and you end up catering to a static and self-selecting sample, while trying to be too mainstream dilutes the special glow you feel attempting something more intimate and welcoming.

Thankfully, Bearded Theory appears to have perfectly crafted and established its equilibrium, with the resulting event one of the most enjoyable I’ve had the opportunity to attend in recent years.Arriving Friday morning under the threat of a rainy sky (which thankfully only results in a few drips and drops) there’s just enough time to take a stroll around the site before the first bands arrive on stage. The whole place is set out with simplicity and a minimum of fuss, meaning that there’s plenty of space to move around in but also minimal distance between stages. The whole thing resembles something of a summer party, with a carousel, big wheel and rides being only a few of the myriad events set out for children. Speaking of which, it’s truly heart-warming to see so many children genuinely enjoying a festival, as opposed to so many times where they seem corralled into attending simply because their parents want to go – fear affixing their faces. Nothing of the sort here, the only faces you see are full of smiles and face paint. Combined with the sort of friendly parents and general ambience you rarely encounter everywhere, it’s a joyous beginning to the weekend.

But onto the music, before we get too carried away with the general bonhomie. First up in the Tornado Town Tent are Seas of Mirth, who do a quite fantastic set of pirate songs and sea shanties, punctuated by vigorous drum patterns and the occasional giant lobster emerging from the stage, only to be chased and captured by a man with a net. Oh, and then there’s a tug of war. The theatrics are all well and good but the band are actually superb and there’s a joy to the way they do things, specifically the twisted and excellent cover of Focus’ ‘Hocus Pocus’ that they choose to epically end their set with. After a beer, we’re back to see Whisky Stain follow with their two-piece drums and guitar set, who despite not yet having the full calibre of songs do manage to make a superb racket including some fantastic howling blues guitar. Then there’s just time for me to lose a game of table football (despite being 4-1 up at one point) and head across to get a free pint of the Reverend and the Makers ale (really rather good and much more enjoyable than the last two albums) before it’s time to make our way over to the main stage for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Who are absolutely superb. Always weirdly separate to being specifically involved with any cultural movement from the early 90s, it has helped them in many ways as they still sound fresh and interesting. Though ‘Kill Your Television’ and ‘Happy’ are obvious standouts, the whole thing is so riotous, enjoyable and

entertaining that forty minutes simply shoots by you. Fantastic. Equally fantastic are New Model Army, though anyone who has been watching them over the past quarter-of-a-century will attest to that. Standing back a little way from the moshpit (“I wouldn’t go down there” warned my friend Phil, “I’ve broken bones the last three times I’ve been down the front for them!”) but close enough to fully get lost in the fervent crowd atmosphere that greets them, it’s an intense and stellar performance. There are few bands who do post-punk with their particular pastoral and melodic leanings quite so well and Justin Sullivan’s voice still cuts through the music with intent and tempered aggression. They finish with a spirited and bellowed version of ‘I Love the World’ as the moshpit goes into full-on overdrive and then they’re off. Unbowed and unapologetic despite all the years, they’re more punk than 95% of bands not even born when they set out on their path.

Though I’m actually quite fond of most of Reverend and the Makers’ first record, we’re tempted away from their set by Sicknote in the Tornado Town Tent. And my word, I’m glad that we decide to do that. They are absolutely spectacular in every way; a chaotic and whirling-dervish blend of punk, gypsy-folk, burlesque, techno and vocal chaos that bends, twists, distorts and swirls in evermore bizarre and wonderful ways as the set goes on. Pitched perfectly between the cracks of genres, it is a quite remarkable and eyeball-grabbing spectacle that never lets you go for one single moment of their set. By the end, people are clambering on shoulders and whooping with joy at the assorted madness, corsets, masks and myriad musicians on stage, wishing for it not to end. An astonishing, memorable and truly unique performance; the sort of thing you can barely imagine let alone explain.

Following that, the only thing to do is to drink ludicrous amounts of home-brewed gin and tonic before throwing ourselves round to the cacophonous electro/dub storm, clash, doom and danger of Subgiant until we finally fall into our tents at something around 2am. A remarkable day!


The threatened biblical torrent of rain so pessimistically forecast by most websites and broadcasters fails to materialise at all as we finally make it out of bed at 10am, being somewhat dazzled to see blue skies after stocking up on enough waterproofs to re-float the Titanic. Instead it’s shorts and a trip to the breakfast bar and the real ale tent before finding a space for Citizen Fish. Who initially, you’re wondering about whether their anarcho-ska sentiments might be too early in the day for tired heads and legs. Not a bit of it – they absolutely smash it out of the park. Completely at ease with each other musically and fiercely tight as a live band, they simply play song after song of brilliantly structured, intelligent and jaggedly-worded ska music to a crowd that steadily fills during their set. The political comments are sharp but never overwhelming and the whole thing is simply fantastic. An effortless and brilliant start to the day from one of the most genuine bands around.

Ruts D.C. follow, who keep everyone moving with a reminder of just how good they were/are as a band. The whole crowd goes for it during ‘Babylon’s Burning’ but exceptional renditions of ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’, ‘In a Rut’ and a deliciously dubby ‘Jah War’ are all equally powerful as songs. They look like they’re delighted to be there and that there’s a crowd who appreciate their under-sung contribution to the punk and the early British Reggae movement, even in their reformed

In contrast to Citizen Fish and The Ruts firebrand statements however, Macka B & the Roots Reggae Band could not be more horizontal. So daftly laid-back in fact, that they actually have the temerity to play a Reggae track “about Ganja….called Ganja!” There’s nothing new or overly ambitious about the set – most of the tracks simply borrow old Trojan backing lines and build upon them – but there’s a simply and plaintive joy to what Macka B does and when he’s got the entire crowd singing along about Bob Marley or holding up a 45’ single and extolling the simple pleasures of vinyl, you simply cannot help getting carried away and singing along. It is fun in the afternoon and in one final moment of smiles and happiness; he gets the sun to come out during the final song, to warm and appreciated cheers from the crowd. That being said, his acappella section about the food he’s allowed to eat as a Vegan was one of the most impressive pieces of vocal dexterity I heard all weekend. Looks like he’s not entirely laid-back all of the time…

Ahem. The Quireboys. Right. Well, not being too well associated with the late 80s/early 90s British Metal “Boom” I wasn’t particularly well acquainted with them musically (though I do recall hearing ‘Hey You’ in the car when I was about eight…I think I made up silly lyrics to it) so stumbling into their set, I had nothing to compare them with. Apart from the immediate comment I make when I turn to my friend Phil and state “Is it just me, or is this Spinal Tap?” And it is totally and completely ridiculous. Stupid, even. Overblown cock-rock that should have been left in its dark place back in the early 90s before Nevermind was released. But you know what? There’s something about the respect for grown men giving it their all doing this on stage. There’s something about the sun and the general atmosphere. And there’s something about the five pints of Halcyon that makes me thoroughly enjoy it, despite the obvious ludicrousness of the situation. I mistake the title of their final song (‘Sex Party’) as being ‘Sex Farm’ by Tap. It doesn’t matter who is who or what is what. For about 45 minutes, this was guilty, ludicrous and brilliant fun. And I still can’t believe I’m saying this!

We’re back down to something terra firma half-an-hour later as Seth Lakeman and his band take the stage, though the remarkable number of love-struck teenage folk girls around me does somewhat at a certain absurdity to the situation. Though that being said, Lakeman does deserve such attention because apart from being a remarkably good looking chap, he’s also a quite astonishing musician and his set is something close to perfection. Folk music has never been about messing about with floating silliness; it has always been (as my friend Phil succinctly put it) “Sex, Death and Revenge”. And so it goes with Seth, tearing into tracks such ‘Setting of the Sun’ with a vigour and gusto that causes the crowd at the front to break into a frenzy of whirls, swirls, pogoes and mock-jousts. It’s impeccably delivered and full of blood, spit and lust: ending with a furious solo assault on his violin that builds higher and higher amongst whoops and cheers as the flagons of ale are raised high around. If you forgot yourself for a moment, you could almost be in a Derbyshire tavern in the 1700s. Sublime.

Asian Dub Foundation are now into their twentieth year of life and show no signs of dropping their guard or their righteous anger. But neither are they losing their love of beats, sonic manipulation and multiple-stacked rhythms. When the two meet – as with tonight – the combination is outstanding. Less politically vocal as they normally are on stage, they focus more on pushing out track after track of fantastically intense and richly-textured music delving into the heritages of multiple British and Asian cultures. In many ways, they’re the perfect band to highlight the richly diverse blend of cultures in the modern makeup of the UK and one we should be proud to have as part of our legacy from the past two decades. There is simply no-one like them and their unique skewing of cultures is absolutely peerless in conception and delivery.


The dull heads and sore feet of the night before are soothed perfectly by the spotlessly blue skies and baking sun of Sunday morning, as our expressions of mirth on Friday when someone mentioned “It’ll be 23 degrees on Sunday” turn into smiles of delight at the eventual outcome. There is rum in our tea and a song in our heart as we head into the arena for The Lancashire Hotpots, who manage to achieve the near-impossible of making comedy music actually work (well, them and Goldie Lookin’ Chain). It’s pantomime time really and there’s a whole stack of in-jokes shoved in there, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that their music is actually extremely well puttogether and by the time they do ‘He’s Turned Emo’, I’m actually cracking up with laughter. There’s a section with pirate songs and multiple odes to beer and in the middle of the sunshine, you’re suddenly overtaken with the notion that there’s no-one else you’d rather be seeing somehow.

With the sun beating down there’s a proper chance to walk around the site and take in the beautiful countryside and the celebratory atmosphere as we build towards the wind-down, before time to start the packing ahead of the journey back. We return for Stiff Little Fingers who have (without doubt) assembled the biggest non-headliner crowd of the weekend (and without doubt, the most T-Shirts!). They don’t fail to disappoint in the slightest – full of forceful guitar crunches,tommy-gun drum rolls and Jake Burns turning yelping and snarling into an art form. It’s a brilliant example of how the very best of the punk era has survived into the modern day and remains undiluted in terms of force and poignancy. As they tear into ‘Alternative Ulster’, a girl in front of me breaks into tears. After all these years, punk retains the ability to move and stir the emotions in remarkable ways.

And so onto The Levellers – the great survivors and a band who have managed to retain their fan-base in the most stunning manner (kids here know all the words, shout for obscure tracks – astonishing to see). But for a band so typically life-affirming and full of energy, there’s an initial lack of spark around their set, with an early-delivered ‘What a Beautiful Day’ failing to initially catch its usual fire. But they suddenly spark into life with a quite brilliant ‘Fifteen Years’ and from that point on – with a rapturous partisan crowd – it is plain sailing from that point in. There is an exquisite version of ‘Carry Me’ in there, as well as one of the loudest sing-alongs I’ve heard in a while for ‘One Way’. It all ends with a ferocious version of ‘The Devil Went to Georgia’ when you’re genuinely expecting Jonathan Sevink’s fiddle to break under the tension. It’s not quite The Levellers at their very best tonight but they’ve still got enough great songs to rise to the occasion when the time is And then we’re off cavorting again: going on the big wheel, swapping cider, laughing and joking.

There’s a slight moment of sadness when we realise nowhere is open late playing music after the bands, but such sentiments are quickly resolved when a group of Trolls (full dress, including wart make-up) arrive with a speaker, a generator and an iPod playing Fela Kuti, Daft Punk, Prince and Michael Jackson, all while offering out wine. It’s a final moment of joy and a deft summation of one of the friendliest, open and communally spirited festival I’ve ever been fortunate enough to attend.

There’s a pride and a joy about what has been created here and the visitors are as pleased to be a part of this as the organisers. You initially start to wonder about whether something as unique and rare as this could be sustained at the same level in the future but then something suddenly stops you. Because you realise: this isn’t a festival based around money; it’s a festival based around giving people a great time without frisking their pockets for every penny. And you know something? It’s doing everything exactly right. A joyful and life-affirming weekend and a great example of how a festival can mark itself out without losing its soul. Same time next year please…

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.