Following last years “best ever” Bearded theory was never going to easy, but for the big tenth birthday bash all the stops had been pulled out and the line-up was quite literally packed to the gunnels with incredible quality acts and the return of some previous years favourites, and as a bonus, while much of the country was being battered and drenched by thunder storms and torrential rain, Bearded theory was basking in text book festival weather with scorching temperatures and blistering sunshine.
By midday on Thursday, two hours after the festival opened, the campervan field was half full and vans were queued out onto the road, it was clear this was going to be a busy weekend.
This year there was pretty much 4 full days of music on offer this year, starting Thursday afternoon at 2pm with a line-up that would pass as a premium day at many festivals, including Hobo jones & the junkyard dogs, Tarantism, Don Letts, 3 Daft monkeys, and finishing with the mighty Dreadzone!
One of this festivals main strengths is variety, and as the festival has got bigger, the extremes of that variety seem to get further apart, from the relative normality of the mainstage acts to the Something Else tea tent, which is also celebrating ten years in the business, and provides an all-night hang out, often feeling like a sort of back stage area for many of the musicians performing at the festival, to the Convoy cabaret, home to the darkest side of festival life, with very little natural light and performances from bands called clusterf**k, and Dogsh*te, as well as freak shows courtesy of Circus insane, blind folded people with chain saws, eye lid weight lifting etc, the type of thing that could leave a sensitive mind with serious scars and lifelong flashbacks.
Starting a four-band grand slam on the Friday main stage, it was good to see Bearded theory legends Ferocious dog back at the festival, packing the arena with their loyal followers and setting the scene for following bands, the Alarm, the Slaves (including some political ranting), and finishing with 90s rockers Skunk Anansie (and some more political ranting), famed for hits like Hedonism, and Weak, putting on a great show, with Skin even dipping her toe in the crowd for a quick surf.
The woodland stage was closed on Friday by Britpop sensations Cast, who had a string of chart bothering releases in the 90s including Fine time, Alright and Sandstorm.
the Woodland stage area is another of this festivals strengths, at night, with all the lights and shadows, it looks like a twinkly fairytale, and during the day it provides welcome shelter from the elements, this weekend that being the sun. As well as having a great sound system, it also gives a chance to see big names in an intimate setting.
Magical sounds, or, Dance, Trance and take a chance, as it has become known, provided a massive mixed bag of talent from 3 Daft Monkeys, to Ushti Baba, and Transglobal underground, this place kept banging away until 3 in the morning most days.
As if all the previously mentioned stages were not enough for some people, the Maui Waui, a modest sized big top tent was there to tantalize with some stunning acts, specialising in goodtime up tempo jazz/ swing & ska, I heard great things about Karl Phillips & the Rejects, Cut Capers and Immigrant Swing, but only caught a couple of acts myself, most notably Fat & furious, “rotund rockers” with hard hitting rockabilly blues, a great sound system, but it was often so busy it was difficult to get in a lot of the time, although there’s nothing wrong with sitting outside testing the beer when the weather is as good as it was this weekend.
Saturday started for me at the woodland stage for Funke & the two tone baby, I was surprised to see a performer who can more than hold his own at the top of the bill on a stage like this, starting the line-up, but, I guess, such was the sheer volume of talent on offer this weekend, it had to be this way.
One band that stood out for me on Saturdays line up was in the woodland again, Blackballed, described as “full tilt engine, oiled with a ton of groove rock power”, good songs classic rock vocals, with a ballsy backline and some great guitar work to boot…right up my street!
On the mainstage later in the day was a band who put on a masterclass performance, and were one of my favourite bands of the weekend, Alabama 3, the best live band in the country, according to the Guardian, well according to their website quote from the Guardian, but I wouldn’t dispute that, followed by New model Army supporting Saturday Mainstage headliner Seasick Steve, who seemed a genuinely nice guy, and although, after New Model Army and Alabama 3 it did seem perhaps a bit like a warm cocoa before bed, he certainly managed to keep the crowd in front of him, behind him all the way through with classic blues played on a 4 string cigar box!
The Fall, fronted by the legend that is Mark E Smith supported Foy Vance who headlined the woodland stage on Saturday, I did attempt to get in to see this, but, this area can be a victim of its own success at times, so you got to get there early for the big names.
Sunday had the biggest names of the weekend on the mainstage, with three minute hero`s and two tone giants the Selector putting on an energetic and flawless show of their hits, followed by rap godfathers the Sugar hill gang.
Probably the most charismatic performance of the weekend had to go to Vintage Trouble, who followed Glasvegas, and paid homage to the legacy of the Sugar hill gang while they watched stage side, with front man Ty Taylor doing epic acrobatics on stage, as well as a full length crowd surf out to the sound desk, not to mention the supremely tight band and his incredible voice providing a more that suitable warm up for the original Nutty boys Madness. Madness, one of the most successful British bands of the 1980s, ended the mainstage line up for the festival with a clinical and polished hour and a half of their back catalogue, with cannons firing streamers and confetti, finishing with an encore of Madness (they call it madness), and Night boat to Cairo.
While fireworks lit the sky above the festival and it seemed as though the entire population of Bearded theory watched on, Reverend and the makers were just starting their set to close the Woodland stage for this year.
It’s really hard to find fault with a festival that ticks all the boxes, including, it seems, the weather!
It was vibrant, bustling with energy and people, and it has consistently sold out in advance, there certainly appears to be a progressive attitude towards its line-up year on year, it’s also obvious that the organisers are not sitting back on their laurels, content with what they have achieved.
Bring on next year’s festival!
Published on 01 June 2017 by Keith Dennelly