The theory of Beard-ativity…
Well how do you go about trying to summarise four days at Bearded Theory? My normal modus operandi of slavishly noting set lists would probably lead to a novel that I don’t want to write and you certainly don’t want to read – so I’m going to force myself to be a bit less unimaginative and try to summarise what was a bloody fantastic time – a great setting, wonderful weather, amazingly well organised, great acts and a frankly marvellous collection of people to party with.
It all started for us on Thursday afternoon, we arranged to meet Addie, Jane, Dave and Nadine in a layby near the site to secure a camping spot together. Getting back onto a busy A38 was entertaining for the two caravanners in our convoy, but soon enough we’d found ourselves queuing to get on site – a few very familiar vehicles already snaking their way around to the entrance to the camping field. This was Ella and I’s first trip to a festival in our new van – Ludo – so it was pretty exciting!
Eventually in and sited, everyone set about getting things set up – for us it was pretty simple, extract things from the storage under the back seats, spinning the front bench seat around, putting the silver screens up in the window – and cracking open a can of cider! The only fly in our oinment was a dead leisure battery – despite having been on charge for a couple of days – but well, even the lack of promised power a van would provide still proved infinitely better than the faff of tenting!
We left Dave and Nadine perfecting their awning and went for a wander – first into the gathering of Hellhounds, about two minutes away from us, then into the nearby Woodland – a ludicrously idyllic setting with a stage, bar and of course Nana’s Kitchen. As the festival hadn’t really started properly it was the arena which had the musical offerings for the folk who’d decided to arrive early (and there were lots of them!). We found a gathering of friends under the shadow of a big octopus – Mick in particular had attained a spectacular level of drunkeness in the less-than-two-hours since we’d seen him in the campsite!
We found Mark in the Maui Waui (or Maoam as we kept saying) tent watching Jemma Johnson – I’ve been following Jemma on YouTube for a while now, I can’t remember how or why, but this was the first time I’d seen her live, so I was sad to only catch the end of her set. She was sounding great, and went down well with a considerable size crowd inside from where I was standing. After she’d finished we headed outside to natter with countless folk – it was good to be back in a field!
Doctor and the Medics were soon underway in the tent, we stayed outside for most of the set and let it wash over us – lots of cover versions of songs like Teenage Kicks, She Sells Sanctuary and The Ace of Spades – and of course they played Spirit in the Sky. It was a nice way to spend a balmy evening, supping cider and enjoying the music from afar whilst catching up with the burgeoning number of familiar faces gathering having set up their assorted festival homes.
After a quick bite to eat we opted to head back to the campsite, eager not to fall foul of first night festival fever too badly – and it was pretty exciting to be spending a first night sleeping in Ludo! Whilst the day had been warm it was still cold overnight, but refreshed we headed out on Friday morning to see Nana for a delicious breakfast – she was doing a roaring trade, which had the nice fringe benefit of meaning we were still sitting eaching a lovely full english watching Mr Motivator leading a mass workout in the Woodland from afar. Alan Doonican in particular was really getting into it.
A mooch around the splendid array of stalls found at the Pallet stage in time for The Roughneck Riot. They were superb – really it was too early for them to be on, I think, but I loved the set. Energetic folk punk delivered with a real bite as ever – I think it was them that said they had a substitute drummer in (as well as a new accordion player since I last saw them) – certainly sounded tight from where I was watching. They described themselves as ‘a Lidl Levellers’ – I think they’ve done themselves a disservice there, much as I love the Levs too!
The King Blues were next for us – I’d been wanting to see them for a while, and they didn’t disappoint, a fusion of punk rock and hip-hop got the crowd jumping nicely – Headbutt in particular getting a great singalong reaction. I must listen to more of their recorded stuff. Due to an unfortunate circumstance an act had dropped out in the Woodland, a fortunate substitution was available though in the form of The Star Botherers – so we were treated to an unexpected bop around the mosh pit to them, as their set in Gail’s tea tent later in the festival would clash unfortunately for us.
The Tea Tent was our destination next on the Friday though – armed with cake and boozy coffee we caught the end of Eff Off‘s set, featuring Doozer and Frag – raucously entertaining what was a packed place for the whole weekend pretty much. Next up on stage was Brian Stone, he was on great form (as the step-counter on his watch would verify over the course of the weekend) – a particularly lovely moment being when he invited Morgan up on stage with him to play The Leylines’ Let it Go with him. Morgan is definitely a real star in the making.
A quick trip to an amazing Persian Kebab stall and it was the small matter of Levellers on the main stage to finish up – we decided to appreciate the performance (and the awesome fiery-gas things) from afar rather than join the mosh, a bagpipe intro kicked into England My Home and flames shooting from the sides of the stage. Beautiful Day was got out of the way early before new song Our New Day. I have made an effort to note their set list, but I’m going to resist reeling off all the songs because – well – what’s the point?
At one point Mark G got a shout out from the band which he didn’t notice – oops – particular highlights for me were Sell Out, watching the crowd singing along to Carry Me and Cholera Well. I was a bit sad to see tracks from Static on the Airways omitted but a festival set list has to be cut short I suppose, and they do have an embarrassment of riches in song choices. A rousing encore of Liberty and What You Know saw us wandering back to the camp site with big smiles on our faces regardless!
With FD’s John in tow we risked a trip to sit by the Purrple Peeple Eater to share drinks and laughs with everyone – it was actually a pretty tame night, although I was already pretty hammered. Dean had provided pizza (from Mark and Amanda’s van as apparently there’d been an oven-related incident the previous night in the Purple vehicle), I think when I managed to spill cider all over my bag we realised it was probably time to head back to our van for bed. Another awesome day in the sunshine.
Over the course of Friday we’d acquired a printed out spreadsheet Angela produced which had not only the main stages listed but also the acts for Gail’s Tea Tent, which had a spectacular array of talent on offer (much of which we missed through clashes, or because it was so full we couldn’t get in!) – but it proved invaluable! Bearded for me is right at the ‘top capacity’ comfort level for me of festivals, and as such clashes are inevitable, but it helped us to manage our time wonderfully.
Saturday morning saw me with bacon cobs, tea and alka seltzer – it had been a pretty heavy friday all told. In the Woodland we saw an amazing set from Dirty Vertebrae, their high energy mash up of rock, punk and hip-hop had had a healthy infusion of reggae added with a couple of their new songs. I was a bit subdued with soft drinks much to Paul’s amusement but Dirty Vertebrae put on one of the best performances we saw at the festival for my money – as with The Roughneck Riot – it’s a shame they weren’t on later in the day really.
I was dead excited to go to see The Moulettes on the main stage – they’ve undergone some personnel changes since I last saw them, Ruth was back with her bassoon which is most definitely a good thing! It was Raevennon on guitar and vocals who was a real revelation though – she was awesome (as were the rest of the band, I might add!). Compared to their more earthy melodic folk they’d really beefed up their sound with electric guitar and more synthesiser type trickery.
It was a very pleasing development though – a fulsome and epic sound. We stood watching with Pip who tried to get the vodka jelly man over who mercifully didn’t notice him – I was definitely not in the market for more alcohol right at that moment! They played mostly unfamiliar but great sounding songs from their new album, and finished up with a tremulous airing of Lady Vengeance. I think I pre-ordered their album, I must check – if I didn’t I’ll be remedying that after I’ve finished editing this post!
We wandered to the Tea Tent in hope of catching The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican but it was already heaving, after a brief sojourn in there I opted instead to pop outside and listen from afar, as we’d get to see them later in the festival in the Woodland. It was fun listening to the tent erupt with laughter periodically whilst munching chilli cheese fries outside to the strains of songs like Crappy Flowers from the new album and perpetual classic If I Could Punch A Face (It’d be Justin Bieber). It sounded like the highlight was one from the cutting room floor of the new album though – it involved Kanye West being a Cockwomble!
As the crowd dispersed we found a good spot in the Tea Tent to take in Chantelle Barrow‘s first festival appearance. As she played her own songs I can’t tell you what they were called (but an album is in the works apparently), but they were full of delicious finger-picking and effortless looking harmonics (which I remember being a right bitch to do in my long-since aborted quest to learn guitar). Chantelle has a great voice, ranging from dreamy melodies to empassioned singing – I really did enjoy her set rather a lot.
A great moment was when she casually asked if anyone in the room could contribute some lead guitar work to a couple of her songs – Björn was coerced to join her, and after being armed with Maelor’s guitar and shouted a few chords put on a virtuoso performance as a lead guitarist in a way that was almost suspiciously choreographed. He did so well that he was asked to stay for the next song rather than Maelor who was going to come up to join – magically nice performance, looking forward to hearing more from Chantelle.
Maelor Hughes was up with a tough act to follow. He was on good form too though, despite apparently having had a bit of drink. Plenty of highlights like Morning Sun, Better Day, Won’t Fight Your War and Big Golden Pot but the undoubted highlight again was when Chantelle joined him on guitar for Elation. I never get tired of listening to that. Even Maelor dropping his guitar which he’d slung behind him didn’t break the spell. An encore was demanded – and provided in the form of Transvestite Blues. Maelor also has a new album in the works, so keep an eye out for that!
We hot-footed it to the Woodland as I wanted to get my nineties head on and see Senser. I never got to see them live back in the day, but it was fun re-living A-Level anthems from the Stacked Up album – they still sounded bloody fresh and I’m a bit sad the singer probably looks younger than I do (although we were a bit back from the front and I didn’t have my glasses on!) – No Comply was always going to be a highlight and it delivered – I see Dirty Vertebrae as their kind of spiritual successors. I also braved my first cider of the day which went down surprisingly well!
With a bit of a lull craved we headed to buy some pillows for the van – the small cushions didn’t really do a good job, and once back at the campsite Dave and Nadine were milling around which prompted an unplanned smorgasbord of cheese being served up! With the weather still stunning it was lovely just to sit by the vans with some food, drink and lovely people to natter with. The goat cheese was a particular highlight if memory serves!
Nice though it was to relax, we were all eager to see 3 Daft Monkeys – despite them overlapping with Public Image Limited. Clearly plenty of people thought the same – a big crowd gathered in the woodland. 3 Daft Monkeys were amazing, as ever – they interspersed favourites like Faces, Social Vertigo, Astral Eyes, Days of the Dance, One Fine Day and The Antiquated and the Arcane with some new songs from their in-progress album.
Having gone through a folksy fairytale phase it sounds like they’re coming back round onto a more political mindset – unsurprising in these politically worrying times – and the new songs sounded great to me. Drink with God was fun and irreverent, Not in My Name or Cast Your Vote (yet to be named) was more overtly serious and another which decried the misdistribution of wealth in the world went down very well with the crowd – to the visible relief of the band, bless ’em!
The undoubted highlight of the set though was a new kind of surfboard routine for World on It’s Head. Tim often says before this the challenge is for someone to stand on their hands for the whole song – Brian went one better, with Dean acting as a surfboard Brian pulled of some kind of pilates pose to wave his legs in the air for the whole number. Impressive stuff! Props too to Morgan for being hoisted up on someone’s shoulders during the encore (of The Antiquated and the Arcane). Loved that set.
There was still time to wander back to the main stage to catch the end of Public Image Limited – we didn’t get too close, and I didn’t have my glasses on but the image of John Lydon in a long shirt and waistcoat and having clearly packed on a few pounds, whilst standing in an operatic pose, saw him dubbed ‘Pava-Rotten’ – after the fun and energy of 3DM it was a bit of a comedown, long dirgey tracks with indecipherable words. However, we did get to see Rise which was familiar and a rousing version of Open Up – the track Lydon did with Leftfield.
I’m pleased to have had the chance to see Johnny Rotten perform – but I’m glad I didn’t miss 3 Daft Monkeys to see the whole set – I realise I run the risk of being accused of sacrilege, but it takes all sorts doesn’t it? A trip for a sumptious burger was next for us before heading back to the campsite danced out from 3DM in the Woodland.
After breakfast on Sunday it was back to the Tea Tent for The Star Copiers – a raucous set for such an early hour, Kev disappeared – returning just before the set was due to start, we were treated to Basket Case, Another Man’s Cause, Slow Motion Suicide, Rocking in the Free World and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, an encore was demanded and delivered in the form of Fifteen Years. Amusingly Ella live-cast it via Facebook and got quite a few presumably very confused viewers!
We realised an unfortunate clash of timings a little later than we should have, so legged it to the Woodland to catch the end of Julie and Richard’s renewal of marriage vows. A magical setting, a magical event – for a lovely couple. It was great to see them both dressed stunningly and wielding a drinking horn full of mead. Wonderful to see, I’m really glad we were able to catch the tail end of proceedings as much as I’m sorry to have missed the start of it – huge congratulations to them both!
Back in the arena near the healing area we were treated to an impromptu unplugged set from Parson’s Lot – we’d got as far as Paddy on the Railway before we had to hotfoot it back to the Woodland in time for some more Barnsley legends that are of course The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican. The place was already packed so clearly plenty of other folk had the same idea – the look on Scott’s face when he hit the stage and saw the size of the crowd that had mustered was an absolute picture.
I’d probably go as far as to say they stole the show – I’ve seen them many times now but they were bang on form, and clearly feeding off a very enthusiastic crowd’s energy. Massage in a Brothel opened, and they stayed with familiar territory with Portaloo and Since You’ve Been Ron before braving the new material. Probably their most controversial song ever, Scott said – Get ’em Art of the Pub got a definitely thumbs up from the crowd I think in terms of tune and sentiment!
I should also note Sarah was on stage signing for the band too which adds a whole new comedic dimension to the show (although I think some artistic interpretation was lent to the sign for ‘Bieber’ in the tea tent set earlier in the weekend!). She’s From Dodworth apparently had a ‘racy lyric change’ according to my notes, heaven only knows what that comprised of! Walking in Man-Piss was both prophetic with the state of one of the urinals on site, but also another new album song which went down very well with the crowd.
Lady in Greggs was bellowed so loudly back at the stage from the crowd that it nearly moved Scott to tears, whilst when The Devil Went Down to Barnsley Tom cavorted on stage with his fiddle to battle with Björn. Jump Arahnd finished the set proper – culminating in Scott surfing to the ‘bar’ in a rubber dinghy. The shouts for an encore were unrelenting, and despite running over time I think to prevent a riot the compere summoned them back for Riverflow. Definitely up there amongst the best performances of the festival!
We were dead excited to see Mad Dog Mcrea on the main stage despite some alluring alternatives on offer in the Tea Tent – they got soundchecked and started early to fit more in, bless ’em. They were on predictably good form and we had a good dance in front of the stage – the holy trinity of Mad Dog songs for me is Johnny No Legs, A Pikey Killed My Goldfish and Black Fly – in this case it was a case of two out of three ain’t bad, we never got to find out about why you shouldn’t work up in the woods in North Ontario (eye oh!).
There were plenty of other highlights though like A Longer Road, Raggle Taggle Gypsy, Heart of Stone with the strong finish of Am I Drinking Enough and Happy Bus. Ooh. Can I have four songs in a holy trinity? I’d chuck Mad Dog Coll in there too (and maybe Beeswing if Ella is actually reading this). Either way we dragged John in to the mosh pit for a dance in the sun (where he changed the words to ‘A Pikey Killed my Goldfish’ to ‘Addie killed my goldfish’ – ha!).
For the second time of the weekend we chanced our arm with arriving late at the Tea Tent to find it heaving ready for Funke and the Two Tone Baby. As we will see him a lot this summer (yay!) we contented ourselves to sit outside and listen in the sun, Never Used to Dance, Bella’s Kiss, Nice to Me, The Great Storm, I’m Not Well and Not Enough Bonobo featured as well as a couple of new ones we’ve heard a couple of times and sound great. We had a chance to say hello once the crowd had dispersed, as ever, he was on his way off to somewhere else!
Meanwhile I heard an exciting whisper about someone who will be appearing in an unexpected guise at next year’s Ey Up Mi Duck festival. Keep your eye on Facebook for announcements! Wink wink, nudge nudge!
With the sun beating down and weary we nipped to grab the camping chairs to sit and watch From The Jam on the main stage – there was plenty of Jam-based goodness like David Watts, Pretty Green, That’s Entertaiment and Slow Down. Eton Rifles (or ‘eating trifle’ if you’re sitting next to Ella) finished the set proper before an encore of Down in the Tube Station, In The City and Going Underground. Enjoyable set taken in from the rock and roll position as sat in camping chairs eating ice cream, haha!
A trip back to the van with the chairs saw a ‘let’s have a quick five minutes’ turn into an accidental two hour nap! Oops. By the time we emerged it was getting dark and Asian Dub Foundation were on the main stage whilst we circuited the food stalls in search of sustenance – we also stuck our head in the Maui Waui tent lured by the ‘New Groove with a hint of romany/spanish sound’ which was Gypsy Hill. After finding something to eat fireworks were erupting from the Woodland area meaning the festival was drawing to a close.
That gave us time to wander to the Woodland to see Beans on Toast close the festival in his inimitable style. We stood with Nick, Lucy and family having a relaxing drink and watching whilst Beans on Toast sung anthemic songs about politics, being able to commune with aliens through his left ankle and sometimes doing so whilst on the shoulders of one of the crowd. Nick did look a little disappointed when Morgan returned from the mosh pit having not been able to purloin the bottle of Jack Daniel’s that had been handed into the crowd during the set.
And that was our Bearded Theory – there were so many other little moments, so many other people that if I started listing we’d go beyond the nearly four thousand words I’m currently at (yikes) – great credit should go to the folk who organise and volunteer, such a well organised event, and everyone always had a smile on their face.
Back in 2013 it was Bearded that first lured me back to festivalling – indeed it was lovely to see Linda and Lou albeit fleetingly throughout the weekend as they largely coaxed me into going back then and looked after me whilst there! I still maintain it sits right on the edge of what I find to be a comfortable sized event. The setting, the scale, the acts – the audiences, and hell, even the weather were all wonderful.
What a great way to get Ludo up and running for his festival season (at least under my ownership!).