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Editors at Bearded Theory's Spring Gathering 2019

Bearded Theory’s Spring Gathering 2019 at Catton Hall, Derbyshire, England, May 23rd, 2019

Jun 04, 2019 Photography by Alfie Shadbolt Web Exclusive
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It wouldn’t be a UK festival without rumors of a special guest headliner appearing at some point over the weekend. So with Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul headlining the Pallet (main) Stage on the final day, and Bruce Springsteen reportedly in Europe watching his showjumper daughter Jessica compete in a number of events including Rome and London, lots of people put two and two together and as normally happens, came up with six.

Not that this year’s Bearded Theory needed the addition of The Boss or indeed anyone else for that matter. While other festivals dither around announcing their line-ups in dribs and drabs while pandering to agents and other factions within the music industry, Bearded Theory announced their line-up at the earliest possible juncture before Christmas 2018. A clarion call invitation to the rest of the competition to beat that! Because without any shadow of a doubt, they somehow managed to pull off one of the most attractive, diverse, and ultimately mouth watering line ups of any UK festival this year.

Which is no mean feat for a festival that remains truly independent without any corporate backing or sponsorship whatsoever, not to mention having cut their capacity by 2,000 from 2018 due to customer complaints in relation to heavy traffic congestion causing access issues and overcrowding that year. So it’s to the organizers’ credit that this year’s festival passed without any major issues at all, even if a burst water pipe on the A38 expressway Saturday morning does its very best to throw the day’s schedule into turmoil (fortunately it doesn’t, other than a last minute timetable swap between old school punks Angelic Upstarts and indie supergroup Orphan Colours).

Situated on the grounds of Catton Hall within its surrounding estate in Walton-On-Trent which lies 9 km west of Burton, the festival appears to have finally found its spiritual home having moved three times since its inaugural event in 2007.

Indeed Bearded Theory has amassed a captive and incredibly loyal audience over the course of its 11-year existence. Tickets sell out every year in advance, with 2019 being no exception, and there’s an immediate feeling of inclusiveness and camaraderie all the way from the campsites to the actual arena. Even though attendee numbers are slightly reduced this year, the festival has increased its areas and tweaked some of its existing ones. Aside from its six main music stages they’ve introduced a number of extra features such as The Pirate Ship, an extension of the Maui Waui Stage which sees DJs representing every genre from punk, metal, and indie to trance, electro swing, and raggatek playing throughout each day and night until the early hours.

While Bearded Theory might be billed as (and fall under the remit of being) a music festival, there’s so much more going on than just X or Y band playing the hits. Not least by way of its Children’s Village, which is arguably the finest family orientated area of any festival on these shores. Entirely ran by volunteers, the Festival School and Circus School combine learning with fun-filled activities while craft tents, giant play areas, and a teatime kid’s disco cater admirably for those of us with young families (which believe me are a godsend when you have a 22-month-old baby and seven-year-old as part of your entourage!).

Take a walk over to the far left hand corner of the site and there’s the Earth Area, which houses a collection of craft and healing spaces. Organized by Labyrinth Arts and based on Glastonbury’s popular Healing Field, it might only be a stones throw away from where all the live music is taking place but once sat in the masseur’s chair it could actually be another dimension altogether.

With an independent DIY mentality reminiscent of early 90s free festivals like Castlemorton and Happy Daze coupled with a programming team adept in putting together a line up that caters for all tastes and demographics, this year’s bill manages to cover a wide range of both new and established acts without becoming decamped in nostalgia territory. Indeed, of the older established bands at the top end of the line up, all have put out new albums in the past three years or have ones in the pipeline.

A point which is finely reiterated by Editors, playing second to last on Friday’s main stage bill, yet ending their set on a brand new song (“Frankenstein”) they’d only written some three weeks earlier. Likewise with The Wildhearts earlier in the day, who tore off their setlist halfway through and took requests instead, while throwing in new ones such as “Let ‘Em Go” off this year’s excellent Renaissance Men, their first studio album in a decade.

Then of course you have Suede, a band arguably playing some of the best shows of their long and distinguished careers. Songs from last year’s “The Golden Hour” rub shoulders with ‘90s hits like “Trash” and “Animal Nitrate” alongside rarities they’ve barely played live for a quarter of a century in early B-side “To the Birds.” It’s a celebratory performance that’s rapturously received, and rightly so.

While The Cult’s brave attempt to play 1989’s Sonic Temple in full as a Saturday night festival headline set split the audience vote down the middle, Idlewild deliver an hour’s worth of bangers encompassing that thrills and enraptures the ever growing throng out front.

The following (and final) evening, Doves’ first appearance at a UK festival in nearly 10 years signifies an exclusive of sorts for Bearded Theory, and for the hour they play it really was as if Jimi Goodwin and the Williams brothers had never been away. Although no new material was aired tonight, the likes of “Black and White Town,” “There Goes the Fear,” and “The Cedar Room” reverberate around the main arena like returning sonic equivalents of the prodigal son. It’s a mesmerizing set and one that in any other world would surely attain headline status.

Elsewhere, Bearded Theory’s diverse musical policy couldn’t be highlighted more than on the Academy of Music & Sound’s One Big Showcase stage. Over the course of three days, an array of differing genres and styles receive a platform and it becomes one of the go to places over the course of the weekend. Hull based experimental folk outfit Pavey Ark and Exeter’s Athelas, a five-piece metal band with nods to At The Drive-In and Glassjaw, particularly stand out.

Meanwhile, reggae legends Steel Pulse deliver a timeless set spanning their 30-year career in which songs like 1978’s “Ku Klux Klan” sound as relevant today as when initially written three decades ago. Acid house veterans The Orb also turn the clock back in style, packing out the Magical Sounds tent to the point sweat drips off the ceiling throughout their sonically and visually enticing set.

Earlier in the weekend, Hollie Cook’s soulful mix of pop and reggae proved the perfect accompaniment to bask in Friday afternoon’s delirious mix of radiant sunshine and scorching heat. While Birmingham five-piece Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam channelled the spirit of ‘90s slacker outfits Pavement and Urusei Yatsura through their own, ineradicable fashion. Bristol four-piece Heavy Lungs bring their own brand of post-punk influenced noise of the main stage 24 hours later which involves show stealing drummers, Killing Joke riffs and a frontman who’s name you might recognise called Danny Nedelko.

Manchester based trio The Blinders politically charged set proves an early highlight on Sunday, comprised of material from last year’s excellent debut Columbia. Canadian punks The Mahones also deliver an energetic set that nearly didn’t happen having only arrived on site a matter of minutes before their scheduled stage time.

In between and after the acts on the main stages have finished, music plays from dusk til dawn on handmade soundsystems. It’s feels as if one big party has congregated upon rural Derbyshire for the weekend with no hint of trouble or animosity. Tomorrow we’ll return to normality, a real world that tells us Nigel Farage and his hate fuelled Brexit Party have cleared up in the European Parliamentary Elections. Thankfully at the weekend utopia that’s Bearded Theory, real life can wait which is just the way it should be.

So despite Bruce not making an appearance, this was a magical weekend that other events of a similar kind must surely benchmark for the future.


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Peaky Sports
June 9th 2019

The blinders is my favorite and I watch all of this live performance on GHD Sports Live.

onmovies app
July 14th 2019

It was really fantastic music i liked it and waiting for more updates