Catton Park, South Derbyshire, last time I was here I spent 24 hours sweating and panting my way around the park on a mountain bike, supposedly for fun. This time we are here for the Bearded Theory Festival and I was swapping the energy drinks, pasta and anti-chaffing cream, for good beer and great music, and hopefully, this time I’d finish the weekend without a sore arse.

Bearded Theory started life in 2007 with a group of friends holding a birthday bash in a field. Since then it’s grown in stature to become one of the best-loved and best respected small festivals around. Year on year they continue to come up with unbelievably impressive line ups and this year was no exception. The weather was good, the beer was good and the music was damn fine…

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Friday: Unfortunately I only have a small red car and not a time warp machine, so thanks to the wisdom of the Highways Agency 50 mph speed restrictions on the M1 and it’s ridiculous ineptitude in dealing with anything more than a few cars, we arrived just in the nick of time to miss Hugh Cornwell. Right there and then in the middle of the field I could have cried. From all accounts he played a great set mixing songs from his solo career with Stranglers classics. There was only one thing for it – consolation beer!

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Provided by Thornbridge Brewery, there was plenty of fine ales to choose from not least the festivals own bitter. Personal recommendation for the weekend the AM:PM IPA – very nice!  Having scored a few beers we decided to check out the site before getting down to the serious business of watching the bands. Bearded Theory may be classed as a small festival, but they pack a lot in, and everyone’s well catered for. A dedicated Children’s area, plenty of food stalls, fair ground rides, clothes stalls and workshops. Add those to the four stages and there’s little more you could ask for. The vibe was good and spirits were high.

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JACQUES

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Our first taste of music for the weekend came from Bristol four piece Jacques, who were playing the small , yet wonderfully set Woodland stage. Consisting of two sets of brothers aged between sixteen and twenty one, the youngsters put in a great performance.

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ALABAMA 3

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Having scoped the place out it was time to get down to the main stage. Alabama 3 were in town and took to the stage to lay down their, as they put it,  ‘Sweet Pretty Muthafuckin Country Acid House Music’. Always a band to bring a party, it didn’t take long for the Rev.Dw Love and co to get the place jumping. Top tunes, smattering of social commentary and some seriously funny banter made for a great set. Set highlight for me was ‘Woody Guthrie‘ with ‘Hypo Full of Love‘ coming a close second.

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THE MISSION

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Wayne Hussey and co. have a loyal and ever expanding fanbase, and judging by the number of t-shirts, many were in attendance for tonights headliners. The Mission, without forgetting or letting go of their goth heritage they have matured over the years into a solid rock band who’s appeal is blatantly obvious.

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Entering the darkened stage in a sea of dry ice, Wayne Hussey’s stage presence is a sight to behold. All the favourite crowd pleasers are there – ‘Severina‘, ‘Deliverance’, ‘Butterfly On A Wheel’- and the sing-a-long from the crowd is obligatory, but it’s also testament to how great The Mission have become. Hussey’s engagement with his fans comes easy, the banter is natural, he talks to them like personal friends, none more so when he entices them to sing happy birthday to him. As for the music, guitar, bass, drums are polished and provide the perfect accompaniment for Wayne’s unbelievable vocal range. Whether its belting out the chorus to ‘Wasteland’ or going solo for ‘Like A Child Again’  he has the ability to totally absorb the entire crowd. Amazing! The set closes with a blistering rendition of ‘Tower Of Strength’. A truly magnificent performance that was not to be surpassed for the remainder of the weekend.

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JAYA THE CAT

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Still reeeling from The Mission, we had to pass the Woodland stage to get back to the car, so it would have been extremely rude not to drop in on Boston outfit Jaya The Cat. Difficult to pin to a definitive category, but for those that need to label I’ll go with drunk-punk-reggae. Visually and musically stimulating, Jaya The Cat were having a good time, and were happy to pass their love amongst the crowd. Frantic fun is probably the best way to sum up their set.

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SATURDAY: Sadly, I can still only be in one place at once and on Saturday that place was not Bearded Theory. However, from speaking to people on Sunday I was assured that it was another great day and that the main draw New Model Army and their rampaging hordes of fans turned out in force. Allegedly Afro Celt Sound System also gave a tripped out genre busting set that wowed the crowds no end.

SUNDAY: We were back and just in time to take advantage of a few free beers from, (my hopefully soon to be personal sponsor), Thornbridge Brewery. Todays recommendation, the rather tasty Jaipur. The feel good vibe we’d experienced Friday was still in full flow – casting our sights around the site, there didn’t appear to be too many casualties. But there was rather a lot of pirates and an army of trolls!!!

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THE BEAT

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The Beat, fronted by the ever youthful Ranking Roger and his son Ranking Jnr. literally hit the stage running, or should that be skanking? One of the forerunners of the 2-Tone movement, their socio-political message is as relevant today as it was back when I was in my youth, and within minutes of them hitting the stage, myself and many others were transported back in time. Full of energy and bounce, when Roger asked the crowd if they were having a good time he was met with a well deserved and resounding ‘Yes!’. This was feel good music delivered with energy, enthusiasm and vigour. Father and son both contrast and compliment each other brilliantly on stage – Roger dressed , at least to start with, in chains and a mock straight jacket, Jnr. in a sharp grey suit, shirt and tie. Nothing quite comes close to family voices singing together, and they harmonise quite beautifully. The set see’s them both bouncing around, clearly enjoying themselves. ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ is an obvious favourite, and when both of them stand arms aloft to chant ‘Stand down Margaret, stand down please‘ they have the Sunday afternoon crowd in the palm of their hands. To be honest I’d forgotten how good they were, we were already having a good time, The Beat just made it a whole lot better. Brilliant!

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MISTY IN ROOTS

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Misty In Roots have been around for what seems like forever. Champions of Rock Against Racism, the London reggae unit brought the sunshine in more ways then one. No fuss, just down right solid roots reggae. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon. For one, I found their set quite mesmerising, not sure if it was the beats or the fact that I couldn’t quite believe it was actually Misty In Roots before my very eyes. Whatever it was, I don’t think I was alone in been truly honoured to be in the presence of such greatness. Booking these was a master stroke.

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PLEASE Y SELF

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Misty In Roots had got me all misty eyed and I was getting a tad over excited for the next act on the main stage (more of which later), so I needed to be distracted. The Woodland stage was calling. Distraction was provided by skiffle band Please Y Self. With a claim they can rearrange any genre for tea-chest bass, washboard and guitar, we caught them laying waste to a couple of Cramps classics. Confession time – I’m a very big fan of The Cramps, not so huge fan of skiffle. As such I had to leave less than half way through their rendition of Human Fly. I couldn’t say if they were good or bad, just really not my cup of tea.

THE BUZZCOCKS

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The Buzzcocks, for my money one of, if not the best punk bands ever. No messing about from this lot. Messrs Shelley and Diggle literally exploded through a set of three minute songs with all the panache of true legends. Up front Pete was happy to let Steve Diggle provide one of the most energetic performances of the weekend. His flamboyant guitar playing made it hard to take your eyes off him. Windmilling like Pete Townsend, leaping around the entire stage and wearing a polka dot shirt reminiscent of Johnny Marr, he was every part a true guitar hero. Yes they did play ‘Orgasm Addict‘ and yes it was truly wonderful. Easily another contender for best set of the weekend – they literally played until their fingers bled and proved that punk is definitely not dead!

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It was time for a break from the music, we needed to eat. From the many food stalls on site we chose the one nearest the main stage, not through lazyness, more through the delightful aroma coming from Ghandi’s Flip Flop. Pretty much a fixture at any festival worth its salt, they cook up some rather delicious and very nourishing Indian food – nom, nom, nom. Highly recommneded.

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JAMES

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When a band has the audacity to kick off their set with their best selling single you kind of know you are in for a show. James took to the somewhat chilly stage wrapped in beanie hats, coats and tracktop’s and immediately let loose with ‘Sit Down‘, a track that despite it’s popularity, has been missing from their live set for some time, and the crowd went wild. It didn’t take long for Tim Booth to get into his stride, and barely minutes had gone by before he was off stage and on the railings cavorting with his many adoring fans.

But, as we had pointed out to us, this was not going to be a self indulgent romp through the bands greatest hits, and the set provided a suitable mix of songs old and new. Songs from their latest album, 2014’s ‘La Petite Mort‘ stood up equally as well as old favourites such as ‘Fred Astaire’ and the thumping ‘Johnny Yen’.

Despite the set been beleaguered with sound difficulties (for some bizarre reason the band had been denied a proper sound check. This lead to them not been able to hear themselves properly on stage) James pulled through and as always put in great crowd pleasing performance. At one point Booth, visually distraught at the non functioning monitors, asked his band to wind up the song early. Ignoring his plea, the band members simply formed themselves in a round in front of the drums, ignored the technicalities and played on. Judging by the grin on Tim’s face and the reaction from the crowd, here was the proof, not that it was ever in doubt, that they are some of the most accomplished musicians around.

As if the sound difficulties weren’t enough to contend with, the band had also been told that they must be off stage by the allotted time – this was probably my only gripe about the weekend. If a band of this magnitude are prepared to turn up and play for more than ninety minutes why not let them? – In response they decided to drop two songs from the set and forgo, as Tim put it, ” The self gratifying bit where we go back stage and soak up your applause, have our ego’s massaged and then return”, and close the set with what would have been the encore. As fireworks lit the sky behind them the night came to a close with ‘Come Home‘ and ‘ Sometimes‘.

Special mention must be made to Sarah Gatford who spent the entire James set at the side of the stage dancing and interpreting the lyrics into sign language.

Commenting a day or so later on Twitter, Tim Booth claimed “We asked for a soundcheck at bearded theory which was denied then spent the whole gig wrestling with dodgy sound. Tough gig.” Tough maybe, but still nothing too short of brilliance. One can only imagine how much better it would have been without the upsets.

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So that was it really, we started to make our way round to the Woodland stage to catch the end of Neville Staples set, but so did everyone else and by the time we got there the little woodland glade was so packed they had to stop people coming in for safety reasons. Never mind, we’d had a great weekend, seen some true legends, drank some wonderful beer, and hung out with really nice people. Bearded Theory you spoil us. Hopefully we’ll be back next year – you should join us.

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