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Bearded Theory: A Glorious Weekend of New Discoveries and Nostalgic Memories [Photos]

Featuring the likes of Jane’s Addiction and The Meffs, Bearded Theory gave fans a weekend of new discoveries and nostalgic memories.

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Amyl & The Sniffers
Bearded Theory Festival, Photo by Frank Ralph Photography

Bearded Theory, set in the picturesque grounds of Derby’s Catton Park in the National Forest, is a fantastic experience for everyone, bearded or not.

From grizzled music lovers of most genres to families with young children and everyone in between. It’s one of those festivals that’s the ideal size, in the perfect location, with a killer line-up – and had it had the perfect weather it would have been unforgettable for all the right reasons rather than for the muddy sludge fest it became at times.

The weather on Wednesday and Thursday had left the site a bit worse for wear by the time the festival really got going on Friday – and wellies were an absolute must. Trudging from one stage to another in anything less would have proved to be difficult. But anybody who’s ever been to an English festival in the so-called summer though will be fully aware that it could get muddy at the drop of a hat – and it never stops the fun.

Bearded Theory Festival Poster 2024

Bearded Theory Festival Poster 2024

With a day full of acts to check out and a few clashes meaning some tough decisions had to be made it was Gen And The Degenerates who started things off with a bang at the Convoy Cabaret stage. Having been a fan for a while and knowing they wouldn’t disappoint it was an easy decision to make. The adoring audience that had assembled for them agreed.

With half a dozen stages to choose from there is something to suit the tastes of everybody, from dub, reggae, punk, indie and more across the weekend. St Agnes ticked the box for some lively, hi-energy rock over on the second stage and woke everybody up with a set full of ferocious and powerful tunes.

There were a handful of ‘mustn’t miss acts’ spread across the line-up each day, but often it’s the new discoveries, either by accidentally stumbling across a set or getting a recommendation from a fellow reveller as you decide which one of the food stalls to eat from, that make for a great festival experience – and there were a few of those new discoveries to be had. The first of the weekend was the chaotic and brilliant Lambrini Girls who brought their antipatriarchal and political messages up close to the audience. “Terf Wars” was a particular highlight from them but seeing Phoebe launch herself into the crowd almost instantly was an awesome sight.

The main stage became home for the rest of the day with uplifting sets from Ibibio Sound Machine and The Big Moon preceding the chaotic ‘set of the day’ from Bob Vylan, one of the best bands around at the moment. With some light stretching to begin with the crowd was set for 45 minutes of setting the system right over some thunderous beats. Anti-shit government, anti-shit police and anti-boring it feels like they and Bearded Theory are the perfect match – and if you weren’t having fun while Bob launched himself into the crowd then there’s something wrong with you.

Dexy’s provided some nostalgia with a set of classics including a beautiful rendition of “To Love Somebody” to open the set and massive singalongs “Geno” and “Come on Eileen,” and although everything felt slightly lounge act in its delivery, it was extremely enjoyable.

Saturday was a completely different festival as the sun shone all day long, mostly drying the boggy arena site and making for a much more enjoyable experience than the previous day. And this was the day that the pioneers of alternative rock and kings of debauchery (and the number one reason I’d ventured to Bearded Theory) Jane’s Addiction were headlining. What a time to be alive! They would have to completely bungle their way through the set for it to be anything less than a highlight – so with that to look forward to at night the day became about more discoveries and with that came Omega Nebula, a husband-and-wife sound system that plays the perfect mix of dub, reggae and trippy effects. They left a smile on everyone’s face. A band that warrants more listening in the future.

Another discovery followed with the brilliantly monikered The Meffs. Two of the nicest people you could ever meet, which seemed to keep happening after their set. They played fantastic call-and-response punk with a high-energy delivery that smacked you in the face in a nice way, and a brilliant Prodigy cover thrown in for good measure. The Meffs now have at least one fan for life, but probably left the tent with hundreds more talking about how they’d discovered a new favourite band.

It was a day of two halves equally split between the main and second stages, with great sets by Sonic Boom Six, BDRMM and trad-metallers Green Lung on The Meadow Stage, before heading to catch Wargasm and Sleaford Mods over on the main stage before the highly anticipated headliners.

Wargasm were much fun and sounded much heavier than I remembered them being – but the less I say about Sleaford Mods the better probably. To me it sounded like John Lydon had had a second wind but kept stubbing his toe, and even though they’re probably nice blokes, the stage personas came across as annoying. Not that it matters what I think – I know for a fact they won’t give a shit, and everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Hypnotic tribal drums blasting out of the main stage PA marked the moment that Jane’s Addiction arrived. Only their second gig back here having hosted an intimate gathering at Bush Hall in London as a warm-up, and as it was only Dave Navarro’s second show back since recovering from long-covid, this felt special.

It’s years since this classic line-up had performed together and as the creators of the alternative nation, they are quite rightly lauded as the forefathers of the Nineties.
Eric Avery’s instantly recognisable bass sound, Dave Navarro’s exquisite riffs, Stephen Perkins drum rolls, and the ever-mischievous Perry Farrell all combined to make an incredibly engaging sound as they flew through a set of classics from their first 3 era-defining records. They looked as glorious as they sounded and seeing them back on a big stage was a big deal.

They’re back, and with new music on the horizon that sounds more authentic Jane’s than anything they’ve done since the early albums is a promising sign.

Sunday was a combination of the good and bad from the previous two days – alternating between rainstorms and glorious sunshine it made the ground harder to trek over, but the moments when the sun shone, were perfect. Like the moment Gentleman’s Dub Club took to the main stage and their dub-heavy reggae made the sky smile as much as the audience, and the whole day was mostly fun.

The first band on the Meadows stage were Belfast’s Problem Patterns, who aren’t your normal band. With every member switching between instruments and or singing throughout the set they are the most fluid 4-piece I’ve ever seen – and they were having the time of their lives too, which translated into a rapturous response from the crowd. With the likes of Bikini Kill as a reference point, they were one of the discoveries of the weekend and will be high on the radar for future shows.

Being evacuated from the beautiful Woodlands area seconds before Viji was about to begin was another unique experience – fortunately, the threatened lightning storm that caused the evacuation never happened, and within 5 minutes, everyone was allowed back in, and the all-clear was given for their set to begin.

New York’s Bodega had played a flawless set of their own over on the main stage, and keen to keep the party going they ventured over to the second stage less than an hour later to perform a full set of Bob Dylan tracks. Bobdega, if you will. They captivated a full tent with some of the best songs ever written and got some of the best singalongs of the weekend.

Now, the next band, Les Savy Fav, without doubt, played THE set of the weekend. As they took the stage briefly, before frontman Tim left it for much of the show to go walkabout in and out of the tent they were performing in; they were electric. What followed was 45 minutes of beautifully turbulent carnage. As he walked around the tent and outside of it to perform to bemused passers-by, Tim became an instant hero to everyone.

A fantastic knee-slide through the mud back into the tent was a high point in a set packed full of them. You simply could not take your eyes off him for the duration of the show. Whether he was on another walkabout, climbing the monitors at the side of the stage or borrowing a hi-vis vest off the pit security and conducting the audience from the barrier it was simply captivating. Band of the weekend for sure – definitely the most fun.

The rest of the day felt a little underwhelming after that – Dry Cleaning was dull in comparison to anything else on the day, and it wasn’t until Dinosaur Jr’s beautiful sloppiness evoked some great memories that things picked up again. “Freak Scene” and “Start Choppin’” sounded incredible (if distortion-bathed sloppiness is your bag, which it is), and their version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” was another highlight.

Then, at the end of the festival, when energy levels were low and festival fatigue had well and truly set in, came the audio equivalent of necking 8 Monster Energy drinks in one go as Amyl and the Sniffers brought things to a close. The Aussies, with whirling dervish Amy up front, like a diminutive Bon Scott, were a phenomenal choice of show closers.

Bearded Theory genuinely had everything you could ever wish for from a festival. Great sets from some bonafide legends that never came near nostalgic reminiscing, new musical discoveries, energetic and chaotic moments, mud, rain and sunshine. It was truly glorious, and we cannot wait to visit Catton Hall again next year for another dose of this eclectic English festival… hopefully minus the mud.

For more information on Bearded Theory, head over to their official website.

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