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Bearded Theory Festival 2017

Venue: Catton Hall
Town: Derbyshire
Date: 25-29/05/17

A birthday party in the back of a pub, money raised for charity, and three friends decide to organise a follow-up. Through disasters overcome, eye watering losses and extreme weather, they end up, ten years later, with one of the best regarded festivals anywhere. A party with music, rather than a music festival, the public are put front and centre, with pub prices for beer, decent food and polite security. Festival goers return the courtesy and friendship, throwing themselves into fancy dress themes (this years was mobsters and lobsters), and crowding enthusiastically into venues to see the best of classic acts, local heroes and rising stars; some good, some bad and some in that intermediate WTF category. All are received with generosity of spirit.

The massive pallet stage at dusk, with the giant fire-breathing robot nearby, is the perfect setting for headliners, Madness, Seasick Steve and Skunk Anansie, but it is lower down the bill and on smaller stages that are the real delights of this festival.

Neo-prog Maia (Woodland-Saturday) gave a set of rare power and beauty. This Leeds based four-piece reference Pete Sinfield produced Roxy Music's Crimson period, (at the time of 'Lizard') and Syd Barratt's Pink Floyd. Unashamedly neo-classical, but with humour and some monster riffs. Risky, edgy and utterly enthralling. All this and a Fender Thunderbird, the coolest bass guitar in the world.

On the main stage, Flight Brigade played a set of subtlety and grace, with filmic quality and intelligent writing. Jaya the Cat lifted the tempo, ZZ Top channelling Bob Marley. Celtic rockers Skippinish wowed the afternoon crowd with their twin bagpipe attack and soaring choruses.

Of the many ska and reggae bands, Stevenage's The Defekters were among the best, rhythm guitar unerringly hitting that elusive off-beat, drummer running around toms and rims, locking with fluid bass, and lead singer Cara owning the stage, a frontwoman of sensual power and grace.

Local heroes Black Thorn opened the Maui Waui on Saturday, a young four piece from Derbyshire, high energy folk in the Zeppelin unplugged style. Some smart, observational writing. A good rapport between the band members and the crowd.

Three-piece Delta Belta's gave us a tour of early 20th century blues and ragtime, Kansas Sam rubbing shoulders with Blind Boy Fuller. The raw Skiffle of Please Y' Self took the musical story to the proto-rock and roll of the 1950s. The After Hours were a highlight, a mix of early jazz and jive arrangements of contemporary pop, performed with swing and style.

Dirty Old Folkers are a tight, folk-blues band; a superb rhythm section (guitar, bass and drums locking effortlessly into a 5/4 blues shuffle). Absurdist theatre, political comment and smut. Their mini opera based on 'Lord of the Rings' played out by a panda dancing with death, was bizzare, hilarious and not a little worrying.

Favourite moment? Bomba Titinka, an Italian electro-swing outfit, who smashed it on Saturday night with their musicianship, energy and warm humour. There were many sore knees and backs the next day, to add to the sore heads.

All this, a great family friendly atmosphere and a huge firework display. An antidote to the rip-off attuite of so many customer un-friendly festivals. And they have already started booking artists for next year. This not so well kept secret gem of a festival is selling out earlier year by year. Book early for 2018!

Laura Thomas

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Bomba Titinka - Trombetta

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