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Bearded Theory - Day Three

  • Published in Live

 

So, having survived the ordeal of the lightning, I rise like Odysseus into baking sunshine for the last day of Bearded Theory. The drainage here is excellent. You’d hardly know it had even rained. In fact, my neighbour slept through it, the bastard! Donning slightly damp boots, we head to the arena to recharge, both literally and figuratively. After dropping my battery pack at the recharge station and getting a bacon roll from Duck Burgers, I’m feeling almost normal again. The festival site could use better signage but credit where it’s due, its day three and I have yet to queue for a toilet or find one that was dirty or smelly. It sounds like a small thing but it’s quite an achievement, well done Bearded Theory.

Sheafs invite the early risers to step a little closer. The band have just arrived from Sheffield and look noticeably fresher than the assembled throng. The stage is lined with vintage portable TVs and signs reading “This is not a protest” as the rock quintet launch into ‘You’re So Fickle’. Front man Lawrence climbs down into the pit to greet the front row during ‘My Pollution’. He already looks like a rock star with his floppy hair, open shirt and white half moon tambourine. He even scales the barrier to get amongst the crowd and whip them up during ‘I Wanna Show You What I Mean’. Good stuff!

There’s a lot of dadrock on the main stage this afternoon and nothing worth writing home about so I head over to the Showcase stage where a very pleasant group of milquetoast youngsters are playing inoffensive indie. A poorly chosen cover of ‘Love Is All Around’ thins out the crowd as people start walking away shaking their heads.

But next up are Cohesion. The long hair, tattoos, and black face paint suggest a metal band. They are more accessible than their appearance indicates. The guitars are ‘90s grunge, and the melodic vocals are positioned somewhere between Ricky Warwick and Disturbed. Nonetheless, the tunes are good, the rhythms tight, and the rock is hard. They aren’t afraid to groove either. Even the unfashionable guitar solos sound good. Cohesion may be on the poppier end of the metal spectrum, but they are exactly what this Sunday afternoon needs.

After bravely hiding away from another thunderstorm, I expect to have missed most of Jake Bugg but his set has sensibly been held back until the storm passes. I’ve managed to miss him at a handful of other festivals, so I’m delighted to finally get to see him live. I haven’t heard the new album yet apart from the surprisingly good duet with Noah Cyrus. Backed with a three piece band, he sounds uncannily like Lee Mavers when he sings, but his speaking voice could hardly be more different. The set leans heavily on his early material, with the new tunes scattered between the likes of ‘Taste It’ and ‘Slumville Sunrise’. The recent songs stand out; a bit grandiose and overblown. The country aspect of the music is more pronounced live than it is on record, as is Bugg’s ability to shred on his guitar. He even throws in a Richie Havens cover. The weather has necessitated a truncated set, but what has been lost in quantity is made up for by the quality of the songs. A 40 minute greatest hits set; it would be greedy to ask for more than that.

And that’s that for Bearded Theory 2018. The music was great. The weather was crap but that can’t be helped. Catton Hall makes for a great venue, and the food & drink stalls were many and varied. There is room for improvement in some minor aspects and the organisers are very open to suggestions from festival-goers.  For a festival on this scale to retain their independent approach and BYOB policy is, increasingly, a rarity. In the absence of Glastonbury this year, Bearded Theory was a fine alternative.

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Bearded Theory - Day Two

  • Published in Live

 

Waking up to see exit polls predicting a landslide for the Repeal movement back home is a great start to the day. I feel warm inside even if the skies are overcast. Equally, the promise of seeing Idles, Sleaford Mods and The Winachi Tribe today stirs excitement in my guts that is unrelated to the festival hot dogs.

After a few showers, the sun finally shows its luminous face just in time for the ska/punk/metal hybrid of Random Hand. Their road crew entertain the crowd by name-checking the various food stalls for soundcheck. Hopefully the band are as much fun as their support team are. Singer/trombonist Robin Leitch points out that the main stage is much bigger than the stages they usually play. Accordingly, the sound is shit down the back, but the energy of the band is enough to draw us in closer where the superior sound and the skanking oldies put a whole new complexion on things. “Most of you won’t have heard of us but we’ve been playing a long time and this is the nearest we’ve played to an ice cream van. And it’s definitely the most people who have seen my flies come undone”, he says as he fixes the furniture. Riotous stuff!

UK Subs are a band that I know more through reputation than through experience. They are more familiar from t-shirts than from their music but after 40 years and 26, alphabetically titled, albums, I am anticipating a masterclass in punk entertainment. What follows is an adequate approximation of punk but I suppose you can excuse that in a band that has been doing this longer than half the crowd has been on the planet. To be honest, Random Hand had as much of an impact on me, in a shorter set, but ‘Down On The Farm’ takes me back to the old Guns 'N' Roses cover and it’s one more band off the bucket list.

From what punk used to sound like, we move very swiftly to what it currently sounds like. I’ve been listening to Idles’ debut album, Brutalism, for over a year now and it is imprinted on my brain. The chance to see them live was my main motivation in coming to this festival. I hide my pale, easily burned skin in the shadow of the bar while they soundcheck. If there were a lot of photographers for Pins last night, then I will need the thesaurus for the proper collective noun for this pack of paparazzi.

They open with the ferocious ‘Heel Heal’. Lead singer Joe Talbot has his own version of the moonwalk. When he spills his water on the stage and the crew come on to clean it, he insists on doing it himself as it is his mess. He and a crew member get down on all fours and he continues to sing as they mop up the spillage. A 10 year old boy named Isaac is drafted in to sing ‘Mother’, “This is our future” says Talbot of the boy. He dedicates the song to the crew and to the toxicity of masculinity. I hesitate to use the clichéd term “capturing the zeitgeist” but it seems particularly appropriate for this band. Idles’ musical approach is as representative of our changing society as is the unfolding result of the referendum.

There are a handful of new songs that bode well for the forthcoming album. They note that it is “An honour to open for Sleaford Mods; the best band in the country right now”. Having seen the Nottingham duo a few times recently, it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. Idles are the only band who look to challenge them for the crown. It’s difficult to write anything about them as they play. Their performance is so overwhelming that they all sweat through their shirts and the veins are visible on their faces and necks. Even watching them is exhausting. I had intended to see Fun Lovin’ Criminals next but I think I need a lie down before Sleaford Mods.

Sufficiently recovered from one onslaught of socially conscious invective, I return to the main stage to see Andrew Fearn and James Williamson let loose. The prolific pair pepper old favourites amid the newer cuts. “Are you enjoying it?” asks Williamson, “For a lot of people, you’ve very quiet. Are you fucked up?” If you haven’t seen these guys before, then you should make it a priority to rectify that. Their unique performance and material never disappoint. Williamson’s manic delivery and physical tics are a statement in themselves, but the juxtaposition of Fearn’s affable, tracksuited loner bobbing along to the laptop, while nearby an angry man spits invective, is visually arresting. It’s reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s artfully aggressive dancing on ‘70s TV. Aside from all that, it’s just hard not to get caught up in the stark, thunderous, post-punk beats.

There’s dancing of an altogether different sort over at the Showcase stage with The Winachi Tribe. I've been following these guys for a couple of years now but it's the first time I've seen them live. They don't disappoint. They're a slick, funky groove machine. The fat rumble of the bass guitar slots in with the dancey drums and percussion, laying sound foundations for the smooth vocals of Liam Croker. We spoke recently about their new single and he gives me a shoutout when introducing it; a nice ego boost for a Saturday night. You wouldn't get that from Robert Plant. The showcase tent fills quickly with the band's accessible sounds drawing in passers-by. Hopefully we'll see them on one of the bigger stages next time.

Whether it was the Black Dragon cider, the beautiful music, or the general good vibes, I'm not sure, but the next thing I remember is being woken by a nearby roll of thunder. I'm a city boy, and not usually an outdoors type, so being in a field under a nylon/polyester tent in a lightning storm is a new experience for me. The initial surge of awe and excitement that greets the sights and sounds of nature's brilliance fades very quickly when you're in such a precarious position. Thunder, at sufficient proximity, is not just an aural, but a visceral phenomenon. I went from enthralled to shitting myself in seconds flat.

After putting all my clothes and electronics into a waterproof bag, the only logical next step is frantic googling. This is only mildly reassuring, insofar as there's little you can do in this situation with no adequate shelter nearby. But deaths by lightning are relatively rare: more common than shark attacks (little chance of that in rural Derbyshire) but less so than being shot by a toddler in America. 90 minutes of wishing I had a God to pray to, and counting Mississippis, later and all that is left to do is wish I'd properly covered up my boots before the rain started.

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