Bearded Theory Festival ” This could be the festival line-up of the summer” 2023, Catton Park, Derbyshire. 25th – 28th May 2023


“This could be the festival line-up of the summer and it’s going to take some beating”



When I first saw the line-up for this years Bearded Theory festival, I thought this could be the festival line-up of the summer and it’s going to take some beating. As the year’s festival line-ups came thick and fast my judgement wasn’t swayed. This year’s Bearded Theory is an eclectic mix of high hitting headliners and bands on the cusp of being just that. Set in the heart of the tranquil National Forest and with a decent weather forecast this should be good.

I drift around to soak up the atmosphere in the Saturday sunshine and Bearded Theory definitely lives up to the family-orientated name. There’s an array of festival food vans, fairground rides, a cabaret, a Maui Waui children’s village and with a total of nine stages there’s got to be something for all ages. The one thing there isn’t though is the sight of idiots ruining things for everyone else. I just see people having a good time by not being pricks.

Scouting mission over I head for the Main stage (Pallet Stage) to catch singer-songwriter and guitarist and three times Mercury Prize nominee Anna Calvi.  In the bright sunshine the stage seems colossal for a three-piece, but the wide-ranging, formidable vocals and breath-taking guitar skills blow me away and make the stage seem that much smaller. It’s a set full of shadowy and atmospheric songs and one I’d love to see in a dark intimate venue. First mental note of the day.



I spot Deja Vega and Jack from The Dirt and join them in the Meadow tent for the legend that is Brix Smith. A major member of The Fall (no Fall member jokes please) on two occasions, the set doesn’t disappoint with songs full of torment, attitude and driving rhythm. Something suddenly occurs to me and I check the full festival line-up. There’s something that’s really apparent about the bands playing.  There’s a proliferation of female artists and bands this year, Millie Manders and the Shutup, IDestroy, The Mysterines, The Pretenders to name a few which is really refreshing.

There’s a definite evening buzz in the air as crowds make their way to the Pallet stage for 80s icon Gary Numan. As he bounces onto stage shadowed by a post-apocalyptic Mad Max inspired guitarist and bass player, I do think it’ll be strange to see such a dark artist in bright sunshine. My doubts are unfounded as it’s simply a stunning set. Tracks such as “Intruder”, “Metal” and “My Name Is Ruin” are dense, shadowy, crushing and industrial. Numan and the band only stop utilising the stage to stare menacingly into the crowd. It’s mesmerising to watch and with bon-fide classics “Are Friends Electric” and  “Cars” thrown into the mix it’s going to take some beating as set of the festival. What a set. Another note to self. Check out Gary Numan’s later albums.



The unenviable job of following Mr Webb is left to Manhattan’s Interpol. Taking the stage beneath minimal white lights and swathed in smoke, it’s an atmospheric entrance and one befitting a band who musically and visually are cast in shadows. Musically evocative and uncompromising there’s something reminiscent of Numan in his prime about Interpol tonight. In the darkness lights turn from white to red and the songs are constricted yet forceful, anthemic yet alienating. It’s another great set, but after a long, hot day of brilliant music I head back to the Meadow for a rest where I catch the joyous sounds of “The Green Fields of France” and “Ironmasters” by The Men They Couldn’t Hang whilst having a breather on the grass.



The Meadow stage is packed for the last band of the day.  It’s a set I’ve been looking forward to since I saw the festival line-up. A band I’ve seen so many times since 1985 and a band who sometime in January 1983, watching Top of The Pops, gave me my personal Bowie ‘Starman’ moment. “The Cutter” had me in an instant, my eyes and ears were opened, my hair was cut, an overcoat was found and my love of Echo and The Bunnymen began. I’ve a feeling this is going to be special.

In the pale blue lights, smoke and close confines of the tent, the band take us on a voyage across their forty-year career.  “Going up”“All that Jazz”“Rescue”“Flowers”“Bring on the Dancing Horses”; “All My Colours (Zimbo)”, “Seven Seas” have the crowd singing back to the stage. Ian’s voice is astounding. There are a few Ian quips before “Nothing Lasts Forever / Walk on the Wild Side” has the crowd singing and do, do, do, doing before “Over the Wall”; “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo”; “Never Stop”; “The Killing Moon” and “The Cutter” showcase Will Sergeant’s hypnotic guitar. In the darkness it’s just incredible. The band of the day for me. It’s going to take some performances tomorrow to better this.



A warm and cloudier Sunday opens with The Undertones on The Pallet stage. “Jimmy, Jimmy”; “Get Over You”; “Teenage Kicks”; “Here Comes the Summer”; “Wednesday Week”; “True Confessions” and  “My Perfect Cousin” are perfect. All melody dripping, blistering, fast new wave songs. Bassist Mickey jokingly pleading us to “don’t go” as we leave the photo pit after song three. 



It’s almost as if The Undertones passed the baton to Lancashire’s lo-fi psychedelic The Lovely Eggs on their way from the stage. Full of energetic, frenetic songs such as “The Digital Hair”; “I’m With You”; “Slug Graveyard”; “Witchcraft” and “Wiggy Giggy”, the two-piece somehow sonically fill the stage and it’s another great set, A joke about a plane showering the audience with MDMA raises a laugh too before I rush off.



The magical Woodland Stage is set in a glorious glade of trees behind the main stage and plays host to the riotous, huge energy and infectious noise of both the pop-punk of IDestroy and the ska-punk of Millie Manders & The Shut Up. Both sets are an explosion of high-octane attitude and memorable choruses which have the crowd bouncing on the grass.




Back at The Pallet stage, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (Pigs x7) barefooted vocalist Matt Baty’s raw, desperate vocals expel rage as the band’s savage riffs twist and tear through the crowd. It’s both powerful and mind blowing and watching Matt never stop moving makes me need to sit down and take a break. Thankfully next up is  Southeast London’s The Dualers who provide a much-needed aural respite. Ska and reggae in the Sunday sunshine, what’s not to love? The audience agree as I see bouncing fancy dress costumes disappearing into the distance from behind the barrier.




Resplendent in black boiler suits, I catch a fragment of Warmduscher’s raucous, funk before I head back to The Meadow stage for  Liverpool’s Mysterines. I’ve seen The Mysterines a fair few times in the last four years or so and every time I see them, they just get better and better. The power and range of Lia’s voice today is just astounding and backed up with great musicians and a powerful ominous collection of songs such as “The Last Dance”; “Hung Up” and “Life’s a bitch” it won’t be long before they are on the stage with the next act.




Chrissie Hynde really has some musical pedigree. She was involved with early versions of the Sex Pistols and The Clash before forming The Pretenders back in 1978. It’s another awe-inspiring moment of the festival as The Pretenders glide through timeless classics such as “Talk of The Town” and “Back on the Chain Gang”. Chrissie’s voice is as strong as ever and I stand next to an emotional Rhoda Dakar during the former while Chrissie must restart a song again as she spots Bobby Gillespie on the side of the stage and is apparently nervous.



The sun has finally gone down for the last act on the main stage. Opening with “Come Together” and closing with “Rocks”, a white suited Bobby Gillespie takes us through a 30-year Primal Scream musical journey. Its full on both aurally and visually. A five-piece gospel choir backs up the multitude of musicians on the stage as an outstanding digital display and array of lights directs us through visuals for “2013”; “Skull X”; “Big Jet Plane”;  “Free”; “It’s Alright, It’s OK”; “Suicide Bomb”; “Jailbird”; (The outstanding) Loaded; “Movin’ on Up” and “Country Girl”. It’s a powerful set and as people begin to leave, I feel everyone’s sadness of having to go home.



It’s been a magnificent range of musicians over the last few days and I sadly don’t get to see everyone I want to. I hear constant good reviews of Benefits, Deja Vega and High Vis and my one final mental note is to catch them when I can. The last thing in my mind when leaving though is the absolutely brilliant and positive atmosphere I’ve experienced. Thank you, Bearded Theory. Please do it again next year.