Bearded Theory is a multi-award winning creative and performing arts festival set in the beautiful grounds of Catton Hall in the heart of the National Forest. The festival borders 3 counties of West Midlands, South Derbyshire and Staffordshire and only 2 hours away for 50% of the UKs population.
In 2016 we won “UK`s Best Family Festival” at the UK Festival Awards, 2014 we won “Promoter of the Year” award at the UK Festival Awards and Festival Kidz “Silver Award”. In 2013, after being shortlisted for many years, we finally won “Best Small Festival” at the UK Festival Awards and a Festival Kidz “Gold Award”. In 2011, we won the “UKs Best Independent Festival” at the AIM Music Awards. Over the years, we have also been shortlisted for many awards including Best Grassroots and Best Toilets. We have also been named as “Gig of the Year”, “Festival of the Year” and named as the UK`s Best Family and Medium sized festival in various major print media.
We have been recognised in the National press as being one of the best festivals of the summer in various articles in the Guardian, Express, Sun, Independent, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 1, Channel 4, BBC Entertainment and the Mirror. We have an award winning free Children’s Village along with an award-winning bar selling real ales, lagers and ciders at pub tariffs. In addition, we are one of the very few festivals that allow you to bring your own drink into our arenas.
In our history, we have donated and generated well over £300,000 to charity. We have financially supported a vast amount of youth clubs in deprived areas across the Midlands to enable their survival, supported local Village Halls with funding the replacement sound and lighting equipment, supplied and paid for stocked bars to be sold at charity events, mended holes in Village Hall roofs, financially support food banks and rescue centres and much more besides. We continue to financially support National and local charities from the festivals profits.
The festival has always been audience led and our programming is operated the same now as when we started 12 years ago, we book acts off the back of your recommendations, improved our infrastructure in line with feedback and sourced the vendors and bars off the back of the suggestions of people that attend.
It all started in 2007 as a birthday celebration in a field behind a pub and a good time was had with a group of friends performing which included the 3 Daft Monkeys. It was decided to do the party again the following year but for charity. The friends in attendance remained a key part of the team including Main Stage Manager, Magical Sounds curator, Main Stage Compere, Operations Manager, Build Team, Children’s Area managers and of course the Birthday boy remained the organiser and Main Stage programmer for many years to come.
In 2008 we set about putting on a small gathering but the original indoor venue we had identified had double booked and with that we found a replacement venue but it meant the gig had to be hosted outside. The Birthday boy of the previous year set about recruiting his team sourcing friends old and new into key roles including security, open mic tea tent, main stage manager, accountant and various other bits and bobs.
We had a tiny budget because we had sold the tickets at £12 each but called in a few favours and we programmed a great bill with Dreadzone sound system, 3 Daft Monkeys and Hobo Jones to name a few. Tickets sold out in a couple of months and we set about putting on a festival for £6000. We built the “main” stage out of pallets, had a rave area on a pub patio, had a free children’s area and formed some friendships which have stood the test of time. The festival was a success and we even bagged a tidy £3000 which was donated to Oxfam.
We decided to do it all again in 2009 but trying to outdo our previous offering (which is a trait that continues to this day). We secured the likes of Hawkwind, Saw Doctors and Neville Staple (Specials). The festival introduced Magical Sounds dance arena and a second stage for the first time and expanded the free children’s village into an acre of space. We had to move site and obtained a 5 year premises license at Bradley Nook Farm in Hulland Ward, Derbyshire. With a week to spare the festival had sold out all its 2000 tickets a huge increase from the previous year and Virtual Festivals declared we were the UKs fastest growing festival in percentage terms.
The gates opened and the bands kicked off with Hawkwind, Dreadzone and 3 Daft Monkeys stealing the show on the opening night. On the beautiful wooded Campfire Stage we had an artist grace the stage that has gone onto become a worldwide multi-million selling arena act, a far cry from his £25 performance fee. Saturday came and Bearded Theory hit the international headlines due to an onsite Tornado ripping through the site causing the Main Stage to collapse. The festival carried on regardless, testing the resolve of the team, and the Dunkirk spirit shone through leaving magical memories with the Saw Doctors performing in the bar, stages being set up in trader units and Goldblade performing a legendary set on the Sunday in the bar.
The festival dusted itself down and decided to carry on in 2010. The team moved the festival site around and made some ground breaking improvements. Soil Scientists were appointed to establish anchorage depths considering the soil composure, structural engineers were appointed to manage the stage builds, top graphical land surveyors to establish wind exposure points on the site and an appointed wind monitoring company. We now undertake this practice every year to ensure our festival is as safe as it can be.
The festival once again secured some amazing acts which included New Model Army, Dreadzone, King Blues, Banco De Gaia and many others. We expanded the Children’s Village and introduced a healing field. The festival sold 3500 tickets and the festival for the third consecutive year sold out. The festival hit the headlines once again but for all the right reasons and we had established ourselves as one of the country’s best family festivals. The reviews were stonking!
The festival ran out of room at Bradley Nook Farm and had to look elsewhere in order to grow. We relocated a few miles down the road at Kedleston Hall closer to the city of Derby. With a permanent license obtained and 50 acres to play with it became our home for 3 years.
The festival secured an unbelievable line up with certain websites in disbelief at who we had secured against our ticket price. It came true and the Waterboys, Athlete, Alabama 3, Undertones, The Beat and many more graced the Main Stage. Magical Sounds raised their game securing the Orb and Eat Static. The stage started to become a legendary dance arena with its mind blowing décor, first class audio and intelligent lighting system. The Beard Top secured some great up and coming names such as Cosmo Jarvis, Ferocious Dog and X-Factor reject Wagner made a tongue in cheek appearance.
The festival was a great success and we went on to win the UK`s Best Independent Festival at the AIM Music Awards in London.
In 2012 we wanted to improve our offering once again and asked our attendees who they wanted to operate the bars. The bars previously had not been what we had hoped and following the competition, local bar operator Thornbridge were appointed. The bars were selling top quality real ales at pub tariffs and they continue as the festivals main bar contractor to this day.
We moved the site around to address some noise issues and also appointed a leading contractor to manage the acoustic monitoring resulting in no noise issues. The festival went about its business of securing bands and The Damned, Terrorvision, Dr Feelgood amongst others were secured (The Levellers had been booked but later pulled out due to a fiddler injury and they were replaced with Adam Ant). Magical Sounds booked up System 7 and Astralasia who went down a storm. The new Tornado Town stage was born and they programmed a festival pleasing bill with King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, Wheatus, Back to the Planet and Los Albertos taking centre stage. The festival was a huge success with Mark Chadwick from the Levellers turning up for a secret gig and performing a crowd pleasing set.
The Children’s Village was expanded once again and a second real ale bar was added. Over 40,000 pints were drunk with Thornbridge and the festival once again received rave reviews from the National Press.
2013 has gone down in the festivals history as our best festival to date. The festival worked on every level with amazing site art, cutting edge audio and lighting, an expanded Main Stage, amazing toilets, a brilliant Children’s Village and finally another sell-out festival.
The line-up was stunningly diverse mixing old and new acts playing on the same bill. The Main Stage secured its strongest line up to date with Levellers, Reverend and the Makers, Asian Dub Foundation, New Model Army, Seth Lakeman and Stiff Little Fingers. Magical Sounds also programmed a varied line up with booking the legendary Guy Called Gerald, Peatbog Faeries and Subgiant. Tornado Town billed Maroon Town, Destroyers and many more. The Lock Inn stage programmed Comedy for the first time and went down successfully. The festival had become confident in programming bands from overseas with acts flown in from as far as Australia to perform.
The festivals success didn’t go unnoticed and we won 2 more awards for the UK`s Best Small Festival and the Gold Award for our Children’s Village.
The festival was restricted in its attempt to improve further with increasing bureaucracy imposed by the landowners. With that the festival decided it was time to find a permanent solution to its venue requirement.
The removal men were called in and the festival upped sticks and relocated the festival to Catton Hall on the West Midlands, Staffordshire and South Derbyshire border. The landowner loved the concept, having been to the festival the previous year. The team obtained another permanent license and set about improving the site. With the landowner, the festival put in a new water supply and built more hard standing roads. We even landed a woodland area which we adapted into a stage. We had a disco shed that later appeared on Channel 4`s Shed of the Year (filmed at the festival).
We beat off stiff competition to secure Carter USM final ever festival show, after many years of trying secured the Stranglers and the festival made the international headlines when it booked Ali Campbell’s UB40. The Main Stage undercard proved equally as impressive with Reverend and the Makers, Dreadzone, Peter Hook, Wonder Stuff and many more joining the bill. Magical Sounds exploded into life following the bookings of the Orb, Billy Nasty and Chris Liberator. Tornado Town boasted a strong line up with Hayseed Dixie, King Prawn and Babyhead. The new Woodland Stage hosted an underground line up culminating in Mark Chadwick performing on the Sunday night.
The festival was a very damp affair, with a few teething issues present but the foundations were laid and you can always guarantee that Bearded Theory listens and acts to the attendee’s feedback. 2014 saw the festival incorporate the Thursday night into the ticket price which demonstrated further its attempt to make the festival as affordable as possible to everyone that attends.
Bearded Theory once again sold out and we added two more awards to our collection. Due to the festivals line up and work with stage safety we won Promoter of the Year and the Silver Award for our Children’s Village.
Following our 7th festival we set about further improving our home by installing drainage, reseeding the arena field, constructing further permanent roadways, having plenty of spotless toilets and widening gateways to address feedback from the previous year.
The Children’s Village was improved and was our best offering to date with every activity free of charge. We made history when we announced the plans to operate a school on the Friday of the festival. The school met key learning criteria at each age level and classes included Science, Home Economics, Math’s, English, History and lots more. The P.E classes were operated by Derby County FC! The school assisted parents taking children out of school without being fined and was a festival first.
Onto the bands, we shocked a few people when we booked James to by our closing headliner on the Sunday. In addition, the Mission was secured to perform on a UK exclusive to headline Friday along with Afro Celt Sound System performing on Saturday. The under card for the Pallet was equally as strong which included the likes of Alabama 3, Buzzcocks, New Model Army, Misty in Roots, Gun, British Sea Power and Hugh Cornwell.
The amazing Magical Sounds along with its mind-blowing décor took attendees on a musical journey with an incredibly diverse line up which included the legendary Lab 4, Banco De Gaia, Zion Train and Transglobal Underground.
The Woodland hosted a return for the beautiful solid oak stage last seen in 2009 and the whole area was beautifully decorated. Memorable moments included skanking to ska legend Neville Staple, getting fit with the legendary Mr. Motivator and chilling to the beautiful voice of Cara Dillon.
So, there it is, James closed the festival in some style and a huge firework display signaled the end to one of our best festivals to date.
We shook off the final niggles of moving home 2 years earlier and delivered our best festival operationally to date.
The School provision which aids parents to take children out of education without being fined was expanded and improved. The Children’s Village which is also being operated in-house to ensure it is free to use, was improved and the activates expanded and the area decorated to stunning effect. We also welcomed 2 new stages being: Maui Waui, a fantastic 1000 capacity marquee stage to void the gap of Tornado Town with it showcasing swing, gypsy punk, folk, ska and much more. Maui Waui also became our Thursday night venue. Convoy Cabaret were also brought in bridging the gap from our earlier days of a very much grassroots festival to the more operationally professional of current times. Convoy Cabaret operated by a collective we met in Bristol and showcased some amazing up and coming bands, festival legends and hard punk. We also opened for the first time the Woodland Stage on Thursday night and had DJ`s perform.
The car park was switched around avoiding “step-gate”, the toilets were spotless and we only need to move a few toilets around and to expand the campsite a little to be pretty much perfect for what we are trying to achieve at Bearded Theory.
The festival programming was electric bringing in new and old bands from around the World. The Pallet welcomed Johnny Rotten`s Public Image Limited, Squeeze, Asian Dub Foundation, Killing Joke, Levellers, Black Uhuru, Billy Bragg and Wilko Johnson. Wilkos set being described as gig of the year by Music Republic Magazine in their 2016 UK overview. The Woodland welcomed the hugely talented Radio 2 favorite Jack Savoretti, punk legends Stiff Little Fingers and amazing Turin Brakes amongst many others.
Magical Sounds bombasted their biggest line up to date and dance fans went crazy with the likes of Juno Reactor, The Orb, OTT and the all-seeing I, Subgiant and many more to boot. The area was awash with color, lasers and even a blow-up Santa. The tent is now legendary in its own right and a real must see for the hardened dance fanatics.
The festival closed with a fantastic set from Beans on Toast, fireworks exploding over Catton Hall and sea of happy faces mooching back to the Thornbridge Bar for a last cheeky beer.
In addition to the Gig of the Year accolade, the festival went on to win UK`s Best Family Festival at the UK Festival Awards.
The speakers on the Pallet Stage powered up a day early on our tenth anniversary as we welcomed back the original 2008 line up to mark the occasion. Dreadzone returned this time in full band mode as they headlined the opening night to another sold out Bearded Theory audience. High altitude pyrotechnics, streamer cannons and confetti shot out over the audience bringing the opening day to an emphatic close. Friday had to go some to beat the previous day’s festivities and it did exactly that with Skunk Anansie smashing the pants off the Pallet with Skin crowd surfing and Radio 1 favorites the Slaves marking an amazing modern punk performance. Legendary club night Megadog took over Magical Sounds for the first time in our history bringing with them legendary DJ CJ Bolland who had the tent bouncing around in the early hours. On the Saturday, we had to drag out our Pallet headliner from Magical Sounds as his tour bus was leaving without him, as he was swinging his moves to the legendary System 7. The Fall came out of hiding and played a great set on the Woodland to a capacity crowd.
Sundays closing duties fell to Madness who performed a classic set with balloons flying into the audience for house of fun, confetti, streamers and the annual fireworks marking an end to our 10th year and one of the best reviewed festival to date.
In our 11th offering we were joined by Led Zepplin front man Robert Plant and led to our quickest sell out since our first festival. The line up was joined by fellow Hall of Fame singer Jimmy Cliff and the up coming chart toppers Blossoms. Elsewhere we welcomed Idles, Sleaford Mods, The Coral and Jake Bugg graced our stage again after playing at the ‘windy’ one. Dubioza Kolektiv ‘stormed’ the stage, with their high energy Balkan dub rock, and mother nature gave them an amazing lightshow.
Our Woodland area was rammed all weekend, and during The Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican, they featured a pirate crowd surfing a Unicorn. Milburn, Lucy Spraggen, Therapy?, Jesus Jones, Ruts DC, Gentlemen’s Dub Club, all had the crowds dancing all day and night, in our magical venue.
We had our challenges, but overall the festival was a success, once we had you all in, and even the weather didn’t dampen our spirits.
We were determined to resolve the traffic issues from previous years, and brought in industry leaders ‘CTM’, we had you all parked and partying early this year. The sun shone down on us all weekend, and we had the most amazing weekend.
With a gentle start on Thursday, we had our friend’s Dr & The Medics, Beans on Toast, and the incredible Sister Bliss Faithless DJ Set, to start us all off.
Our Pallet stage saw some world class talent this year, with the Oh Sees blowing everyone away, Hollie Cook, Wildhearts, Editors & Suede making up most of our Friday line up. The Winachi Tribe, who played our One Big Showcase the previous year, opened proceedings on Saturday, and they shared the stage with Reef, the legendary Easy Star All Stars, The Sherlocks, all being rounded off by The Cult. Sunday was feast for the ears, The Blinders gave us a great performance, and were a lovely group of lads, and we were lucky enough to have The Doves following their recent comeback.
Our Sunday night headliner, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, gave us one of the slickest stage shows we have ever seen, the musicians on the stage were phenomenal, their set was pure class, high energy and thought provoking.
The Woodland stage played host to some amazing acts our the weekend Stiff Little Fingers, The Skids, Wildwood Kin, Seth Lakeman, Lady Bird, the Slow Readers Club, Idlewild, The Dreadnoughts and The Skatalites, filled the area, and wowed our guests.
Across the site we have 9 venues, and cater for all tastes, Chris Liberator, Union Jack & The Orb, had the dance tent bouncing. Convoy Cabaret, Maui Waui, The Ship, The Something Else Tea Tent, and the One Big Showcase, all had crowds gathering inside and out.
After our Covid-related hiatus, in 2022 we triumphantly returned to the fields of Catton Hall with a sold out festival! The festival was full of euphoria at the whole gang getting back together and we welcomed iconic performers such as Patti Smith, The Flaming Lips and Placebo.
All of our stages returned for 2022 and we even introduced a new tent – The Knockerdown Variety Club, named for our humble origins in the carpark of The Knockerdown pub and housing our comedy as well as a new fan favourite – KARAOKE! Did you showcase your skills on the mic??
A strange and mysterious new entity had arrived in Catton Park ahead of our 2023 festival… no one knew where this mysterious giant forest head had come from but we knew he was here to bring us a good time! Big Ed joined the Bearded family in 2023 and provided a haven for all the dance music fans who wanted to party under the hot May sunshine.
And it was a hot one! We were blessed with some of the best weather Catton Park has ever seen and we sure did enjoy it, with sunkissed sets from the likes of Panic Shack, Yard Act, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Warmduscher as well as headline performances from NYC indie rock icons, Interpol, gypsy punk heroes, Gogol Bordello and the musical delights of Primal Scream.
As well as Big Ed, 2023 also saw the introduction of the Meadow Stage, giving us a brand new space to enjoy even more headline acts including artists such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Public Service Broadcasting and Viagra Boys. Our Woodland Silent Disco also arrived to offer a unique time to dance & sing-a-long in a beautiful fairylit setting.