Bearded Theory Spring Gathering 2017 Review

Arrival

Bearded Theory may well win the award for the most amazingly helpful staff. Steve and his colleagues on the disabled campsite moved bins and toilets around to make room for us when we arrived late on Friday night. He even helped mend our inflatable tent for us when half of it collapsed due to an unfixable puncture, carrying out most of the work on his own while we were off enjoying ourselves. I was overwhelmed by how accommodating and resourceful they all were. Thank you Steve – your halo shines brightly!

Campsites

Arrive early! Bands start at 2pm on the main stage on Thursday with the campsites opening at 12pm. Most people want to spend as much time at this festival as possible and will get there as soon as they can.

The camper fields were vast! The main campervan field was near the Woodland stage and Convoy Cabaret and The Ship. It had shower blocks and toilets for those that needed them.

The main tent fields were close to the arena with the car park just the other side, across the road. There were eight showers in this field and plenty of toilets, which were generally kept clean and well stocked with toilet roll. At the bottom of the field was a cafe and camping shop. The staff in the shop were really helpful and knowledgeable.

The glamping option were tipis and yurts, with or without furnishings.

Bearded School

Bearded Theory’s unique OFSTED approved festival school was launched three years ago largely due to the fact that the festival starts on the Thursday before half term (for most schools). Due to work commitments we didn’t arrive in time to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. However, I was lucky enough to meet up with the head of the school, Sally, who gave me the run down on how it all worked.

Enrollment starts as soon as the Early Bird tickets for the festival go on sale. (A ticket reference number is required to reserve a space.) The school, and every single activity offered in the Children’s Village is free and manned by DBS checked volunteers. They had 250 spaces in the school this year, which were all booked up within three and a half weeks, so if you think you might want to try this out next year, then don’t hang about! Many of those who were too late were offered a place on the Wild Things Forest School course, which they ran as an alternative. Once a child’s place is booked, a lesson plan is then sent out to that child’s head teacher, hopefully helping to ensure that the abscence from the school is authorised.

The school day starts at 9am and runs through until 3pm with a gap for the children to have a packed lunch which they are required to bring. For years Reception up to 5, the core subjects are covered. All the work is relevant to the festival. This year, the maths work included tasks such as working out how many toilets would be required for the number of people attending. English focused on story writing, and also thinking about how to organise a festival. The science classed involved making fizzy sherbert drinks. In the first aid lesson, the students learnt how to call for help, relay a message and how to put someone in the recovery position. There was also a section at the beginning of the day devoted to mindfullness, helping the children learn how to control their emotions. This not only prepared the children for the day (which they may have been nervous about) but gave them a life skill. In the art lesson, they made birthday hats for Bearded Theory’s tenth year. This activity continued in the children’s village for the whole festival.

For older children, year 6 and up, the learning was less regimented. These students could choose to spend their time working on a range of activities from Jedi training, to music and art. The PE lessons included can can dancing in tutus, and football traing with Derby County Ladies Team.

This year twenty three children with special educational needs attended the festival school. The deputy head along with other teaching staff from the local Pegasus School were involved ensuring that each child’s needs were accommodated. The SEN children all received one to one support. The basic ratio throughout the school was 1:7.

Sally is extremely hot on safeguarding. Each year group was allocated a different colour. At drop off each child was fitted with a wristband of the appropriate colour and the parents were issued a corresponding sticker. At 3pm children were returned to their parents or carers only if the wristbands and stickers tallied and parents or carers were deemed in a fit state to care for their children. Storm Troopers patrolled the school perimeter for the entire day.

Bearded Theory have received so much positive feedback about their school from parents and children saying that it the best day at school that they’ve ever had. It’s also a perfect way to form festival friendships at the start of the weekend.

See our feature from last year on the school here.

Children’s Village

On the Friday the area was largely devoted to the school but still with reduced activities on offer for non attendees.

On Saturday and Sunday the whole area is open to all. The Village Green was generally littered with a vast amount of varying sizes of hula hoops which were very popular.

At other times there was folk dancing. The line dancing I saw was excellent. There was also an It’s a Knock Out competition. The evening parade was followed by a beautifully inviting camp fire.

The Village Hall tent opened each day with morning yoga. Later on (on the Saturday) we caught a story by a fabulous story teller about a king with a secret. This was a wonderful tale of which the moral was to embrace our differences. All the children and adults were fully engaged and it was a story which I had never heard before but will definitely remember.

The Village Hall Tent also hosted puppet shows, sing-a-longs, ukulele playing, games and a fun disco.

There was of course a craft tent. A very busy beauty salon provided free face painting, fake tattoos and nail art. The baby tent had a microwave and a knitting area. The poetry tent and soft play area were also popular.

The Children’s Village organisers at Bearded Theory have a knack of knowing exactly what will work. My children are thirteen and nine years old and have been to between fifteen and twenty festivals in the last six years. They have had a great time doing all the workshops and have now pretty much done it all! Here their new thing was story writing on the old fashioned typewriters left for anyone to use on a staffed picnic table outside the craft tent. What a wonderfully simple yet perfect addition to an already fabulously well thought out and organised children’s area!

They also cater for older children in the Rogue’s hideout with DJing lessons and musical instruments available for jam sessions.

I really loved the veggie/vegan cafe with its very welcoming shaded (comfy) seated area. We often made specific visits here when we weren’t even accessing the children’s activities as the food and service was so good. It was one of the best places to go for every meal.

Other Activities for Children

Many parents were stung for cash by their children wanting to go on the fairground rides located between the campsites and the main stage. There was all sorts of bartering taking place with parents trading band time for rides. We held firm to our No Rides Until Sunday policy which worked well for us. Each attraction cost about three pounds. Our two enjoyed the banana swings, the aeroplane swings, the merry-go-round, the bucking bulls (while I danced to old rock’n’roll songs that were played at the bull ride. My husband won them prizes on the coconut shy and the Test Your Strength Machine.

Elsewhere, there were carving and crafting activities in the healing area. There was also art printing near the Woodland stage.

 

Bands

Bearded Theory always boasts bands which bring about a lot of 90s festival nostalgia, and this year was no different. Dreadzone were apparantly on top form, with their set closing with fireworks and streamers. We got there on Friday just in time to catch the second half of Skunk Anansie, who are always fantastic live. I first saw them in Glasgow in 1996 and Skin still retains the same level of exuberant energy. She didn’t really need to be on stage for “Everything’s Political” as the crowd sang most of it. I’m glad she was though as her passion is infectious. Skin was in the crowd for Little Baby Swastika, and had the fans on their knees until the massive crescendo to the chorus.  New Model Army (more on them later) generally decline the opportunity to headline, so they were followed by Seasick Steve on Saturday with a merry Madness closing the festival on Sunday night with more streamers and fireworks while everyone sang along to the eponymous song, “Madness” – a superb way to go out. Other personal highlights of the main stage acts were The Selecter, an excellent punk band called Eastfield who stepped in last minute to replace an act that had to pull out, and of course Bearded favourites, New Model Army.

The top bands on the tranquil (in appearance only) and similarly 90s themed Woodland Stage were Pronghorn, The Fall, Cast, Foy Vance and Bearded regulars Reverand and the Makers.

Magical Sounds brought back ever popular Banco de Gaia, System 7, Ed Tangent, long time Bearded friends 3 Daft Monkeys, and closed on Sunday with the massive Transglobal Underground.

Maui Waui was the blues and soul venue. The ship was banging out dance tunes on the edge of the main campervan field on the walkthrough to the Woodland stage.

A recent addition to Bearded Theory is punk and ska venue Convoy Cabaret. Here you could get a punk hair cut (fifteen pounds in total to have your hair cut, bleached, dyed and styled) at the punk barbers whilst enjoying bands such as Back to the Planet. Who could ask for more?

Gail was back again with her Something Else Tea Tent, hosting unsigned up and coming new talent. I think everyone at Bearded Theory is friends with or has many friends in common with the lovely Gail.

New Model Army

New Model Army play festivals of all sizes across the UK and Europe. They somehow seem to define the essence of their regular festivals even on the years when they are not on the bill. The staple uniform of festival attendees (alongside rainbows and fancy dress) is band t-shirts. By far the most common t-shirt to see at Bearded Theory and similar festivals is a New Model Army one.

My husband is a thirty year New Model Army fan who jumped at the opportunity to interview the legend and one of the nicest men in rock, co founder and singer, Justin Sullivan. Our nine year old son was co-interviewer. When asked about his preference in musical venues, Justin stated that while he enjoys playing concerts, he appreciates the variety of festivals, in particular the diversity of the other acts.Bearded Theory The most important thing is just playing the music, although it is a tough job to come up with the best set list for each occasion as they have a wealth of over two hundred songs to choose from. To help them guage the feel of the crowd, unlike a lot of bands, New Model Army will take time to explore the festivals that they play at. I’m sure we aren’t the only people who play Spot the New Model Army musician!

Although the band are happy to play most of the festivals that the promoters book them for, they prefer to avoid the more corporate, branded festivals, so Bearded Theory is a great choice for them. The size of a festival is of no real concern but they enjoy being close to their fans, especially these days, when they can look out and see familiar faces, who are now bringing their children along. Justin asked if co-interviewer Deian would be watching the New Model Army set that evening (of course!) and made a point of checking that he would be wearing his ear defenders. He said that he once stopped a gig to ask a parent to take their child further back as they had no ear protection. As a Mum, when I heard this, I thought that was a very admirable attitude. Deian asked Justin which songs he most likes to play on stage. Justin said one of his favourites to play is “Winter”, due to the lyrics being so powerful. He asked Deian what his favourite was, and when Deian told him “I Love The World”, he smiled and told him to listen out for it later. Deian was over the moon when they closed their set with his choice!

 

Food

We always take a camping stove to festivals, but it didn’t even make it out of its box at Bearded Theory. I always look forward to festival food. The range and prices here were more than satisfactory. A pizza was £6 which was a lovely surprise as we were expecting to pay more. I’m a vegetarian and my husband only eats meat. Both the children are fussy but we were all well fed over the weekend. There were plenty of burger vans but also dishes on offer from a number of different countries. My daughter was a regular customer at the crepe and milkshake stalls. Pretty much all the vendors would cater for children with smaller portions if asked.

The bars had an exceptional range of beers, lagers and ciders as well as spirits. They were well staffed with trained bartenders who ensured that noone was kept waiting for long.

Accessibility

I was very impressed this year. As mentioned above, the disabled campsite had wonderful staff. It was flat and right by the arena, and guests could park very near to their tents. We were possibly the last to arrive and were just a few metres from the car. This year there were two disabled campsites, each with a disabled shower and two accessible toilets (reserved for disabled guests) plus a few more toilets for other family members to use. The showers on the main campsite were only a few minutes walk away.

Guests who provided evidence in advance that they needed a carer were issued with an extra ticket.

The viewing platform for the main stage was a good size. It was always manned by two stewards but did not need much policing as those that could stand generally went to the back.

A splendid addition at Bearded Theory is that they now have an onsite British Sign Langauage interpreter. I think this is such in important aspect of inclusion and have noted its absence at other festivals. My daughter tells me that the interpreter was on stage with Skunk Anansie. (I don’t need the service myself, and honestly didn’t notice her. She must have just come across as part of the band to me!) She also interpreted for two acts on the Woodland stage and one in the Something Else Tea Tent. It would have been more but everything has to be agreed with the tour managers beforehand. Hopefully this will become the norm at all entertainment venues, as I can’t see why anybody wouldn’t be on board with this. Sarah, the interpreter, does a grand job of preparing all the lyrics to sign, often with just a few hours’ notice. Next year the plan is to have BSL interpreters on hand in the welfare tent and also the children’s village. Sally also hopes to incorporate a lesson in signing into the Bearded School day.

Mobsters and Lobsters

Bearded Theory has one of the most popular fancy dress competitions that I have seen at a festival. This is hardly surprising considering how many people wear false beards here! These year’s theme was mobsters and lobsters and people went all out. Everybody loves to be a gangster and the kids running round in their pinstriped suits with their inflatable guns were adorable! “Lobsters” incorporated any sea dwelling creature. Queue the jelly fish umbrellas, litlle mermaids (with beards), and of course lobsters among others. Everybody looked fantastic!

Bearded Theory Must Sees

It wouldn’t be Bearded without the gloriously uplifting Drum Machine. They play outside the Magical Sounds Tent on the Saturday and Sunday before the first bands go on stage. Not many people manage to walk past when they are playing as they are so uplifting, it is hard not to stay for a listen and a dance.

Opening the main stage on Saturday morning are the Bonsall Red Barrows (see our feature here). They always put on a fantastic display of wheelbarrow prowess, showcasing daring feats alongside enchanting wheelbarrow ballet. This year I got to be a Red Barrow for their Sunday Morning Talent Show. For as long as I live, I will always cherish the time I got to don a red boiler suit and dance to Relight My Fire on and around a wheelbarrow in front of a Sunday morning Bearded Theory Crowd. Happy Days!

Award Winners

Bearded Theory won the category of Best Family Festival in the 2016 UK Festival Awards with good reason. The school really puts it in a class of its own, but there is so much on offer to keep children of all ages entertained and eager to return. Bearded also manages to do this without taking away from it being a proper old school festival with good traditional festival values and attitude. People don’t just go there to have a good time, but to feel a part of something wonderful. It is great to be able to be our true selves with no judgement, but also to really sense the feeling of belonging to a community of like-minded folk. This is an event that people are passionate about and remain excited about returning to year after year. It brought such a smile to my face to see someone in a home knit Bearded jumper! It stays the same size now, but still seems to get bigger and better every year and we can’t wait to go back in 2018!


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