Bearded Theory Festival: Catton Hall, Derbyshire 26-29/5/16
What links Lord Byron, Napoleon, Johnny Rotten, Black Uhuru and Wilko Johnson? Would make a great question for Mastermind or Eggheads, eh? The answer is………
………….Beautiful Catton Hall and parkland in Derbyshire. A spot of history: Catton has been in the hands of the same family since 1405 and the present Hall, built in the 1740s, is the home of Robin and Katie Neilson, descendants of the original owners. The present house, originally designed by James Gibbs and built by Smith of Warwick for Christopher Horton stands on the banks of the River Trent. The house remains virtually unchanged as does its original collection of fine family and royal portraits and 17th and 18th century Dutch and Italian paintings.
Catton was taken from its Saxon owner, Siward, by William the Conqueror who gave it to a Norman for services rendered in the conquest of Britain in 1066. It was held by the descendents of Nigel D’Albini until 1405, when it was sold to the Horton family whose descendants have owned and occupied Catton to the present day. There have been changes of name caused by inheritance passing through the female line. According to legend, a curse was put on Catton in the 18th Century, whereby no son would inherit from his Father until the Chapel, which had been destroyed, was rebuilt. The only remains of previous Chapels are the Norman Font, which is still in use, some remains of mullioned windows, which were dredged out of the River Trent, and an old chapel bell, which is now housed in the clock tower in the stable yard. It bears the mark of Newcombes; bell Founders in Leicester in the 16th Century.
The Horton’s were solid, reliable people who looked after their Estate and developed it peacefully, interrupted only by the Civil War of 1642. Being staunch Royalists, they lost favour with Oliver Cromwell who sacked Walter Horton from the office of High Sheriff of Derbyshire because of his allegiance to King Charles I. Walter Horton’s portrait hangs in the Drawing Room.
There are fascinating family connections with Lord Byron, as well as with Napoleon and the Duke of Cumberland, George III’s brother. Get on with it, I hear you cry. Where do J Rotten, W Johnson and Jamaican reggae legends Black Uhuru come in? Through the artists' gate, I’d guess………… for the annual Bearded Theory Festival held at Catton for the last three years. Those illustrious names just part of the uber eclectic line-up for the 2016 bash, along with a host of veteran stars, rising stars and tomorrow’s stars, and lots of weird and wonderful acts and activities to keep the most hard to please happy for four days.
The sunshine was booked in advance and stayed for the four days, and very warm it was too, helping to sell a record number of pints of the special Bearded Theory ale brewed for the event by Thornbridge Brewery.It ran dry - more than 1,000 pints of the stuff were pulled in the backstage bar alone.
Many festivals will advertise themselves as “family friendly.” This one most certainly is. They even have an Ofsted approved school on the Friday, so parents do not get into trouble by removing them from school for the day. Kids have their own areas and loads to do. Circa 10,000 people each day, sold out on its ninth year this year, held in the grounds of the independently owned, 250-acre estate near Burton-on-Trent, Lichfield and Derby. Starting in 2008 in the field behind a pub, on this site since 2014.
Probably the most eclectic line-up of any festival I have attended in almost four decades. Up to 200 bands, artists and acts over the four days. “Pallet,” the main stage and The Woodland, the second outdoor stage. Then there’s the Magical Sounds and Maui Waui marquees, plus The Something Else Tea Tent and the Convoy Cabaret marquee. Could be the most chilled out vibe among the revellers and stewards/security bods too.
Thursday night, just three acts to greet the early bird campers, with Dub Pistols headlining. 1500 camper vans on site by Friday, plus many tents and Tipis. Friday was the proper start (but I think next year they intend to expand Thursday’s activities and line-up.) Veteran folk rock stars The Levellers headlined this year on the Friday. Some of the band wandering the site, as did other artists over the four days, it is that kind of low key vibe. Only one artist’s people acted up, and that artist looked like he’d consumed far too much butter with the weight he has piled on. Whining about his hotel being like “a giant Ikea”; the five-star hotel where the England football players stay when at their Burton on Trent training camp!
He demanded special tea and had all the dressing rooms cleared for him, his band and entourage. Even had his own exclusive toilet. A total lockdown of the backstage area, the stage cleared of all festival personnel, causing a wee bit of anarchy. Rotten behaviour if you ask me! He should take a PiL. Guessed yet?
The King Blues turned in a mighty set on the main stage daytime Friday, before Reverend and the Makers, Terrorvision, Killing Joke and The Levellers. The Woodland stage was a tranquil shady nook in the woods, holding maybe 2,500 people. Kicked off by 63-year-old Mr Motivator, aka Derrick Evans on Friday, with a mass work out. Flying in from his home in Jamaica. Fabulous girl power trio The Tuts and headliners Turin Brakes pulled the crowds to the Woodland stage on Friday. Nine piece Essex reggae and ska band New Town Kings did the business the before Friday’s headliners.
I had a nice chat and photo shoot (in a Tipi) with legendary record producer Youth aka Martin Glover, who has worked with the likes of the Orb, PM Dawn, Tom Jones, U2, Crowded House, The Verve and a chap called Paul McCartney, to name just a few. He plays bass with Killing Joke who graced the main stage on Friday. Youth camped out overnight after his band’s set, and was checking out various bands on the different stages, as he told me, always with an ear and an eye open for the next big thing to snap up to produce. Did he find anyone? Oh, that’d be telling………
Reggae legends Black Uhuru flew in from Jamaica for Saturday’s main stage set. Formed in 1972 in Kingston, Jamaica, the very first reggae band to win a Grammy; for their 1983 album "Anthem."
They and veteran Bristol reggae band Talisman on Sunday, the perfect sunshine soundtrack. I felt that the UK band pipped their more famous counterparts for energy and material, to be honest. I saw BH back end of the 70s and they were mighty. Talisman has been going since 1977, based in Bristol. They toured with and opened for Bow Wow Wow, Burning Spear, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Damned, The Clash and eventually The Rolling Stones. At one University gig when Talisman were supporting Bow Wow Wow, Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren turned up, didn’t like the production and fired everyone, PA, Lighting, Road Crew etc., and the next night a whole new set up was in place.
Talisman reformed with the original line up after 30 years apart. Their classic 1981 single ‘Dole Age’ was given a new lease of life on a brand new album 'Dole Age - The 1981 Reggae Collection', in 2012. Their 1984 debut album ‘Takin The Strain’ also won a re-release. In September 2013, thirty years after they recorded their debut long player, Talisman released their third studio album, ‘I-Surrection.’ Their second album, “Jam Rock,” dropped in 1992. They toured with Two Tone faves The Selecter across 20 dates in 2013.
Dehvan Othieno on guitar and lead vocal and his colleagues delivered a sparkling set and proved beyond doubt they are one of the best reggae bands on the scene, and even after nearly four decades since their first gigs, they are capable of headline quality performances. Black Uhuru, and I am unsure how many of the band are original members, for me went through the motions and quite a number of the audience wandered away during their set to go eat or take a stroll around the compact site and the various stalls. Not so when Talisman were on stage. Talisman is: Dehvan Othieno, Dennison Joseph on bass & vocals, Pete Fletcher on guitar, Marqus Fyahstyks on drums and Zebbi Holder on keyboards.
Billy Bragg turned in a very powerful set, just a pedal steel player for company, making heartfelt pleas for the displaced from global war zones and paying tribute to the Hillsborough victims. Blues survivor Wilko Johnson drew almost as many to the main stage on Saturday afternoon as any of the the headliners across the weekend. The BT crowd adored him. Forced to cancel last year’s appearance due to his life-saving surgery after a being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Wilko, bassist Norman Watt-Roy of Ian Dury’s Blockheads and drummer Dylan Howe, son of Yes legend Steve Howe, stormed the main stage with a powerful R&B set. Wilko with his trademark strutting, staring at the horizon (stareway to heaven?) with those menacing eyes that won him the part in the smash hit TV series Game Of Thrones as Ser Ilyn Payne. The producers hired him as the sword-wielding executioner. for his “cold-eyed, thousand yard stare" and did not audition anyone else for the part. Wilko and the band treating us to the great Dr Feelgood hits he wrote, and his own up-tempo bluesy stuff.
When he arrived, he was in a bit of a panic, as he explained: “Is today the day I really am going to die, I asked myself? “I have left my pills and medicines at home in Essex, and I need them to keep me alive.” He cancelled last year’s booking at the festival after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and underwent a marathon operation to remove the huge tumour, defying doctors’ prognosis to survive. A frantic call to his son and a dash up the motorway to deepest Derbyshire with Dad’s pills and potions, saved the day this year. Wilko showed me his scar, which he calls “my Mercedes scar”, as it is similar shape to the car’s emblem.
Dirty Vertebrae from Northwhich opened the Woodland stage on Saturday. Great fpour piece mixing Rock, Rap, Ska and Funk. Two vocalists interacting seamlessly with quick-fire rap and harmonious vocals. Members: Ash P sharing vocals with Nicole, Arab on guitars, Gaz on bass and Scott on drums. Chart star Jack Savoretti headlined The Woodland stage on Saturday. You may have already guessed who headlined main stage on Saturday night; Mr Lydon and his Public Image Limited cohorts. His fans lapped it up but for me, his voice sounded like a burning pet shop, and his constant gurning, spectacles on and static, reading his lyrics from a black metal music stand, waist line wider than Donald Trump’s ego, I found it hard to take him seriously. Once an icon for anarchy and now a stroppy cartoon character who demands control of any photographs taken of him by official snappers at his shows. Nuff said.
Final day at the main stage, the World Record attempt at the most false beards in one place! Thousands of ‘em! A group of bearded Minions chosen as the very best effort of the lot. Other than the false ones, not many hirsute faces on site but lots of dreadlocks. Maybe Dreadlocked Theory works better? Have that on me chaps!
Veteran chart stars Squeeze swapped their time slot with Asian Dub Foundation for some reason, so ADF ended up headlining; late replacements for US band Arrested Development, who I really wanted to see. But ADF really were superb and such a unique sound and style to them. Ultra cool band and they went down well. No strangers to Bearded Theory, they really went for it this year. Nathan Lee, on flute, beat boxing at the same time, was a unique moment in their set. They included their song Fortress Europe, a very topical subject right now.
Earlier on the main stage, second band on that day The Tips were wonderful. From Düsseldorf, Germany, mixing reggae, ska, soul and all sorts. Ali, Jay and Faf are a high energy power trio and delivered one of the strongest sets of the festival for me, playing songs from their album Twists’N’Turns. Back in the UK for Boomtown festival on 12th August. Ones to watch for sure. Old stagers Bad Manners blasted onto the main stage mid afternoon for a blistering set of their 100mph ska sounds. Frontman and larger than life character Buster Bloodvessel aka Douglas Trendle (he was born Douglas Woods and adopted) was in good voice and danced through the set like he was 30 years younger. His famous long tongue got an airing on and off, and backstage he was in demand for selfies, or rather his tongue was. Bit of trivia for you: His stage name was taken from the bus conductor played by Ivor Cutler in the Beatles' 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. Bad Manners earned nine Top 40 singles between 1980 and 1983, probably the most famous being "Lip Up Fatty."
I love this factoid about Buster: In 1988, Buster licensed the Blue Beat Records name and logo, and he ran the record label from an old houseboat that was stationed in his back garden at his former home in Hackney. Blue Beat issued a number of releases, notably by Bad Manners, Napoleon Solo, Buster's Allstars and the Billies, but the label folded in 1990. Apart from the hit records, Buster’s proudest achievement has got to be his amazing weight loss. Buster struggled with morbid obesity and underwent laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery in 2004, his weight dropping from 31 stone to 13 stone. I’d never seen the band before, but they were great fun and musically spot on at Bearded Theory, and Buster was a very nice chap when I spoke to him and took a few shots outside his dressing room. Great band behind him too. Max Sploge from the infamous band Splodgenessabounds joined Buster and the band on stage for a crowd sing-along guest spot. Bruce Foxton's "From The Jam" followed Bad Manners, busting out his former band's greatest hits in fine style, his shiny mod suit shimmering in the sunshine.
Two of the best up and coming bands I have seen for a good while; on the Maui Waui stage we had the uber cool King Porter Stomp and the mesmerising Barbarella’s Bang Bang; a future star fronting the latter band in Barbara Pugliese. Accordion toting five piece, Barbarella’s Bang Bang is a combination of European gypsy folk and theatrical pop with roots in Eastern and Roman Europe. Barbara is a born performer with a great voice. Her routine as a human puppet was wonderful. Barbara Pugliese: lead vocals, guitar and percussion, Armands Ozolins: lead guitar and backing vocals, Aurimas Goris: accordion and percussion, Aaron Molloy Robinson: cajon and backing vocals and Nina Harries: double bass and backing vocals. Like to see them re-booked for the 10th anniversary birthday bash.
As I would this lot…..Brighton collective King Porter Stomp is a band to look out for. With a sizzling horn section, heavy bass, lively front man rapper/singer/MC, the 8 piece from Brighton have socially aware lyrics, and has developed a unique breed of accessible ska, reggae rap, afro-funk, jazz and hip hop. Their tent appearance was one of the highlights of the weekend for me and deserved to be on a bigger out door stage. Next year maybe?
It’s no theory, Bearded Theory; probably my new favourite festival……………
• Bearded Theory’s 10th anniversary will be held from May 25th to May 28th at Catton Hall. Tickets on sale from September 10th.
All photos Copyright: SIMON REDLEY
Words SIMON REDLEY