Tartan Heart keeps beating


Situated in the heart of the Highlands the tiny Belladrum festival is punching far above its weight. Increasing in size yet again, the opening night Ceilidh saw many drunken limbs attempting to find their way around an Eightsome reel. An annual custom, the dancing breaks down barriers and forges friendships which come in handy when attempting to construct a tent. Without instructions. In the dark.

Friday opens with plenty of cloud cover and some unsigned talent. The local Potting Shed gathers a large crowd, while elsewhere on the site there is plenty of traditional music to savour. Glasgow newcomers Kassidy blast the roof off the Hot House stage with material from their recent ‘Rubbergum Ep’. Already gaining a passionate following, the hirsute quartet seem to take both their facial hair and harmonies from CSN&Y. A deeply classic sound, their inch perfect vocals are matched by some well crafted songs. Sure it’s a little retro, but when the 21st century is so damn depressing who can blame them?

Edinburgh troupe Orkestra Del Sol visit Belladrum every year, and always get the party started. This year invited onto the Garden Stage a vast crowd crams in front of the wicker Tartan Heart. Mixing vaudeville, Balkan rhythms and plenty of audience participation the group live up to their swelling reputation. An impromptu busking session a few hours later brings new life to exhausted limbs, with a large crowd gathering around the Edinburgh based collective.

The Seedlings Stage showcases the finest in emerging talent from the Highlands and beyond, with Thurso lads Astronot being the pick of the bunch. The tent is packed when the four piece take to the stage, mixing material from their new EP alongside some tried and tested favourites. A bit like Trent Reznor if he developed a pop touch, the band are well worth tracking down. Oxford group Stornoway recently visited the island which gave them their name, and a return trip to the Highlands finds the group on high spirits. Understandably focussing on their debut album, the band’s plangent harmonies and sterling songwriting delight the heaving crowd. Throwing in a few local references, it’s clear that Stornoway have developed a strong link to the area.

A last minute extra, KT Tunstall plays a quick fire set in a relatively tiny side tent. The huge crowd extends far beyond the entrance, with fans standing ten deep in an attempt to catch the action. The Fife singer drops a few tracks from her forthcoming third album, but it is a the classics which delight the festival crowd. Ending with ‘Suddenly I See’ the Scottish singer’s performance bodes well for the notoriously difficult third album.

Closing the first full day of Belladrum are Feeder. A band whose history is steeped in tragedy, the trio seem to be loving every second of their performance. Throwing in well known hits, album tracks and even a Nirvana cover the Welsh group seem to be going back to basics. A lengthy set sees Feeder try out some rare tracks, with the set emphasising their hugely successful mixture of rock anthemics and a delicate pop touch. Waving farewell to the crowd, the sky is lit up by the fading stage and the promise of another day.

Saturday opens with unexpectedly warm weather, and a sizzling set from Young Fathers. The Edinburgh based hip hop group blow apart the notion that Scottish people can’t do rap music with a fantastic set. Throwing some serious shapes, Young Fathers recall the playful spirit of De La Soul but with an eclectic sound of their own. Moving from dancehall to grime, the band’s set is one of the weekend’s real surprises.

A wander round the festival site will find everything from a wishing tree to a makeshift cinema, ongoing dance lessons to haggis dogs. The sunny weather means that the crowds wander from stall to stall, finding political convictions and a speech from founder Robert Hicks. The Hot House Stage reminds us exactly why we’re here with a set from indie legends The Woodentops, while local heroes Wolfstone take to the Garden Stage. However the sheer variety of entertainment is what strikes, with the Potting Shed offering some fine acoustic treats. One time Razorlight drummer and all round decent chap Andy Burrows brings his solo project I Am Arrows to Belladrum, showcasing his debut album. An always jovial entertainer, his subtle and often evasive songcraft is a world away from the bluster of Johnny Borrell.

Soul diva Candi Staton has earned a reputation as one of the finest voices of her generation, and those pipes are on full display during a memorable Belladrum performance. Every inch the consummate entertainer, hits such as ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ have the massed main stage crowd dancing in the late evening sun. Finishing with – what else? – ‘You’ve Got The Love’ Staton retains all the glamour of her disco era. The battle of the Scottish female songwriters continues with a climactic set from Amy MacDonald. The singer is known for her stage fright, and cannot match the effortless charisma of KT Tunstall. However she does have a unique charm, the kind of ‘girl next door’ demeanour which is rare in the usually glitzy music industry. Taking time to introduce each song, MacDonald includes her best known tracks alongside a refreshing mixture of less broadcast material. Waving goodbye to the crowd, her performance is concluded with an almighty fireworks display led by a local piper.

As the pyrotechnics shoot up into the clear night sky, the final strains of ‘Flower Of Scotland’ are followed somewhat improbably by ‘How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?’ An absurd moment, but it’s sheer tongue in the cheek bravado seems to encapsulate the down to earth nature of the festival. With a nudge to the ribs and a wink to the eye Belladrum ensures the crowds will come streaming back for more.

Words by Robin Murray

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