With Editors, Noah and the Whale, Dananananakroyd...
Editors' Tom Smith at Belladrum 2009

What with the global financial bedlam caused by the credit crunch, many had predicted disaster for the nation’s slew of boutique events. However nestled up in the Scottish Highlands – and living in the shadow of its big brother RockNessBelladrum has not only increased its capacity but sold out as well.

Arriving early on Thursday afternoon, a healthy crowd are attempting to negotiate some tent erection. Who writes the instructions for these things? As the shoddy efforts begin to pepper the rolling Scottish landscape we enter the arena for the opening night’s ceilidh. Way back before rave ever got off the ground the Scots were holding open air parties just like this one, and little has changed with local band Rhythm ‘N’ Reel getting the party started in a packed Grassroots tent.

When the Sun peers out from behind the hills the following morning its possible to get a full grasp of the work that has been done on the Belladrum site. Taking over a former country estate this year’s event boasts a dance stage within the ruins of a manor house, while the Heilan Fields bring a touch of Glastonbury to the North. However Belladrum isn’t a mere retread of Worthy Farm – it has its own identity, one that means you can walk from a screening of Noah And The Whale’s new film straight into a speech by Loyd Grossman.

Friday opens with acoustic sets in the Grassroots stage before a visit to the main arena to watch Kid British. The Salford lads revel in the sunshine, with their street level vision of British life hitting a nerve with the Belladrum crowd. The Holloways unveil their long awaited second album in the Hot House tent. A last minute replacement, the band nearly cause the tent to collapse as fans go ballistic to early hit ‘Generator’, though time will tell if the Londoners can recreate that sublime dose of indie pop on their forthcoming record.

Broken Records are on sensational form on the main stage, proving that their rather limp debut album really doesn’t do the Edinburgh band justice. Midway between The Pogues and Bruce Springsteen, it is an impressive offering by the multi-limbed Scots. Sergeant seem to have become trapped on the toilet circuit, which is surely an injustice given their singalong breezy guitar anthems. The La’s if Mavers had screwed the nut a little, the Fife lads nonetheless earn a hearty slagging from the locals after producing a Dundee United top.

All the festival chatter revolved around Editors. The band’s debut album saw them tap into Interpol’s love of the dark yet with the redemptive romantic edge of Morrissey. Rushing through a series of early anthems Tom Smith reaches out into the crowd, bathing himself in the Highland harmonies. The band’s new material, while not as immediate as their debut, immediately clicks into the set. Returning a three song encore Editors bow before the Garden Stage crowd, with the natural amphitheatre succumbing to the fading sun.

Saturday is shocked into life by local group Theatrefall. With a new singer and an entirely new set the band earn an impressive crowd at the main stage, who defy the early morning weariness to get the party started. Orkestra Del Sol are Belladrum legends, having returned year in year out with their Balkan party music. After trooping around the site the horn-heavy group receive a rapturous reaction in the Hot House tent, with fans queuing up outside to catch a glimpse of the band.

Back on the Garden Stage, the Treacherous Orchestra play a stunning set placing traditional music in an experimental new setting. With so many members the royalties cheques will be sliced into confetti, but with such exuberant live energy its well worth catching a glimpse of this spectacular group. The Saw Doctors are long time favourites in the Highlands, having toured ceaselessly for years. Bringing a touch of the old fashioned showband era to the Garden Stage, the band blend humour, rock and traditional songwriting to raise the mammoth crowd to their feet with a varied set.

Inextricably linked to TFI Friday, Ocean Colour Scene are one of life’s guilty pleasures. Sure, its all a bit hairy-knuckled in the cold light of day but albums such as ‘Mosely Shoals’ remain prime pub-rock fodder. Opening with ‘The Riverboat Song’ the band did not disappoint mixing their guitar slinging anthems with some lesser known material. Simon Fowler’s penchant for protest song results in a mid-set lull but Steve Craddock comes to the rescue, pounding out the riff for ‘One Hundred Mile High City’.

With the festival circuit under siege, it is heartening to watch the growth of Belladrum. Set in a wonderful natural arena the event has expanded without losing its small and familiar charm. With summer events falling by the wayside, the Tartan Heart keeps on beating.

Words by Robin Murray


View a photo gallery from Belladrum 2009 HERE

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