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Belladrum Festival Review Part 2
Cover photo by Andrew Williamson, and others as credited
The Good, The Great and the Ugly
Friday morning brings the stagnant hell of waking in a tent that’s too hot to sleep in but not quite hot enough that you can risk emerging from your polyester sauna until absolutely fucking necessary. The airbed bought on a whim on Thursday morning may have saved me from a groaning back, but no amount of good intentions puffed into the now swollen mattress can save me from the cotton-mouthed, aching-headed perdition that’s been my inescapable destiny since I purchased that wretched ticket to Belladrum.
Despite the antithetical armies of drink-addled paranoia and Strongbow fuelled eagerness waging war in my teeny, tiny baldy heed, I endeavoured to surface from my polyester prison into the perfect, processed wilderness of Family Camping on Belladrum Estate. Slipping elegantly out of my tent as if I were a new born giraffe being announced to the world for the first time (if giraffes were born clutching a can of Kopparberg Mixed Fruits and wearing yesterday’s pants and socks that is). The fresh, burger tainted air washes over me as if to absolve me of the previous night’s depravities, renewing my depleted enthusiasm, ready to once again to confront the delights of the festival day ahead.
But no trip to a festival campsite is complete without an ambling, hungover visit to the row of hungry port-a-loos that line the back of the now waking battlefield, so off I sauntered in their direction; can in hand and bladder firmly in throat. Disappointingly, this year the toilets were fewer in number by a long way. In Family I could only count about 10 or so cubicles and that 10 had to service an amount of revellers that was approaching pure shit-loads (puns are fun) by early Friday morning. I shan’t bore you with the details of my morning ablutions and evictions, but one could easily describe them as ‘textbook’ despite my uncooperative dressing room being the piss-soaked phone box one was forced to transform in like a vagrant Clark Kent.
Needling in the Seedling
Unencumbered and with a relieved skip to my step, it was time to get my money’s worth and see some actual things. With my new 7-fucking-quid programme/lanyard and an early afternoon Black Isle Blonde for company I made my way to over to newly relocated Seedlings stage that had now taken up position next to its more formidable neighbour, the Hot House stage. Thankfully any sound that may have bled into the Seedlings tent was battered away by the band on stage as I arrive – The Dazed Digital Age. Although the band name might be of the cumbersome variety, they have been gaining a great number of fans amongst the knowing of Inverness. I arrived to their announcement that this was only their 4th ever gig and that in itself is quite the eyebrow elevator considering how accomplished they sound. “Terrifically 80s” was the phrase I wrote in my notepad of shite patter and despite that phrase being one I’d never use in an actual review – here we fucking are. The best description I can offer of these 3 lads is they sound like a less happy-go-lucky Human League, or maybe a diet
version of the Nine Inch Nails if Trent Reznor lightened up and went a bit mad on the synth-pop. Either way, I was buying what they were selling, even with the lead singer’s sardonic glimmer contained within the patter between songs. The surprising Neil Young cover sealed the deal for me and much of the crowd as they Electro’d-up (I’ve just made this term up) ‘Old Man’, and their version didn’t even ignite my usual need to express my derision at anyone attempting to cover such a classic tune.
After that there are a lost few hours spent checking out the different parts/bars of the festival. A Sailor Jerry’s stall and a Gin Palace now stood behind the Hot House stage and I can confirm that they do in fact serve gin in the Gin Palace and rum in the Sailor Jerry’s stall – investigative journalism at its best I’m sure you’ll agree. The Prosecco bar – yup you guessed it – served prosecco. Prosecco is the worst of the wines in my experience because you never get enough of the stuff and at a festival you tend to have to wait in line behind a fucking melt of a woman dressed all in pink who professes to be pissed before she has even tasted the fucking thing whilst her pals screech in her direction about wanting to see the young ‘fit’ singer-songwriter playing today that Ken Bruce secretly whispered to them is apparently gonna be the next big thing to listen to whilst they’re not listening to.
Creepin’ About Yer Shed
After a couple of pints of this and that and various stop-and-chats with the great and good of Inverness, I found myself at The Black Isle Brewery Grassroots stage where Isaac Gracie was starting a set of singer-y songwriter-y stuff that had seen the tent fill to half capacity, which ain’t bad considering fan-favourite Lucy Spraggan was doing her singer-y songwriter-y stuff on the Garden Stage at the same time. I opted to see Isaac because I was sure someone else would see/review Lucy due to her being a bigger draw amongst the X-factor peering patrons of Belladrum. I’m glad to report that Isaac didn’t disappoint despite the over-represented genre he was pitching to the late afternoon crowd.
He’s got a grand voice and is clearly a very talented performer who is noticeably at ease up on that stage as he chats to the crowd in-between slow, almost hymn-like songs about heartbreak, love and the typical subjects of the genre. An attempt at Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ matched the tone he sought to set throughout his set perfectly (try saying that fast) and showcased his obscenely good voice and long, mental hair that your auntie is just going to fucking love. The crowd appear to know all the words to his songs and this was particularly evident when he played his latest, far more upbeat single ‘Running on Empty’ which is met by a full-on sing-song by the ardent fans in the audience. An anthemic chorus is sometimes all it takes to make rock stars of mere men and Isaac has found a bit of an anthem in this stand-out tune.
The Potting Shed was the next destination after a quick stovie stop (cos stovies are fucking life) where Sara Bills & The Hasbeens were practising their own brand of meat and potato goodness but in musical form. Sara and the band are one of the few bands in Inverness who you can rely on to show you a good time no matter what shitebag is pishing on your chips. A good-time band was exactly what I need after the sermon concerning heartbreak from Isaac Gracie to get me back on the good ship Good Times. A spirited cover of ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ by Deee-lite was the highlight of the set which sparked some military-grade shapes being pulled by the more lubricated revellers amongst the crowd. I’m glad they were on a small stage like the Potting Shed because the intimacy really plays into the warmth that emanates from the entire band and I’d hate to see that being wasted on the shit-munchers that set up camp at the larger stages during these events.
Talking of bands playing smaller stages – I got to see Spring Break at the Burke & Hare stage in the Walled Garden. Having happily/accidentally camped next to 2 of the band I was sort of on a promise to go see them but an outing to see the Dingwall Hip-hop outfit is never a hardship. I had plumped to see them over the Charlatans and thankfully so had enough people to fill the Burke & Hare and that really speaks volumes about the esteem in which these purveyors of dope rhymes and sick beats are held (look how street I is mum!). Having recently released a genre-bending album in Tropicaledonia and members of the group having performed on numerous occasions with the unstoppable yellow festival machine that is Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5, they’ve had a pretty good time of it of late and it shows in their vigorous performance. The band seems to swell in number every time I see them and the question of whether they are more parts party than they are band is always up for debate. Some early sound problems were on show with a mic dying a death but being the pros that they are, they soldiered on and smashed out songs like the toxic masculinity/porpoise fighting anthem ‘Dolphin Puncher’ (a personal favourite) as well as the terrific ‘The Slouch’ about the trials of procrastination and laziness. I’ve reviewed Spring Break on a few occasions now for a couple of different publications and every time I pure gush heavy about their good tunes and their good people so if you haven’t seen them, for fuck sake go see them.
By this point in the night I had only seen good things and it was already headliner time, surely a visit to Paloma Faith would seal the deal on a great day…?
Did it fuck man.
Funk > Faith
I’ve seen Paloma on the telly on panel shows and chat shows and what-not, and she always seems quirky but funny and has an obvious talent for the old singing and wearing of the mental outfits. She lived up to expectation on the costume front for sure, and her voice was big and bold as ever, but her craic was fucking humming. Some further sound issues played their part at the Garden Stage leading to parts of the crowd being unable to hear Paloma’s singing to which she started pointing fingers at the sound crew and flippantly calling for someone to be sacked. After this she then began a ramble about love or togetherness of some other banal pish which just reeked of being pure incongruent with all her haranguing patter about the sound. She did however manage to be belt out a couple of her big numbers that got yer da’ dancing like ‘Can’t Rely On You’ and her new tune ‘Lullaby’. To be fair, she did ask to sing the tracks affected by the sound issues again for the crowd but a more cynical me would suggest that might be because the set was being recorded by the BBC. Anyway, her patter was reeking and pure harshed ma buzz, man.
Thankfully, the night was not offer. Craig Charles’ Funk and Soul Roadshow was on at the Hot House and by fuck was it a beauty. There were shades of the now famously good set Grandmaster Flash played at Belladrum a couple of years ago on the same stage and Craig matched Flash banger for banger. Craig Charles off of the Coronation Street and the Robot Wars played a mix of Soul and Funk classics that seemed to infect every single body in that Hot House tent. Just like that scene out of The Blues Brothers that you better have fucking seen, people were jumping about and dancing like the spirit of James Brown himself had possessed their very being including wee Brian from the checkouts at the Co-Op who was doing the Electric Slide like he’d dropped the milk in aisle 2. Up on the decks Craig looked like he was living his best life as he spun the records and instructed the crowd in various funk dance moves whilst spinning songs like ‘Jungle Boogie’, ‘Last Night’ by the Mar-Keys and ‘For The Love Of Money’ by The O’Jays. It was a stellar end to the night with the funk carrying me all the way back to the campsite where I was welcomed by strong gins, slight winds and drunken shenanigans.