To understand how one person can go to Belladrum without spending more than an hour at the Garden Stage, is to understand the true depth talent on offer at the festival. Because of our correspondents covering other aspects of the festival we took the opportunity to see some of the local bands the festival had to offer.
But before we continue a word of context, travelling with my wife and toddler we camped two of the three nights, enduring the rain, questionable planning and the occasional officious security guard .
What a good event does do, is build resilience, you know the kind of conversations that go “it was really wet but…” or “we had to walk ages to get a place to put the tent, it didn’t really bother us”. So did Belladrum build that resilience?
Thursday was obviously rain affected, which was very frustrating, we usually use the time to get the lay of the land, and there was a lot of land to get your head round. The extended foot print along with a few more stages created a site that needed proper exploration. To be honest the site did feel disjointed and lacking cohesion (the weather could have contributed to this).
The music on the Thursday night was also affected where as the Potting Shed had a late start due to electrical issues, whereas the Grass Roots stage was clearly heaving (Jim Kennedy of Rhythmnreel proudly showed off the footage from the tent on Thursday and the amount of enthusiastic people dancing was indeed worthy of being proud (by the way the next opportunity to see Rhythmnreel is at the Kids of Kolkata Ceilidh at Strathpeffer on the 12th of August, tickets here). After a chat with the very personable Dave Sharp about the local music scene, our day was done.
Friday brought a new day and the weather shone brightly over Belladrum and we were back on track…
First on our agenda was the Potting Shed where we managed to catch a jam with Emma Shearer, Matt Sillars and Neil Kinghorn, emphasising how much an afternoon Inverness venue for acoustic music is missed. Neil’s voice was particularly impressive, with Emma acknowledging that hers had been affected by a bit too much singing the night before.
We found ourselves spending a lot of time in The Seedlings Tent, we were first welcomed by the vocals Niall Gallacher, of Always the Sixth, at times battling to be heard. This however did not affect the decent sized partisan crowd and we are definitely warming to the band (they are next to be seen on the 26th of August at the Market Bar).
It was nice to catch up with our friends at Netsounds at the Rockhopper studio, where we were able to catch The Frues, who had done remarkably well to play a slot earlier in the day and also recording a session (these should be online in the next few days).
Whilst there we also managed to catch glimpse of the fantastically whimsical Rachel Sermanni, it is much to our regret that we did not see her later in the day.
Chasing Owls proved the perfect antidote to the gentile pop fest (occurring in the nearby Hothouse Tent). Despite the occasional and understandable issues with sound, the nu-folk trio clearly showed why they have been winning plaudits for their music. The quaintness of an ill-timed plug (“we have an EP for sale, this song isn’t on it”) actually added to their charm and resulted in us seeking out “We Began”.
The jaunty poppy tunes of local lads The Boosts quickly reminded us of the potential that they have, charming the crowds, as always. Particular note has to go to Andy Davidson, the Whisky River Band drummer who has also been helping out with the Boosts recently.
A return to the Potting Shed saw us watch Toby Michaels, partly out of curiosity as to how he would cope with the setting and partly out of support for him.Unfortunately he did have a shorter set than initially expected. Sandwiched between two covers was the fantastic “A little bit of what you fancy does you good”, which you could imagine as a Alice Cooperseque anthem.
Last act (prior to Texas) was the highly tipped River 68’s (they can be seen on the iplayer having played a song for BBC Alba). The lead singer bore a resemblance of Steve Tyler and the sound echoed this. Again a strong decent sized crowd were there to see one of the many seedlings that are planting roots to future appearances higher up on the bill.
We ventured briefly to see what appears to have been the largest crowd I have ever seen at Belladrum, turn up for Texas, Sharleen et al were clearly in good form, ending with a cover of Suspicious Minds.
Saturday started with a bang, to our disgust we missed both Hoodja and Root Ma Toot Band, but managed our first (and only ) real visit to the main stage to see Iain McLaughlin & The Outsiders. Having recently seen the band at the Summer Showcase, it was great to see a longer set. There was an impressive crowd at the Garden Stage and they certainly had the opportunity to hear a typically excellent set. It was certainly a case of job done for the band.
Another Inverness band followed, Stetsonhead playing .the grass roots stage with a great deal of anticipation due to a special guest and “that song”. The tone was set at the begining when asked the lead singer asked if everyone was happy, with an affirmative answer from the crowd, he replied “We’ll soon sort that out” and entered into Sorrow Train, this was followed by a newish track am I Right Jack , the upbeat theme was well and truly buried in the mud. And of course there was the appearance of The Steve Kelly and the version of Inverness version of America. Very well received by the almost full crowd, it will certainly and deservedly be one of the moments of the festival, but the set also proved there was more, much more to the band.
Kobi’s last appearance at Belladrum resulted in them being ousted from the main stage by an over running belly dancer (no really). However there was clearly an eager anticipation to hear what the recently reformed band had been up to. The tunes at times echoed the expansive style of Muse with Gary Thains vocals reiterating this.
It may come as no surprise to regular readers of this website, that we stayed in the Seedlings Stage for The Whisky River Band, and we were particularly please to see that Fraser McLean had righted a previous wrong and had returned his invernessGiGs badge to his hat. The off key warm up apparently was an intentional ploy by the band.
It was,however, no surprise that the band had garnered quite a crowd prior to the set, but it was impressive was the amount of passing punters that had decided they liked what they heard and stayed on. The whole set appeared to have a much rockier edge that gave the songs a much fuller feeling. Stand out of the set was the particularly poignant theme tune for the band, No Regrets.. The set ended with the now obligatory King of the Swingers. It is hard not to be full of positives about the set, every single one of them are deserved. Watch these guys very very carefully and if you have not seen them yet get to the Ironworks on the 11th of August.
After capturing glimpses but not being particularly entranced by acts that can offer so much more, we were back to the Seedlings tent for the headliner, Leonard Jones Potential. Whilst the rain was starting to bring a chill over the campsite, the souls (and there were quite a few) were being warmed by the soulful tunes played out by the band. The forthcoming official EP release will be something special at Madhatters on the 13th of August.
In summary, was the music sufficient enough to make us put up with the rain, and with honest and absoluteness, yes. Belladrum has made us proud to be part (albeit a very small. part) of the Inverness music scene and lets hope that the bands mentioned in this article will gain greater prominence next year.