Belladrum Tartan Heart is truly a family friendly festival, when most festivals advertise as such what they really mean is “if you can’t find a babysitter you can drag ‘em here and we can definitely maybe pretty much guarantee there’ll be no stabbing”.
At Belladrum, the tot to teen ratio is on actually on an even keel, the kids are as happy as the pensioners are pished, everyone, yes everyone, is having a good time.
As the years have gone by the family campsite has ballooned, with folk from dads to dealers proclaiming it “the new general”, The general campsite has remained much the same: good size, good craic, good messy mess.
It’s this mixed demographic that makes Belladrum about more than the music, in 2014 Belladrum is somewhere between a cultural showcase, a foodie festival and a boutique weekend, there are mussels, there are muscles and I shit you not there are hot tubs.
The music, of course, remains important, the festival provides the very first stage for some local acts to play on, it’ll be the first time some of the crowd will get to experience seeing emerging bands from bigger-city ‘scenes’, it’s one of the few festivals that acknowledges traditional can be rock ‘n’ roll, with good slots given to the Electric Ceilidh Band and Capercaillie.
This year, for most, it was all about one man… Tom Jones, it was a wonderful booking from the festival that turned the owls to early birds; the tickets sold out almost immediately, however, there was a general feeling that the line-up was sparser than year’s past, considering the RockNess’ absence from the Highland summer and that many acts play for free, there was a feeling that ‘bigger’ acts could have been booked.
Throughout the weekend, amid laughing at people fall on the roller disco and getting dangerously close to fire theatre group Pyroceltica, I see some great things and speak to others about their favourite festival moments.
Friday starts early on the Free Range Folk Stage with some fresh talent courtesy of Culloden acoustic songstress Ruth Gillies, “she did brilliantly – she’s only 17” says audience member Alison “… she did some covers, which was fun, but I really liked ‘3 Day Summer’ which she wrote herself!”
Representing Subcity radio and getting the Mother’s Ruin dilapidated dance bothy warmed up is Salad Days (Michael Pellegrotti), he plays a well-received house set with some Bill Withers and Tori Amos thrown in for surprise.
Dropping in Tim Deluxe’s ‘It Just Won’t Do’ definitely provides most people’s first bounce of the weekend and as he finishes up and another DJ begins, Salad Days’ soulful choices are clearly missed – the average audience age significantly lowers as the tempo is quite suddenly raised.
On the Mainstage, much to the crowd’s delight, Fatherson have arrived, there has been some lineup jiggery-pokery (to be explained later) and they are here to save the day – as quick as a (Grandmaster) flash they were lapped up as a ‘surprise act’ at Brew at the Bog festival a few miles and months away and they suit being brought out of the blue today too.
Fan Andrew says “I’ve seen them before, didn’t expect them today, they’re such crowd pleasers,” he continues “it was nice to hear ‘Not Knowing’ and they finished with ‘James’”.
Next, Frightened Rabbit are met with expected hysteria, the band are ever popular at Belladrum and don’t disappoint playing more songs that are off the beaten track this year, perhaps after realising last year that the Belladrum audience will be receptive to any and all of their catalogue.
“‘Oil Slick’ and ‘Square 9’” were my highlights, say Mark “…and watching FRabbit raise a YES flag to ‘Scottish Winds’ was a pretty big moment,” Frightened Rabbit weren’t the only ones defying BBC and festival wishes by bringing up the referendum, Billy Bragg did the same (at, you could say, more length and less impact) on Saturday afternoon.
Over in the Hothouse tent Little Comets play to a small but enthusiastic crowd, they play a lively indie Kooks-esque set with punchy ‘One Night in October’ rousing few shouts.
And here he comes Tommy J, The seventy odd sex bomb swaggers onstage looking suave and serene, it’s only as he plays that you realise just how many hits the legend has, he stands in front of a typically Tom backdrop of sexy lady silhouettes being licked by flames and stomps through some 90s era hits that my generation (I had his Reload album, ruddy loved it) roar along to.
‘Sex Bomb’ is an obvious favourite, ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ and ‘Burning Down the House’ bring memories surging back and the audience love it, his newer songs create an understandable downtime but the magic of ‘Delilah’, ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ with a full band and festival chorus overrides any duller moments.
What was his voice like? To be completely honest, I’m not so sure, it’s hard to hear over so many happy voices.
BUT Tom Jones was NOT the man of the night, Oh no, Grandmaster Flash, having been adamant with the organisers that he was to play on the Mainstage, was due to play when Fatherson did, however, having missed his flight he played (as the organisers had originally wished) as a late night act in the Hothouse Tent after Mr Jones had finished.
I’ve never seen so many people rammed into the Tent and I’ve never heard so many hip hop classics crammed into a DJ set, in the words of Grandmaster Flash’s Twitter ‘Belladrum was massive … so powerful’!
Words: Leonie Colmar
Photos: Charlotte Hornby