For only the second time in its thirteen-year history, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival begins on a Thursday.
And what a glorious Thursday it is.
Nothing like the promised gale force winds, sun beats down on the estate making the decision to spend most of the day on the open air Garden Stage an easy one; however, the restriction of the area to only specific ticket holders makes it difficult for the first few acts to pull much in the way of a crowd.
Backed by the might of BBC’s Radio 1, Tiggs Da Author takes it upon himself to get the weekend started with his Tanzanian infused ‘experimental soul’, swaggering around the stage like an old pro.
Yet to release his debut album there’s a good deal of unknown material in his set but this doesn’t stop the small audience from giving it a go, singing-along to songs they’ve never heard and cheering heartily at his promise of “nothing but party vibes from now on”.
The young singer-songwriter has a powerful voice, and a good ear for rhythm, but seems keen on fitting as many cliché festival moments into his time as possible, complete with splitting the crowd down the middle for a sing-along, urging them to get low only to jump back up on his cue, and encouraging some of that good old view-blocking girlfriends-on-shoulders routine.
It’s all in good fun, but crammed so close together the whole thing comes across a bit cheap and artificial.
This feeling is only compounded when Tiggs repeats his final song ‘Swear Down’ for his Snapchat audience, seemingly more focused on his phone and how much its tiny camera can capture of his performance than on the performance itself, and barely singing at all.
Staying put, I catch one of the more bizarre acts on the line-up, a freestyle rap super group known as Beardyman’s Dream Team.
They tout themselves as performing a brand new unique album every night, inventing music as they go based on suggestions and song titles from the crowd (and on this occasion, from around the festival site via the magic of video) supported by a live band including a double bass and a cello.
They struggle a little to come up with fresh rhymes for ‘Belladrum’ and technical difficulties put a stop to their main gimmick early on when the fan clips fail to play on the side-screens, but to their credit every member of the act plays through it with careful composure.
The lyrics also aren’t much to shout about, with gems like “everything comes from the mental / it’s monumental” but when every show is completely improvised as they are it’s hard to be too harsh on them.
After a quick jog around the arena for some typically overpriced festival food it’s straight back to the main stage just in time to catch the start of first headliners and glam rock one-hit-wonders The Darkness.
They’re clear crowd pleasers, and right off the bat it’s a maelstrom of pick-throwing and theatrics, with vocalist Justin Hawkins doing his very best reach the crowd without actually leaving the stage, ripping open his shiny purple jumpsuit at the chest and throwing the mic down to the barrier for a fan to scream into.
The entire thing is gloriously campy in a way that comes across far better in person than on record.
In the 13 years since the release of Permission to Land, Hawkins hasn’t lost any of his falsetto prowess either, still hitting ear-shatteringly high notes as the audience struggles to keep up; nor has his energy diminished – mid-way through the set, having spent roughly 70-minutes whirling around the small stage, he performs a perfect handstand on the drum riser to rapturous applause.
It’s after this impressive first act however, that the band begins to stumble.
Long stretches of time give way to at first amusing but increasingly frustrating banter: far too much attention is dedicated to a felt traffic cone hat spotted on a fan’s head, and a call-and-response session, which no one can replicate, seems to stretch on for eternity.
The poor buggy-bound toddler in front of me kicks and whines while his parent’s promise just “one more song” and as the clock ticks on I start to feel for him.
When the opening chords of ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ finally ring out the frustration, which had been building, seems to crescendo in a fit of excitement, off-key singing and intense air guitar solos, and for the sake of the spike in atmosphere the downtime almost seems worth it – even the cranky child and his family have a wee bit of a dance.
You couldn’t ask for a better end to the night.
Unfortunately, they choose not to end it there, instead continuing into the six-minute long solo filled jam that is ‘Love On The Rocks With No Ice’, a song as long and rambling as its title.
Even as the crowd thins out, the band plays on, leaving only the hardcore fans and those too boxed in to move to wait to return to their tents and grumble about the dip in temperature.
In all, it’s a first day fraught with issues, but the spirit of the festival endures, and I’m confident in an improvement in the days to come.
Words/Photos: Aimee Boyle