Well, isn't this topical - a mere week after the festival started, a list of the best things about it surfaces on your favourite Highland Entertainments website. To be fair, we're only just starting to recover.
This was my first festival ever – at the age of 24. I know, what a dork, give me your lunch money, etc. I just want to state that it was overall an absolutely fabulous weekend, and picking my own personal highlights was hugely difficult – especially after I was wearily informed that “buying a didgeridoo is not a viable highlight, do you even take your job seriously?” The Man, once again, bringing me down.
Considering that they were among the first bands to play a note at Belladrum – playing noon at the Hothouse Stage – it was hugely impressive to see the crowd's reaction. The tent was already filling up, a testament to the vastly-growing popularity of these great bunch of local chaps.
The choppy-yet-catchy guitar riffs that have been ever-present for the four-piece are more and more polished by the day, and the audience were lapping it up – particularly when the heavily-distorted sing-along of “Over and Over” started up. “I'm a miserable guy,” singer Josh crooned during the first verse. Don't know why, mate. You and your band were brilliant – and the crowd were anything but miserable. Cheer up.
I think that if we were handing out official What's On North awards for the festival, PAWS would walk away with the “most energy”. Well, run away. And never stop. The band's performance was a relentless, joyful barrage of loud and energetic punk music that lifted the crowd up and refused to drop them til the end.
Also whipping the crowd up was lead singer Phil – who immediately set the light-hearted tone for the gig with the words, “We encourage heckling.” The rest of the gig followed in that vein, with the ever-excellent music being broken up with top back-and-forth repartee (I will never use the word banter, do you hear me) – and some delightfully stereotypical Highland accents from the band.
Luckily Phil is originally from Tain, otherwise this review would be nothing but a string of personal insults about how dare he insult our accents eh what bu-uher eh?
What else need be said about Fat Goth – the Dundonian three-piece group brought their own brand of swaggering, brash rock to Belladrum as we knew they would. Their music was so loud that it broke the eardrums of everybody at the festival – and the unsuspecting residents of Kiltarlity as well, probably – as we knew they would. Their lyrics are still the same vicious mixture of celebrating and condemning modern masculinity.
What is definitely apparent from their set is that Fat Goth were among the tightest bands at the festival. It's a joy to hear, especially considering the musical flourishes that show them as more than meets the ears – the time-signature changes, the little guitar-noodly bits (as Jimi Hendrix once described them I'm sure), all of these things and more coalesced together to provide one of the stand-out performances of the festival.
Billy Bragg was just brilliant – both for his songs and the way that he conducted his set, allowing it space to breathe, almost. Almost every other band I saw – including the established acts – were desperate to fly through their entire discography, with barely room to breathe.
Billy Bragg however gave time between songs to spin yarns, discuss the politics of the day and showcase some of the various anecdotes he has heard or been part of during his time in music. It takes a hugely charismatic performer to pull that off without alienating the audience. Billy Bragg pulled it off effortlessly.
Outside of Tom Jones, Cryptic Keys were from what I saw the recipient of the biggest crowd reaction – and with good reason. The band's songs were perfect for the sunshine of the early Saturday evening. The polished acoustic pop of “Warrior” sent the audience into spasms of joy – the cheers for the air-tight harmonies and music were deafening.
The way that the band owned the stage has to be mentioned – I don't think that I've seen such a fledgling band with such an easy control of the audience. Special mention goes to Dail Macdonald, one of the band's two singers (hint: the dude one) who had the crowd eating out of his hands for the full half-hour set.
This may be a slightly premature prediction, but I'm willing to make it: if Cryptic Keys play Belladrum next year, then off the back of this performance they are guaranteed a bigger stage.
We can't embed Facebook videos, because we're awful - so you'll just have to CLICK HERE to see a live Bella performance of Jumping Trains. Soz.
THE BURKE AND HAIR ALE THEATRE
I've been talking about bands – because without bands, what's the point in going to a festival? However, I'd like to highlight something that was brand new for this year's Belladrum, in the Walled Garden. Over the two days, I found myself returning to The Burke And Hair theatre more than anywhere else at the festival. Its atmosphere was absolutely fabulous, and both the variety and the quality of the acts that performed there were stunning.
Throw in the delicious foaming ales on offer – and the bizarre array of Steampunk-inspired actors floating about the area – and you've got something so uniquely “festival”. I can only hope it returns next year – it was fantastic.
BUYING A DIDGERIDOO
Bring down the system.