So how was Saturday's sellout Brew At The Bog? Below is the first of two takes on the day...
by Margaret Chrystall
SUNSHINE was the new ingredient in BREW AT THE BOG’s 2014 beer’n’beats recipe.
OK, it didn’t last. But as the sell-out crowd gathered to the opening main stage sound of local band SEARCHING FOR DONKEYS decked out in sunspecs – it felt good.
Feelgood is just one of the tricks that Brew At The Bog has owned since the beginning, when snow and low temperatures were treated by the bobble-hatted revellers as mere inconvenience to weather.
Third year for the festival brought the usual feast of bands and musicians playing traditional, roots, rock, electro and hip hop music – more of it at 38 billed acts, this year across four stages.
But bigger crowds made some things work less well – like an often packed-out barn stage and a long teatime wait in the pizza queue.
The signature Brewbog mix of musical styles that organiser Yvonne Murray has worked up from year one is one of the biggest selling points for a small festival that has big plans to go places.
Already it can refer back to its own history. One of last year’s main headliners, FATHERSON - in 2012 seventh on the bill - were perfectly cast this year as the buzzy mystery guest. With their new album just out, they were a popular choice and the massive singalong to latest single I Like Not Knowing with the crowd still serenading them as they left the packed-out barn stage seemed like an obvious unforgettable snapshot for the Brew At The Bog family album. But as purple and pink balloons bounced over the crowd for that set, we were packed shoulder to shoulder, making it hard to get an arm up to bat them around.
Even more packed-out was girl-of-the-moment SIOBHAN WILSON’s set mid-afternoon. It left plenty out in the cold, but for those who made it in, songs like True Sayings with its weird plummeting backwards-yodel tune, a justifiably Siobhan-stamped version of Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You plus her own song All Dressed Up - complete with a punter-donated double set of flashing sunglasses - lit up the afternoon. Earlier in the barn, current local shining stars LIONEL repeated their recent Easter Showcase trick of turning in a blistering set to seduce a new crowd. They topped it off with Over And Over (good choice over the alternative “chilled one” Joshua Mackenzie had offered the crowd) with the joke that just when we think Over And Over is over, the singer/guitarist pumps out a ferocious last guitar solo before holding the instrument aloft.
But even for the first session in the barn, KING CREOSOTE’S fans had jammed the place out too. People also trying to make their way across the barn to get into the Gin Bar just added to the pressure.
Maybe a rethink for next year on the access route to the Gin Bar would also help allow the acoustic acts playing there to be heard better. The constant toing and froing in the beautifully-designed rustic setting made it hard to hear and see acts (and their songs) like MISS IRENIE ROSE and Peat Bog or BEERJACKET and My Poor Captain Of The Soul in the milling crowd.
Though one of the festival’s biggest names, KING CREOSOTE started the day in the barn due to the extended set up involved for the film backdrop that accompanied his music, a taste of film From Scotland With Love which he is soundtracking and due to be shown for the Commonwealth Games and screened on BBC1 on July 13.
The clips of archive footage of Scottish life added their own rhythm. Black-stockinged girls skipped with ropes, boys jigged a country dance and little Highland dancers bounced, all eerily in time to the King’s music.
But as his set went from nought to epic in just a couple of songs, he also started customising the words, adding “Nairn beach” at the start of John Taylor’s Month Away to a cheer from the crowd – even throwing in a perfect Inverness accent for a quick “rubber bumpers” or two.
After that, you could head back into the sun for the main stage’s Americana showmanship of the SHIVERIN’ SHEIKS with their big white double bass or round to the pond stage where five-piece KILL THE WAVES – including fiddler Heather Thikey of later act Skinny Dipper - were painting electro Blue Nile-esque washes of sound across their crowd, while lead singer Tim Kwant closed his eyes and opened his mouth wide, till you were feeling it too.
And later SKINNY DIPPER – the almost girl band (bar their drummer) with several Randolph's Leap personnel – showed how two of their tops cleverly matched their Brewdog beer cans, but they maybe lived up to their name introducing last song Son Of A B*tch with the suggestion to their crowd that they could listen, then ‘you can go and dip a tippy-toe in the trench’.Clothes on or off was apparently optional.
“Never mix music and politics,” King Creosote had joked after a better together reference and a quick sung “Aal-ba!”, quote from Runrig. But it was working for main stage headliners STANLEY ODD later as Veronika Elektronika stand-in Rebecca Shearing got stuck in with frontman/rapper Solareye to the thorny problem of voter apathy in Chase Yirsel’ from the new EP.
Other highspots of the day included catching the return of Ardersier’s CALL TO MIND and longtime song Breathe surging out across the barn stage crowd. After a few days on tour, Stornoway’s THE BROKEN RAVENS’ frontman Bugsy Maclean described himself sounding like “Tom Waits on crack” in a set packed with jokey banter (including a rocked-up delvrance riff) before they topped their set with probably the most perfect rock song in the world ever, White Gold.
CASUAL SEX brought a frisson of craziness, lipstick and top tune B**tard Beat to the main stage. And the latest incarnation for Inverness singer songwriter and guitarist James Mackenzie is full band VERONA, Caroline Truslove's keyboards adding a seductive surge in Close Your Eyes with its earwormy "I'll stop the war, if you stop the fighting".
Briefly catching a bit of Glasgow electro poppers/producers MACHINES IN HEAVEN’s Mumbo Jingo on the barn stage, a quick shift over to the main stage saw ADMIRAL FALLOW in soft focus over a mass silhouette of heads with Tree Bursts In Snow (er, not at Bogbain this year). Aberdeen's THE LITTLE KICKS have added a dancier edge to an ever-evolving sound with Put Your Love In Front Of Me showcasing Steven Milne's ear-catching voice, but next song This Mess We're In proved they still salute fans, dedicating the song to some who were seeing their second Kicks gig of the week. The main stage sound boffins had RANDOLPH’S LEAP and Adam Ross's plaintive voice mixed to perfection as he roll out some classic twee but wryly smart Leap lyrics - “it started out fine, but look how we ended up … the house on fire”. It was all going swimmingly on Saturday, though. Even by late afternoon the rain was copable with without the "sailor's attire".
FRIENDS IN AMERICA with their upgrade to the main stage to replace Roddy Woomble who played their pond stage slot later made the most of the capacity crowd in listening mode to plug loveable new single The More I Have, The Less I Own (The More I Learn, The Less I Know), out May 15. And after a long soundcheck that have made passing punters think CAMPFIRES IN WINTER were a one note band, a long pulsating, sound-equipment-testing one note it didn’t seem a bad idea. But not as good as a blast of new single out May 12 We’ll Exist or singer Boab Canavan belting out one of their many unforgettable lyrics – “somebody died upstairs”.
But for sheer wig-out energy in the face of persistent onstage dampness, Glasgow’s THIS SILENT FOREST proved that when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, you rock. Hard.
As the clock rolled past 10 in the wet darkness at the pond stage, just one song in and the woolly hats of singer Graeme Macdonald and bassist JJ McGowan were off. As City Sleeps turned into Gold Room, guitarist Jamie Daisuke’s specs were whipped away too as he arched back to the sound of a band powering up their own festival sunshine.