Belladrum 2010 takes place in the beautiful Highland surroundings of Belladrum Estate, near Beauly in Inverness-shire. The independent festival has built a reputation for its eclectic line-ups, its offbeat non-musical entertainments and its all-ages approach. Last year, it won a Visit Scotland Thistle Award and it’s a past winner of the Grassroots Award at the festival industry’s ‘Oscars’. So it comes as no surprise that its 13500 capacity sold out this year.
Before the bands kicked off I took time out to visit the some of the many attractions of the main arena. Belladrum is billed as a family festival and the main arena had an excellent, large, child-friendly area with all manner of bouncy constructions including castles and slides and stuff that Total Wipeout would be proud of.
At the other extreme, if you form a large rectangular space with hay bales and surrounded with high netting put a goal at each end then you have the perfect area for kids to run themselves silly with a football. Most of the time it looked like World War 3 but the kids loved it. On the second day when the pitch had turned into a dust bowl kids emerging from the fray looked like they had clocked off from a chocolate powder factory.
In the main arena is the Venus Flytrap tent that caters for a slightly quirkier set, so If you're one of those people who lie awake at night pineing at the lack of a Ukulele-washboard playing duo then you can now sleep easy. As on stage were Vlonk & Vlam an utterly charming couple straight out of 1940s music hall. I'm not sure which was which but I've got a 50/50 chance of getting this right, Vlonk was the lady on the ukulele and Vlam was on a professional looking strap-on Washboard gizmo (yes there is there such a thing!) he was driving the beat with his with thimble like fingers. As the show progressed Vlonk presented Vlam with great reverence and aplomb, various attachments for his Washboard. I could not tell you what songs they were performing as the whole set was completely mesmerizing and a pleasure to watch.
Most festival goers would need to take mind-altering drugs to be able to see pink policemen but not at Belladrum where they were already there, wandering though the main arena. When spotted, festival goers would at first check the cigarettes they were smoking then realise that pink policeman are the norm at Belladrum along with many other weird and wonderful attractions. (Did I mention the flea circus?)
The fancy dress theme for Belladrum this year was "Wonderland". As ever, the Belladrummers took the challenge very seriously with some amazing costumes and Alice in Wonderland characters being most prominent. My personal faves where the two guys from the Bread and Butter Theatre Company. They took the form of giant plant pots with overflowing greenery and their comically masked heads sticking out from the undergrowth. It’s a very strange experience when you find yourself talking to a large plant pot and comedy shrub.
Madame Fifi’s Dance Parlor also intrigued me, I convinced myself that it could involve anything so was way too scared to venture in. But Madam Fifi's was quite harmless (I sent a friend in first though, just to be sure ) it's a fab place to learn and join in various dance styles, from salsa to belly dancing. If you are not into wobbling you belly button then there is always the late night sing along movies such Mama Mia and the Sound of Music.
After all this weirdness it was time to see my first band of the day, the excellent Admiral Fallow with their wonderful melodies and lyrics. They certainly attracted the fist big crowd of the day and fully deserved to be on the main stage after their first album release and rave reviews.
The afternoon saw great performances’ from Orkestra del Sol, Beth Jeans Houghton, Colin Macintyre aka Mull Historical Society, and Twin Atlantic all leading up to my favourite, John Ottway.
Such a cool dude but mad as a fish. Otway is bagpiped onto the stage, his enthusiasm and energy just envelops the fans and then its a roller-coaster ride of lunacy and classics songs - 'Rumplestiltskin', 'Bodytalk', using his body as a beat box, and an awesome rendition of Sweet's 'Blockbuster' with his double necked V shaped guitar giving it large. The fans lapped up every mad second of this eccentric rock legend.
Next up on the Garden Stage were The Wailers. Its always the same with bands that perform without their main man, you keep expecting them materialize at some point. It was no different with The Wailers. You know the music by heart and at every beat you expect Bob to be singing. But The Wailers do such a fantastic job that when you relax into the music, Bob comes through loud and clear. Standards like 'I Shot the Sheriff' and 'No Women, No Cry' meant we loved every second.
After an electrifying performance from one of the UK's favourite rock bands, Feeder it was down the Grassroots Stage where KT Tunstall rounded off the night. KT obviously prefers a more intimate venue as she turned down the main Garden Stage which was great for her fans that packed into the small tent, but harder to bear for the many left outside. With her new album just a few weeks away, she reminded us just what a great singer/songwriter she is. Even when the sound system let her down during 'Black Horse and Cherry Tree', she was not fazed. And I'm pretty sure the whole tent raised a few feet as the fans joined in with 'Suddenly I See'.
Saturday morning got off to a very civilized start with a tasty bacon roll and coffee, then an expedition to the Hielan Fields. This covers most things alternative == from doing Tai Chi to building a Teepee. There was also a wishing tree, with its lower branches covered in florescent cards carrying the thoughts and hopes of many Belladrummers. Some very funny others heart melting. There was also a sauna built using sustainable and recycled materials it looked like a dodgy shed from an allotment to me but it seemed to work fine as people emerged looking suitably hot and sweaty.
It was at this point I spotted a strange tent topped out with a large set of frog’s legs.
The music kicked off on the Hothouse Stage with one of the bands of the moment Erland and the Carnival a London based folk-rock group with a great sound and influences of folk greats such as Pentangle and Fairport convention. Their music is psychedelic slant on traditional Scottish and English folk songs and with Elands rich voice adds to the contemporary mix. After that, the afternoon was a bit of a blur as we were darting between stages, trying to catch, among others, Naked Strangers, Kitty and the Lion, Hip Parade, Alex Gardener and the ever present and energetic bagpipe-toting Dangleberries.
One of the highlights was Pete Lawrie. I wandered in to the Grassroots Stage where he was giving a wee impromptu performance in the middle of the tent surrounded by a number of his fans. What a cool thing to do. With a voice as deep and as dark as a Welsh coalmine and steely looks, he is set to do great things. His songs are an open book of his life, loves and near-death experiences. Pete Lawrie - remember that name.
The rest of the evening was spent at the Garden Stage with great sets by Wolfstone and Eliza Doolittle who put on a polished and impressive pop performance with superb songs like Pack Up and Skinny Genes. Eliza pirouetted around the stage and worked the fans like an old hand. Leaving us all wanting more from this wee pop pixie.
Then the queen of southern soul Candi Staton was next on stage looking fab and belting out hits like Young Hearts and You Got The Love. You never get less than 100% with Candi and tonight was no exception as she put in a sparkling performance and with her amazing band and backing singers. She is a huge festival favourite.
Yet another quick dash back to the Hothouse Stage for Divine Comedy and Neil Hannon to do his thing. You are never quite sure what that’s going to be. He appeared on stage, suited and booted complete with bowler hat, briefcase and sporting a pipe, looking suspiciously like he had just walked off a Monty Python sketch. However he was soon at his grand piano and hitting all the right notes with the fans. We left with 'National Express' ringing in our ears to catch the finale of the festival on the main stage.
With a huge Bellatasitic cheer from the crowd, Amy MacDonald was on stage looking amazing and every inch the star. She lost no time in getting the crowd singing along to their fave Amy anthems 'This is Life' and 'Mr Rock and Roll'. At one point in her set she graciously took time out to thank all her fans that had supported her. However this was taking too long for some. The guy next to me shouted: "Quit yer blethering and giz a song!" which she obviously heard above the throng and promptly got on with the job. It was a great show the band was zipped up tight and the sound and lights where brilliant.
No sooner had the last note faded than fireworks burst into the air with all the usual oohs and aaahs from the crowd. And what great Scottish event ever finished without a lone piper on the battlements? Well there were no battlements at Belladrum but a hydraulic hoist lifted a piper-in-a-cage high above the main stage into the spectacular exploding sky.
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