Belladrum Festival hosts headliners Franz Ferdinand, The Pretenders and Sister Sledge at the top of the bill along with many others throughout a fun-filled three days
Belladrum Festival returned this weekend for its 14th year. Music fans heading to the festival travelled west from Inverness along the Beauly Firth. This Highland festival offers bands and singers to suit every musical taste. Its success in doing so is reflected in the way the tickets have sold out year after year since 2008. This normally tranquil part of the Scottish countryside was transformed as the Belladrum Estate filled with thousands of people of all ages and all kinds of musical inclinations. Belladrum has been growing in popularity every year since its inception in 2004 and this year may have been the most musically satisfying yet.
Despite frequent showers on Wednesday and Thursday, it didn't dampen the spirits of the festival goers, some of whom arrived as early as eight in the morning. With the Thursday night of Belladrum being a fairly new addition to the festival - it first started in 2015 when a Ceilidh was put on for Thursday ticket holders - most of the action was isolated to the main stage.
Rising star Lucy May won the opportunity to open proceedings on the Garden Stage through a competition that the Sunday Herald ran. After Lucy May got the crowd excited we were given our first taste of Scottish music as local band Torridon took over the main stage with their lively folk style. Other performances on the Thursday night included local soul legends Scooty & the Skyhooks as well as Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit who serenaded the crowd with their flawless harmonies.
Louis Berry from Liverpool had his turn on the Garden Stage next and instantly had the crowd on his side. His swagger and confidence along with his upbeat songs, such as ‘Nicole’, as well as slower, acoustic ones including his most successful single ‘Restless’, increased excitement in the main arena. He closed his set with a catchy rock tune, ‘She Wants Me’, which was received well by a grateful Belladrum crowd.
Finally, American headliners Sister Sledge closed the Thursday night. The three sisters were backed up by strong band members whom they made a point of acknowledging during one of their songs. Their soulful pop sound when singing ‘We are Family’ was the perfect end to the Thursday night - possibly the best Thursday night Belladrum has ever had?
Day 2 of Belladrum began with lively youngsters, The Cliftons who ensured everyone had woken up when they played their lively, indie rock set to get the Friday of the festival started.
HO-RO, a traditional folk band for whom Belladrum is a hometown gig, started proceedings on the main stage with a diverse set that included some of their trademark, upbeat music along with some slower folk songs. Sean Cousins, guitarist with the band said this when we got the chance to speak to him:
“We had a great time playing on the main stage as we have played at Belladrum a few times now and being asked to play the main stage feels really cool! We were delighted to see so many people when we got out there.”
Some acts tend to stick around to experience the weekend but this young traditional band flew out almost immediately after their set to begin a European tour. HO-RO described the feeling of playing Belladrum and compared it to the feeling of playing abroad:
“It's great to see so much enthusiasm for Scottish music over in Europe. We have had the privilege of playing so many festivals across the U.K and Europe but Belladrum still stands out!”
Next, rockers Vukovi took control of the Hothouse Tent with lead singer Janine showing off her vocal abilities as well as her charisma. She covered every inch of the stage and hypnotised everyone in the tent with her performance – even the loiterers at the edges of the tent who had clearly come in to avoid the torrential rain we were plagued on Friday. Janine described her first time at Belladrum after the set:
“We couldn’t believe it today. The first time we played here there was only four fucking people in the crowd. At all the other festivals we usually just fuck off but here we always stick around.”
When I asked Janine about her wild personality on stage – something the band and her have become known for – she simply said “Something comes over me.”
The trend of spirited indie bands continued as The Sherlocks filled out the Hothouse Tent. The young band from Sheffield began the set with their well-known song ‘Last Night’ before teasing fans with some songs that are going to be introduced on their debut album that is coming out on August 18th entitled ‘Live for the Moment’ – a very pertinent title for a band who never seem to stop touring. They finished the set with their most recent single, ‘Chasing Shadows’; it is filled with fearless guitar riffs and bold vocals – clearly a high point of the weekend.
A common issue at festivals is schedule clashing; choosing between bands can be hard and you don't know when it might be your last chance to see a particular artist or group. Last year Madness clashed with Circa Waves and this possibly took some of the atmosphere away from each of their performances. This year, headliners The Pretenders closed the Garden Stage on Friday whilst Belladrum regulars, Twin Atlantic, rocked the Hothouse Tent at the same time. Although I had assumed the Twin Atlantic crowd would be depleted, and it probably was, there were still enough people to fill out all three tents. They played an array of songs, some of the most recent from the ‘GLA’ album and more fan favourites such as ‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Brothers and Sisters’. The rousing guitars and barrage of lights was a fitting way to end a prodigious day on the Hothouse Stage.
It was obvious that the third and final day of Belladrum festival was going to be an enjoyable one as local singer-songwriter, Tamzene, packed out the Grass Roots Tent. Her pure voice carried through the air of Belladrum for the first time, and no wonder after hearing her single ‘Lullaby’ that was released earlier this year. Tamzene also released a new track called ‘Enough for Me’ the day before she was due on stage:
“It is one of my favourite weekends of the year so we thought we would release the new single before my set. It felt so good being back here, all the support from home is overwhelming”
Next to put on a show was the twenty-one year-old Sam Fender. The songwriter from Newcastle attracted a good crowd to the Seedlings Tent with his powerful vocals. Sam has released his first two singles in the past year; ‘Play God’ and ‘Greasy Spoon’ both of which he played at his first ever Belladrum set. His new band seemed to have the lively sound of a top indie group whilst he has the voice of a soul singer. I first saw him a couple of years ago, in a small venue in Ullapool, when he was more of an acoustic folk musician - it was just him alone with his acoustic guitar. He now plays with three other band members and his new and expanded sound along with his insightful and relevant lyrics suggest he is one for the future.
As the festival drew to a close, with only a matter of hours before the music was over for the year Neon Waltz took over the Hothouse Stage. They are a group in the ascendency and have been prominent in the indie music scene in the UK for the past few years. Frontman, Jordan Shearer’s voice sounded completely flawless from the first minute to the last – he was not short of confidence either. As he strutted around singing the final song ‘Dreamers’ he radiated a sense of invincibility. Shearer’s clear and shining voice along with the close and accurate instrumental skills on display made this the performance of the weekend.
Some more big names were due to play before headliners Franz Ferdinand closed the main stage. Songwriter Birdy put her spell on the main stage next with her dazzling vocals. The entire festival was silent apart from her voice when she played her biggest hit ‘Skinny Love’. KT Tunstallwas up next and she livened things up. She finished her set with the crowd roaring after she played the much-loved, ‘Suddenly I See’
As the festival fell into darkness the scene was set for Franz Ferdinand. The set kicked off with the brilliant ‘The Dark of the Matinee’ as they started to build up the crowd with a mix of songs from all of their records. As brilliant as they are, the set almost seemed to lose some momentum towards the end, as if it had spiked too early. However, when they played the acclaimed ‘Take Me Out’ the crowd returned to the same state of euphoria they were in when the band first arrived on stage. It was a fitting end to the weekend as they closed the show brilliantly against a backdrop of the iconic Belladrum fireworks.