James bring the Belladrum Tartan Heart faithful home on the final night

Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival 2013 review

published: Thu 8th Aug 2013


Friday 2nd to Saturday 3rd August 2013
Belladrum Estate, Beauly, Inverness-shire, IV4 7BA, Scotland MAP
£95 / deposit £50 - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 13500
last updated: Tue 16th Jul 2013

Saturday was bright and blustery, but still mainly dry and warm, blessing Bella-goers with good weather for the second year in a row.

The programme for the second day was just as packed as the first. The comedy line up included Des Clarke, Billy Kirkwood, Chris Conroy, John McGoldrick, and Chris Brooker and the Venus Flytrap stage was rammed over the course of the weekend. 

Equally popular was the Verb Garden, which featured in-depth interviews with stars of the festival such asTwin Atlantic, live debates including the return of BBC Radio Scotland's Brian Taylor's Big Debate and Iain Machirter chairing a discussion on the Road to Referendum.

This weekend was always going to be a full on affair, with an understanding that there just isn't enough time in the weekend to do and see even a quarter of what is on offer at Bella. By Saturday afternoon it already felt as though the weekend was slipping away from us slightly, that old adage of time flying when you're having fun certainly ringing true.

First things first on Saturday though, the important business of album launching. Davy Cowan, Belladrum regular and stalwart of the local music scene, launched his third solo album, 'Working Man's Dream' to a packed out Grassroots crowd with a rollicking lunchtime set with his band The Storm Chasers. As one happy festival-goer commented to your reviewer, it was a great way to kick things off again the morning after the night before.

Then it was time for what was, for me, one of the stand-out acts of the weekend, Anderson McGinty Webster Ward and Fisher.

Don't let the name put you off, this is no band of solicitors. Billed as a Dundee supergroup, this multi-talented band inspires cliches. They are superlative, sublime, with haunting harmonies and a sense of humour and humility. The Grassroots tent was stowed out for their performance, which saw them playing an acoustic set as a four-piece without drummer Fisher.

Mixing rock, folk, soul and blues as much as they mix and match their instruments, they caught everyone's attention with 'Little Brown Boy' and held it with 'Boo Hoo', 'Michael's Temptress' and 'Dana'. New material also got an airing, with the band's passion for music and the art of music-making both inherent and infectious. They raised the roof with 'The Pigeon Song', Dave Webster's spine-tingling voice stopping people in their tracks and not for the first time moving members of the audience to both tears and cheers.

Following a quick pitstop to recharge our batteries - both real and metaphorical - we caught the carnival-themed parade before heading down to the Garden stage for the first time on Saturday, this time for Glasgow-based Admiral Fallow. I imagine the phrase 'beard-rock' has no doubt already been coined by another journo somewhere, but Admiral Fallow are saved from my pigeon-holing by the beautiful and talented Sarah Hayes.

Then we had a three-quarter of an hour long wait in a queue for fish and chips for tea, before catching Edinburgh's Nina Nesbitt in the Hothouse stage. A Seedlings stage graduate, Nina packed out the Hothouse tent with her fellow teenage girls who sang along to all the words to opener 'The Apple Tree' and 'Stay out'. Introducing one track with an explanation that it was about leaving a job in River Island to follow her dreams certainly struck a chord with her young audience.

From teen pop to a little more grown up pop, it was back up the hill to the main stage for the Noisettes. Singer Shingai Shoniwa was resplendent in her carnival dress and a plastic raincoat but the rain never more than threatened their bouncing set, and her enthusiasm for Belladrum shone through in a rumbustious performance.

It was from one extreme to another then as we headed back to the Grassroots stage for Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, whose spell-binding voice had the audience enthralled, despite the fact that I got the impression that lots of 'em were there to hear the two songs she sang for the Disney Pixar film, Brave. Describing herself as "raised on peatfire smoke and good music", Julie and husband Éamon Doorley, along with Matheu Watson and Duncan Chisholm, performed a foot-stomping mixture of traditional tunes and reels.

And then it was James. Ahhh, James. From the opening tune, 'Getting Away With It', followed up with 'Come Home' and a wee soiree for singer Tim Booth into the audience, it was clear that this was gonna be good. Dancing as only a yoga fanatic with a 90s rave heritage can, Booth launched into another classic, 'Tomorrow', before they played some new material. They were joined on stage by fire poi dancers at one point, while 'Sit Down' got one of the biggest cheers of the night, along with 'Sometimes' and set finale 'Laid'.  

The dying chords heralded the start of the fireworks, including some particularly apt heart-shaped explosions, andwhich were followed by Julie Fowlis leading the crowd and a pipe band in a rendition of Flower of Scotland, a fitting end to an event that in just ten years has become something of a Scottish festival institution.  

There are many secrets to this festival's success, not least of which is the fact that it is continuously evolving and developing. However, this year there were a few grumblings about the increase in numbers and the impact that had, not least in the inadequate provision of toilets and the subsequent length of queues. The programmes sold out pretty early on too.

On Sunday, queues to leave the campsite were stationary for up to twenty minutes at a time. Tired revellers were cutting in front of each other, horns blaring and there was at least one incident of queue rage with a woman out of her car shouting and gesticulating in a way we have never experienced here before.

It has always been the people that make Belladrum special - people you always have a laugh with, a good time with, people who remind you what is important in life - and I would hate to see that aspect of this amazing little festival with its beautiful, inspirational and magical atmosphere change.

review by: Clare Damodaran

photos by: Clare Damodaran

Friday 2nd to Saturday 3rd August 2013
Belladrum Estate, Beauly, Inverness-shire, IV4 7BA, Scotland MAP
£95 / deposit £50 - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 13500
last updated: Tue 16th Jul 2013

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