After the fantastic celebrations for Belladrum's tenth anniversary last year, there was an even greater response to this year's Tartan Heart festival, with tickets selling out before the end of March, triggering numerous social media appeals for spare tickets.
And in a year when there have been numerous events in Scotland competing for audiences and their spending money - the Commonwealth Games anyone? - and which has also seen a number of festivals including Rock Ness, Big Tent and Wizard forced to postpone or cancel altogether, Belladrum's continued success is even more impressive.
It could have been down to the marketing master-stroke that was the signing of Welsh legend Tom Jones as the headliner for the Friday night, or it could simply be that Bella's reputation as the best family-friendly festival going continues to grow.
It is everyone's favourite festival and has sold out earlier and earlier every year - I think most tickets had already gone before Sir Tom was announced - as those who have been before get their tickets early to make sure they don't miss out, regardless of who is playing.
And although the numbers attending the festival - around the 15,000 mark - are probably close to the capacity of the site, this year the caravan and campervan section was extended even further (although that made for a LONG walk back to the quiet family section, especially if you are carrying tired wee ones or pushing a buggy).
Said caravan and campervan site began filling up from the minute it opened on the Thursday afternoon, as did the camping sites, although the queues early on were relatively fast-moving and well-organised. It seems that everyone wants to make the most of Belladrum and is keen to arrive as early as possible, and it was a busy day for the site attendants.
By evening, when we wandered on to the festival site proper, the party was already in full swing. There was a full line-up on the Grassroots stage and the tent was mobbed even before the ever-popular rhythmnreel took to the stage for what is something of a traditional spot for them.
The Potting Shed – which this year ran two stages with the addition of the 2CV stage - was also entertaining increasingly large crowds while the fun fair and Mother's Ruin were entertaining kids of various different ages and under various different levels of parental control. The bars and trade and food stalls were already doing brisk business as well.
And there was a significant number of youngsters hoping to get an early start on the usual glass collecting money-making initiative, many armed with black bags and litter pickers and a determined look in their eye. In previous years, organisers have offered 10p on the price of a drink back if you handed the plastic cup back in. Enterprising kids have spent entire Belladrums collecting discarded glasses to top up their pocket money.
But after a bit of a scene last year when the cash-in tent closed amid rumours that they had paid out several thousands of pounds to kids, leaving many with a stash of collected glasses that promptly got thrown around the bar area, this year a decision was taken to reduce the payment to a penny for every cup. The groundswell of public opinion was that this was pretty harsh on the kids – even a 50 per cent reduction would have been less drastic - especially given that the money is allegedly included in the price of the bar tokens anyway.
So the upshot of the continuing cup-gate saga was that many children didn't bother collecting the plastics this year, and the site was noticeably messier, despite the best efforts of the litter pickers. But actually, we got to enjoy more of the festival as we didn't have to follow our kids round with stacks of cups as they became increasingly obsessed with the whole thing. So fair enough Team Bella, initially disappointing but hey, every cloud and all that.
Talking of clouds, it was a hazy, misty start to Friday. My tween son was determined to see trials bike rider Danny MacAskilll – arguably the most skilful rider on the planet at the moment - performing his new show Drop and Roll, so it was a relatively early start and into the main site for one o'clock for us.
Hundreds of people were already there before us, lining the fences of the Drop and Roll performance area, keen to see the internet sensation that is MacAskill. The man from the Isle of Skye, and his cohorts, local Inverness lad Duncan, and Ally – who the commentator described as a 'human crash test dummy' – didn't disappoint, performing a range of eye-watering stunts and tricks.
The riders performed six times over the Friday and Saturday, attracting huge crowds each time, with many youngsters going back to watch them again and again. Booking these guys – who are touring their show at a number of big name events across Europe - was another master-stroke from the Bella organisers, proving yet again that Bella really does have something for everyone.
And on that point, while older kids were picking up hints on what not to do at home in terms of launching a BMX off the roof of a van and landing it in between the spread-eagled legs of your mate, children's entertainers The Singing Kettle were on the main Garden Stage, delighting younger festival-goers with classics such as The Wheels On The Bus, We're Going On a Bear Hunt and Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff The Bus – complete with a real granny.
After a mooch around the site, re-acquainting ourselves with familiar landmarks such as the hammocks and the Walled Garden and the lovely Beat-root cafe - as well as checking out new arrivals such as the fantastical Burke and Hair Real Ale Pub Theatre - the first music of the day for us was Charlotte Brimner on the Free Range stage, just inside the Walled Garden.
The talented singer songwriter, who is just 17, hails from just outside Dundee and played with multi-instrumentalist Robbie Ward, formerly of Anderson, McGinty, Webster, Ward and Fisher. Her appearance at Belladrum was the latest in a string of gigs by the teenager this summer - including a number in London and even a mini tour in the US – and she won a place to play the Tartan Heart festival following an impressive performance at the Go North festival in Inverness in June.
Her set included a number of her own songs such as Monster, Be You, Sunshine Mornings, The Power, Connect, and a new song that she “finished writing last week”, as well as a ‘mash-up’ of popular songs from the 50s such as Hound Dog and Tutti Frutti, and she certainly got the afternoon crowd going with a confident performance, winning new fans with her almost Amy MacDonald-esque voice.
From Charlotte's set it was back to the Grassroots stage for Robbie Ward's old band mates, Anderson McGinty Webster and Fisher, appearing for the second year running. This year, without Robbie (although he was spotted in the audience), they were joined by bassist Tom Barbour.
The tent was stowed out again for their show and they didn't disappoint the hundreds of fans there, giving another brilliant performance. They opened with the beautiful Pigeon Song, grabbing the audience's attention from the off and holding it as well as Dave Webster holds a note. Old favourites such as Dana and Boo Hoo got an airing alongside new material such as Highwayman, much of which showcases Webster's amazing vocal range and almost Ian Gillan-esque style, and the crowd were crying out for more when they left the stage.
Just as the weather forecasters had predicted, the heavens opened and the rain started at about tea-time, leading to a rush on sales of over-priced ponchos, mainly by disorganised folk like us who had left our waterproofs about two miles away back in the caravan.
We took shelter with the lovely Hunter and The Bear at the Seedlings Stage. Recommended by friends who caught them at the HebCelt festival on the Isle of Lewis in July, the melodic rock four piece are a talented bunch of musicians with beautiful voices and yes, beautiful hair. Fresh from supporting Eric Clapton, the boys are busy promoting their new EP, Before I Come Home.
Much as I was enjoying their set though, we had to make a mad dash back to the Grassroots tent to see The Bad Shepherds, who were playing a day early after Merrymouth – Ocean Colour Scene's Simon Fowler's new venture – cancelled.
The Bad Shepherds were always going to be a highlight for me and they didn't disappoint. I have loved Adrian Edmondson since I was 14 and first saw him as Vyvyan in the Young Ones with the mighty Motorhead playing Ace of Spades. So it was fitting that the folk band, which plays punk covers with traditional instruments, dedicated their version of the heavy metal band's most famous hit to the recently departed Rik Mayall – Edmondson's best friend.
The poignancy continued with beautiful interpretations of The Jam's Going Underground, Talking Head's Once in a Lifetime, Our House by Madness, Whole Wide World, and my personal favourite, Public Image Limited's Rise. Edmondson and bandmates Troy Donockley and Tim Harries totally rock out, the guitars and pipes and whistle and double bass infusing the familiar songs with a new passion and Edmondson's voice at times snarling with anger, at times soft and almost mellow.
And every now and then there was a wee glimpse of Vyvyan or Eddie, and wee reminders of the anarchic and irreverent sense of humour that I first fell in love with, most notably when BBC Alba stopped filming early on in their set - “Typical BBC,” he snorted, “Always fuck off when I'm doing my best stuff”. I still love him.
It was time to get something to eat so we headed off to our usual haunts at the always wonderful Food From Argyll tents and this year chose something completely different. It was veggie curry all the way for me and the husband and the kids had toasties before we headed back to the main stage for Frightened Rabbit – one of a number of difficult choices we had to make about who to see over the weekend.
In this instance, we chose 'Frabbit' and their only Scottish festival performance of the summer over Glenn Tilbrook. Not sure it was the right choice but the Belladrum regulars were as popular as ever with the Garden Stage crowd, who were singing along with every word from the outset. They belted out a number of their hits from their ten-year career in an energetic performance that kept the Friday evening crowd bouncing and happy despite the rain.
Next on our check-list was to have been main stage head-liner Tom Jones. He's not really my thing, we don't have a tv so don't watch The Voice, I don't get the knicker throwing thing, but having said that, he is Tom Jones and needs to be seen and needs to be photographed.
Only he didn't see it quite that way, refusing to let the press pack in. Only the official Belladrum photographer was allowed to take any shots of Sir Tom's slot, so no pics here I'm afraid, and no review either, other than to say that the Garden Stage arena was packed at the start, with Mamma Told Me and Sex Bomb making an appearance early in the set and the huge crowd seemingly thinning out a bit after that.
However, Sir Tom's refusal to allow photographers into the pit ended up playing to my advantage. Firstly, he saved me and all the other press togs from being hit by the deluge of wet (did I mention it was raining?) knickers that folk threw at the stage - and having seen the pile of damp pants sitting in a fairly forlorn heap at the side of the stage on Sunday afternoon, I am very glad he did.
And secondly, it meant we finally got to see The Temperance Movement, who were headlining the Hothouse Stage, after having missed them on several other occasions. Vocalist Phil Campbell gave it his all from the outset, clearly unfazed by the competition from Sir Tom, and the Hothouse tent was filling up throughout their set as more and more people headed down the hill to catch them and their juggernaut of blues rock.
Influenced by the likes of The Rolling Stones, who they supported on tour earlier this summer, and with more than a hint of The Faces, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, this band are a good time rock 'n' roll band and yes, I really enjoyed them. I loved Campbell's voice and the passion and enthusiasm he showed on stage, and I loved it when he brought his toddler out on to the stage to meet the audience – priorities.
The rest of the five-piece band were really tight and created a wall of sound that sucks you into a time-warp of classic rock; fitting then that their eponymous first album, released last year, has been nominated for a Classic Rock Album of the Year award.
Although the headline acts had all finished, the Belladrum party continued. Once again the fun fair and trade and food stands were mobbed, and as we headed back to the campsite there were displays by trapeze artists and acrobats and fire dancers, and beautifully lit sculptures of Pegasus in the Temple garden.
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Belladrum Tartan Heart 2019 review
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