Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival 2023 - The Review

Bigger, bolder, and better than ever

By Clare McMicking | Published: Tue 29th Aug 2023

Around The Site

Thursday 27th to Saturday 29th July 2023
Belladrum Estate, Beauly, Inverness-shire, IV4 7BA, Scotland MAP
£166 adults and youth aged 13+ years, £10 - aged 12 years and under
Daily capacity: 20,000
Last updated: Tue 13th Jun 2023

No Scotland, no party. 

That’s what they say anyway. And the latest edition of the Tartan Heart festival in the Scottish Highlands was a fantastic illustration of just why that’s the case – not least because the hugely enthusiastic crowds at the new Hot House arena were belting out the Scottish footie fans’ new favourite chant before, during, and after nearly every band’s set over the course of the weekend. 


Belladrum Festival Crowd 2023

It’s been another tough year for festivals. In Scotland, both Doune the Rabbit Hole and Mugstock were cancelled or postponed just weeks before they were due to take place, citing poor ticket sales. 

And tickets were still available for Belladrum this year in the days before the event, although the fact that this year the capacity increased again, this time by a quarter to some 25,000, more than likely contributed to that.

The increase in capacity was a record for Belladrum, which has been Scotland’s biggest festival with camping for some years now. 

A few hundred campervan and caravans were able to purchase bolt-ons to their weekend tickets entitling them to stay on the Wednesday night in an effort to reduce the well-documented queues to enter the site on the first day of the event. 

There were still long delays to enter the site on the Thursday however, with more people arriving that day rather than over the course of the following two days. Broken down vehicles on the road from Inverness and the closure of the A9 in both directions due to a serious road incident also contributed to the queues. 


Despite pleas by the organisers not to queue before 8am, people did, with the result that the queues were already about two hours long before 9am. By 12.30pm it was taking three hours to get from Inverness to the gates of the site – usually a 30-minute drive - with delays of up to five hours reported by the afternoon and traffic issues affecting bands and performers as well as festie goers. 

As the festival got under way though, all was forgotten and music fans from across Scotland and beyond made the most of the packed programme of bands and entertainment – and enjoyed better-than-forecast weather. 

The Latina Turners and Scooty and the Skyhooks got things off to a fan-friendly start on the Hot House Stage and the Garden Stage respectively, the latter easing everyone into the festival mood with a Thursday afternoon singalong of hits such as Brown Eyed Girl, Build Me Up Buttercup, Nutbush City Limits and a selection of popular songs from the 60s that everyone knew the words to. It was the perfect blend of chill, familiarity and enthusiasm to start to the weekend.

Scooty And The Skyhooks - Belladrum Festival 2023

Over on the Ice-House Stage, Edinburgh-based Irish guitarist and singer-songwriter Cathal Murphy played a mix of his own material including Overworked, Underpaid and Lilac Eyes, and covers such as Holding Out for a Hero. Ever Since We Were Young, which features on the soundtrack to the film Reavey Brothers, also got an airing, with Murphy’s soulful vocals filling the stage and demonstrating why the buzz surrounding the 23-year-old is justified. 

Next up on the Ice-House stage was The Great Glen Swing Band, based in Lochaber, playing what was the first of two sets by them at Bella over the weekend. I Feel Good, All Shook Up, Reet Petite, Proud Mary, Respect, Dancing in the Street, and even Enter Sandman all got the early evening crowd up on their feet dancing.  

Trad heroes Skerryvore took to the Hot House stage hot on the heels of a US tour, playing tracks from their new album Tempus as well as old favourites from their near 20-year career. Vancouver Island, Everything You Need, Crooked, Live Forever, The Exorcists, You and I, Eye of the Storm, The Rise, Take My Hand, Legends of the Sun, and Path to Home delighted the ever-increasing crowd. 

Sam Ryder was up next on the Hot House stage in what was long-awaited Highland appearance for the Brit award nominee. The man who nearly won Eurovision last year also nearly played Bella last year but was forced to cancel at the last minute due to illness. 

Sam Ryder - Belladrum Festival 2023

This year, he took to the stage just two days after having had surgery and gave an infectiously energetic performance, running the length of the stage and demonstrating his very impressive vocal range belting out his blend of pop, soul and rock with Somebody, Living Without You, Put a Light On You, Tiny Riot, Deep Blue Doubt, the Emmy-nominated Fought and Lost, Mountain, Candi Staton’s You Got The Love, More, and of course, Space Man. 

Thursday night Hot House headliner was Scandinavian star Sigrid. At just 26 years old she has already been writing songs for a decade, has had multiple top ten singles and albums and over a billion streams – and with a set list including hits such as It Gets Dark, Burning Bridges, Mine Right Now, Let You Go, Risk of Getting Hurt, High Five, A Driver Saved My Night, Head on Fire, Dynamite, Don’t Kill My Vibe, Sucker Punch, Dancer, Mirror, it’s easy to see why. 

Her voice is amazing, her lyrics relatable and her smile lights up a field of thousands. Dancing in a saltire, prompting another rendition of No Scotland, No Party, she invited bagpipe player Scott from Skerryvore on stage with her to perform one of her biggest hits - Strangers - to finish off a show she described as one of her top favourite live moments ever. And the crowd were loving it too.

Over on the Garden Stage, Liverpool band The Zutons had a different vibe going on and attracted a different crowd. Indie rock hits from the naughties such as You Will You Won’t and of course Valerie – in what was the first of about five times we heard that song over the weekend - got the crowd bouncing though and singer Dave McCabe thanked everyone for coming, noting that they didn’t have to.

The Zutons - Belladrum Festival 2023

As the Garden Stage closed for the night, Highlands-based Rhythmnreel were getting the party started in the Grassroots Tent, packing it out once again. This latest incarnation of a band that formed some 30 years ago – before at least one of its members was even born - combines bagpipes, whistle and fiddles with thumping bass and drums and stomping guitars. AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – complete with wee segues into Back in Black and You Shook Me All Night Long – was one of many stand out moments in a set that was jam-packed with classics including Lonely Mountain Road, Dancing in the Dark, Mr Brightside, Dark Island, The Gael, and Blitzkreig Bop. 

Meanwhile, following on from their hugely popular set last year, Gimme Abba were back to close the first night on the Hot House Stage. Kicking off with Mamma Mia and SOS, it was hit after hit with Knowing Me Knowing You, Money Money Money, Save All Your Love For Me, Fernando, Super Trouper, Waterloo and Thank You For the Music further cementing their reputation as one of the best-loved Abba tribute bands in the UK. The audience knew every word and danced every step with them before heading back to the campsites, the traffic delays long forgotten and Bella’s legendary feel-good vibe working its magic.


The Bella magic continued on Friday as the forecast thunderstorms failed to materialise and the festival was blessed with sunshine and warm temperatures.  

Most of the stages opened around midday with Into the Pines on the Hot House Stage, Dorec-A-Belle on the Garden Stage, and Dylan James Tierney in the Grassroots Tent. Dorec-A-Belle’s Liza Mulholland and Rhythmnreel’s Davy and Sam Cowan were among many artists who played several times over the weekend, taking to the Free Range Acoustic Stage on Friday afternoon for a mellow set in the sunshine. 


Colonel Mustard from Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 also performed a couple of times in various yellow guises but it was their full band show on the Hot House Stage on Friday afternoon which really got the crowd going. Gonna Be Myself, Ted Dancin’, Cross the Road and We Are Dinosaur from their second album The Difficult Number 2 proved as popular as older favourites Gay Icon – which the Colonel introduced as being a song about equal rights that is even more relevant than ever given the attack on LGBTQIA rights recently – Dance Off, from their first album which is, somewhat incredibly, ten years old this year, Peace Love and Mustard, and These Are Not The Drugs (You Are Looking For). One of the forerunners of the Yellow Movement, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 are still attracting a huge crowd who love their philosophy, their inclusive approach and feelgood vibes. 

Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 Five - Belladrum Festival 2023

Talking of familiar feelgood vibes, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Belladrum regulars The Dangleberries so it was back to the Garden Stage to catch their early evening set. The pipe rock band covered everything from The Zuton’s Valerie to previous Bella headliners The Darkness’ I Believe In A Thing Called Love, The Killers’ Human, The Black Eyed Peas I Got A Feeling, Coldplay’s Fix You, and Kings of Leon’s Sex Is On Fire, delighting their many fans. 

Lauran Hibberd burst on to the Garden Stage with a lot of energy for someone who had driven 10 hours to get to Belladrum. Originally from the Isle of Wight and having performed at Glastonbury in 2019 and Trnsmt earlier this year – as well as recent shows in Australia and Nashville - she is no stranger to festivals and rocked out the early evening crowd with her Gwen Stefani vibe and pop punk tunes such as Bleugh, I’m Insecure, How Am I Still Alive, Hole in the Head, Hot Boys and new single Honda Civic. 

From up-and-coming new talent it was back to the Hot House Stage for festival favourites and local lads Elephant Sessions and their award-winning blend of trad, rock, funk, and electronica. These guys grew up coming to Bella as youngsters and it is very much their home festival. Fiddle player Euan told the crowd that 11 years ago they played a converted combine harvester here at Bella, adding that to come back to a welcome like they got this year was “something else”. The set list featured a mix of old and new material from their four albums, including Moonwake, We Out Here Now, For The Night, What Makes You, Colours, Rebirth, Is this a Vibe? Riverview Pt 1, and FM. It was a pretty special evening. 

Elephant Sessions - Belladrum Festival 2023

Over in the Grassroots Tent there was another special performance urrrnder way, one of several that that stage was to produce over the weekend. Folk-rocker Newton Faulkner brought a distinctly mellow and very smiley vibe to the tent with his soulful voice and percussion-style guitar playing, opening with Cloud and the always moving Teardrop. 

From grassroots to the Verb Garden, which this year was back in its traditional spot by the main food area. Amongst many Verb Garden highlights over the weekend was everything from sing-along movies Mamma Mia and The Rocky Horror Picture Show to talks on environmental sustainability and mindfulness and writers sessions with author Chris Brookmyre and cyclist Jenny Graham who cycled round the world.

We caught Beyond the Covid Bourach with poet in residence for the Cateran Ecomuseum in Perthshire, Jim Mackintosh, singer Aileen Ogilvie, musicians Karys Watt and Dave McFarlane, piper Callum Douglas and Scottish Women’s National Football Team makar, Julie McNeil. It was another moving session with the performers “taking the audience into the landscape of Perthshire” through poetry and song, interspersed with pipes and traditional music, and tackling issues such as war, refugees and the Tory government’s woeful response to the Covid pandemic. Bind, written by Jim for Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, was a particularly poignant moment, as was a rendition of Freedom Come All Ye by Perthshire poet, songwriter, intellectual and soldier Hamish Henderson. 

Beyond The Covid Bourach - Belladrum Festival 2023

On the Hot House stage, KT Tunstall had drawn a huge crowd, some 20 years and seven albums after she first came to the public’s attention and six years after she headlined the Garden Stage back in 2017. Other Side of the World and Suddenly I See obviously got an airing, alongside newer material such as Private Eyes. Julie Fowlis joined her on stage for Black Horse and Cherry Tree with a wee segue into The Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These) which sent the crowd wild – as she said, all the best music comes from Scotland.

The chants of No Scotland No Party were getting louder and louder as synth pop heroes Bastille took to the stage and the huge buzz in the crowd was matched by massive energy from the band who rocked out throughout their set, running and jumping and covering every inch of the stage. Opening with Good Grief, WYGD and the Things We Lost, their set was paused briefly as a young fan had to be pulled out of the crowd. 

Bastille - Belladrum Festival 2023

Survivin’, Laura Palmer, Weight of Living Pt II, Bad Blood, The Draw, Send Them Off, Flaws – which saw singer Dan Smith make a wee foray into the crowd to lead the bouncing – No Angels, a mash up of TLC’s No Scrubs and The xx’s Angels – Of The Night – a mash up of The Rhythm of the Night and Rhythm is a Dancer – and QPM all delighted the crowd before Dan announced they “just wanna have a bit of party” for the last part of the set. The crowd agreed with them, singing along word for word to Happier, even sharing the mic when he headed out to the front row again. Shut Off The Lights – complete with the lyrics on the stage backdrop to help the audience sing along to the chorus – and of course Pompeii – probably their best known hit – had the crowd bouncing and singing at the top of their voices and finished off an immense set that was one of the standout performances of the weekend. 

Friday night was a night for standout performances - and moments to remember for the rest of your life, thanks to Kiefer Sutherland’s Grassroots stage appearance. It was something of a whirlwind trip to the Highlands for Kiefer and his band, who were in the middle of a UK-wide tour, fresh from their gig in Edinburgh the night before and due to play Kendal Calling the following day. I’m not sure how many of the crowd were there because they knew him as a Hollywood film star from the 80s and 90s, or as 24’s Jack Bauer, and how many were there because they knew his music, but his country, folk, rock and blues infused set, his beautiful soft voice and his undoubted skill on the guitar certainly won him some new fans in the packed-out tent. His love and respect for music, for performing and for his hugely talented band is both obvious and infectious.

Kiefer Sutherland - Belladrum Festival 2023

Back on The Garden Stage, Bella old timers Alabama 3 were top of the bill. A3 are no strangers to the Tartan Heart festival having played here before on numerous occasions – a few years ago, before Covid, Larry Love said that he had played there every year since the start. Their brand of country, blues and acid house music with a wee drop of all sorts of other genres thrown in for good measure has been delighting fans for more than 25 years now. 

It was great to see Zoe Devlin Love back in the line-up, and to hear new single North Korea live as well. Thank you and Rattlesnake Woman got the crowd grooving but it was older classics such as Up Above My Head, Woke Up This Morning, Speed of the Sound of Loneliness and Woody Guthrie that really went down a storm. How Can I Protect You was dedicated to Sinead O‘Connor whose passing was announced just a day or so earlier, and Too Sick To Pray, Rehab and Hypo Full of Love brought a storming set to a close.

The entertainment didn’t stop there though, with the Mother’s Ruin DJ stage just warming up and Martin Kemp’s 80s disco banging out the decade’s popular hits until the wee small hours. Is it just me or is there some kind of magical reason why songs such as Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Summer of 69, I Love Rock n Roll, Living on a Prayer, Don’t You Want Me, and Gold don’t sound as though they are nearly 40 years old? Answers on a postcard please…


The weather stayed warm and dry again for Saturday as Belladrummers got ready for the third and last day of the festival. The music started on most of the stages around 12ish again, but it was around three before we made it into the arena. 


And the difficult decisions started almost immediately with funksters Tom Maguire and the Brassholes on the Hot House Stage up at the same time as Edinburgh’s ska kings Bombskare on the Garden Stage. To avoid having to make a decision, we went with the crowd and followed our friends to the Garden Stage. 

Bombskare never disappoint. They kicked off their set with Monsters from their 2022 EP of the same name, and Wanna Be Famous, Do All Dogs Go To Heaven, Freedom 35 and their cover of Britney’s Toxic were all on the set list in a show that had the afternoon crowd happily skanking away in the gorgeous Garden Stage setting. Special shout out this year for bassist Mandy who also played with Altered Images on Thursday and is an inspiration to aspiring bassists everywhere.  

Taking a break from the main stages we hung out at the Hootananny Trailer Trash Stage for a wee bit, catching the likes of The Niche Family and The Wynntown Marshalls, before heading back to the Hot House Stage and Scouting for Girls

It was the wholesome English pop rockers first time back at Bella in something like 15 years after their 2008 headline slot and they didn’t seem to have aged at all, their youthful demeanour as refreshing now as it was back in the noughties. Singer Roy Stride said the same rules applied then as now, specifically that no one was allowed to “just watch” Scouting for Girls, they had to sing along and get up and dance and that the crowd was now the “fifth member of the band”. Youngsters who must have been toddlers back in 2008 were right up at the front of the crowd and singing along to all the songs - I Wish I Was James Bond, Heartbeat, Famous, This Ain’t A Love Song, Millionaire, Posh Girls, Bad Superman, Elvis Ain’t Dead, and a cover of Busted’s Year 3000. 

“Welcome back to the band!” Roy shouted to the enthusiastic audience, which he later described as the “best crowd of the entire summer” before forgetting the lyrics to their new song, The Missing Part, which they were recording the video for at Bella. He remembered the lyrics by take two though, and for the set finale which was that little piece of catchy pop rock perfection, She’s So Lovely.

Scouting For Girls - Belladrum Festival 2023

Thurso/Glasgow band Forgetting The Future hit the Seedlings Stage hot on the heels of a performance at the Isle of Wight this year, and the four-piece indie rock act blew the tent away in what was one of the most exciting sets of the weekend. With new drummer Sam Cowan on the sticks, they opened with new song Chemtrails, quickly followed by Alligator, Bluetooth, Lepricon, Cigarettes Cigarettes Cigarettes, and Small Town Syndrome before finishing with Inhaler. It was a raucous and rambunctious performance - almost reminiscent of Biffy Clyro in terms of their rock edge, the surprising and inventive musical and vocal twists and their thoughtful lyrics with a hint of rage - and one that had fans moshing and screaming for more. 

Regular readers and Belladrummers will remember that Highland favourites Peat and Diesel stepped in at the last minute last year to cover Sam Ryder’s slot when he fell ill and was unable to perform. This year they were booked as second on the bill on the Hot House Stage in their own right and were one of the most hotly anticipated appearances of the weekend for many. There were rumours that they might not make their slot due to dense fog on Shetland, where they had played the night before, which saw their flight cancelled but much to everyone’s relief they made it just in time.

Opening with Stornoway and Calum Dan’s Transit Van, they were joined on stage by a special guest - something they said they have never done before and that they hadn’t rehearsed. Fife-based Cody Feechan performed her song Satisfaction and a cover of John Denver’s Country Roads backed by the boys from the Western Isles. They were also joined by Ruairidh Maclean – also known as RuMac and who had performed earlier in the weekend on the Grassroots stage – for a rendition of Loch Maree Islands. Brandy in the Airidh, Heorna Mhòr and Island had the crowd singing and jumping along before they closed their set with a storming version of Western Isles and Country Boy - complete with a fire-dancer on the stage. ‘Cos that’s the way we do it in the Western Isles. 

Another band making a return to Bella was the Brit-award winning Travis, who last headlined over a decade ago back in 2012. They played all their hits – Sing, Driftwood, a stripped back acoustic version of Flowers in the Window with all four band members gathered round the microphone (although they were pretty much drowned out by the crowd), Closer, Turn, and Why Does It Always Rain On Me which saw singer Fran Healy lead the crowd in a mass pogo for the last chorus. 

Travis - Belladrum Festival 2023

The Grassroots Stage was the setting for another award-winning musician, this time fiddle player, composer and founder member of folk rock group Wolfstone, Duncan Chisholm. You couldn’t get a more local gig for Duncan as he joked that he only had to walk to Belladrum to get to his headliner slot. He was joined on stage by almost a who’s who of the current trad scene in Scotland, including Hamish Napier, Ross Ainslie, and Sorren Maclean, for what was a truly stunning set featuring, among other tunes, Beneath The Fortress, and Perfect Storm which he wrote with Hamish. Duncan, who is unarguably one of Scotland’s finest fiddle players, told the gathered crowd that he “wanted to play an old traditional aire at Bella before [he] dies” – which he did, stunning the audience into a reverential near silence, no mean feat in the Grassroots tent on a Saturday night. It was a truly beautiful moment and another of those memories that will stay with you forever. 

And just like that, it was all over for another year. Belladrum seems to go by more quickly every year but they say that time flies when you’re having fun and Belladrummers – pretty much all 25,000 of them – were definitely having fun. 

Yes, there were issues - not least of which were the traffic problems on the Thursday, reported overcrowding in the family camping areas, and the toilets which were unarguably rank most of the weekend with long, long queues, no toilet paper and just stinking – but the organisers have promised to look at those for next year.

But there were lots of positives too, beyond the music and the entertainment and the unexpectedly good weather. 

The new layout worked well for the most part, the sound was louder at the Hot House than it used to be at the Garden Stage, and the new main stage still has a sort of natural amphitheatre feel to it, but obviously with a much larger capacity. More open spaces around the site meant that the increase in attendance didn’t feel too overwhelming - although any further increase in numbers probably would, and is something that many commentators on social media feel they would not support, with some comparing it somewhat unfavourably to T In The Park.

Belladrum Festival Site Flags 2023

The wide variety of stages, acts and entertainment means that there was always somewhere to go if certain areas were too crowded or busy, although it did seem that a lot of people just camped for the day around the Hot House Stage with some folk even putting up tents there, which as anyone who follows Glastonbury on social media will know is a pretty selfish thing to do, particularly when the bigger bands that everyone wants to see are playing. 

It was also good to see many old favourites at Bella, despite the changes. The Kiltarlity Hall Association tea tent was still there raising much needed funds for the local community, the food area offered a fantastic selection of sustenance for festie-goers throughout the weekend, the Tir Na Og children’s area was bigger than ever and Team Extreme were back with demonstrations of and workshops on skateboarding, skating, scooter and BMX stunts at their specially built ramp. 

Team Extreme - Belladrum Festival 2023

Water points were provided so that people could fill up their water bottles and drinks from the various bars were sold in reusable cups. This year there were bars by each of the stages and the queues at all the stages other than the Hot House seemed to be managed well – and even the Hot House bar the queues were relatively fast moving – all of which was a significant improvement on the situation last year. 

And, after the traffic problems on Thursday, by Saturday, every single campervan on site had a leaflet placed on its windscreen explaining that all vehicles from the field were to be diverted through Drumnadrochit before heading back to Inverness, directing them away from the traffic from the car parks. Early leavers were rewarded with a smooth journey to Inverness, albeit one that still took 40 minutes instead of what is normally – outside of festival time - a 10-minute journey by the direct route, while those who left after lunch were also rewarded with a congestion-free journey through the Highland capital. 

All in all then, it was another magical weekend at Belladrum with an eclectic line-up featuring everyone from Hollywood A-listers to teenage pop sensations, dance legends, the rock stars of the future, trad heroes, 80s stars and DJ stars – not to mention all the unsung entertainers, performers, caterers and volunteers from local groups and organisations who work hard throughout the weekend to make Bella the success it is. 

It genuinely gladdens my heart to see young people dancing away in a field with their parents and friends and getting so much joy out of the music – whatever genre it is – year after year. The dates for next year’s event – which is Belladrum’s 20th anniversary – have been announced as July 25th to 27th, but in the meantime, thank you for the music Team Bella, it means so much to so many. 

Check out all the photos from the festival!

Young Crowd - Belladrum Festival 2023

review by: Clare McMicking

photos by: Clare McMicking

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