Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival is the nation’s friendliest festival. Whether you bring your dancing wellies and glitter or your picnic blanket and grandchildren, all are equally welcome. The atmosphere is laid back and likeable, exuding a special kind of warmth. Leave the world at the gates because inside there is wall to wall sunshine, even, or especially, when it rains.
Like many festivals, there is so much variety to choose from there is inevitably a fair bit of time spent walking around the green and leafy site. Often when heading from one stage to another you will be distracted by a haunting cello or insistent disco beat and never make it to the act you were heading for. Yet Tartan Heart is a manageable size to navigate around. It has, as you would expect, activities for toddlers to teens and those of a more mature vintage. Poetry, comedy, and crafts can be found in delightful low-key areas such as the Walled Garden, while the energy is fever pitch high at the Temple of Dub.
But music rules, of course. Music is the lifeblood that flows through every aspect of the Belladrum Tartan Heart festival. The over-used term “eclectic” really is applicable here. From jazz to folk to funk, the mash up of genres is impressive; the acts too numerous to describe in full.
An unexpected treat are the Tenement Jazz Band at Icehouse Jazz and Blues bar. Their crisp banjo solos and air of exuberance get everyone dancing, young and old.
Other notable performances include The Charlatans. A guaranteed crowd pleaser delivered with joy and affection is North Country Boy, the refrain taken up by the north country crowd. The Only One I Know brings Belladrum and Madchester much closer on the musical map, even if there is a fair distance between them as the crow flies.
A stunning festival moment comes when The Charlatans pay tribute to the late Scott Hutchison. Grant Hutchison and Billy Kennedy from Frightened Rabbit join them on stage for FR song Head Rolls Off. The crowd roar their solidarity with the bereaved band, mourning the tragic loss of an irreplaceable talent. It’s a moment of unity between bands, and a musical highlight not to be forgotten.
Paloma Faith provides a perfectly polished set, her legendary vocal performance not in the least affected by what she describes as a “nursery cold”. She remains positive despite some technical problems which clearly irritate her, and much of the audience, but as a true professional she carries on regardless, and once resolved is soon belting out summer anthems. She encourages the audience to start an “epidemic of kindness”, with a message of body positivity and gratitude. Her set includes a succession of flawlessly delivered hits, particularly Only Love Can Hurt Like This.
This happy vibe is carried on over in the Ice-house Jazz bar by Belladrum regulars The Retrophones. They provide sheer good time dance-along fun, expertly delivered.
The Filthy Tongues make a hugely successful Belladrum debut with their signature dark and dirty pop rock. Their tunes and themes are too dark for the summer sunshine outdoors and are appropriately housed undercover at the Hothouse Stage. Martin Metcalfe and company supply excellent post punk guitar rock with added electric violin for pathos and melancholy. The audience are captivated by a deep, primal, insistent beat while the violin mewls like an angsty cat in a fabulous, mesmerising set.
Siobhan Wilson gives an incredible performance. She has a voice of marvellous sweetness and purity, but adds guitar riffs and cello and intelligent song writing to cut through the sweetness and add depth. Her performance is complex, fresh, honest and utterly brilliant.
A complete contrast are The Dangleberries. They deliver an energetic cover of I Got A Feeling and a souped-up rock’n’roll version of Wild Mountain Thyme for some feelgood fun in the sun. Bagpipes are in evidence but are kept in check by some raucous guitar.
Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 are the marmite act of the weekend. You either get it or you don’t. For those that do, this kids’ rock band for adults are life enhancing and wonderfully silly.
Cheeky Glaswegian singer songwriter Gerry Cinnamon brings his A-game along with guitar, his harmonica and his honest and appealing songs. He confidently delivers catchy yet insightful songs such as Fickle McSelfish and Canter with warmth and energy.
One of the best acts of the Hothouse stage is the Bhangra Rock fusion band Kissmet, sharing their incredible infectious sounds. This cross-cultural melting pot of inventive percussion paired with outstanding rock guitar solos has the whole tent literally jumping. The Bollywood theme of this year’s event had seemed a little like cultural misappropriation at times, but here, for a short time at least, it seems less misguided and more encouraging of diversity and a damn good time.
Primal Scream are a huge draw as undisputed Scots rock royalty. It takes them a few minutes to really engage, but once they do they bring hypnotic version of Swastika Eyes. They top this with perennial favourite Movin’ On Up which soars to the sky. Rocks’ funky rhythms have the crowd screaming the refrain.
Clearly this is a snapshot of but a brief few of the full line-up. The joy of Belladrum Tartan Heart is that you can make your own festival experience depending on your preferences. Add whisky cocktails and Scottish craft Gin Palace to the mix, and its no wonder a fellow festival goer tells me, with no sense of irony, “There are no strangers at Belladrum, just friends you haven’t met yet.” He really means it.