I love music and will pretty much listen to anything with a beat. So why has it taken me to my forty second year on this planet to visit a music festival? Remembering the days when I was glued to the TV coverage of Glastonbury and how I longed to be there. These days I actually can’t think of anywhere worse to be (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration). All those people, just thinking about it gives me chills.
Then I was offered press passes for three days of music in the Scottish highlands, where days are care free, fun and for 2019, graced with glorious sunshine. I jumped at the opportunity. But what is the festival really like? This is my take on Belladrum, the festival with a big heart.
Less than ten miles west of Inverness, this Tartan Heart festival has come a long way from the small one day event in 2004. This humble start 15 years ago sold all of it’s 2000 tickets and this year a capacity crowd of 20,000 all enjoyed another brilliant line-up.
From the size of a haggis to a now Nessie sized affair, Belladrum is THE place to be.
Over the years acts such as The Wonder Stuff, Biffy Clyro, The Proclaimers, Deacon Blue, Emeli Sande, Tom Jones, Arrested Development and Professor Green (to name but a few) have all performed here.
No music festival is worth it’s salt unless you totally immerse yourself into the whole experience and that means camping. I must admit this is the bit that worried me the most. To me camping isn’t a 14,000 person activity, it’s all about solitude, beautiful landscapes and some peace and quiet. I did, however, embrace it and requested a pitch in the “Quiet Camping” field.
Upon my arrival I found myself a nice wee pitch in the farthest corner of the field. Away from the toilets and all the main throughfares but next to other ladies (mum and daughter) who were there with two young girls to enjoy a weekend of music.
There was also the “Clean Fields” option whereby you could agree to leave no trace. Keeping your pitch tidy during your stay and taking everything with you once you leave. It didn’t cost any extra money and is a brilliant incentive. Bravo Bella for this.
Across the site there were Portaloos and water facilities. Over the weekend each time I used the toilet I was happy to find toilet roll still there (although I always carry a back up supply in my ruck-sac) and they were clean; what more could you ask for.
True to the word of the Quiet Camping field, it was just that.
For those that can’t live without a proper shower etc for a few days then posh toilets and shower facilities are available (at an additional cost). I did have to laugh at those who had taken a camping chair to wait in the queue though!
And then there is the camping that’s not camping – glamping. Yurts with charging points for phones, tea and coffee facilities, nice hot showers and even a beauty parlour with hairdryers, straighteners and mirrors for good measure!
Something for everyone
There’s no denying that this festival is more than music.
Parents will be pleased to learn that there is something to keep the little ones occupied all the time. Arts and crafts, fair rides, karaoke sessions, wildlife and star gazing talks, face painting and some good old fashioned dancing.
Even just walking around can provide entertainment and photo opportunities when you bump into a couple of spacemen.
Choosing what to have for dinner can be a task in itself too. Noodles, hog roast, burgers, seafood, fajitas, risotto, waffles, fish supper, haggis, falafel, Cullen skink – you get the idea.
I loved that local businesses are also supporting the festival, with highland whisky distilliery Tomatin on site and also Speyside Brewery. A new discovery for me was Daffy’s mulberry gin with rose lemonade too. Delicious.
Shake your tail feather
I’m a planner. I love making plans and so sitting down at the onsite Press bus with my programme for the weekend I was like a child in a sweet shop. Immediately spotting some of my favourites like Elephant Sessions and Skerryvore, I earmarked them on my list. Oh and what was to be the biggest crowd puller on Saturday night but not even headlining, Lewis Capaldi. Then I sat and read about lots of bands I had never hear of before and wrote down times and what stage they were playing.
What a bloody waste of time that was. Why? Because I just went with the flow. I followed my ears and if I liked what was coming out of the marquee or stage then I stayed.
Best plan ever!
I discovered some superb bands that if I had followed my plan I wouldn’t have seen.
Top of my list I think was a four piece hard rock band who are based in the Midlands, Stone Broken on the Hot House stage. Three guys and a total kick-ass female drummer too. Top set!!!
The catching some totally chilled out vibes on the Garden Stage was Royal Sounds. This roots reggae band from the big smoke of London is a family affair too and you can totally feel the love when they are performing.
Whilst down on one of the more intimate venues, the Trailer Trash stage, Anton and the Colts (it was Anton, minus the Colts) that stopped me in my tracks. Their Twitter bio quotes “Their ace combination of rock swagger, blues groove, and the rough and tumble of Americana is one few Scottish bands can match.” My recent interest in Nashville and country music was certainly spiked by this set.
I missed most of this set (only hearing three songs) but loved it. These Speyside guys, Gordon James and The Power didn’t have far to travel to perform in the sunshine and anyone that can pull off Jungle Book’s Bare Necessities at the end of a set is worth checking out.
Ten out of ten for the guys of The Captain’s Beard for THE most energetic set I had seen all weekend. I just happened to be passing the Grassroots stage whilst these likely lads from Brighton were given it laldy. Rousing songs about drinking and even hangovers, these sea shanties were perfect to shake your tail feather to.
On one stage during Thursday night I found some traditional Scottish music, accompanied by an impromptu Gay Gordons and a rather enthusiastic Strip the Willow (is there another other kind?).
Then there was the big name everyone was talking about, Scotland’s newest golden baws, Lewis Capaldi. The boy next door that melted our hearts with the video to Someone you love (if you haven’t seen it, don’t watch it on the train in a public place because it will reduce you to tears). He wasn’t billed as the headline act but I think he pulled in a huge crowd. People setting up camp HOURS before he was due on stage so they could say they were there that time Lewis Capaldi played Belladrum festival.
I actually decided to leave after seeing Lewis play on Saturday night and drive back home to Perth. Thus avoiding the rush to pack away and get off-site on Sunday morning. Also avoiding seeing the
potential, inevitable waste left behind, including tents.
The festival itself does what it can to ensure no tents in perfectly good order goes to waste and so they are sent off to various charities.
Fear not though, because the Naked Highlander has got this all wrapped up!
Those that are no longer worthy of their original purpose (broken poles or small tears etc) are transformed into a line called Good inTentions. Paired with the beautiful colours of Belladrum tartan offcuts all the capes are unique.
I love it and couldn’t resist seeing what I would look like in one of the bright orange capes. What do you think?
I mean, seriously, this festival is incredible. Yes, yes, I know I have nothing to compare it to. I know the weather helps to enhance the experience but this level of laid back, friendly, slight craziness is a beautiful thing. It felt like re-uniting with an old friend. Belladrum, the festival with a big heart and I can’t wait to go back.
Because I took hundreds of images over the three days it’s been hard to choose my favourites, so here’s a few more: