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Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival 2

Go North. Seems to be the message of the moment, as the Indie-axis of power switches from Glasgow to Dundee, and bands from the Highlands (hello Cinematics) appear on Letterman. The best festivals both reflect and encourage new trends, riding the crest of a wave whilst also making a splash in calmer waters. If you journeyed up to the Highlands this summer, and took in the Belladrum festival, you’d have noticed this. If not, here are a few reminders.

Walking around the festival is an experience in itself: circus performers mix with indie trendies, whilst grandmothers lecture small children on REAL hippy folk. Fashion casualties rub shoulders with acid casualties, whilst over in the beer tents lurk… well, plain casualties I suppose.

After soaking up some Jazz on the Lawn the first group to be witnessed were Skilda, a Scandinavian pop group who seemed to mix traditional forms with 21st century technology. An experience, but not one I would rush to again.

The Jyrojets arrived with a huge hometown support, and a hefty major label advance. Hopes were high but sadly dashed by a set of mediocre indie-by-numbers – more like a budget airline than a trans-atlantic cruise.

The Law took to the stage bearing a crateful of alcoholic concoctions, not so much hair-of-the-dog as hair-of-the-woolly-mammoth. Their savage but tuneful set had the main stage crowd singing along to tunes they had never hear before, and were only barely certain of the words. Unkempt rock ‘n’ roll from a time when bands resembled cavemen, whacking cave-women over the head with bloody great riffs and melodies.

The run of Dundee bands continued with Luva-Anna, whose well-promoted set introduced Tayside punk-folk sea shanties to the Seedlings tent. An audience not entirely sure what to do with themselves hit upon the ideal solution: dance like its 1699, and to hell with the consequences. Near neighbours (well, over the river) of both Dundee bands, Sergeant are refreshing in that they sound nothing like either of their compadres. Jangling pop, resembling the Byrds flying North for summer, they finish with a suspiciously organised stage invasion.

The Highlands’ own Theatre Fall follow the earlier Jyrotjets in showcasing Nothern talent, demonstrating an original line of sharp, danceable rock. Not yet the Killers, more savagely-wounding, but they’ll get there soon with a set of joyful synth-melting. Could the axis of power move further North still? I await reports of a Shetland Indie Mafia.

Saturday begins with the trilling of sparrows, the yawning of brown calves and the oinking of what will soon be my bacon sandwich. After said meat snack was devoured we plunged straight into the festival spirit with Roddy Hart, doing a good impression of Springsteen without the bulging veins. Throw in some Tom Petty and the recipe is complete for a set of professional tune-smithery, and when has that ever gone out of fashion?

The main stage was lit up by Cumbernauld’s own Dykeenies, who have journeyed North via Topshop. Ever so now, the four piece deliver a crowd pleasing set of punk-funk / nu-rave (can anyone tell the difference any more?). Going by the crowd reaction, it’s a safe bet that they’ll soon be monopolising the nation’s indie dance floors.
A more antiquated knees-up was had in the Flytrap as the Orchestra del Sol brought a Jewish folk explosion to the Highlands. Break dancing and a sousaphone solo – what more could the indie scenester demand?

The BBC Seedlings stage spent the weekend bringing the latest in Scottish talent to the forefront, and continued with Le Reno Amps. Aberdonians by birth, but Glaswegians by trade, their blend of stark country-rock brought more than a few smiles to the tent.
Mod poppers Figure 5 arrived with a reputation as one of the nation’s top unsigned acts, selling out King Tuts on the basis of a thrilling live show. With that back story they were always on a hiding to nothing, but a set of standard 60s garage left me more than a little disappointed. Lacking the attention to detail of their Mod brethren, both their clothes and tunes were a little frayed around the edges. That said the drummer is my new hero, battling disability to be one of the finest musicians on show this weekend.

Reggae is always a safe festival bet, uniting weed lovers from across the ages. Legendary roots act Misty In Roots more than fulfilled their obligations with a crowd pleasing set, but the real stories of festivals always happen in the smaller tents. And so it was that mere hours after Kate Nash filled the Flytrap to the rafters, relatively unknown folktronica act Tunng rewrote the rule book, blending languid acoustic strumming to the most oblique of beeps. 

And so it was that Belladrum 2007 ended. The air filled with the Britpop of James safely ignored from a distance, we reflected on a weekend that saw Dundee showcase itself as Scotland’s most musically talented and diverse city, whilst the Highlands promised a future wave of indie-hipsterism. Bringing the South to the North, the trendy to the unfashionable, the city to the country, Belladrum is fired by contradictions that look set to establish it as one of the Scottish summer’s most vital musical events.

(more Belladrum coverage)