Belladrum 2016: the ultimate Highland's party
Madness, Super Furry Animals, Public Service Broadcasting and Two Door Cinema Club among the highlights at the Tartan Heart Festival
This article is from 2016.
They call it the Tartan Heart for a reason. Unlike most of the bigger festivals, Belladrum genuinely feels like a temporary community reborn beyond the constraints of normal life. There are families and kids running around, impromptu folk gigs, wrestling, delicious craft ales, comedy and spoken word. It's such a gorgeous site with trees, tiered gardens and various nooks and crannies to discover. You'll find yourself part of a shamanic pagan ritual one minute, watching interpretive dance the next before stumbling across half a plane fused with a ruined castle pumping out dance beats and smoke.
After the improvised, freestyle hip hop funk of Beardyman's Dream Team (their entire set is made up on the spot), Thursday night headliners The Darkness feel a little flat, despite Justin Hawkins' spangly purple catsuit. Although nostalgia has been kind to 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love', joyfully reclaimed as a fists-in-the-air cheesy rock classic.
Belladrum doesn't concentrate on huge international acts. Instead it hosts a vast array of genres with a strong focus on good times and local talent. It's a fantastic opportunity for Scottish bands to play out on a huge stage. The LaFontaines in particular stepping up to the challenge with Kerr Okan doing a lap of the audience during their energised set of jet fueled power pop with metallic EDM flourishes. He's perhaps the most enigmatic, ballsy frontman of the entire weekend. Astrid return for some jangly indie action after 12 years apart; Bombskare get the gardens skanking with their effervescent take on ska while Gun play no-nonsense rock to a crowd spilling out of the Hothouse tent.
Welsh weirdos Super Furry Animals are on great form. Beyond the Power Ranger masks and comedy placards their music is based around a psychedelic rewiring of Beach Boys harmonies. 'Rings Around the World' and 'Golden Retriever' sound lush and majestic as they sail into the stratosphere. Ending with an epic 'Man Don't Give a Fuck' dressed in full on yeti suits.
Two Door Cinema Club are a solid closer on Friday night, especially the feel good tropical indie funk of 'Next Year' and 'What You Know'. Meanwhile the hardcore find solace in a dated techno set from The Orb or the dub reggae soundclash of Mungo's Hi-Fi that keep the party going until 2am.
Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 prove to be one of the biggest draws early doors on Saturday. A yellow cult of silly dance moves and comedy routines. However the tent was so rammed it lessened their impact. The studious indie rock of Kilmarnock's Fatherson are solid last-minute replacements after Arrested Development cancelled due to illness even if their set is damped by a huge downpour. It also pushed Bwani Junction's jubilant take on Paul Simon's Afro fusion classic Graceland up the bill.
Public Service Broadcasting are one of the most unique acts on an already diverse bill. Playing live over historical samples and footage from the space race, old radio clips and interviews, layering on synths, guitar, drums and trumpet. It's both strangely modern and impossibly retro at the same time. 'Go!' being the perfect example of their very particular, brilliantly clever brand of wonky genius.
Unsurprisingly Madness close the festival with a huge knees-up party. It's impossible not to smile and moonstomp your way through 'House of Fun', 'Baggy Trousers', 'Our House' or 'It Must be Love'. Wilko Johnson returned to the stage to beef up 'Madness' before the crowd shuffle off after a rousing 'Night Boat to Cairo' to watch a giant winged wicker pig being sacrificed in a ball of flames. Only at Belladrum.