Day two of North Hop opened at lunchtime and the beer enthusiasts had a little longer to settle in with illness affecting the opening act meant that Autumn Sun were first to entertain at 2 o’clock.

Drummer John Aitken of Autumn Sun
Drummer John Aitken of Autumn Sun

Autumn Sun are young, fresh and lively; a bit like some of the beers on sale. What sets them apart is the interplay between rapper and bass guitarist Ben Lightley and Neil Cannon who on his own would be viewed as a traditional singer songwriter. Paired together, with John Aitken giving rhythm from the drums, it is an endearing contrast.

Their reworking of the Tracy Chapman standard ‘Fast Car’ always turns heads but for getting lodged in your head the upbeat ‘Sing A Little Song’ really takes some beating.

The early slots would, as the day progressed, turn out to be the more profitable for the solo acts as the crowd grew and attention turned more and more to the beer.

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Sara Bills, without her Hasbeens

Well, it was a beer festival. Sara Bills, without her Hasbeens, looked a shade vulnerable on stage today but as she got into the swing of her set she soon delivered a lighter version of her pop punk to the enjoyment of the crowd. It even elicited a marriage proposal from the floor which was duly declined by Sara. There is a real honesty to Sara’s performances whether she is singing about goats or boats, and her ever so natural local accent is refreshing in it’s delivery.

By the time Matchstick Maker, Duncan Overmeer, had taken to the stage the crowd had grown and it became more difficult for the acts to build a relationship with the festival goers. Matchstick Maker creates an atmosphere in his more reflective moments and as such it proved a hard for him to make that connection. For those that were listening they enjoyed, for the others they had a bar to attend to.

It must be remembered that this is a craft beer festival and not a music festival, and so it wasn’t totally unexpected to find that the music could be incidental at times. That’s not saying that it became the wallpaper, but a bit of work and ingenuity was required to grab attention. Each act tried it to varying effect but, at the end of the day, it was a beer festival.

" The Side’s frontman applied an uptempo set interspersed with a bit of audience participation"
” The Side’s frontman applied an uptempo set interspersed with a bit of audience participation”

Unfortunately I was unable to catch Penniless Moth’s set but returned to the venue to catch stand in act Winnie. The Side’s frontman applied an uptempo set interspersed with a bit of audience participation and importantly a wee ramping up of the volume. Although playing his set sitting down this set stood up to the hall. Introducing us to The Side’s next single ‘Lucy’ and bringing out the vocal abilities of the crowd with ‘One Fine Day’ he made good work of his slot. Rounding it off with Ocean Colour Scene’s ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ he won the audience over without standing up.

James Mackenzie applied similar techniques with both the use of a cover, ‘To Love Somebody’ and a touch of audience participation too. He worked it well and was able to introduce one of his newer songs ‘Fire, Fire’ into the proceedings.

He put a lot of energy into his set, so much so he once again broke a string, but Neon Knights’ Marc Davidson came to the rescue with a replacement.

James unplugged
James unplugged

However, James took it upon himself to go unplugged towards the end of his set and go walkabout in the centre of the arena. A bold move, but one that didn’t come off.

The sound didn’t carry and many of the festival goers were oblivious to James serenading his way round the tables. Back on stage James rounded off his turn with ‘The Boat Song’ but this time fully amplified.

Penultimate act of the night were Neon Knights. Interestingly they went for a lighter rhythm section with a cajon as opposed to a full drum kit. The opener did sound as if there was a little too much going on but this settled down as they got into their stride. With engagement the key the injection of a couple of covers were key and they threw Imagine Dragons’ ‘Radioactive’ and Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ into the mix.

" It may have been an opportunity for local acts to connect with new audiences but it was predominantly about the beer. "
” It may have been an opportunity for local acts to connect with new audiences but it was predominantly about the beer. “

Before turning to the headliner I should really turn to the beer side of the festival. It may have been an opportunity for local acts to connect with new audiences but it was predominantly about the beer. The smaller measures, 1/3 and 2/3 of a pint which I believe are not uncommon at such festivals allowed for a wide range of beers, and ciders, to be sampled.

Knowledgeable staff on each of their bars gave advice and tastings for the punters. There may have been 50 odd brews on sale, and I got nowhere near trying them all, but those that deserved special attention for me were Williams Brothers’ Caesar Augustus, six°north’s ‘Hopocrasy’ and Thistly Cross Cider’s ‘Whisky Cask’. A little unfair as I didn’t sample them all, but how could I!

Moving on to Saturday’s headliner and the appearance of The Oxides. The Oxides are a band that I’ve followed from their inception and with a couple of recent changes to their lineup it would be interesting to see where they were now. Tonight there was no escaping The Oxides; volume cranked up ,they were the equivalent of shaking up a can of Tennant’s Super (other super strength lagers are available) sticking a hole in it and lobbing into the middle of a beer festival.

"The band sounded re-invigorated and fed off those in the audience who wanted to participate"
“The band sounded re-invigorated and fed off those in the audience who wanted to participate”

On form, Jake Bolt and co lived up to the billing. Mikey Duncan’s accompanying vocals gave a real lift to ‘Her Methadrone’ and although they were heard to limited effect later it added a depth to the song. The band sounded re-invigorated and fed off those in the audience who wanted to participate.

It wasn’t just the old favourites but the adding of the new such as ‘Halo’ and also potential next single ‘I Hate You And I Love You And I Don’t Know Why’ which had a more pop punk feel to it. With ‘Going Overboard’ rounding it off, The Oxides made quite a splash.

Overall, the festival made the most of the surroundings and with some very creative planning transformed the theatre into an indoor festival with an outdoor ambiance.

A great range of beers and bands, even if the bands at times struggled to be fully appreciated. With emphasis on the beer side, as opposed to the music, this festival should have a future even if it means a little tweak as to how music is incorporated.

Stealing the name of a Cromarty Brewing Co. beer I was, along with many others, a ‘happy chappy’, at the end of the night.

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Chartered surveyor by day, music reviewer by night, and occasionally I get to use my camera. A strange mix, but one that I enjoy.

A chance meeting in the queue for Bella in 2010 led to the opportunity to write for InvernessGigs; a far cry from the days of writing for a football fanzine back in the late 80s, early 90s. My interests lie between the mainstream, the emerging and the local. Increasingly I find that we have more than enough locally to entertain us to necessitate a trip south. I’m always happy to give a listen, whatever the genre.

Inverness has a plethora of talent, all of which I am more than keen to write about. If it encourages just one person to make the effort to listen to some new music I’ll be happy.

You can contact Frank direct via frankieboyfin@gmail.com