In our series of previews, Frank Finlayson casts his eye on the Belladrum 2013 line up;

As the clock ticks down to the start of Bella I‘ve had a look over the acts that have been announced for the weekend. It’s probably best to take it stage by stage.

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The main stage at Bella is a beautifully set out amphitheatre and it is no wonder that so many people come with deck chairs and picnic rugs and set themselves down for the day. You need to be there early to get a spot on the slope facing the hill. And for good reason many gather there for the day.

This year sees the long awaited return of Seasick Steve. His old school blues will no doubt capture more than just the usual main stage dwellers and will captivate many more new fans. This is definitely one of the must see moments of the weekend. There are other delights on show and Friday’s openers, Ashley and the Cosmonauts, should ensure the festival kicks off well for both those wanting to have a boogie and those that prefer to lounge in their chairs. The Cosmonauts are a very accomplished band who support Ashley’s vocal talents perfectly, see our recent interview with Ashley, where she speaks about getting the main stage slot.

Those that make the main stage their base must be more than familiar with the Dangleberries. Love them or loathe them you cannot deny that they have massive appeal and will no doubt have the arena bouncing when they fill their slot. However, local favourites Scooty and the Skyhooks will no doubt give them a run for their money in the popularity stakes as they deliver their brand of popular soul.

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The Hothouse Stage is traditionally the second stage at Bella although last year the Grassroots Stage pushed it all the way as many sample the delights of the Black Isle Brewery bar between regular visits to that tent. Or was it the other way around? I digress. There is plenty on offer at the Hothouse Stage this year. Two local acts who get slots early doors are Shutter and Toby Michael’s Rolling Damned. Shutter are back, maybe without the fireworks, but they will create a soundtrack for lunchtime. Their big arrangements make them welcome returnees to Bella. Toby Michael’s Rolling Damned do what they say on the tin. They rock. Expect the unexpected if Toby has a wireless mic. Get down early and you know what to do. \m/

As well as the local dimension there are many established and breaking acts. Remember Ed Sheeran and Emeli Sandé playing here? Well who could it be this time? Nina Nesbitt, who charmed an adoring audience at the Grassroots stage last year and has tasted chart success? Or Manchester’s The 1975 who have received significant airplay with singles ‘Chocolate’ and ‘The City’? They may be the obvious contenders, but there are numerous other acts that could break any time soon. Remember where you can see them first.

In terms of seeing them first, I first saw The Pigeon Detectives at Bella back in 1997, and every time I have seen them since they have always given a sweat soaked performance. They are on the Saturday while on the Friday Alabama 3 make a welcome return north where they have always proved to be festival favourites. They rocked it again at Rockness this year, and I really expect much more of the same.

The Grassroots Stage which sits rather handily next to the Black Isle Brewery Bar hosts two of Scotland’s finest acts. Dougie MacLean needs no introduction, and neither does his classic ‘Caledonia’. Expect the crowd to take the roof of the tent when they sing along to it. This should be one of the moments of Bella. Not just of this year but any of nine that have preceded. The other act I’m referring to is Julie Fowlis. Known fo

r her Gaelic folk songs, Julie broke through to worldwide attention with the Pixar film ‘Brave’ when she sung the songs ‘Touch the Sky’ and ‘Into the Open Air’. This has opened up a whole new audience to Julie and one that is appreciating her work. The Grassroots stage always brings out a few surprises and I would watch out for Colin MacLeod, you may know him better as he was previously known, The Boy Who Trapped The Sun, this naturally gifted songwriter is well worth a real listen.  Although they sound like a firm of solicitors, Anderson, Mcginty, Webster, Ward and Fisher, are a superb live act with great variation within their set. There performance at Bogbain earlier this year was sublime.

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The Seedlings Stage always has a raft of young and aspiring acts. This stage is stacked with promise. It would be difficult to draw out any acts above any of the others but three that I would look out for are Miniature Dinosaurs, Fat Goth and The Oxides. They all have energy in their different guises. But equally  I could shout out for Red Ronson and Dylan Tierney . All more subtle but also very effective. So, without naming every act I’ll chuck in a few others. Furry Vengeance have a wide appeal(and spoke to us earlier this month), Garden of Elks, and Cleavers for that matter, will aurally destroy the tent, and Lionel are going from strength to strength. I could have written that paragraph so many different ways such is the appeal.

The Potting Shed is something of an institution at Bella. Rob Ellen always puts on a formidable line-up. Although the stage has always given the impression that it has seen better days it also always has a faithful following. Rob welcomes the return of Mary Jean Lewis who played the first Bella and I’m sure there will be a touch of nostalgia for many attending her performance. It wouldn’t be the Potting Stage without Fash Stewart and having the Whiskys play a set is sure to bring in the crowds.

Hidden in the Walled Garden is the most recent of the Bella stages, The Free Range Stage. With Bob Bull of the Glachbeg Croft Folk Club at the helm the stage always gives opportunities to young, and new, acts to have their moment at the festival. This year sees appearances from Alice Bentley, Searching For Donkeys, Megan Blyth, Jemma Tweedie, Matchstick Maker, Dougie Burns and the Cadillac Band, All the Colours, Red Hook Rapids and many more. This is a gem of a small stage and one that everyone should make the effort to visit.

Mother’s Ruin also hosts a top line-up of DJs and the spectacle of the crowd and the colour will draw many in. The line-up is top notch too with Ally Macrae, Alan MacPherson, Count Clockwork and Them & Us to name but four.

But with Bella that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are a myriad of things to see and do away from the music and that is the allure of the festival and adds to the layers that many other festivals just don’t have. Bella has had a great nine years so far. No doubt the tenth will be special, and one that I, and many others are very much looking forward to.

Check out her other previews and interviews (including James and Twin Atlantic).

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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