Belladrum 2015, Friday night with Dougie Burns and the Cadillacs, Alice Bentley, Manic Street Preachers, Prides, Stornoway and more.

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AliDavies serenading an audience member

It’s hard to avoid the Potting Shed Stage on the way in from the family camping area and on Friday it was Dougie Burns and his Cadillacs who were ‘Confidentially Wasted’ when I dropped by. The Cadillacs are an interesting and likeable collective with a real gutsy bluesy rock ‘n’ roll but also not short on a light touch of humour as the fair folk of Forres were to find out. It also lead to some inspired dancing in front of the stage, maybe inspired wasn’t the word I was looking for…

Carrying on past the Potting Shed I made my way down to the Free Range Stage which can be so often missed as it is just that little bit too far away or many. The venture is normally worth it as there is also a real ale bar, Burke ‘n’ Hair establishing itself in the walled garden too. So with a pint of Lossie’s Windswept Brewery’s Weizen Beer in hand; that’s the beer with the banana flavour (it’s all in the yeast they say).

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Alice Bentley on the Free Folk Stage

I sat down to take in local youngster Connor Johnston make his first appearance at Belladrum. With leanings towards Ed Sheeran he reaches for songs at a personal level; catchy songs which he projects well even if tries a little too hard on some notes but his guitar work more than makes up for this. As well as his own material he threw in a You Me At Six cover and a mash up including the work of the aforementioned Mr Sheeran. Never nervous but it was a set that he grew into. Overall a good debut for this young man.

A quick return to the Burke ‘n’ Hair to pick up a Skye IPA, we do have a wealth of good local beers, and a return to the Free Range Stage for Alice Bentley’s slot. There is a depth and lustre to Alice’s vocal and she delivers a focussed and powerful set of personal songs. Alice is a very mature songwriter for someone so young. A cover of ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5 could have killed what I have just written but Alice’s take on it doesn’t disappoint. Even the quirkier notes of ‘the little guy’, the ukulele match well with her vocal.

Crossing the site I make my way to the Hothouse for the first time this weekend to catch the strut and swagger of the LaFontaines. Greeted by a noisy crowd they were as solid and hardworking as ever.Greeted by a noisy crowd they were as solid and hardworking as ever.

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Click for the LaFontaines picture set

Never shy, Kerr Okan, really gives his all as a front man pivotal in his role everything rotates around him; band and crowd. The band have relentless energy and as much as I wanted to see the full set I was also torn as I wanted to catch as much of Crash Club as I could at the nearby Seedlings Stage. Festivals and their programming!

There may not have been the atmosphere of the LaFontaines’ crowd in the smaller Seedlings tent but the raw power and energy pervaded every pore of Crash Club. Today Ian MacKinnon of The Medicine Men was on vocal duties and his voice rode atop the pounding beat when called upon. Crash Club call upon one of three vocalists for any gig, previously I have seen Alan Turner in the role. Each brings their own interpretation to the table but it would be to their long term advantage to settle on a single singer, but as it stands they are producing solid electro rock and were not unexpectedly one of my highlights of the weekend.

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Prides on the Garden stage

Prides have had a high profile career to date and are again a band high in energy with their synths nodding to the 80s. They entertained the audience and even promised that they would come back as headliners one day. I like that level of confidence and optimism in a band but as hard as I try I just don’t get them. They tick a lot of the boxes for but I just don’t find their songs memorable enough. Equally I’ve not given up hope of liking them but at the moment the jury is out for me. Maybe I need to bin my Taylor Swift CD and listen to their debut album. Just need that long journey to try it out on…

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Karma as Searching for Donkeys get photos chucked at them

Compared to the two solo acts that I’d seen earlier at the Free Range Stage, Searching For Donkeys were very keen to up the decibel level. This they did but they also supplied their own branded frisbees to the audience and the younger members spent more time firing them back at them during the set. Searching for Donkeys a well suited to festival stages; uplifting and upbeat they can turn a dull day into a sunny one. They didn’t need frisbees to do that, they can do that without props, but the frisbees were fun.

Moving on from one of the Highland’s finest to the Western Isles and one of, er, Oxford’s finest, Stornoway over at the Garden stage. Stornoway’s folk pop has evolved since I last saw them and their harmonies have come to the fore. They have a certain quirkiness which displays itself in their cover of Yazz’s ‘The Only Way Is Up’. I noted in the set that they also have a slight ornithology obsession and a liking for armadillos.  Quirky, not in the slightest.

On making my way across to the Hothouse I was pleased to see that Bite Night were knocking out a few solid numbers at the Bella Bar. They landed unlucky on the Thursday night as people were delayed getting on site and numbers for their opening slot were low. This would have gone some way to getting some recognition from the festival crowd.

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Click for more photos of The Sunshine Underground

The Sunshine Underground came to me on a recommendation and there was more than a little funk about their opener. Overall they could be put in the relatively little used genre of indie disco. The world has moved on from the days of disco but so have they. The crowd were in the know too and gave ‘Borders’ a strong reception. Music from the noughties but still having some relevance today.

Headliner choice was the Manic Street Preachers who kicked off with ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’. This should have launched the set but strangely it never was the platform from which they could build from. There was little wrong with the set; they played the hits which is what the main stage crowd look for but it never caught fire. That was the disappointment; they just didn’t hold the crowd. There is little more to say than that other than it was functional and they did what they did without the connectivity. It just didn’t seem enough. See photos of the Manics from the night.

Make sure you check out our Belladrum 2015 page for all the news and reviews of what’s happening at the festival.

Still in the mood for a festival then check out the forthcoming North Hop festival featuring the best beer, gin and local music in the area.

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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