Toby Stainton reviews the music of Thursday night at Belladrum 2018 featuring Amy Macdonald, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, The 101 and more.
The 101 have the honour of opening the Garden Stage and go down well with the handful of early starters at Bella. Their chamber pop vibes remind me a little of Hue and Cry and it’s all terribly, terribly earnest. That said, it’s a summery set that goes well with the mild weather and favourable forecast for the weekend. Although as we know forecasts aren’t always that accurate.
Pottering over to the Potting Shed is always worth a look, Dougie Burns and the Cadillacs are churning out the feel-good blues tunes that he’s well known for and there’s already a healthy and reasonably well-oiled group of punters there to cheer him on. Hats are handed out for ‘Keep Your Mad Hat On’ written in honour of his then four year old daughter, Sarah, who used to require a hat before she could dance. A slightly older Sarah was in front of the stage taking photos, camera in hand but sadly no hat….
As you might expect Brass Gumbo are a brass band and they churn out a bunch of covers on the Garden Stage that are occasionally interesting, mostly dull and for the most part tiresome. I don’t mind a backing section made up of brass instruments but a whole set comprising of horns isn’t my idea of fun. In the interests of balance and an attempt at objectivity they do seem to be a popular pull in the still relatively hours of the festival, clearly it’s not for the cynical and jaded.
Ward Thomas are bright and breezy and bring another dose of summery pop to the Garden Stage. They wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea but I can’t help warming to their blend of Country with a dash of RnB. ‘Guilty Flowers’ decided it was going to get well and truly stuck in my head as the earworm of choice for the rest of the evening. No amount of Fun Lovin’ Amy Macdonald was for shifting it either!
The Grassroots Stage has always been the place to go if you want to see the best in Scottish trad music and the opening two acts set a high bar for others to follow. Tartan Paint get the party started and the ceilidh band from Fort William are crowd pleasers from the off. Hoodja are on superb and featured one Bruce MacGregor as one of the fiddle players. An increasingly up-tempo set is peppered with slower moments to give folk a chance to get a breather before they launch into more reels and jigs and other sorted traditional timing changes that I can’t pretend to understand.
Their guitarist at one stage decides to do ‘something a bit different’ which causes a degree of consternation amongst his bandmates as its clearly not in this evening’s set list. It turns out to be a cover of ‘No Diggety’ by the Blackstreet. An odd choice but the crowd love it even as it confuses the hell out of everyone else on stage. Watching a bunch of trad players try and improv along to a bit mid-nineties hiphop is pretty funny though!
Back to the Garden Stage and by this point I’m starting to regret the sandals and shorts combo as the rain decides to put in appearance. I suppose it wouldn’t be Belladrum without at least one day of rain. Fun Loving Criminals are by all accounts irreverent and not a little cynical in their outlook. ‘I ain’t saying much ‘cos the BBC are here’ announces Huey. He chooses not to expand on this, possibly because he still has a show on BBC 6 Music to look after and it wouldn’t do to annoy his paymasters too much. The music itself is everything you’d expect and an enthusiastic audience is treated to one of the best sets I’ve seen FLC play over the years.
The band seem genuinely impressed too and remark that they think Bella is bringing out the best in them, while recognising this might be due to the lack of alcohol on stage so far. ‘Barry White’ and ‘Love Unlimited’ are the band at their lounge sleaze best while the obvious hits like ‘Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ and Scooby Snacks’ ramp it up another level while Belladrum laps it all up.
Amy Macdonald closes off the evening, by which time the rain is properly throwing it down. This is Belladrum though and no-one seems to care all that much. The last few years of having a main stage headliner on a Thursday night is proving to be working very well and the volume of people in the garden is on par with what you’ll see on a Friday and Saturday night. Initially I get the feeling that Amy isn’t all that fussed about being there and looks a little disinterested at the start.
But she does thaw quickly and comments that she’s been in the business for ten years and is genuinely grateful that people still listen to and buy her music. Four albums in she’s proven to be no one hit wonder and the set is testament to that. Poor Billy down the front with his hand-written in sign in Biro is given a bit of grief for not using a proper marker pen. And no, now that she’s been to Belladrum she does not want to visit ‘Billydrum’ she’s a married woman thank you very much. So, there you go, if you want to woo the headline act, don’t use a biro and make sure they’re not married. ‘Mr Rock n Roll’ and ‘This is the Life’ are the obvious songs that folk are here to listen to but despite the rain the vast majority of punters hang around to take it all in. Thursday night done… next!
WHAT HAVE YOU MISSED? All our other Belladrum 2018 interviews, reviews and photographs can be found here.