Chris Lemon reviews Thursday at Belladrum 2019 featuring Elbow, The Whiskys, Edgar Road and more.
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Before I start a review of day one of Belladrum, it’s important to acknowledge Belladrum as more than a business or an institution but more a community of which a value cannot truly be placed on. As I step through the gates I, as many others do, feel a sense of belonging and of almost being home.
This is the first Belladrum since it’s sale to Kilimanjaro and whilst there is chatter about the impact that this has had is rife , as has been the communication from all elements of the Belladrum team, it was felt like it was business as usual.
The sci-fi theme had been subtly incorporated into the grounds, from alien invading caravan to mechanical spiders and an intergalactic feel to the Potting Shed.
It was with The Potting Shed that I caught my first band of the day, Elgin’s Edgar Road. There are elements of quirkiness in the bands intros with ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ starting one and another which conjure up the likes of The Prodigy. However it could be argued that their epic sounding indie anthems would be better suited on a bigger stage, but as it was the intimacy of The Potting Shed added somewhat to proceedings.
The Whiskys return to Belladrum was well anticipated and they certainly did not disappoint. The emotional heft of Kris Douglas’s vocals in ‘Dark Cloud’ fills the arena and welcomes a set that disappoints no-one.The band never got round to the follow up of ‘The Taming of Me’, but here’s hoping that Belladrum 2019 might lead them to return to the studio at some point.
My final act from The Potting Shed for Thursday was Mark Forbes and his ensemble of musicians. Mark sings with a particularly husky vocal that would have benefited from more volume. His songs are for simple and honest compositions that call on his personal experiences to provide the themes of his tunes. His recent single ‘You Aren’t Here Anymore’ does stand out, with his portrayal of hope at a time of grief feeling particularly pertinent.
On to The Bella Bar Stage and Table for Four, Sarah Williamson was on form and the set under normal circumstances would have impressed. Unfortunately the sound was set on loud, much louder than that, and was responsible for a number of the audience leaving. With band’s getting limited opportunities to impress, it is a shame that sound was not addressed.
The Off Axis takeover of The Seedlings Stage is a seductive lure for the evening, knowing nothing of the bands and with little promotion of the line-up it was a surprisingly impressive trio of bands that I managed to catch.
Two songs of Jack Found was enough to impress. The five piece are led by Jack Found himself and he is a bundle of energy that sees him jog round the stage at a fearful rate. The songs are upbeat funky numbers with the trombone of Andy Leeming and absolute treat for the ears. Jumanji hail from Brighton and fire out pop tunes like they are going out of fashion, they manage to make it look easy and whilst occasionally the songs sound a bit chaotic especially with ‘Foxes’, they have the right energy and feel absolutely on trend, the thirty minute set goes too quick. Last up for a weary reviewer was Dakota Avenue, an invigorating force a very commercial sounding frontman in ‘J’ contrasting with , at times, non-formulaic and rousing tunes. I left the tent thinking of the musical gems I may have missed, hopefully Off Axis will return next year.
Elbow was an obvious choice for a headliner slot with their intense rock ballads that have earned Guy Garvey the description of “the foremost lyricist of his generation” and the title Professor of songwriting at Manchester Metropolitan University to boot.
He had earlier described how the setlist for the festival season was fairly standard, but that the setting and environment had impact and this is clearly seen throughout. “I wish I was Scottish… Is there anyway I could be more Scottish” is well received, “You are wonderful people” he later adds. Of course the Belladrum audience lap it up, perhaps they are able to pick up the real sense of authenticity. The set is an epic, intense and beautiful. It’s an absolute masterclass
You could not help but walk out of the festival with a smile on your face, Thursday, however, is no longer that gentle entry into the festival, it’s a full on attack of Belladrum, Thursday is the new Friday.
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