Toby Stainton reviews Thursday at Belladrum 2018 featuring Elbow, Stone Broken, Luna the Professor and more.
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Belladrum has settled in nicely to the relatively recent Thursday night slot and there’s now an abundance of music on offer to those who get there early. They’ve expanded it now so that all the stages have live music, rather than just the Garden Stage and the atmosphere at the festival is all the better for it.
Luna the Professor have been up here before, most notably during XPO North where they caught the ear of our reviewers. They impressed us then and it’s gratifying to see that they’ve clearly caught favour with others in the industry having won the Herald on Sunday competition to open the Garden Stage on Thursday afternoon. It’s another great set from the band who are clearly loving the opportunity to make their mark on the bigger stage.
Next up on the same stage are Torridon who have been a regular feature at Belladrum over the years and can be relied upon to get the party started. The sun comes out as they launch into a set of mostly up tempo trad rock tunes and any lingering worries about the rain are quickly banished. The band themselves were worried about it being a fairly tame crowd but they were delighted by the response of a distinctly wilder reception. There’s a pause for reflection as they introduce their new single ‘Lighthouse’, their own way of tackling the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s a nice sentiment and it’s heartening to see that bands are not afraid to shy away from the issue.
Over on the Grassroots Stage Calum Mackenzie Jones and the Trad Project are in a similar vein to Torrison although arguably even more upbeat. As the first band on in that stage they pull in an impressive crowd and you quickly see why they are such a popular draw. They mix it up with trad folk and more contemporary sounding pop tunes and even flit into space rock vibes that Hothouse headliners Hawkwind would have been proud of.
Track ‘Iona’ is inspired by a tryst he he had over on Tiree with a young lady, sadly his request whether she wanted to meet up for a coffee was met with a terse, ‘not really. No.’ Ouch! Revenge was had though when he was filming the video in London, she had the gall to say that she was in the area and would he like to have her on the video. His response, unsurprisingly was, ‘not really. No’.
The Carloways are despite the name, not a folk combo from the village on Lewis but an up tempo rock act who manage to blend Americana and Rock N Roll to create a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on the American West Coast. It’s the kind of thing you could listen to with the top down whilst driving along Route 66… or with the top up and your jacket zipped up whilst driving along the North Coast 500 if you prefer.
As usual the Hothouse Stage lives up to its name as Stone Broken turn the heat up with an incendiary live set of gritty British Rock. They crunch, grind and roar through one of the heaviest sets you’ll see at Belladrum this weekend and the powerhouse quartet barely pause for breath throughout. There are occasions where they cheese it up a little too much and there are brief flirtations with Nickleback territory but fortunately we’re spared such horrors and the band stick on one of the best performances of the day. Lead guitarist Chris Davis isn’t afraid to show off his lead-playing skills and from tonight’s showing is one of the better guitarists on the scene at the moment.
Special mention has to go to drummer Robyn Haycock’s drum solo, we’re fans of a good drum solo in IGigs towers (well I am at least) and this was a bit of a belter. The band are technically at the top of their game but this doesn’t detract from any of the passion or drive shown here tonight. They’re not too showy and stick to the business of busting out an hour of classic rock – a genre that seems to be going through a bit a resurgence at the moment. Fans of Alter Bridge and Shinedown are going to enjoy listening to this lot and the band themselves expressed a desire to return North as soon as possible.
Elbow frontman Guy Garvey gazes out over the masses assembled at the Garden Stage and wonders, ‘how do I become Scottish? You’re just really cool’. And so it goes, ingratiating themselves to a throng that were already in thrall to the demon choirmaster Garvey as he conducts harmonies, hums and cheers from various sections of the crowd. This is a masterclass in crowd participation and how to build a set to a crescendo. In little over an hour they entrance us with ‘Lippy Kids’ build us into a fervour for ‘One Day Like This’ and then explode into a pogo frenzy for ‘Grounds For Divorce’.
Elbow have often been accused of being boring, plodding and worst of all ‘MOR’. Perhaps there is some validity in this criticism but accusing them of being middle of the road seems somewhat unfair. They’re not shy of navel gazing and playing at a slightly more considered pace but they also range through a depth of emotion from sombre, thoughtful, delight and anger. Just listen to ‘Grounds for Divorce’ or watch the video as Garvey batters his way through the song and try telling me there’s no passion there. They’re unpretentious though and Garvey recognises that most of their songs are about love or being brilliant, and in a landscape of misery and a bleak political and environmental future, I’ll take that any day.
Highlight tonight is the wonderful ‘The Birds’ from ‘Build a Rocket Boys’. It comes on as a host of moths flit about the arena like the aforementioned little birds taking our secrets with them out into the Highland countryside. This according to a Guy Garvey is another little song about love and the audience are entranced as they’re sucked into the Elbow universe
The birds are the keepers of our secret as they saw us where we lay
In the deepest grass of springtime in a reckless guilty haze
And they wove a sweet indifference and it settled on our skin
Till the eyes that I remembered for the last time drew me in
The band seem equally absorbed by their surroundings and the frontman again demands to know how he becomes to be Scottish while also singing the praises of the festival. Belladrum has clearly gotten under his skin and he’s surprised that he hadn’t already been aware of it. This is the perfect soundtrack to a summer in the Highlands. Big emotive tunes under a clear sky with a few thousand folk who share the same opinion of a band who are anything but middle of the road.