Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, 5/8/16

Day two of Belladrum begins with the most ungodly heatwave.

Baked alive in my tent overnight, I hit the site early to take in some of the smaller acts the festival has to offer, specifically on the XpoNorth curated Seedlings stage with all its welcome shade – and it’s not the best of starts.

Schnarff Schnarff

Darting along to the far larger Hothouse tent instead I find Electric Honey Record’s Schnarff Schnarff on peak form.

With little to no stage banter to distract from the music, frontman Myles Bonnar sneers into his mic, whipping it around his head like a deranged cowboy as his bandmates thrash away around him.

They’ve come a long way since I first saw them last year and latest single ‘This Is How We Get Some’ undoubtedly comes across live as the best thing they’ve produced yet; hopes are high for their debut later this year.

Due to a clash on the line-up, I’m forced to split the rest of my pre-main stage portion of the day in two, a problem which plagues pretty much every festivalgoer at some point.

Catholic Action (11)

The first of these two acts are up-and-coming glam rockers Catholic Action, decked out in face glitter and radiating ethereal grace.

The tent is packed full and with good reason: their brand of bright riffs and grooving bass lines is the perfect cure to any post-Thursday hangovers, and with the festival only just hitting its stride the crowd are in the mood to dance.

A new song is even jokingly dedicated to internet sensation Harambe, the Cincinnati gorilla killed after a three-year-old boy climbed into his enclosure; this is a band with its finger on the pulse.

The Vegan Leather (3)

After a bit of careful manoeuvring and a light jog, I also just about manage to catch fellow Paisley Buddies, The Vegan Leather, on the Bella Bar Bandstand stage (try saying that three times fast).

It’s unusual seeing them play in the sunshine and the speakers just about deafen everyone within a two-mile radius, but the art pop four-piece are undeniably smooth as ever, with a number of other bands from across the weekend making up a fair portion of the crowd.

Despite their restricted listing this year, you can thoroughly expect to see them jump up the line-up in festivals to come.

The LaFontaines (7)

Far and away the highlight of Belladrum 2016 for me, The LaFontaines are up next; fighting tooth and nail against technical issues, the band take the main stage late, without a banner, and with a faulty microphone which seems to cut out on a whim.

Frontman, Kerr Okan, is visibly annoyed by the sound problems despite encouragement from a deafening following and some might take his acerbic sense of humour as lashing out, straight up calling the crowd a “field of fucking thieves” for illegally downloading their debut Class.

Still, they excel through it all, delivering some of the best rap-infused rock the country has to offer, with sharp lyrics about growing up poor and incredible beats.

They come to a climax with Okan ditching his broken microphone and launching himself into the crowd for the last few songs, not just sticking to the safety of the barrier but making his way all the way up to the back of the arena to “sing with the crowd”.

So impressed am I by their main set that I forego a dinner break in favour of catching their ‘secret set’ in the ludicrously tiny Tomatin Bothy.

It’s an even more restrictive venue with a stage barely wide enough to hold a drum kit and no amplification to speak of but the party continues nonetheless, with the band blasting through fan-favourites such as ‘Under The Storm’ and ‘King’ as well as hearing requests for ridiculous covers such as ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’.

Drummer Jamie Keenan takes his moment in the spotlight also, using a borrowed guitar to play his viral version of the classic children’s song ‘You Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff The Bus’, wittily retitled ‘Cannae Get Ma Granny Aff The Drugs’, which goes down a treat with the more hardcore among the audience.

It’s a pleasantly humble experience as Okan expresses his shock that anyone had shown up at all, and hangs back with his bandmates to take selfies, sign drumsticks and have a chat despite the rapidly declining weather.

Super Furry Animals (2)

Back on the main stage sub-headliners Super Furry Animals bring with them a strange sense of unreality.

Clad in his bright-red Power Rangers helmet, Gruff Rhys croons opener ‘Slow Life’ with a quiet intensity and goes through his usual routine of communicating with the audience via placards: “Applause” the first one reads in bold capitals, then “Louder” and finally “Ape Shit”.

It’s novel and entertaining for the first few tracks but as the rain gets ever heavier and the songs seem to slow down more and more, I begin to drop off; to the point where the pace and energy of ‘Golden Retriever’ and ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ almost make me think I’ve dozed off and missed another band coming on.

To be completely fair, the Chewbacca costumes they wear for the finale are hilarious, but they’re just not enough.

Two Door Cinema Club (4)

The final set of the Friday goes to Northern-Irish indie-rockers Two Door Cinema Club, and equally I don’t expect much from them.

On paper they seem the exact bland guitar-based boyband that swamped the charts a few years back and indeed some of their records can come across that way, but in the end I’m pleasantly surprised by their live show.

Backed by an impressive (but not distracting) array of screens, their back-catalogue proves to be surprisingly robust with chart hits ‘Undercover Martyn’, ‘Something Good Can Work’ and ‘What You Known’ holding up well in the six years since their release, and inspiring a huge throng of jumping fans.

Even relative mainstream unknowns ‘Next Year’ and ‘Sun’ impress, the former with its undulating guitar scales set to a fitting backdrop of computer code and the latter with an unexpected horn section beneath a shockingly catchy chorus.

There’s not much in the way of depth but the whole set is peppy and feel-good, leaving all but the most miserable punter smiling and dancing back to their campsite.

More Photos

Words/Photos: Aimee Boyle


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