It’s déjà vu on the final day of Belladrum, as I find myself once again in the XpoNorth Seedlings tent at the crack of dawn (in festival terms anyway).
This time however it’s with far higher hopes, as Herald Unsigned winners We Came From Wolves are up to kick things off, a band whose moody alt rock has been on my radar since their first demo release in early 2013.
They’ve considerably improved in their craft since then, with far more compelling lyrics deeply rooted not only in strong Glaswegian identity, but also a longing to hit the road, as well as in their stage presence; frontman Kyle Burgess holds the attention of the small crowd with ease despite the early hour.
The highlight of the set comes in the form of new single ‘Ruiner’ (which Burgess self-deprecatingly describes as “about being a wee rat bastart”), a crashing storm of pop punk fury reminiscent of the best of early Twin Atlantic.
I realise I’ve neglected the Grassroots Folk heart of the festival and so spend my next few hours comfortably nestled among the elderly camping chair crew.
It’s not quite my scene, but even then a number of acts stand out: the first, a singer-songwriter by the name of Tamzene appears to have walked straight out of an album cover, and puts on a performance that oozes professionalism.
Despite a powerful voice which could easily impress the likes of industry demon Simon Cowell, she’s instead taken the far more traditional route of recording her own music and building a fan base organically, and judging by the strength of the audience it already appears to be paying off.
Ceildh rock band Tweed also catches my attention with their raring traditional music.
Composed of a fiddler, accordionist and drummer, the trio whips the large tent into a frenzy with original compositions and even the odd cover such as Survivor’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, which, under the circumstances, actually sounds surprisingly good.
Admittedly, the gimmick of launching small packets of peanuts into the crowd goes somewhat over my head (literally) but you can’t argue with free snacks.
Man Of Moon are the last band I catch before the mysterious main stage secret set, and it’s something of a change of pace; the sudden downpour has sent people flooding into the Hothouse Tent for shelter turning it into less of a ‘hot house’ and more an ‘uncomfortably roasting house’.
It proves to be perfect timing though as the Edinburgh two-piece’s dark and dreamlike sound goes hand in hand with the grey sky just meters away.
The brooding depth they produce within complex riff structures and simmering drums is incredible considering their tiny footprint on the stage, and just as the atmosphere builds to breaking point in Django Django cover ‘Waveforms’, guitarist Chris Bainbridge slices straight through it with a Showbiz era Matt Bellamy-esque guitar scream.
Elsewhere, a similar tension is rising as we wait to see who will take the empty afternoon Garden Stage slot.
The answer, rising Scottish stars Fatherson, is hardly a surprising one: their name seems to appear almost every time the festival encounters a drop-out on its lineup.
The failure to amend the programs however sees the band playing to a crowd, which is initially one-third fans and two-thirds confused Bwani Junction seekers, who are now two to three hours off their initial time slot.
Friday’s sound problems continue to plague the set also as Fatherson enter the stage late and with massively under-mixed vocals, altogether making the decision to shoot a video for their new single then and there a curious one.
Still they deliver a set of their usual caliber to the rain drenched field, one which is nothing exceptional but provides just enough in the way of light rock to cry to, making donning your poncho worthwhile.
In the hunt for something to dry off to I discover Indigo Velvet, the perfect pick-me-up.
Their tropical bubble-gum indie pop is nothing short of addictive and I’m baffled by their low positioning on the Seedlings stage when similar bands such as the 1975 have enjoyed such a meteoric rise to fame with far less charming members; guitarist Jason Tucker in particular is a real pleasure to watch.
The feel-good mood continues with Bwani Junction on the main stage performing Paul Simon’s classic album Graceland in its entirety, alongside original vocalist Diane Garisto.
There’s no shortage of smiles in the crowd as a conga line is orchestrated within the short space between opener ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ and ‘I Know What I Know’, rapidly followed up by a couple’s engagement just before ‘You Can Call Me Al’, which is announced onstage by a delighted Dan Muir and only serves to heighten the atmosphere for what is undoubtedly Graceland’s best known track.
It’s a shame to hear that the sound tech is still struggling and Garisto’s stunning vocals are only barely audible throughout, including during duet ‘Crazy Love, Vol. II’.
Still, Muir’s voice triumphs over the incredibly large backing band (featuring a full horn section and bongos) and does justice to Simon’s original.
Acknowledging that the festival is almost over with this next set is bitter sweet, and with Public Service Broadcasting’s absurdly long set-up process there’s plenty of downtime to think about it.
Thankfully their novel sample-filled electronica is worth waiting for.
Entirely instrumental, tweed clad keyboardist J. Willgoose, Esq. doesn’t open his mouth once throughout the set, choosing instead to communicate through a text to speech program and add vocal depth to the music using clips from propaganda material and old public information announcements.
It’s bizarre, and hopefully not stagnant on repeat viewings, but they don’t rely on this gimmick to carry them instead crafting genuinely atmospheric and powerful tracks about everything from the space program to airplanes.
I leave early to catch the headliners, but as the band are introduced one by one, the strains of a trumpet cover and deafening sing-along to ‘Flower Of Scotland’ follow me out.
Said headliners are, of course, Madness, much talked about by almost everyone I’ve spoken to since the site opened.
They pull the biggest crowd of the entire weekend by far, stretching all the way from the stage and up the hills towards the massive glowing metal heart erected at the back of the Garden arena, and I reckon about eighty percent of those people have had a little too much to drink.
Despite lacking the nostalgia factor and not really understanding the hype around Madness, I’m determined to give them the best shot I can.
And it starts off relatively well with almost exactly the same setlist I saw back at Glastonbury: ‘The Prince’ in all its saxophone solo glory and ‘My Girl’ with its cresendo-ing intro go down a treat, as do the bits and pieces of London banter peppered in from frontman Suggs.
However, I seem to have chosen the worst place possible to view the rest of the set from, and once I get there I’m stuck: security are trying to avoid a full-scale riot on the stairs by insisting on a one-way system in which you can come down, but you can’t get back up.
Perched on the steep hill, slick from the day’s rain, I enjoy what I can of the tracks I recognise: ‘Baggy Trousers’, ‘House Of Fun’ and ‘Our House’ are as foot-tappingly infectious as ever, but encourage a more active crowd, leading not only to multiple trips down the slopes but also a loud argument between staff on the stairs and irritated patrons.
This continues for most of the rest of the show and by time I’ve escaped, the band have been replaced by a piper who plays, what do you know, ‘Flower Of Scotland’ for the second time that night.
Madness eventually return and finish up with a grand display of fireworks and light, but through no fault of their own the mood has been ruined somewhat.
I wander back to my tent in the rain, for the last time, with an overall positive impression of the weekend but a slightly sour taste in my mouth.
Words/Photos: Aimee Boyle