Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival 2009

United Kingdom United Kingdom | 12 August 2009

Overall - 9.5/10

It’s impossible that the Victorian designer of the Italian Gardens at Belladrum, with its backdrop of trees and misty mountains, ever foresaw 10,000 people (aged from 6 weeks all the way upwards) swarming around these acres. All are happily astonished that, in this, the year of the monsoon, wellie boots may be optional because what is pouring down is warm summer sunshine. Fiddlers Malt Whisky Bar is doing a roaring trade in Highland Mojitos and at the Champagne Bar tweedies and trustafarians are getting sorted for Pimms and fizz… and look: jellyfish!

Getting there - 8/10

It’s easy to get to Inverness using trains, buses and planes. Citylink run special direct services to Belladrum from Inverness and Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling, Dunfermline, Pitlochry and Aviemore. For drivers there is clear signage from the A9 until everyone is funnelled into the narrow one-way road winding through the estate, well stewarded and signposted. There are plenty of car-parking spaces but at peak times progress in or out can be very slow. There's even a special Belladrum liftshare link on the website.  

The site - 9/10

Nearly perfect. The Garden Stage sits in a natural amphitheatre in front of a curve of tall trees, facing terraces sculpted out of the hillside. The Hothouse, Grassroots, Venus Flytrap Palais and Seedlings stages are in big top tents strategically placed but, even so, sound leakage can be a problem. There is also the Hothouse and Seedlings stages and Mother's Ruin - a newly (half-) built stone house where a succession of Dance DJs oversee an all-dayer-and-most-of-the-nighter, form an unholy triangle of noise cranked up to 11. Smaller tents include the tiny Potting Shed, the Sideburns Tent, the Verb Garden, the Read Bed,  a Buddhist Temple, Madame Fifi's Dance Parlour and the Kids' Arena. Sweaty Bella's a mountain bike race around the estate and a cluster of tepees huddle by the Family camping area. The sunsets, too, are pretty special.

Atmosphere - 10/10

If  'Groundhog Day' happened to here, it'd be months before boredom set in. It would take weeks to see Robert Burns' Clarinda, Dolphin Boy's DJ set, Glenn Tilbrook, Toploader, Saw Doctors, and dozens more. Say a fortnight to taste the food, with hog roasts, fresh seafood, local lamb stews and venison burgers; longer to drink through the Black Isle beers, 150+ different malt whiskies, home made ginger beer and smoothies. There are writers, poets, heavyweight debates, stand-up, Buddhist chanting, dance classes, film shows, workshops, Rimski's Bicycle, a top-hatted pianist pedalling his upright piano sideways, stilt walking giant Big Rory with anatomically correct and occasionally incontinent dog Ochie, somewhat scary; and much more. There's a whole living room hung from a tree – it's art. Red hearts sit on top of yew trees and light up at dusk.  Fun for all the family, and they're all here, from the Babies' Disco (Under 5s), to The Swinging Salami Showcase Spectacular (over 18s).



Ocean Colour Scene – 9/10

As hit after hit from 1996 million-seller 'Moseley Shoals' rings out, Britpop is back. 'Riverboat Song' opens and the big wheel keeps on rolling through hits like 'You've Got it Bad', cresting with '100 Mile High City' (used in 'Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels'), and The Day We Caught The Train'. The triumphant encore is a glorious, anthemic 'Day Tripper'.  

Treacherous Orchestra – 9/10
The dramatic opener 'Superfly' nods respectfully to Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' and takes off,  soaring and swooping across the Garden's screaming, dancing, air-punching crowd. A tasty cocktail of rock, dance, world and indiepop music, triple distilled and chill-filtered through the peaty reek of Scottish traditional music.  

Lau – 9/10
The 'best band in the world today' (C4's website) makes its Bella debut and scores. Winners of countless awards, their folk/jazz fusion is overwhelmingly good. A huge, battered hulk of a man shouts 'You're lovely' after the jigset 'The Results'. Guitarist and vocalist Kris Drever complains afterwards that girls were shouting at him to take his clothes off - but he's from Orkney.

Seth Lakeman – 8/10

English folksinger Seth Lakeman packs out the Grassroots tent. Dazzling fiddle playing with an indie rock feel, allied with saturnine good looks and a Devonian accent – what's not to like?

Orkestra del Sol – 8/10

Balkan and Brazilian beats, superb musicality and theatrical polish keep Orkestra del Sol touring the world. The Edinburgh-based band's a perennial Bella favourite, so the Hothouse is crammed with waltzing, polkaing, conga-ing and pogo-ing devotees of all ages.  45-minutes flash by in a joyful blur.

Devotchka – 8/10
Mixing American punk with Romani, Greek, Slavic and Mariachi music, to name but a few, Colorado's finest rip it up in the Hothouse tent. “They've played with David Byrne and Dita von Teese, what on earth are they doing here?” says my neighbour. “Shut up and dance!” says her pal.

The Lost Brothers - 7/10

Channelling the Proclaimers, the Everly Brothers and Simon And Garfunkel, this local duo enchants with close harmonies and spines are tingled.


British Sea Power – 3/10

Headlining the half-empty Hothouse, maybe British Sea Power just had a bad day. Or maybe they're not that good any more.

The Toilets – 3/10



There's a bounty payable on plastic cups in a bid to curb litter; small, semi-feral children twist and dart through the crowds, pouncing on valuable salvage, scurrying off into the darkness when they can carry no more. Straight out of 'Mad Max'.

”The government will try to tell you there's only schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Don't let them cheat you! Everyone has a right to as many brains as they want. Bipolar, tripolar, quadripolar – man, I'm going to try for seventeen-polar disorder! Multi-polar disorder! It's your right!”- Alabama 3's Larry Love, at the end of their acoustic set. Makes perfect sense at the time.

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle strolls past, followed by two drag Amy Winehouses with towering black beehives. The jellyfish - transparent umbrellas decorating with dangling strips of fabric and plastic - are lit with inner fairylights as they dance through the mellow crowd. It is a warm evening, the smell of woodsmoke is in the air and a full golden moon hangs low in the sky as Rimski's Bicycle sidles up, candles lit, piano tinkling. It's a dreamscape.

By Jennie Macfie.

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