There’s no shortage of shiny names at Belladrum. Main stage stars like Paloma Faith and Primal Scream unfailingly add a hit of fierce glamour to any outdoor shindig with glittery pop and arms-aloft rock anthems, and if you’re lucky even a hint of elegant chaos.
But the real (tartan) heart of Bella is that it’s so much more than some dearly beloved artists putting on a big show on a bunch of stages in a field. Over the 31 years since I started festival-going (when Reading was still a hoary old rock hellmouth) I became vehemently disenchanted with increasingly sterile atmospheres, desperate over-corporatisation of “the festival vibe” and all that other guff that old gits go on about.
It’s impossible to grasp just how gorgeous Belladrum is until you’re there
Bella, conversely, is the sum of many beautiful parts, from its super-cheerful, helpful, friendly stewards – five words rarely seen together – to bar tokens not being pitched at excruciating rip-off prices. People always talk about how lovely it is, but until you’re there it’s impossible to grasp just how gorgeous; the landscape in which it sits is absolutely stunning and the undulating festival site itself is a bosky delight, with dizzying pines as landmarks and hemmed in by deeply forested fringes. It’s big enough to avoid cross-stage sound annoyance but compact enough to traverse repeatedly in comfort without requiring Compeed and a lie down. Even queues for bars and loos are reasonable. Running since 2004, Belladrum balances pleasure and scale in a tremendously laid-back way.
The Verb Garden line-up offers discussions about Jacobites and John Muir (fitting, given the environment we’re in), while the tiny stage at Bella Bar, with its Grecian columns, has some very fine folk music being played before a delightedly appreciative front row of ‘flossing’ wee kids. Anywhere you wander at this festival, there’s top-quality stuff to stop and enjoy: the skill and strength of Fly Agaric aerialists demands attention, kilted yoga is promised in Madame Fifi’s Dance Parlour, where you can also brush up your tango.
Younger festival-goers are buzzing like flies around a crashed plane rave thing, while mums and dads are safely ensconced in the Hothouse Stage where The Supernaturals are (still) nailing that quintessentially Scottish blend of melancholic lyrics of almost unbearable dirty sadness overlaid with ludicrously upbeat, bop-along swingy pop. Singer James McColl references their late-1990s peak of stardom, observing that some of the crowd weren’t around then. He describes The Supernaturals as “like The Saturdays with an alcohol problem” and in truth they’re still (surprisingly) lithe, and much-adored, with ‘The Day Before Yesterday’s Man’, ‘Dung Beetle’ and of course set-closer ‘Smile’ (“you’d better smile, ‘cause that’s all you’ve got left”) getting a mild middle-aged mosh going.
The Charlatans are similarly vintage-yet-vibrant over on the Garden Stage (why don’t all festivals have their main stage in an amphitheatre?). ‘North Country Boy’ is appropriately anthemic in this setting, ‘Weirdo’ kicks up the pace and ‘The Only One I Know’ is an obvious set highlight.