by Margaret Chrystall
1 An "I was there" moment for the small crowd in Friday’s Seedlings tent as SIOBHAN WILSON aka Ella The Bird still turned on all the usual magic in a set topped by All Dressed Up, turning the dial up to the very last watt of electric charm …
2 Verb Garden – All the world is there. Comfy sofas and sometimes controversial questions – on climate change (“All the people telling you there is a problem have a job if there’s a problem.”). Other highs: Billy Bragg’s politics (“progressive”), Katie Morag’s jumper (“there’s loads knitted by a team on Lewis”). Also where to hear some great arguments for voting yes - and no - at next month’s referendum. And hearing firebrand TOMMY SHERIDAN speak - an over-the-top performance with some radical ideas and advice from Nelson Mandela attached: "Be guided by hope not fear." The hellfire preaching style bordered on pantomime – but drowned out the annoying hubbub from outside. Sheridan Esq still slightly too orange for comfort.
3 Talking of orange … you couldn’t beat the spray-tanned bemuscled charms of the wrestlers in RUMBLE ON THE DRUM at the packed-out Venus Fly Trap. What a hit! And the banter! After petite fashion-plate Lou King Sharp bigged himself up - “Let’s hear it for the sexiest man in professional wrestling!” a wee boy gave us the perfect heckle - “Mess up his hair!”
4 For the pure demonic-sounding majesty of heavy, stripped-back blues rock, it’s Southampton three-piece BAND OF SKULLS topping Saturday’s Hothouse bill. Top moment – where second album Sweet Sour’s The Devil Takes Care Of His Own met new album Asleep At The Wheel’s Hoochie Coochie. Plus, an overheard tribute from girl in the crowd on bassist Emma Richardson - “She makes me want to learn bass.
5 Under the watchful eye of Leonie Gibbs’ festival guardian angel sculpture, a summer Saturday afternoon in the DRUMSMITTAL HALL COMMITTEE tea tent with its Great British Bake Off-style cake feast and embroidered tablecloths could almost have been one of those sepia-tinted Edwardian days of eternal summer before the First World War came along to change the world forever. Outside on the Garden Stage, you could hear Billy Bragg warning that cynicism is cancer to idealism. Then reminding you in I’m Not Looking For New England - “I’m just looking for another girl” - that even for gruff-voiced, politically-aware blokes, it’s all about the love.
6 Belladrum - and music that bridges generations.
Apart from all the great new music - your PAWS, Campfires In Winter etc - great, more mature music went from epic, pinch-me moments from SIR TOM JONES tapping into the retro power of old masters of song like guitar-toting Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Howlin’ Wolf to his own back catalogue with 60s singalong highspot Delilah.
Good too hearing Johnny Borrell’s Zazou open Hothouse on Saturday - with Stetsonhead’s Ali Dooner there to watch his niece Kirsty French playing session fiddle with the band. Also, Johnny's crack musicians performed Bob Dylan’s earwormy Man Gave Names To All The Animals - perfect for Wild Life-themed Belladrum.
But the Razorlighter's closer, the centuries-old classic, Feste’s Song, saw a fairly rare introduction, surely.
"This is our last song, it was written 500 years ago!”