Highlands & Islands

Running a festival 'inherently risky', says Bella boss

Franz Ferdinand Image copyright Alexander Matukhno
Image caption Franz Ferdinand are among this weekend's headline acts

The organiser of the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival has said putting on the event now is far harder than 14 years ago when the first Bella was held.

Joe Gibbs said fees involved in meeting increased legal requirements and artists' costs were among the reasons.

He said: "There is no escaping the fact that for a festival organiser it is a business in which you can very easily lose your shirt."

Bella is taking place at Belladrum Estate near Beauly.

The performances start later before being followed by two full days of entertainment on Friday and Saturday.

Mr Gibbs said organising a music festival, which draws crowds of up to 20,000 people, has always been challenging, but has got tougher.

Image caption KT Tunstall is another of the artists at 2017's Bella

This year saw Scotland's biggest music festival - T in the Park - "take a break", though its organiser did stage new event TRNSMT in Glasgow.

Loopallu, a festival held in Ullapool, is to be held for the last time this September.

Its organisers hope to bring back a music event in a different form in the future.


What is Bella?

Image copyright Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival

Held amid the sprawling walled gardens of the historic Belladrum Estate, the festival's organisers strive to make it a bit different from other outdoor music events.

Its posters feature artwork by Scottish Pop Surrealist painter Michael Forbes and the site is festooned with animal sculptures, including a big grey elephant.

A theme is set for each festival, with one year revellers being asked to come dressed as superheroes and another as wild animals. This year's theme is based on the 1960s' Summer of Love.

Day-time at Bella has a distinctly family vibe, with children's entertainers Fun Box often playing on the main stage and opportunities to try out stilt walking and juggling or basic computer coding with Lego robots elsewhere on the site.

Ear defenders

In past years, there has been a flash mob dance by children and their parents in the main arena, and Steampunk enthusiasts dressed head to toe in leather have got married in a building called The Temple.

People can be routinely found relaxing on straw bales listening to a guitar playing teenage singer-songwriter, or in another corner of the site rocking out to a Dangleberries' rendition on bagpipes of The Bloodhound Gang's The Bad Touch.

Night-times are dominated by an older crowd, people aged from the late teens to early 80s, though the odd family can still be spotted with a youngster asleep in a pushchair and RAF ground crew-issue ear defenders clamped to their heads.

The late night headliners have included Tom Jones and the Kaiser Chiefs.


Image copyright Sister Sledge
Image caption Sister Sledge are Thursday night's headline act

Scottish festivals that have disappeared in recent years include the Wickerman in Dumfries and Galloway, Wizard, which was held in New Deer in Aberdeenshire, and RockNess, a major event last staged near Dores on the shores of Loch Ness in 2013.

Mr Gibbs said: "Festivals have always been inherently very risky because increasingly the costs associated with them are increasing."

"But festivals come to an end for various reasons."

He said the legal requirement to be met were far greater than even five years ago.

"The days of putting up a shed in a field for bands to play in are long gone," he added.

Image copyright First Aid Kit
Image caption First Aid Kit are also on line-up

Mr Gibbs said Bella benefitted from a good relationship with Highland Council, the emergency services as well as a loyal following of local fans, but also from efforts to be innovative.

This year's innovations include adding two new small stages - Trailer Trash for Country and Western acts and Temple of Dub for reggae and dub artists.

Previously, the innovations have included having DJs play their sets from inside the cockpit of scrapped aircraft and building a giant helter-skelter to adding wrestling and street trials cyclist Danny MacAskill to the line-up of acts.

In 2015, Bella changed from a two-day format to providing live music on a Thursday night too. The Proclaimers were the headliners of that first Thursday night.


High notes

Image copyright James Roberts
Image caption The crowd at Groove CairnGorm

Belladrum forms part of a busy year for music events in the Highlands and Islands.

Groove CairnGorm near Aviemore was held at the start of the year followed by resurrected Northern Roots Festival and performances by Bryan Adams and Olly Murs in Inverness.

Last month, saw the annual Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway on Lewis. It featured performances by The Waterboys and Imelda May.

Among events still to come include Groove Loch Ness, Fèis an Eilein and Skye Live, both on the Isle of Skye, and the final Loopallu in Ullapool.


Mr Gibbs said: "Belladrum has grown slowly over the 14 years. It has grown organically, a little bit over the years. I'm sure we will come to a point we won't grow anymore."

Over the years, the festival has had Biffy Clyro, Travis, Texas and Manic Street Preachers in its line ups.

This year's line-up includes Franz Ferdinand, The Pretenders, Twin Atlantic, Sister Sledge, First Aid Kit and KT Tunstall.

Mr Gibbs said: "We are very, very pleased with the artists who are appearing.

"This year's Bella has one of the strongest in depth across the card.

"They are amazing acts, and my hope is that everybody enjoys themselves."

BBC Alba will be providing coverage of Bella from 21:30 on Thursday and Friday and Saturday from 21:00. The show will also be available on the BBC iplayer.

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