A SALUTE to Brew At The Bog festival pioneers who braved May’s unseasonably icy temperatures to enjoy 33 acts on Saturday.
With bands and musicians coming from Lewis in the North to Wales in the South, the only thing a bit lacking were greater numbers of local music fans.
Cold or the cold hard cash needed for the £45 ticket price may have kept some away, but their loss was a human-scaled day of great music and good craic.
Aiming to catch all 33 on the bill, you found the staggered starts allowing at least 15 minutes with each act meant success was possible.
In theory … and if only some real gems hadn’t kept you mesmerised for their whole set.
Yes, 31 out of 33 wasn’t bad. But many were talking about the sets from my “missing” duo – Quickbeam who will return to play the goNorth stages in Inverness in a few weeks time (like many at the festival) and Tommy Reillywhose trip up by motorbike had been one of the more dramatic journeys to the event.
But there could be no regrets over spending more time with Dundee three-piece Hellovideo with fabulous echoing vocals from Matt Samson and ace songs like Band of Brothers and big finisher The Dastardly in the intimate and attractively-cosy BrewDog Introducing stage.
Or for lingering a little longer with home-grown four-piece KOBI, making their main stage debut on Saturday.
Standouts from the BrewDog Introducing stage for me included the at-times Joni Mitchellesque tones of Lewis’sMiss Irenie Rose and her hypnotic one-woman and guitar songs such as River and the ever-evolving Graham Brown whose Fun song is still a highlight of his set. The ever-building band behind him now includes ex Parma Violet Barrie Maclennan on bass. Megan Blyth also did well opening the stage with a feisty presence and standout finisher A Million Miles.
Cafe Disco were also worth a second look, though Ayr’s Ann Sweeney might have lost out for me by covering Jackson 5’s I Want You Back – it’s already a familiar favourite from Rachel Sermanni.
And it was nice to see the return of Little Fire who supported JLS at Ross County last summer, his haunting 10 Ways To Fall In Love, setting off his purring vocal tone.
Probably one of the furthest travelled sets of acts was the Welsh contingent, including man and guitar Sion Russell Jones and his light, high voice shown off well in song Mandy. Half-Welsh, half-Austrian main stage band Bensh’salternative pop/electro bounced up the main stage with Odd One Out after which one of the band revealed he thought of Wales as Scotland’s ugly sister.
But proud to drape the Welsh flag over the speaker at the GoNorth Stage was Jonathan Powell, his 9,125 Days a personal wake-up call to himself after facing “the fear” of celebrating his 25th birthday with so much he wanted to achieve still ahead of him. Girlfriend Charlotte Church may not have joined him for the festival, but giving out free copies of his CDs and impressing with a flawless top end to his vocal range will all have helped Jonathon increase his profile.
And it was at the GoNorth Stage that some of the most exciting discoveries were to be made, with variety the key. From Mumfordesque Matt Norris & The Moon – single Roots Below just out – to the punky indie Passion of Cherry Fosphate, the party-starting powers of Over The Wall’s two men and one trumpet creating a carnival atmosphere with Thurso, to the bill-topping hip hop attitude from all-conquering Stanley Odd. From the more familiar charms of Inverness most-likely-to’s He Slept On 57 with new song List For Her a highlight of their stage-opening set and Aberdeen’s The Little Kicks with lead singer Steven Milne’s voices one of the best of the day on Call Of Youth – and even better than his “bum-paa” trumpet impression – to discovering the one man alt-folky power of Beerjacket(didn’t we all wish we had one of those in the freezing temperatures!). Stage favourite, though, was the surging synth dance grooves of Laki Mera - with hypnotic singer Laura Donnelly - who lived up to The Churro Man’s band description “Cocteau Twins meets Blue Nile”.
At the main stage, from the moment Dundee’s swaggering Lost City Soul set things off at noon, the weather was the challenge – what with cold, snow, occasional bursts of sun, and a gentle blood-freezing wind blowing up the hill to Bogbain.
But the bands were always worth tholing the cold for with an eclectic mix that went all the way from the teatime fun ofKitty The Lion and the rousing string-backed Open Day Rotation, to the strident majesty of Seventeenth Century, the quirky charms of Open Swimmer with lines like “I walked past a dead mynah bird” from Aussie frontman Ben Talbot Dunn and the post-lunchtime exotic American roots sound of North Carolina’s Woody Pines.
The root-edged climax came with Oban-linked Washington Irving, following the “let’s get bouncy” set from Three Blind Wolves and Grantown’s Findlay Napier and comedy-edged Cut Me Off about “a different kind of love” andGeorge which had you feeling slightly strange singing along to “Friday and Saturday night for George is all about the fighting” until the hard man finds the dancing instead.
For me, the highest of high spots on the stage came from Fatherson, with the sharpness of the band almost contrasted by the heartfelt one-off brilliance of lead singer Ross Leighton’s vocals – and presence.
I say one-off… but later Endor’s frontman David McGinty told the funny story that after Fatherson’s set someone had come up to him and said ‘Great set guys’.
With Ross in the crowd, there was an instant double-take moment – he doesn’t half look like David and a band member quickly suggested the two form their own band. A great idea for two ace frontmen.
Brew At The Bog’s debut was a warm-hearted, music-savvy benchmark for a Highland festival season ice-breaker.
The only minus, literally, was the temperatur