The Belladrum Bubble

The Tartan Heart Festival, more commonly known as Belladrum after its home estate, is now the Highlands’ premier music festival after this year’s collapse of RockNess.  I’m delighted that an event held so close to home, and one that has come from such humble beginnings, holds such an honour.  It’s highly regarded as a festival, with everyone coming away from it with only positives every year.  It’s normally one of my favourite weekends of the year, too.  However, with the weight of expectation this year’s festival is under with it selling out in record time I’m not sure whether it will clear the bar it has set itself once again.

Belladrum has consistently been a great festival, without question.  It’s rather fancifully described as “Glastonbury of the North” by some but it does share some of the hallmarks that make it such a staple of the summer.  Bella is always fun, family-friendly and always an all-round winner of a weekend.  It helps that early August is primetime for rare sightings of the Scottish sunshine.  Add all these ingredients together and you’ve got a great festival.  For me, though, it’s the music part that lets the side down a little.

Belladrum for me, and for a majority of people my age and younger, is very little about the music.  Last year I saw two acts for the privilege of my £100 ticket, and the year before I only saw three.  Although for a festival of its’ size it may seem as though it proves a considerable draw to musicians, when you take an objective look at the line-ups there’s very little in the way of star power on show.  This year features Tom Jones, a 73-year old who has not had a solo chart hit in 14 years, and Razorlight, a band that has not released an album in 6 years and has but 5 top tens to their name.  These headliners are hardly high calibre.  As such the festival devolves for many young people into simply sitting in the campsite drinking, with occasional trips to the arena for food or late at night for Mother’s Ruins, the “club” stage of Bella. The festival can’t claim to be massively successful when a significant proportion of one of their key demographics simply doesn’t watch the bands that are put on.

Belladrum has had some great acts in the past though, for sure.  They were boldly ahead of the musical curve in 2011 when both Ed Sheeran and Emile Sandé both played, before becoming worldwide superstars that saw them both, among other achievements, become centrepieces of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.  In 2012 the headliners were The Wombats and Travis, who both had decent chart success, and the Hothouse Stage played host to punk rock icons The Buzzcocks.  Apart from perhaps The Proclaimers in the festival’s second year, there has been no bigger year than 2012 in terms of acts.  It would appear the peak has been hit, though.

For the first time in four years I am not going to Belladrum this time around.  Although I had plenty of opportunity to buy a ticket before they were eagerly snapped up the weekend before last, I didn’t want to make the £100-plus investment to camp in a field for a weekend for a line-up that hadn’t promised much to my music tastes in years.  I think my decision was vindicated by what I thought were two lacklustre headliners, although I admit being in the crowd of people singing “Golden Touch” at Razorlight would be something to remember.

The festival’s success comes somewhat as a double-edged sword, as it has been plagued in its’ recent sell-out years by the problem of second-hand ticket price-gouging.  With a limited capacity of around 15,000, the demand far outstrips supply for Belladrum – so second-hand tickets always command a high price.  Despite the organisers’ efforts to offer face-value ticket exchange programs, plenty of people have fallen victim to either prices as high as double face value (I’ve heard of people paying as much as £250 for a ticket) or even worse, buying fake or duplicate tickets.  People’s capitalist natures in creating profit for themselves can’t be overcome, so the blame does not fall squarely on the shoulders of organisers. But with this problem recurring constantly it’s a wonder that organisers haven’t taken more comprehensive measures to reduce the effects on potential customers.  Increasing ticket prices are probably too much of a PR-unfriendly solution to the problem, so it stands to reason that if demand for tickets can’t be reduced in that way then the supply of tickets should go up.  There has never been an increase in capacity in Bella for their full two-day festival above the 15,000 cap.  When the festival stands to gain not only more potential revenue but less disappointment and hassle for fans that couldn’t get tickets with the current capacity limit, I’m very surprised the organisers of Belladrum haven’t found some way to squeeze another two or three thousand people in.  Without a bigger capacity, the festival can’t grow in size or reputation any further than it has at the moment.

Belladrum will be packed this year, and I do hope that it does well and continues to do well year after year.  It will be bittersweet not being there this year, as I’ll miss out on the great atmosphere and the memories of what is always a fun experience in the campsite but I’ll not miss out on many fantastic music acts, football games and my wallet will be a £100 better off.  But with tickets harder to come by than ever and the music certainly not exceeding itself, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe other people would better off with my Bella ticket than myself.  I’m certainly sure that someone else can find better value for money for sure than £50 per act!

The soul of the festival has always been its’ whimsical atmosphere, which brings a smile to the faces of the thousands that go every year.  If the festival continues to leave thousands that couldn’t get tickets disappointed though, the rose-tinted sunglasses view of Belladrum might get darker.  The Bella bubble might just be about to burst.

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