Arriving from a rare week of sunshine in Glasgow to a fairly dull and chilly Inverness would normally be a bit of a mood killer but a quick gander around the Brew at the Bog arena quickly rectifies this. What this festival may lack in size, it makes up for with its warm audiences, tasty burritos and quirky location. The main stage can be found only 100 yards away from your tent in a garden area outside, while a quick walk around the mazy farm buildings will find you the cosy, wonderfully decorated Bloc and Northern Roots stages, along with a good choice of bars serving up some local brew. This is a festival with real heart; it feels, more than anything, like you’re attending an event at your friend’s house. The sun may not properly appear until the following day but it doesn’t matter a jot.
As it has in previous years, the lineup offers a mixture of familiar faces along with a host of new acts to become acquainted with. Local singer songwriter James Mackenzie serves up a passionate performance in front of a familiar crowd on the Northern Roots stage in the afternoon, accompanied by regular collaborator Chris Gorman on keys. He puts energy into every song, offering lovely harmonies and enough singalong moments to get the crowd going in this earlier timeslot.
What makes the lineup so exciting this year is the sheer variety on offer. From laid-back acoustic moments, you can walk round the corner and see Ex Libras on the main stage; full of heavy synths, crackling atmospherics and soaring vocals from energetic frontman Amit Sharma. The Van T’s follow with yet another storming performance, proving why there is such a buzz around them at the moment. Their nineties-inspired grunge-pop sound brings some attitude to proceedings, the band oozing coolness with each guitar riff. While at first the van Thompson sisters’ threaten to be drowned out by distortion, they quickly get into their stride and deliver a fantastic set, ‘Growler’ and ‘Laguna Babe’ proving obvious highlights; particularly by the two men at the front who have been making the most of the local beers on offer. Their new song ‘Blood Orange’ also sees a live outing, exemplifying everything we love about the band; a moody verse leading up to an amped-up chorus with a wonderfully tempestuous guitar solo to follow.
A triple whammy of local bands follow in the shape of Schnarff Schnarff, Lional and PAWS. The former have developed into a very tight live act with frontman Myles Bonnar more than up for the occasion and giving off lots of energy which feeds into the growing crowd. ‘This is How We Get Some’ proves to be a big highlight of their set. Meanwhile the much-talked about WOMPS deliver an exciting set on the Bloc Stage, full of heavy percussion and ramshackle, noisy guitars with a pop edge.
Of course, stumbling across brilliant bands you’ve never seen or heard of before is what makes these small festivals so much fun; and that’s exactly what happens in the case of Lional. They have a post-punk/noir-pop/indie sound that is reminiscent of Interpol or Joy Division, with wonderfully deep vocals from the melancholic frontman Joshua McKenzie. Their set goes down a storm with their local fanbase, particularly a fantastic cover of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ which stays very true to the original.
The night then closes with a typically energetic set from Bossy Love, who recently won spaces to play at this year’s Glastonbury after entering this year’s Emerging Talent Competition. Led by Amandah Wilkinson, formerly of Operator Please, and John Baillie Jnr, formerly of Dananananakroyd, the group have been making a reputation for themselves around Glasgow for their captivating live performances, and it’s easy to see why. Tracks like ‘Sweat It Out’ and ‘Want Some’ have the crowd jumping with Wilkinson proving herself to have real starpower as frontwoman, holding the crowd in the palm of her hand from the get-go. The Bloc stage turns into a bouncing club for their 40 minute set with the audience begging for more at the end; a must-see live act and a huge highlight of the weekend.
They finish just in time to catch the end of the Lafontaines’ headline set at the main stage. With temperatures now plummeting, frontman Kerr Okan tells the crowd, ‘We’ve came up from sunny Glasgow to possibly the coldest place I’ve ever been’. However, it doesn’t stop the band delivering a high octane set and doing just what they do best. With ‘Castle’ and ‘Shark in the Water’ proving huge highlights, their rap-rock, genre-defying set goes down a storm, full of enough singalong moments to please the dedicated group of fans at the front who are hoisted up on shoulders with each song. Of course, the band are now used to playing in front of much bigger crowds by now (whether it’s because it’s a work day or because of the weather, Friday’s attendance is noticeably smaller than Saturday; something that could possibly be considered when planning in the future) but Okan works the crowd perfectly with good banter between songs. As it only can at a festival, the set finishes with two fully-clad power rangers fighting onstage. What’s not to love?
This Brew at the Bog review was written by Suzanne Oswald, a GIGsoup contributor. Photo credit to Ryan Johnston.