Scotland's Festival Spirit

Nowhere can Scotland's musical heritage be better observed than at one of the many music festivals that takes place each year across Scotland. Fraser Denholm presents the highlights.

Feature by Fraser Denholm | 28 Sep 2009

In the post-tartan and -haggis era, Scotland will be known for the diverse wealth of music output, which has far surpassed Taggart and Irn Bru as one of the country’s strongest exports. With a strong portfolio of acts, including Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol, Belle and Sebastian, King Creosote, Sons and Daughters, The Vaselines and many, many more, the country clearly punches well above it's weight. It's a community that is fostered through an extremely healthy nation-wide live scene, which really comes to life during the summer months with massive range of festivals and music events.

The daddy of them all, of course, is T in the Park. Launched in 1994, the first festival featured Rage Against the Machine, Primal Scream, Manic Street Preachers and Oasis, who played on a bill which was headlined by their future rival, Blur. In the last fifteen years T has relocated to Balado, and has stretched across three days in order to cram in more bands than you can shake a bright red capital letter at. T in the Park sits proudly as the king of Scotland’s Festival scene, with tickets being snapped up mere hours after going on sale – even before line ups are confirmed. As well as being a place to see the current year’s big name talents, it also helps support up and coming bands. The T-Break stage is a platform for emerging and unsigned bands to make the bill, picked from a series of heats and gigs throughout the year with the prestigious spot at the festival as the prize.

In the lifetime of T in the Park, many other similar-sized festivals have sprung up throughout the glens and lochs. RockNess, established in 2006 as a relocation of Fatboy Slim’s Brighton Beach party, takes place on the banks of the legendary Loch Ness and is described as “the only festival with its own monster." Contrary to its name, RockNess' primary focus is on dance and electronica, with previous festivals playing host to Daft Punk’s first Scottish show in 10 years, 2manydjs, Underworld, Chemical brothers, Orbital and Groove Armada.

As well as high profile offerings such as Hydro Connect (Scotland’s foremost boutique festival), Belladrum and The Edge Festival (formerly T on the Fringe), Scotland also has a constanly growing list of alternative grass-roots festivals. Loopallu Festival takes place each September in the furthest reaches of the North. Previous line-ups have included Franz Ferdinand and Echo and the Bunnymen, and this year The Lightning Seeds will take to the stage in the pretty coastal town of Ullapool.

But perhaps the king of all of Scotland’s alternative festivals is the mighty Wickerman. Taking place outside Dundrennan, near Dumfries, it is inspired by the cult horror movie that was shot in the area. The festival, winner of the Best Grassroots Festival Award 2007, is an eclectic mix of sub-genres that manage to live entirely in harmony in Galloway. An element of time displacement is apparent in the line-up – Wickerman showcases a number of bands beyond the height of their fame, or acts you just didn’t know existed any more. In recent years it has showcased The Beat, Gary Numan, The Human League, The Dangleberries, The Orb, and System 7 among a range of other bands.

At the other end of the country, in Inverness, goNORTH is a two day mini-festival across eight established venues in the city. Acting as a music industry showcase (similar to SXSW), venues open their doors and offer free entry to gigs, which allows people to move in and out, picking their own evening’s line-up from the offering of up and coming acts.

Outside the festival season, April’s Fence Homegame is an annual weekend showcase of artists signed to or associated with King Creosote’s musical collective/label, Fence. Taking place in the Fife town of Anstruther, the actual details of the Homegame’s line up aren’t revealed until a few days before the event. Expect to see the likes of King Creosote, The Pictish Trail, James Yorkston, Kid Canaveral, Found and a range of others from Fence’s catalogue of nu-folk pioneers.;;;;;;;;;