Jamie Gambino’s RockNess Festival Diary, all photos by Phil Hutchinson.
We board the RockNess Express at York station to find some serious party animal’s in action on the specially chartered train taking people from all over England up to Inverness.
It is seemingly an endless journey but festival entertainers Bearded Kitten keep the fun flowing. When we arrive late at night the beautiful Loch Ness scenery looks absolutely stunning under the moonlight, but the harsh Highland chill makes for a freezing cold night and I worry about the two media babes we befriended on the train who rocked up with essential camping gear consisting only of custard creams and hot pants..
The first band we catch is The Drums playing on the main stage. Songs from second album are mixed with a heavy dose of material from their eponymous debut record and they go down a storm. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce adds much needed brightness to the grey day with his quirky dancing, and the bands energy lifts the spirits of the crowd. Stand out tracks ‘Best Friend’ and ‘Lets Go Surfing’ prove the band are tight and efficient despite Jonathan claiming that they don’t know how to play their instruments properly.
Ed Sheeren headlines in the Golden Voice Arena tonight and the award winning troubadour certainly overcomes his nerves to delight a heaving throng of festival goers.
I must admit to not being too enamoured by his acoustic charms prior to this gig, but tonight the shy red head nails it. Delivering hit after hit, his confidence swelling as songs like ‘A Team’ and ‘Lego House’ are greeted enthusiastically, Ed even teams up with rapper Wretch 32 for a song and by the end of the set Mr Sheeran has won us all over.
With sightings of Mrs Mumford aka Hollywood actress Carey Mulligan providing back stage gossip we head along with the masses to see Mumford & Sons headline the main stage. Undoubtedly accomplished musicians their folky tweeness delights a packed crowd and provides one of the more bizarre sights of the weekend as a guy on a wheelie bins strips stark bollock naked in time to the music. It is very cold out there tonight..
Seeing as RockNess is a mixture of dance acts as well as rock and indie, we decide to check out the happenings in the Clash Arena. Hudson Mohawke has the tent thriving, and glassy eyed revellers throw some shapes. It soon becomes obvious that most of the people here were not subjected to the sniffer dog treatment we endured to gain entry onto the site, if they released those Hounds Of The Baskervilles into the crowd tonight it would be like a remake of ‘Kujo’. People stagger by and as several collapse onto the floor we opt to call it a night.
First act to interest us today is Lucy Rose. Her pure voiced acoustic strumming, bolstered by a full band is really quite appealing and her well crafted songs soothe a hangover induced by those lovely people at the Red Bull bar.
Lucy comes across as a shy Lily Allen and I would put money on her definitely making waves this year.
Due to the nature of RockNess being a fusion of indie, rock, and dance music we frequently have to flee from tent to stage in order to see everybody we want to live due to scheduling clashes, this is always the case at a festival but seems to happen regularly here.
What we manage to catch of The Pigeon Detectives concert is pure crowd pleasing antics, with the Leeds lads winning everyone over with a satisfying greatest hits setlist. ‘I Found Out’ see’s everyone going mental and as we have to leave after a few tracks people are still rushing into the tent for what looks like an amazing gig.
As the sun comes out to highlight the beautiful view of Loch Ness – visible from behind the main stage, we head back into the darkness of a tent for The View. A humongous audience has turned up to see the Dundee band and they don’t get disappointed. Live The View have a fevered raw energy that compliments their classic songwriting style. Rock credentials are proven today as the opening track builds up heavy riffs. Alas after only four tracks, the swelling crowd gets so massive that the tent actually starts to collapse so their set is cut short and they are moved into the larger tent to play again tomorrow.
As the evening gives way to an array of dance orientated acts – no indie or rock after 9pm?! The Red Cross staff are given plenty to do as the euphoric collective ends up creating several casualties that have to be stretchered off.
Deadmau5 certainly adds a more visual representative of the dance genre than Annie Mac who proceeded him on the main stage. As an impressive light show beams across the bleak evening sky a guy in a mouse head mask whips tens of thousands into a frenzy.
Scottish band The Draymin may look like a ‘Madchester’ style tribute act – Stoneasis perhaps? But surprise when a twisted synth erupts. They aim for hard edged ‘Screamadelica’ type thrills and actually to be fair they don’t fall too far from the mark.
It seems quite disrespectful to have Death In Vegas play so early in the evening but they manage to impress everyone who ventured into the Golden Voice arena, and the large tent becomes noticeably fuller as their set goes on. Richard Fearless and band keep everybody in awe at their dark, twisted sonic sound scape’s, and as green strobe lights illuminate the darkness during a fantastic version of ‘Trans-Love Energies’ favourite ‘Your Loft My Acid’ some Scottish guy informs me that they are “fucking Barry” which translates as ‘very good indeed’
Ash are currently on a nostalgia tour to promote their 20th anniversary which with me being a year older than the Irish lads makes me feel quite bloody old. Tonight it is a best of setlist but the band certainly have the material to warrant it. As the band throw some classic rock poses whilst blasting out hits like ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’ everyone gets busy singing along.
Metronomy are so good at this admittedly they have played hundreds of shows but tonight they seriously impress. Material from ‘The English Riviera’ is rapturously received and without their famous light shirts, tonight it is the songs that have more of a chance to shine. With ‘The Look’ even making it feel like a warm summer day – or have I had too much Drambuie? – and ‘The Bay’ gets everyone in the crowd bouncing along.
Scottish rock gods Biffy Clyro have come a long way and tonight fresh from an appearance at Download it is easy to see why they have attained headline status. Fully embraced by the packed crowd at the main stage the band can do no wrong.
Seemingly every song on the setlist is sang along to and the immense reaction to tracks like ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’ proves they ARE an excellent live act.
For me though there is something amiss and proficient as Biffy Clyro are I have had more fire in my belly from a decent single malt.
Still this is undoubtedly a fantastic show to close the festival, and as an outstanding fire works display illuminates the black sky reflecting on the shimmering loch it is sadly all over until next year.
Verdict; A massively enjoyable festival experience but equal focus on the indie/rock elements would certainly improve RockNess. Still I would heartily recommend this highland highlight.