By Robert Bayley
It seems the old adage is true; size does not matter. Or at least that’s the impression taken from the inaugural Brew at the Bog Festival.
Nowadays, there are new festivals popping up every month and in these financially stricken times, it could be something of a risky strategy.
However Brew at the Bog managed to add something a little different to the mix, which might just see this little festival weather the storm that will undoubtedly see many of the new crop give way to the tide.
A major draw here is a clash of the new and the old. Plenty of up and coming bands are brought together in the rural, traditional setting of a farm.
Uniting them is the fact the festival is heavily endorsed by the maverick Brewdog, who not only clearly gave brand-clout to the festival with the very name and marketing-style itself, but also supplied the booze. Much like Thornbridge, Brewdog create ales that are an ancient art combined with a very modern twist.
This small, conservative Bogbain Farm in Inverness was certainly utilised well by organisers Yvonne Murray and Bruce MacGregor, packing the place with great niche bands. The best of them was unusually weighted towards the start and end of the festival however.
Kicking things off with appropriate energy were He Slept On 57 who really suited the smaller Go North stage, really engaging the crowd and delivering some good rock that suited the barn venue in style and sound. Highlighting themselves after this were The 17th Century, who brought a thrown-together sound that was both unusual but accessible.
Working in trumpet, violin, bass guitar, acoustic guitar and drums they managed to create a winding, weird power-folk that was particularly atmospheric as the snow began to fall on the main outdoor stage.
With fantastic crowd interaction and off-beat conversations between songs, they were a real highlight.
In between songs, the resident DJ rapidly switched between genres, going from dance to hard rock and later Jump by Van Halen.
It was symptomatic of an inaugural festival like this; in starting out it had to contest with something of an identity crisis not felt by more established festivals.
In equal share were Ale Fans, regular festival fans, hipsters, party-monsters and hybrids of the lot. While this might sound odd, and it certainly was, this unusual mish-mash of personas created a strangely misfit-yet-symbiotic atmosphere that one can’t imagine happening in quite the same intensity as this first year.
There was little to complain about on the line-up, except perhaps Open Swimmer, who readers would do well to avoid seeing if they play locally. To summarise: lifeless, bland songs and stage presence brought the mood down and dispersed the crowd.
However great music could be heard on the smallest stage, The Bothy, as acoustic artist Anne Sweeney delivered a rousing, raw set which she brilliantly punch-lined with a cover of Jackson 5‘s Want You Back.
Little Kicks put on a great show on the Go North stage with some tight, synthesizer-led alt-pop that would have Matt Berry’s Witchazel doffing cap; there was a surprising amount of bass that really warmed the chilly crowd up in the cold venue and a controlled restraint to their energy that defied their youth, the same witnessed on Sympathy for the Devil.
This Aberdeen quartet are ones to watch, especially their multi-talented leading man. Later, Bench were a brilliantly mixed bag. This Austrian/Welsh group lead by two lead singers and driven by a dominating synth played a beguilingly mixed set, alternating from sublime Euro-trash rock to atrocious Euro-trash pop.
The quality-altimeter was swung so violently and one can’t help think, deliberately, that this writer couldn’t help but be thoroughly entertained and surprised by every stage decision.
Sadly one of the main bands, Three Blind Wolves played a pleasing but safe set.
As the sun set across the main stage, the red sky casting a gorgeous scene across the flawless vista, the music played second fiddle to the main event; the festival itself.
There was something special about this Brew at the Bog. Perhaps it’s because this was the debut; perhaps its because there was no major act, perhaps it’s because they only served craft beer.
Regardless, there was an atmosphere that was something magic and if that’s anything to go by, this will undoubtedly be one of the boutique festivals that’ll last.