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2019 IN REVIEW: top tunes, theatre and talking from 'year of muchness' includes Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Skipinnish, CHVRCHES and more

By Kyle Walker

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IF 2019 could be described as anything at all, it was the year of muchness – absolutely everything seemed to happen this year.

It was a year where such a wide plethora of events and viral moments burned extremely brightly and tragically briefly before winking out.

It was a year where the world continued to split and fracture down a thousand tribal lines as the planet continued to devolve into incoherent screaming – last month’s general election being a particularly large, abrasive exclamation mark for that.

And, of course, most importantly, it was a year where I went to Greece and ate a lot of spanakopita. It was delicious, thanks.

However, beyond the world it was also a year of great culture and great art, both across the north of Scotland and the wider world.

Elephant Sessions.
Elephant Sessions.

Best gig

Good heavens, where do I start – this year was huge for north music. This year’s Belladrum was a showstopper, with the big names sharing the bill with some delightfully hidden treasures.

LCC’s Live in the Summer gig series in Inverness saw some of the biggest names turn out in the Highland capital, with Skipinnish’s 20th anniversary gig at Bught Park being a particular standout for that.

For me though, the showstopper came from local lads done good Elephant Sessions, who between their Bella slot on the Garden Stage and last month’s sold out Ironworks headliner owned this year.

Every one of their Highland concerts feels like a milestone, and the two times I saw them in 2019 proved to be just that – huge, celebratory milestones in a band career that shows no signs of stopping..

In the Florians production of Harvey, Elwood P. Dowd is played by Nicholas Nicol (front)....Florians Harvey.Picture: SPP. Image No. 043988..
In the Florians production of Harvey, Elwood P. Dowd is played by Nicholas Nicol (front)....Florians Harvey.Picture: SPP. Image No. 043988..

Best theatre

It was a good year for Eden Court, who brought some of the country’s most exciting and challenging theatre pieces to the north of Scotland – and no conversation about the year’s best theatre can be had without mentioning Barber Shop Chronicles’ smart, empathetic dissections of race and masculinity.

And it was also a good year for Florians, whose programme of shows this year were light and breezy and a lot of fun. Their staging of Harvey was a particular delight, mixing screwball whimsy and heart together to great effect.

My favourite production of the year pulled off a similar trick, albeit on a grander scale – Amelie: The Musical was a joyous, romantic rush of a production that melted my heart a thousand times over with its Gallic charm, folky melodies and a wonderfully realised central romance.

Eleanor Conway brings her Walk of Shame Part 2 tour to Eden Court.
Eleanor Conway brings her Walk of Shame Part 2 tour to Eden Court.

Best interview

A personal treat for me saw me interview my first Belladrum headliner – and personally-beloved pop gems – as I spoke with CHVRCHES’ Iain Cook ahead of their Friday night slot.

Intelligent and insightful, he provided a lot of insight on the state of Scottish music and the horrendous bridge-dwelling trolls who had targeted frontwoman Lauren Mayberry with abuse this year.

Two separate interviews with comedians Eleanor Conway and Ivo Graham was similarly insightful – albeit from different perspectives. Eleanor’s frank openness about her sobriety was a wonderful tonic (especially for somebody who also sticks to the bottled mineral waters as I do).

And Ivo’s chat about new fatherhood – conducted via phone as he walked his new daughter through the park – was honest about the challenges of touring and being away from family in a way that few folk are in discussion with a journalist.

Most pleasant surprise

Thursday night at Belladrum saw headliners Elbow take to the Garden Stage, the Bury boys delighting the crowd with their chant-along tunes and Match of the Day montage-friendly soft-rock.

They didn’t have an electronic freakout lament about the Venusian apocalypse though, sang in Venusian and everything. Until they do, I will not regret skipping them in favour of having my mind blown by psychedelic space rave magicians Henge.

The group, from Manchester/the depths of the cosmos (depending on how much you buy into their convoluted mythology) were exactly the sort of eccentric festival delight one craves – weird, wonderful and utterly unique.

I left the Venus Flytrap tent with the sound of a tent chanting along with set closer Demilitarise, a grin plastered on my face, and my brain pooling somewhere around my shoes after the gleeful mauling it had received.

n Twitter: @HNM_kwalker

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