Review: Gentlemen of the Road Stopover, Aviemore

Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons who headlined their own one-off festival in the Highlands. Picture: Getty Images
Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons who headlined their own one-off festival in the Highlands. Picture: Getty Images
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ON THE walk between the car park in town and the festival site on the Rothiemurchas Estate on the edge of Aviemore, many will have passed the Old Bridge Inn, a small white country pub with a burger ’n’ beer stand set up for the occasion at the front door and a soundsystem pumping out drum ’n’ bass.

Gentlemen Of The Road Stopover

Rothiemurchas Estate, Aviemore

Star rating: ****

On weekends where 20,000 people haven’t descended upon the Cairngorms outdoor sports hub village for Mumford & Sons’ only UK appearance of their travelling festival, it’s possible to imagine it holds a more quaint appeal.

It certainly seems to have helped Marcus Mumford and the rest of his band – who earlier this year once more marched to the top of the charts in the US and the UK with their third album Wilder Mind – fall in love with the area.

“Just look at this place, come on,” he gasped during a break in the Mumfords’ Saturday night headline slot, gazing around at the twilit hills, a few wisps of snow incredibly still visible on one, before reminiscing about the time the band played the Old Bridge Inn themselves.

It was six years ago, during a pre-fame tour of the Highlands, he said, also paying tribute to their long-standing promoter and friend in these parts Robert Hicks.

The sense of occasion clearly hit Mumford with a sense of awe on the spot, because he next dedicated the wistful Awake My Soul to the Highlands themselves.

As honoured as they were by the location, so should it have been to host this exclusive date of a festival presented under the banner of the band’s Gentlemen of the Road recording and events brand.

These shows have already worked for them across similarly unused sites in America, and Mumford described this one as an “experiment”, presumably to see whether more might be in order.

It certainly worked on its own terms, although no-one could have accounted for the pummelling Friday night rain which preceded headliner Ben Howard and turned the winding path to the site through fishery pens and the concourse of food and drink stalls into a mud slick.

Still, such unintentional squalor didn’t seem to eliminate good cheer during a Saturday (the more attractive of the two days) bill which included a list of Scottish talent, current buzz artists The Maccabees and Lianne La Havas, and fiery, Glasgow-founded rockers Primal Scream, at their best on crowdpleasers Rocks, Loaded and Country Girl, and plentiful material from their 2000 XTRMNTR album.

In all, though, it was a two-day support bill for an epic two-hour Mumford & Sons gig, the London folk-rock quartet denying their middle-of-the-road reputation with a set which surged through emotions, from the blood-rushing heartbeat pound of opener Snake Eyes to the joyous, crowdpleasing I Will Wait and the Coldplayish affirmation of recent single Belief.

That they chose until later in the set to slow things down with some moody ballads just when we needed some enthusiastic warming against the chill winds wasn’t their fault, otherwise we might blame them for getting everything right but the weather.

Seen on 31.07.15-01.08.15