Having launched in 2006, Rockness is still in playschool, but that hasn’t stopped the Scottish festival from growing each year since and sneaking up on events like T In The Park and Glastonbury, threatening to pinch their festival crown.

Set in scenic heaven, Rockness takes over Clune Farm in Dores, on the banks of Loch Ness, for a whole weekend in June. Having scooped Best Line-Up at 2010’s Festival Awards, Rockness organisers had 2011 pegged as “The Year Of The ‘Ness”, and as we found out once we landed (via bus, not spaceship) on the closing day of this year’s festival, they weren’t wrong.

Glasgow band The Twilight Sad had the daunting task of warming up a sparse and sober crowd on the Main Stage in the early afternoon, but delivered nonetheless a strong, confident set showcasing what they are about. Singer and songwriter Lissie brought her brand of country rock/pop all the way from America to Loch Ness and didn’t disappoint. While her self-titled debut offered country-tinged ballads and easy listening, her set was both rousing and rowdy.

US indie outfit We Are Scientists gave the crowd a healthy dose of their back catalogue but their blather between songs dominated much of their slot, and their stab at humour was lost on fans. The Wombats picked up the pace with the best bits of their debut album A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation and recent release This Modern Glitch, with fans throwing their best shapes and going wild for the Liverpudlian group’s biggest hits, particularly the indie floorfiller ‘Let’s Dance To Joy Division’.

But in typical festival style Rockness had pulled in the big guns to top off the day, and the festival closed with Scottish heavyweights from both ends of the musical spectrum: Glasvegas and Paolo Nutini.

Glasvegas took to the stage oozing confidence. Material from latest offering EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\ sprinkled the set evenly, but it was hits from their self-titled debut that won fans over with mass sing-a-longs to ‘Geraldine’, ‘Go Square Go’ and ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’. Lead singer James Allan dominated the stage in a way only a frontman can, and having seen the band on their recent tour in April of this year, the difference was evident – Allan was more comfortable connecting with the crowd and the band played a more solid set, now familiar enough with the new songs live to deliver them in the way that they’re adored for. Their melancholy mode meant some songs ran into each other and they sometimes lost the audience’s focus, but closing track and fan favourite ‘Daddy’s Gone’ threw all that out of the window and allowed Allan to assure his mum (who was in the crowd) “Ma, we’ve made it”.

The finale rested on one young man’s shoulders. In his debut as a festival headliner – and the reason many had travelled to Rockness from as far afield as Australia and Italy – Paolo Nutini certainly had big expectations to meet. Sauntering coolly onstage to the apt ‘Godfather’ theme, Nutini didn’t even hint at nervousness. Ripping through a storming set of hits both past and present including ‘10/10’, ‘Jenny Don’t Be Hasty’, ‘Last Request’ and ‘Candy’, Nutini oozed charisma while maintaining an impressive level of swagger. A rousing rendition of MGMT’s ‘Time To Pretend’ stole the show, and punter-pleaser ‘Pencil Full Of Lead’ made Rockness reminiscent of a Glasgow house party. Nutini owned his audience from the get-go, and confidently exchanged banter with them as if they were old pals. Signing off with a cover of Amazerblades’ slice of punk/pop ‘Common Truth’ inevitably secured future headline slots.

It may still be deemed an up-and-comer, but its picturesque setting, electric atmosphere, eclectic line-up and smaller capacity (i.e. cheaper food and drink and cleaner portaloos) has the undoubted potential to beat Scottish rival T In The Park to a pulp.

Photo of Paolo Nutini by Nuala Swan.

I went backstage with Glasvegas, read my interview with guitarist Rab Allan here.

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