The sun was blazing for the majority of the weekend in Dundrennan, near Dumfries, making it the perfect weather to laze around a field with some cold refreshments, take in some live music and soak up the laid-back, family friendly atmosphere that The Wickerman Festival provides. Now in its twelfth year organizers of this years event, their first to sell out, managed to create a festival small enough that it feels intimate but large enough that it doesn’t feel overcrowded with around 18,000 attendees on site. There really is something for everyone with The Summerisle Stage (main stage) seeing the likes of Primal Scream, Chic, KT Tunstall and Amy McDonald, The Scooter Tent hosting Stiff Little Fingers, The Rezillos and Bombskare, an Accoustic Village complete with spoken word area, a reggae tent, two dance tents for after hour partying and even a dedicated childrens area with its very own line-up of entertainment.
My first musical stop was to catch Honeyblood, a female two-piece (Stina Tweeddale guitar/vocals and Shona McVicar drums/vocals) fresh from their recent T in the Park T-Break Stage slot, who despite taking up very little of the actual stage managed to more than fill the Solus Tent with their grunge-tinged rock sound. Songs like Super Rat and soon to be released single Bud showed why their melodic songwriting is quickly earning them fans and with the current resurgence in the grunge sound are definitely ones to watch. Their name pretty much sums up what they offer; honey coated vocals dripped over crunchy distorted guitar. A stroke of planning genius meant the goNORTH Tent and the Solus Tent were placed directly next to each other and whilst one kitted up, the other was in full swing which meant for straightforward scheduling.
A short hop next door for Plastic Animals saw some more excellent lo-fi shoegaze scuzz rock. The laid back vocals of Mario Cruzado complimenting the rest of the band. I’m a bit of a sucker for guitarists playing feedback, not just wild screeching but actually controlled, tuneful and deliberate feedback and there were several examples of this in the set. Having just finished their own set next door Honeyblood popped in to enjoy the second half. The Deadline Shakes provided a more pop-rock flavoured soundtrack with banjo and fiddle thrown in for good measure. Joking that their between song chat had been poor and repetitive “Ooh, it’s very hot… bright lights over there, very hot”, but in reality the scorching weather was making the heat in the tents incredibly sticky. Adding “this song’s about dancing, do you like dancing? Strip off then”. He probably wasn’t that far off the mark. Highlights were recent debut single Sweeten the Deal and Boy. I nipped in to catch a couple of tracks from Blochestra which is the culmination of an open mic night of sorts in Bar Bloc+ in Glasgow. All levels of musical ability are invited to turn up and learn some songs which they play together more like a jam and from what I saw the results are some pretty impressive covers by a ridiculously packed stage of various musicians. Armed with a venison burger and a fresh chilled pint I headed to the main stage for Dreadzone around 5pm. With the sun still splitting the sky and excellent sound to boot they tore through some old and new tracks providing the perfect start to the evening. A packed hillside saw couples dancing, children dancing with their families and just general good vibes all round as people lapped up the good weather and beats.
Woodenbox were a bit of an unexpected highlight for me. Having fallen a little bit out of my favour when the recorded versions of some songs were released, I felt they lacked the energy of the live versions I’d grown to love. Here though they absolutley blew me away. The award for the most energetic set and having the most fun onstage over the weekend would easily go them and tracks that I wasn’t too fussed with on the albums had a real kick to them, sounding looser and far more energetic which to me suits their sound. Tracks like opener Besides the Point set the pace and they never slowed up either. Twisted Mile with a somewhat extended trumpet intro was brilliant as well.
Another surprise highlight was a guy who goes by the name of MAASK hailing from Holland. Working alone and choosing a laptop, loops and FX as his weapons of choice, and more often than not accompanying his own vocal with more of his own vocal there were visible dropped jaws around the tent. Dropping a beat-boxed drum, looping it and adding things like trumpet sounds, bass lines and synth bleeps and blips with his voice he covered just about every genre imaginable. His off the wall chat only added to the madness. Clichéd call and response sections were given odd and comically sinister twists such as “When I say hip, you say hop… when I say dry, you say bread… when I say naked, you say children… WHAAAAT?”. And his cover of chart dance classic Robin S – Show Me Love needs to be heard to be believed.
I will admit here and now that I was pretty excited to be about to witness Nile Rogers and Chic perform on the main stage and after Nile appeared in his white suit and took photos of the crowd before launching in to the set I couldn’t have been more impressed with their performance as a whole. Hit after hit flooded from the PA and they were every bit the legendary act you would expect as they dished out the singalong marathon.
We were treated to perfect versions of Everybody Dance, Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah) and I Want Your Love to get things kicked off. A collection of covers of songs which Nile either wrote or worked on the production (or both) for including Diana Ross I’m Comin Out, Sister Sledge We are Family and David Bowie’s Lets Dance graced the middle section. Le Freak and Good Times closed including a stage filled with backstagers invited out to dance. Nile even gave a nod to the tracks sampled history by performing a section of the Sugarhill Gang rap.
Three Blind Wolves closed the goNORTH Tent and were every bit the headline act. With excellent renditions of Parade, Slow Summer Deer and Gold on the Cross already under their belt they played a new song entitled Pickled John which vocalist Ross Clark said is how he sometimes feels about life. “You ever feel like a pickled gherkin?”. The new track had a similar heavy feel to Slow Summer Deer possibly indicative of the direction they’re planning to explore further. Whilst delivering the melting harmonies in Farmer with a Pulse Ross clearly decided the tent was small enough for him to go acapella and belted out his part without a mic from the very edge of the stage. They closed their set with Echo on the Night Train.
In stark contrast to Chic, Fridays main stage headliners Primal Scream were a real let down. I’ve seen and very much enjoyed the band live in various venues and fields many times, over many years but here they seemed to be missing a spark. Bobby Gillespie appeared bored and almost like he was simply going through the motions. Often delivering his lyrics only to retreat to the back of the stage and stare at his shoes. It seemed to take older tracks Loaded and Jailbird to rouse him in to action and saw him dancing around more like his usual stage show. Maybe it was playing after Chic, maybe it was the lack of usual bass player Mani, but for me something was lacking and I don’t think they lived up to their headline slot.
2.30pm on another exceptionally warm and gloriously sunny Saturday saw maths rock band Vasa take to the stage of the Solus Tent. LOUD speed playing, instrumental tracks and something I don’t recall ever seeing live: a six string bass, along with the energy of the band made for a good wake-up call.
Book Group ended a decent set by asking the crowd to take a few steps forward for their last track “Year of the Cat” and the upbeat track managed to shake the majority of hangovers from the tent. I caught a snippet of Cherub on the main stage although to be honest they weren’t really my cup of tea. A Texan two-piece who sounded a bit like the Scissor Sisters, electro type pop for the masses but the crowd seemed to take to them. A fairly noisey set from Fat Goth was pretty much the polar opposite of what I’d just came from, and although I’m still yet to be convinced by the mass of hype surrounding them I did enjoy the set. Flutes on the other hand are a band I’d heard the name and decided to head along and check them out. I was glad I did. They said that this was the best crowd they’d played for, and admitted that actually it was “probably the biggest crowd” they’d played for too. Their cello player padded out the sound beautifully and with a pretty random cover of What is Love by Haddaway they even managed to make it sound like quite a decent tune. Telling the crowd it had “taken us eight years to write six songs” they promised to get their act together. Casual Sex managed to cut the look of an odd bunch with the singer in smudged lipstick. With a sound sitting somewhere between The Clash and Franz Ferdinand their extremely bass laden, danceable sound had the tent grooving.
A packed Solus Tent was headlined by Roman Nose, an electronic three-piece including live drums with a penchant for wrestling masks. The drummer appeared to be caged in a white triangular cell but once the beats began it became apparent that this was for some excellent projections. These guys know how to work a live crowd, they had the crowd bouncing, absolutely superb. Look forward to catching them live again soon.
Approaching midnight and the splashes of rain could be felt overhead. Waiting on the 40ft Wickerman being torched it got heavier. Lined up along a dry stone dyke for safety, the crowd really got in the spirit chanting “burn him, burn him” in unison. As the legs were lit by the ‘virgin in white’ fireworks began to explode in the sky around the wicker beast. These only got bigger and better as the rest of the effigy caught fire as well. An excellent spectacle.
Straight to the main stage for Public Service Broadcasting to close. Despite the rain the crowd that had made there way down were determined to have a good time, and PSB were more than happy to oblige. Speech from the stage was in the form of computer voice which added a touch of comedy creepiness to the set. The band thundered through a brilliant version of Spitfire while the crowd danced along. On the drive down I had questioned whether they would use synthesised horns on Everest and as the set drew to a close and a three part horn section took to the stage I got my answer. A fantastic final set to end what had been an all round fine festival.