The perfect jewel in Scotland’s alternative crown
With less corporate thuggery at its helm than others I could mention, The Wickerman Festival will always captivate a far from maddening crowd. Sure, they just may get a little rowdy at 4am when stumbling around in the wrong campsite shouting like drunken foghorns through the mist as they attempt to locate each other, which will always be to the annoyance of the less than tolerant minority slumbering in their tented palaces upon the hill. But that’s possibly the very worst that ever happens and it beats having your tent stolen or being caught up in a platoon of rioting neds. This is the festival with the retro vibe snaking right through to its heart where things feel spontaneous rather than planned. The alternative festival catering for alternative tastes, just like it promised on the tin. The presence of mainstream here is conspicuous only by its most beautiful absence. Modern day counter-culture movement it sure is. As if the gods would ever not be smiling down on us - it’s blazing sunshine and the bluest skies as the 9th Wickerman Festival begins, and for the briefest of moments you wonder if it’s the forces of nature we should be thanking. Of course it’s not! Bring on the individualists!
You’d turn yourself inside out in the effort to see every single band playing here. See, you want to see them all, because they’re more than worth that, but with over 130 of them playing well it just aint possible guvnor! I tried it once - chasing my tail for 12 hours - I doubled back on myself so severely I missed most and had to get a taxi to my tent where I did descend into dizziness for the duration. You gotta be brutal then - you gotta schedule things, be firm and choose one over the other. Crossing off lists until you end up with a timetable that shall be your map for the weekend. Yes, until the aforementioned schedule becomes a crumpled bit of paper stuffed into a corner of your rucksack never to be considered or even consulted again! So just live in the moment and do it how you see fit.
Root System: The ska/punks from Fife are much favoured among Wickerman goers and are a regular ingredient in The Scooter Tent, Today they were an instant burst of vitality. The energy and spirit unleashed would possibly generate enough kilowatts of power to kick-start a dead man back to life. They are a solid wall of ska beats infused dramatically with punk rock’s urgency triggering mass enthusiasm in the crowd which, eventually, evolved in to a frenzied abandonment. On songs like ‘Revolution’ and ‘Take It Easy’ they had this corner of the festival on it’s feet as soon as their first note was played. The crowd seized upon them immediately, let this be evidence of how good this band really are.
Ed Tudor Pole: He has such a gallivanting restlessness that it always seems as if he’s on the absolute verge of breaking down into a perplexing muddle! The cartoon-like demeanour and natural eccentricities he has makes him totally spellbinding to watch. Of course he has the great songs to enhance his status - and he played the greatest ones today. Ten Pole Tudor’s back catalogue, including the brilliant b-side ‘Love And Food’ were rolled out in great health and sounding better than they ever did, his singing voice veering from a cracked yelp to deep rambling. His defining moment in my opinion came when a shouter in the audience asked for Who Killed Bambi ( the song he wrote during his brief time with The Sex Pistols) and the big man replied ‘ never mind who killed bambi, who killed Malcolm Mclaren’ Ed Tudor Pole is a stately home built on a council estate and I love him!
The Futureheads: Just one of tonight’s Main Stage artists that I didn’t get the chance to see much of but what I did see of the new wave/post punk experimentalists was utterly standout. Front man Barry Hyde is a charismatic rabble rouser completely tailor-made at birth for the job he does. I caught them doing last single ‘ I Can Do That’, plus one other that I hadn’t heard before, and they completely filled the place and probably the surrounding countryside with their powerful sound. Ever seen a field undulating with rollicking human beings? Shoulda been there then!
Teenage Fanclub: Not everyone’s choice but Teenage Fanclub are legends of the Scottish indie scene. I haven’t ever seen them live before and, regardless of how great or not so, I was at least determined to say I’ve now seen them. They have been nurtured over the years by a very committed fan base who can see nothing beyond them and it’s always very much like that in Scotland ( Trashcan Sinatras are another who earn the same treatment) Tonight ‘the fannies’,( which is how I heard several people refer to them as and is obviously a term of endearment rather than the stinging insult I first considered it might be), sounded as good as you’d expect they might be for a band who’ve been doing it more than 20 years. Their sound is very much the chime and jangle type of indie and it did sound pretty special tonight. Among their set list was ‘Everything Flows’ ‘Sparky’s Dream’ and ‘Baby Lee’.
The Buzzcocks Headliners in The Scooter Tent and I’m told they pulled the biggest crowd of the weekend in there. Tonight I declare The Buzzcocks stunning! They still have that rawness and the songs are still brilliant - 36 years later! With Pete Shelley still fronting and Steve Diggle back on guitar this was classic old school jubilation. For a couple of geezers well into their 50’s they ripped the place apart unleashing song after song from their magnificent legacy. You name it, they played it - ‘Orgasm Addict’ ‘What Do I Get’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ and ‘I Don’t Mind’ among others. The Scooter Tent was bouncing inside, and, outside where just as many couldn’t get in, were bouncing too. I heard a few people complain that The Buzzcocks should have played Main Stage so everyone could get the chance to see them which is fair enough, but I can’t help thinking an atmosphere like the one they created tonight would be lost if it was transferred outside.
The Charlatans: Veterans of the Madchester scene are Main Stage closers for Friday night. With an earlier promise to play ‘just one from the new album’ ( which I think they kept to) the majority of their set felt entirely familiar. As August shall be the 20th anniversary of their debut album (Some Friendly) they quite rightly dipped into the track listing of it tonight. For a band who can occasionally flicker between really good and really average they were closer to the ‘really good’ version of themselves this time and the crowd they drew filled the whole field and its perimeters, not to mention the ever growing mosh pit at the front. The Charlatans were psychedelic and they were shoegazey and they were rock and roll personified, hurtling through the songs which included ‘Jesus Hairdo’ ‘Can’t Get Out Of Bed’ ‘Weirdo’ ‘How High’ and that new one they said they’d play ‘Love Is Ending’ ( which is also the new single) they were pretty flawless and gave as good an account of themselves as anyone else did and are clearly embracing this reawakening they seem to be going through.
Other artists who played Friday include Goldie Lookin Chain, Tony Christie, Counterfeit Clash, Back To The Planet, Mitchell Museum and many more.
I was so late back to my tent even the sparrows were looking at me with their little legs folded and their heads shaking, and they’d be saying ( no seriously bear with me on this one) ‘Every year,eh! returning not just in daylight but ‘broad fucking daylight’, tssssk’ But I never answer them, I’m too clever, and they hate to be ignored. As do the starlings!
Wickerman Saturday see’s a huge influx of new arrivals, the ‘one day only’ ticket holders who’ve come to see the bands and watch the ceremonial torching of the 30ft Wickerman at midnight. Today the sun has gone and the stop/start rain has galloped in from the west (possibly) just to poke at the psyche of those who haven’t slept all night. I get the ‘scruffy/tired’ award for the 7th year running. Am I bothered? Am I bothered?
Doll & The Kicks: Morrissey’s little favourites played an excellent 45 minute set in The Scooter Tent, shamefully I only saw the last 10 mins but they showed just why they were hand picked by Morrissey as support act on his 2008/09 European/Russian Tour. He described them as ‘very powerful, very unusual and very striking’ and the man’s never wrong.
The Saw Doctors: It feels like the Irish rockers have been on the go forever but they only formed in 1986, positively fledglings in the great scheme of things. They enjoy cult following status in Ireland, and certain parts of America, a pleasure not quite granted to them in the UK really.They never quite broke through into the mainstream possibly because The Pogues had set a precedcent that was now to be expected of every Irish band since then. The Saw Doctors though were nothing like the drunken effigies lyrically brought to life by Shane McGowan and his crew, instead they cornered the same kind of market inhabited by the Levellers, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and The Waterboys, though never as politically minded they did bear a Celtic likeness to the others, and it’s this genre they occupy, like it or not. They’re a great festival band though and first class audience communicators, which may not have suited the impersonal expanse of the Main Stage so much but credit to them they worked it as best they could and enticed a decent crowd to drop by.
PAMA INTERNATIONAL: Filling what must surely be the toughest slot of the day, The Scooter Tent gap between The Sex Pistols Experience and headliners The Undertones, penultimate headliners then, the ska/dub/reggae collective fronted by Lynval Golding ( The Specials) are no strangers to the gig circuit and certainly not phased by being the middle bit of a punk rock extravaganza when you’re not a punk rock band. Lesser men would have wilted at the very thought and died tragically in front of our very eyes as we watched their demise through the gaps in our splayed hands, the carnage viewable only in quick bursts of cameo. Not so Pama International, capable and gifted masters of their craft. With their musical influences steeped more in rock steady/ reggae than its casual ska cousin this was a seasoned performance, a musical education by men educated in the music they play. It’s no casual throwaway performance but one created from the roots of their past and engineered by these modern troubadours. Addictive and deep rooted reggae beats which instantly stopped everything else in its tracks before claiming the Scooter Tent as theirs. Never mind punk rock, this hour was easily won by a much more ancient genre of music.
The Undertones: With original front man Feargal Sharkey long gone and replacement Paul McLoone at the mic for the last 11 years The Undertones have remained a constant presence barely missing a beat since 1975. True, the quivering vocal delivery of Sharkey no longer fills the rooms, but as far as getting as near to it as is possible, well McLoone manages that pretty well to be honest. Tonight he’s great, they’re great and that’s the opinion of every old school punk jammed into The Scooter Tent alongside me. From the very second they begin with ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ it’s non stop. It’s the most celebratory trawl through the best songs of a great era - and everything gets its chance to shine - ‘My Perfect Cousin ‘It’s Gonna Happen’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ ‘Here Comes The Summer’ and ‘Wednesday Week’ among them. It’s possibly what everyone here this weekend came to see.
Ocean Colour Scene: Although I missed the majority of their set ( bit of a wild card decision to put them on at the same time as The Undertones) what bits I did hear sounded really good. It’s been a funny few years for Ocean Colour Scene after all the glories their first 2 albums brought them, they were the band of the hour when at their greatest level, but for whatever reason they failed to sustain it and very quickly disappeared into obscurity, and they’ve been down there a lot longer than is probably comfortable. Credit to them though they’ve never shied away from putting in the spade work and they’re slowly pulling themselves back into view. Being the Main Stage headliners tonight is something I know they’ll be thrilled with, it’s a corner turned and a sure sign they’re on the climb again. A cover of The Beatles ‘Daytripper’ alongside their own ‘The Riverboat Song’ and ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ were among the songs they played.
Other artists who played Saturday included The Sex Pistols Experience, Sons & Daughters, Amphetameanies, The Go Team, and many more
The highlight of the festival for many is this ritual torching of the 35ft willow effigy on the stroke of midnight. It’s believed to be a pagan practice carried out as a symbolic banishing of demons and evil - though much of the actual relevance is possibly lost in time somewhere. As the Wicker Man burns and the fireworks light the sky above so another festival prepares to pack itself away until next year. 2011 will be the 10th anniversary of The Wickerman Festival - they are already planning something special to commemorate that - so you don’t want to be elsewhere this time next year, you need to be right here. Anyway once you’ve been you’ll never stop coming back. I’ve been doing it for 8 years, you always come back.
And to quote the movie: ‘Did I do it right?’ ‘You did it beautifully’
Thanks To Ross Weller and Laura Adams of 3x1 PR Glasgow