The weekend of the 23rd and 24th of July saw the Wickerman Festival take to the fields of Dundrennan, Kidcudbright. Last year having been my first ‘Wickerman,’ I was keen to justify the glowing report I gave it, and attempt to experience more.
The first day of the festival was greeted by blistering sunshine; a head start given the poor weather the majority of Scotland’s festivals were given this year. With such a diverse bill on offer, I was constantly torn between acts, however with my free press schedule in hand, I did my very best to pick out a fair share.
My first stop was the main stage for the pop-electro outfit, I Blame Coco. The quartet, fronted by Sting’s daughter, strode through a half-hour set of elated, poppy arrangements, as the modest-sized crowd dutifully bopped along. I Blame Coco came to be one of the surprises of the weekend for me, as having listened to their material previously I was not expecting to enjoy. Although slightly marred by her sometimes restrained voice, I was thoroughly impressed. Their latest single, ‘Caeser,’ was out in February and their debut album, ‘The Constant,’ is out in September.
The acoustic stage is rarely an area I frequent at a festival, however after I Blame Coco, hotly tipped Glasgow folk singer/songwriter Rachel Sermanni was appearing on that very stage. Having heard countless enthusiastic reports of her act, I was keen to hear for myself. Although a quiet tent, Rachel, alongside her two violinists Siobhan Anderson and Laura Wilkie, her keyboardist Jen Austin and drummer Martin Hodge, played an excellent set, with some of the softest and well-layered harmonies I’ve heard in a long while. A range of tunes both soft and heavier, including the crescendo of the set, “Circus Song,” her voice carries extremely well, despite the occasional PA screech as of some confused looking soundmen. Her lyrics, too, give the songs such a beauty, with the likes of “The storms harm our blossom” sauntering through the ever-growing, appreciative audience. By far one of the highlights of the weekend.
Another Glasgow act I was keen to see, were psychedelic pop quartet, Mitchell Museum. Their debut album,The Peters Port Memorial Service has been making waves across Scotland and beyond, with critical acclaim from the likes of Steve Lamaq and BBC Introducing guru, Huw Stevens. Only managing to catch half of their set, I struggled to involve myself with their brand of Animal Collective-esque pop. The single from the album, ‘Warning Bells,’ clearly merits some attention, however the more complex ‘Take the Tongue Out,’ for example becomes a little over-complicated and a little less convincing. A band to keep an eye on, none the less.
The main stage soon became home to one of my personal favourite bands, The Futureheads. Having just released their fourth studio album, ‘The Chaos,’ The Sutherland boys have no trouble blasting the crowd with their unmistakable brand of fast-paced indie hits. The majority of their set was new material and, on the strength of this performance, it is sure to be just as loved as the previous three albums. They conclude with their incredible Kate Bush cover, leaving me blown away for the sixth(!) time. In my opinion, The Futureheads are, simply, a national treasure.
Django Django are a band I’d heard very little about before the weekend, however headlining the festival’s ‘Solus’ (new bands) stage, it is clear this quartet are making a name for themselves, and it’s easy to see why. Hailing from Northern Ireland, they played an incredibly tight set of electro, at times somewhat minimalistic, synth pop, reminiscent of the 80’s heyday of electronic music, with the likes of Japan and Depeche Mode springing to mind. Coupled with strong and commanding beats on the likes of ‘Skies over Cairo’ and with all manner of percussive instruments, their set is granted a fresh, exciting sound. There was some timidity on stage, however it translates well within their minimalism and never felt out of place. Certainly a band I will be watching over the coming months.
A dash across to the Scooter Tent meant I caught the last fifteen minutes of The Buzzcocks, who played to a packed out tent, and deservedly so. As expected, concluding with their 80’s classic ‘Ever Fallen in Love,’ I was glad I’d managed to sneak the end of their set. Unfortunately, however it meant I sacrificed a large proportion of Friday’s headliners, The Charlatans. From what I saw they had wowed the festival goers with some new material and their 90’s indie hits, including their biggest single, ‘The Only One I Know.’ A worthy headliner, it had to be said.
Saturday got off to a less enthusiastic start, with a hung-over me emerging in the small afternoon hours, to showers of rain. Making the best of it, I soldiered on to see The Saw Doctors on the Main Stage. Clearly, their die hards were out in force and they blasted their way through an hour-long set of their past hits. Not exactly my thing, but the performance passed pleasantly.
Next on the main stage were Brighton 6-piece, The Go! Team. A late addition to the bill, I was delighted to hear they were playing, having never seen them live before. Arguably, they have been quiet over the past 2 or so years, and have undeniably gone off the radar somewhat, however, they boasted a lot of new material in their set, and from what I could hear, I anticipate what’s to come in the future. With such a huge range of sounds and instruments, it proved at times difficult to decipher their funk laden riffs and chants; so much so that it was near impossible to hear lead singer ‘Ninja’s vocals. Their set went down well however, and, although slightly deafened, I was encouraged by the new material and their overall turnout.
Opening with arguably your biggest hit is perhaps somewhat of a faux pa on the festival main stage, however with Ocean Colour Scene, I found it utterly convincing. ‘The Riverboat Song’ (perhaps best know, and loved, for its place in 90’s Chris Evans classic, TFI Friday’s) was a great opener, to what would become a genuinely great set. Having been disappointed to arrive at a full Scooter tent, I ditched The Undertones for this lot. And although I’d heard glowing reports, I was pleased I’d managed to catch this band. Although clearly hampered by their past successes and singles, they held a huge crowd and, in my opinion, played a fairly special set.
As almost everyone on the site flocks to the site of the Wickerman, and begins to wait in anticipation, it gives me a chance to once again reflect on the festival as a whole. For the second year running, I was blown away by the ceremonious nature of the burning, something which, in my experience so far, is completely unique to this festival. As the 40+ ft structure catches, the crowd cheers, and although a little misty, it is a sight to behold.
After the euphoria of the burning, I managed to see some of Manchester’s 808 State. Having been on the go for over 20 years now it was impressive to see a relatively cult based electronic act still on the scene. Although a solo dj set, Graham Massay held a decent crowd for the main stage and his electro mash-ups was a good end to proceedings.
In reflection of last year, it has to be said that perhaps I was not as impressed as the calibre of bands this year compared to the previous. Having said that, as with every festival, there was so much on offer I only could physically sample a small proportion. I can only see this festival getting bigger and bigger, and cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone looking for a more laid back yet diverse festival, its also in my opinion the closest Scotland has to the vibe of Glastonbury, not a surprise considering the farmer who’s land the festival uses is a distant relative of Michael Eavis! Wickerman has become one of the most family friendly staples amongst the festival circuit, no easy feat, and something which it prides itself on. So go to Wickerman next year, I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Words: Jonny Smith
Pics: Aoife Welsh