Heading for Dundrennan, there’s a piece on Radio Scotland with landowner chap Jamie, talking about how, in its 12th year, the Wickerman Festival has, for the first time, sold out. Alarm bells are going off in my head, imagining the kind of overcrowding that saw me give up on T in the Park a few years ago. Spoiler alert: my fears are unfounded. More on that later.
A couple of laps of the car park and it’s into the Solus Tent – where else? – for Behold The Old Bear. A Mitchell Museum offshoot, this provenance means that the’re a surefire start to anyone’s day. Despite the band having not brought drumsticks (or cymbals, or a snare) the band have enough natural rhythm to propel their soaraway harmonies and in the case of ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, perfect “Pop”. They even percuss, on typewriter – “in the key of ‘E’ but moving into ‘W’” which makes their metromonic melodies bound along all the better.
Velveteen Saints are in the festival spirit next door – the upstart goNorth tent’s lineup staggered to compliment that of Solus. The Glasgow four-piece, all sunglasses indoors (or in a tent, anyway) carry the cool look well, and what better way to enjoy your summer holidays than in a raucous singalong mash-up a la The Clash and The Needles?
One of the wonders of Wicker is the way one can flit between stages and tents, meaning it’s literally a 60-second bound downhill to the Summerisle main stage, where Holy Esque are entertaining a gradually-filling arena. A band who you’d imagine would be better placed in one of the aforementioned tents, they still make a decent racket, and I’d swear that the rather nasal vocals of singer Pat Hynes have diminished from the last time I caught them live (at the inaugural SAY award show in 2013). Or maybe it’s me – we all earned to love Placebo, after all (er, didn’t we?)
Such is the plethora of bands on show that my notes are sketchy to say the least. So there’s a feeling of deja vu as I pass the Scooter Tent – I’ve been here before, catching More From Jim not one hour ago. It was their closing number, a Specials cover, but they merit a mention as their progression from Solus several years ago is quite marked, and their blend of brassy punk ideal for the ska-dominated tent.
Back to the Annan seven-piece’s spiritual home, the Solus, then, for another up-and-coming act – Glasgow two-piece Honeyblood. Although they make much more noise than your normal duo – surely a mark of quality, the fact that only one guitar and drums are present. A kind of laid back riot-grrl outfit, they nonetheless whip up the proverbial storm especially on single ‘Super Rat’.
Similarly noisy, Plastic Animals come with a shoegazeing reputation, but dreamy they’re not, conjuring up a melodious racket. Veteran indie watchers may attribute some of this to a veteran guitarist who was – surely? – once in Edinburgh psych-poppers The Silver Pill.
Rungs’ hardcode set teeters on brink of disaster, unsurprising given how much of the festival spirit has been imbibed by its members – largely stemming from Glasgow hardcore post-math act Take A Worm For A Walk Week. Remarkably, the only slip comes during the live cocktail mixing (tequila and coke, since you ask); otherwise, every inch of every fretboard is covered with high-speed precision and not a beat is missed. Everything, including the guttural notes barked out by singer Stephen Hines is spot on, while his sojourn into the crowd for a one-man moshpit brings back memories of Desalvo’s terrorising of the audience at the same venue five or so years ago. The singer is, like P6, of imposing build – I would also mention a passing resemblance to James Corden (though much better looking, and funnier goes without saying) but he might hunt me down and kill me.
Since we’re playing the lookalikey game, Eugene Twist has the look of a younger, better looking (yada yada) Gary Lightbody about him, Though with a sharp line in sardonic lyrics, and a touch of the honkytonk blues about his live set, the similarities end there.
And since we’re harking back to days of Wicker yore, remember the Second Hand Marching Band? Holders of “Most people on the Solus Stage” with around 17, their proud record is shattered by Blochestra’s 32 members. Musically, with a big, folk-based sound they’re not dissimilar to their usurped contemporaries, but with twice the oomph – I suppose that with 20-odd people singing you need five guitars to drown them out, which in turn leads to a bigger brass section, and thus to an ever-growing ensemble whose mass will eventually suck in nearby musicians until either no other bands exist. or the stage collapses.
Friends in America are hard to define and my writing is hard to read, so let’s just say “indie amalgam” which is, let’s face it, no bad thing.
To the main stage for the improbably-named King Charles. I must say that for the first time this weekend (I will later confuse The Wanted with The Enemy) I had expected something completely different. The fact that many of the crowd’s U-16 audience were gathered near the front is a giveaway, however ,and the band’s Vampire Weekend / Libertines mix is clearly very happening, very now, and very much not electro dub.
Apologies to Blood Relatives, who I fear I only caught one song by. Danceable indie pop is probably not the epitaph they were looking for, but it’s all I’ve got.
Blinking in the sunshine, back to the main stage once again where Dreadzone are celebrating another Wickerman appearance as well as their 20th year in showbiz. They have a new single on the way featuring The Clash’s Mick Jones, rather underlining their credentials, though it’s inevitably the closing double whammy of 1995’s ‘Captain Dread’ and hit single ‘Little Britain’ that get the audience skanking.
Moving up the main stage bill, and it’s to Admiral Fallow, whose ascent over the past couple of years has been heady. Mainman Louis Abbot is still self-effacing about his cool shades (de rigeur Summerisle stage wear) but it’s clear he’s not forgotten his roots given that he’s has just come from the Solus Tent for a stint on 13th guitar at the back of Blochestra. The Hardest Working Man in Scottish Indie will later guest with Colin Macleod in the Acoustic Tent. For now, ‘Guest of the Government’ is a rousing anthem worthy of any festival.
Anyone who’s made it this far will, hopefully, appreciate the amount of work put into this review. This has been achieved by painstaking transcription of scribbled, slightly damp notes. Solareye – a Stanley Odd and Hector Bizerk mash-up – suffer from this. Like their parent groups and pretty much like all that has come before them, they are Scottish rap, a genre which by definition, shouldn’t work, and often doesn’t. Despite delivering some of the wittiest lyrics of the weekend, interspersed with some highly entertaining audience banter, all I have in my notes is “How low to Skark?”. Which may not be what was said, to be fair. However, by dint of their good-natured wordplay they are one of the hits of the weekend.
On record, Machines In Heaven are perhaps a bit ambient for a bright tent on a sunny day – more suited to a dingy indie club, though they bond with audience members via an unexpected twinning of Dennistoun and Dumfries. However, their mix of loud/quiet ambience picks up with some meatier beats.
KT Tunstall has come a long way from Fife’s East Neuk, and indeed from her TV debut on Later. However, it may be a mark of the fact she’s only recorded five albums in 10 years, as she dips into some festival-friendly covers – ‘Glenn Frey’s ‘Boys of Summer’ which she wishes she’d written herself, she tells us – and one from “The Boss”, whose intro sounds very like ‘Fiery Jack’, so it appears for one glorious moment that Mark E Smith is KT’s mentor. Sadly, it is some Brooce song or other, though she pulls things back with the crowd with some Live Aid-style audience participation, reprising that Later appearance with ‘Seven Nation Army’ as a looped kazoo sample, the basis for party piece ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree.’
Back to goNorth’s tent, where a Dutch fellow called MAASK has also got a loop pedal of some sort. However, he’s SHOUTING at us, while delivering some dentist-drill electro. A complete contrast to Woodenbox, filling the Solus tent and bringing mariachi to the masses.
Although they’re not closing the evening, Chic are probably the band that everyone is there to see. To be specific, it’s Chic with Nile Rodgers – without late co-founder Bernard Edwards, the Rogers’ reference presumably allowing the band to fill their set out with the guitarist’s production work as well as Chic’s small but perfectly-formed clutch of hits.
It almost seems that Rodgers has a small chip on his shoulder regarding a perceived overlooking of his back catalogue, but ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘We Are Family’ blend together seamlessly allowing him that.
There’s just time en route to squeeze into a packed Solus Tent where Vukovi are mightily rocking a feverent crowd, before (for us) the true headliners.
It’s another band who could be seen as living on past glories are Stiff Little Fingers, but given that they paved the way for among others Green Day they can also be forgiven for soaking up their rightful acclaim. Despite the temptation to deliver festival-unfriendly new material – something that Primal Scream on the main stage could be accused of – they restrict themselves to two new tunes. I say “new” – Jake Burns confesses that they have been somewhat slow to get their new material recorded, and given that ‘Liars Club’ references Tony Blair and George W Bush, it’s a fair point. However, despite a few grey hairs and some added girth, the likes of ‘Barbed Wire Love’, ‘Wasted Life’ and ‘At The Edge’ spark with the vigour and anger that made their name 30 years before.