Wickerman Festival: Dundrennan, Scotland – festival review
25-27th Aug 2013
Louder Than War makes what’s becoming it’s annual trip to the relaxed & vibezing Wickerman Festival with Joe Whyte, who concludes the reason it sells out year after year is more to do atmosphere than bands. Not that there weren’t some great bands playing mind …
Despite the forecast being rather grim, fortunately the weather held out until just before the traditional torching of the giant Wickerman, whereupon the heavens opened and remained that way until the Sunday afternoon. No matter, we’d been blessed with scorching heat up until that point so I can’t complain.
Jericho Hill were down to play late on the opening night, and that left ample room to sample some of Wickerman’s line-up which ranged from the esoteric to the legendary via the downright dull.
For the purposes of review brevity, I’ll stick to the eye-catchers and certainly Fat Goth were one which many had been keen to see. Playing in the Solus tent (a small, side venue) their ear-bleeding volume and mathematical time-changes were a welcome change from some of the fairy-haired, barefoot-acoustic-strumming-trebly-warbling darlings that seemed to be everywhere on site over the weekend. FG are Louder Than War faves after last years hotly-tipped debut album and rightly so; muscular riffing atop intricate Fugazi-style bass and drums with little excess on the bones. Short, but very sweet.
The Ramonas are an all-girl Ramones tribute that does exactly what it says on the tin: fast, furious and just a wee bit unhinged, their performance was one of the best-attended of the afternoon and without doubt one of the most entertaining. To hear little Pee Pee (Dee Dee) shriek “wanchewfreefaw” as Margy (Marky / Tommy) pulled all sorts of mad drummer faces was hugely grin-inducing and I recommend them highly.
On the main stage on Friday, second on the bill were the mighty Chic. Nile Rodgers has written and produced some of the greatest things ever committed to vinyl and this was one too short, hour long disco party and a masterclass in musicianship. Their journey through a medley of 70’s Studio 54 classics could have been seen as a trifle cabaret but actually benefited from the glitz that they brought to a warm Scottish evening. Ending with Le Freak brought to a halt one of the best outdoor performances I’ve ever seen. As a side note, the hotly-tipped Hektor Bizerk were playing elsewhere at the same time, but as it was pointed out to me, my chances of ever seeing Chic play again were slim to nil.
Earlier in the day, we were treated to an outstanding performance from Dreadzone which was absolutely perfect for a peach cider-fuelled afternoons relaxation. Their new single (featuring Mick Jones and sampling “Is Vic There” if I’m not mistaken) was the closest we’ll get to a new BAD single according to frontman Tim Bran.
I caught a too brief couple of numbers from Glaswegian hip hop duo Kayce One & Toni Smoke whom I’d given a poor write-up to last year when supporting Stanley Odd. Suffice to say, I was wowed by their effortless rhyming this time around and found them hugely engaging. Some shit-hot funny lyrics in their set, too.
Our friend Steph has a great way of describing a certain type of current Scottish band. Adopt posh-boy Scots accent…. “A Morton’s roll and a square sausage while gazing winsomely at the sea….”. Stand up and be counted, boring beardos Admiral Fallow, Woodenbox and friends. Yip, the influence of dullards Frightened Rabbit looms large over the land. Bands that look like dusty geography teachers have never really been my thing but maybe I’m missing something.
Closing Friday night were SLF on the Scooter Tent stage and Primal Scream on the main stage. I plumped for the usually reliable and often brilliant Scream.
Opening a festival headlining set with your new nine-minute-long single (thankfully, a truncated version) is a brave move. Spending the next hour playing little-known album tracks and other newies is barely believable. I’ve been at five Wicker festivals and have never seen a band empty the main arena like Primal Scream did on Friday. They looked bored, jaded and going through the motions and only really got a response with Loaded, Moving On Up, Rocks et al. I personally enjoyed much of their set but they came across (particularly Gillespie) as rather arrogant and above all of this. They’d clearly decided to be the ’72 Stones Scream tonight and it didn’t particularly work. Flipping the finger at a heckler just came across as petulant and I know that PS can be so much better.
Saturday saw some great sets in particular from Slagerij who worked the punk rock energy well, the ever-excellent ska monsters Bombskare, American punks The Hostiles and an excellent Black Flag-meets-Prince Buster set from Random Hand.
The headliners in the Scooter Tent were the ever-reliable Rezillos and they did not disappoint, throwing in a few new songs that bodes well for a forthcoming album.
Honourable mentions go to the lunatic Rungs and to Pavement-meets-Dinosaur Jr stylings of Book Group.
Hotly anticipated, the return of Kevin Rowland’s Dexys polarised opinion amongst those around me. The opening segment of three songs performed musical theatre style with dialogue and kiss-off with his female foil before a bossa nova Geno had one fella commenting on “a northern soul Meatloaf show”. I found them enigmatic and just right. The singalong of Come On Eileen was a festival highlight for me and it’s a song I never particularly cared for before. Rowland is clearly bonkers but in a good way. And how many bands is drummer Dave Ruffy actually in?
The mainstage line up was completed by KT Tunstall who was as dull as dishwater, The Enemy who were everyman excellent and clearly having a great time and Amy MacDonald who did what she does and people seemed to love it. Not for me, I’m afraid.
Following the burning of the Wickerman Public Service Broadcasting took the stage. I’d been looking forward to seeing them but I’m sorry to say I’d run my course and bed / tent was the only thing I witnessed.
The festival was a sell-out and people clearly go for the good-time, relaxed vibe with the line-up being little more than an added attraction. Nothing wrong with that and long may it burn.
All words by Joe Whyte. More of Joe’s writing can be found at his author’s archive.