Confusion, grey skies, hired hands who know less than the punters, back-handing security and tearing down fences just to get into a campsite that's on an understaffed "Lockdown", pitching a tent in the dark, and waking up to find it's inside out... it can only be a summer music festival.
We're zipping up our waterproofs for Wickerman in Dundrennan, Scotland's alternative family event that joyfully recreates the counter culture vibe of bygone festivals, away from the commercialism of large modern corporate events. Like a smaller Glastonbury, there's an accent on eclectic music tastes and an opportunity to escape the urban sprawl and daily grind for a weekend.
Opening Friday's Summerisle stage are The Common Empire, local lads from Dumfries who earned their 45 minutes by winning the South of Scotland battle of the bands - with an emphasis on all things Indie Rock N Roll, inspired by Oasis, The View, The Libertines, it's a sound that's easy to enjoy as first rounds are ordered in at the Belhaven Best bar and the murky clouds slowly disappear. "How High" is the fan favourite that inspires the barrier-squeezing locals into action, and in the end the crowd look won. Fresh from his appearance and still visibly buzzing, I caught up with Common Empire frontman Chaz - looking every bit the rockstar in his unnecessary sunglasses - and he told me: "Now I know how Alex Turner felt after Glastonbury..."
What's most surprising as we then head across the festival site in the direction of the breakfast vans, be it veggie organic food or locally made fudge, is that the food isn't dog shit on a plate. It's all cooked fresh in front of you by people who, mercifully, don't look like they've escaped from the zoo. Donington this is not. The atmosphere's relaxed, hippies chase their excited kids - stumble into any of the many tents and marvel at the goings-on, take in a film at the cinema (projected from the back of an old red caravan), have a seat on some comfy logs or find the dance tent and get off your face on whatever's going around.
In the Solus tent, Only Joe Kane's band have arrived - unfortunately, Joe himself hasn't, so his set is cancelled. There's every chance he was denied access to the site by the hopeless security... It's left to Miss The Occupier to take up the gauntlet, the girl-fronted group sounding every bit like a downtuned Yeah Yeah Yeahs - this lassie's obviously been putting hairs on her chest with porridge, her voice as dirty rock n roll as it is gorgeous.
Over the hill, the Festival Circus provides a bizarre alternative to the variety of music. Unicycles, lassies on stilts and boys that bend in unnerving ways, juggling, slapstick and plenty of popcorn on hand for the kids. The host's jokes are a bit mince, but it's all good fun. Chick-lead pop-rockers The Hussys pull in a crowd with their easy going tunes on Woodward, frontwoman Fili commanding all with personal lyrics which speak to the crowd - "Are you listening to me?" she purrs on one track, before flexing musical muscles on the catchy "Sister Mary Jo".
The stalls are starting to sell some irresistible merch - as well as Wickerman embroidered tops, there's an all-too-tempting luminous pink men's shirt bearing the print of Solus headliners Kazoo Funk Orchestra, and for the complete festival look punters can finish off their outfit with some kitty-ear headgear or a wizard's hat. London-Irish Psycho-Ceilidh Celtic Punk six-piece Neck, defiant and uplifting, brew up a storm with three-chord guitars and blazing fiddles - even some bongos. Celtic fans - the football type - graduate ever closer as the strains of a furious "Fields of Athenry" rumble out. The party's in full swing!
The Cider Spiders stroll on to the Scooter stage, set up their own gear and play abrasive punk with a Scots twang. A man in a Venom Spiderman suit crowdsurfs as the four topless rockers hammer out a set full of guts and all the stage presence of Iggy Pop, whose portrait hangs as tent decor.
Weans are out in full force by now - with faces painted and ice creams in hands, they run about in packs, scuttling out of children's storytelling tents, dragging their patient parents and in some cases, sleeping on the nearest shoulder as a day of festivities takes its toll. The family atmosphere is refreshing for everyone involved, and it culminates tonight with the burning of the Wickerboy - a smaller version of the Saturday night Wickerman, burnt earlier in the evening so children can witness the ritual.
With their simple rider -a case of ale and a case of lager - kept cool in an on-stage toilet, hillbilly rockers Hayseed Dixie appear to the biggest crowd of the day - their furious banjo-pluckin' takes on classics like "Shook Me All Night Long", "War Pigs" and "Highway To Hell" prove popular with a crowd dancing arm in arm! Tongue-in-cheek between what few teeth they have left, the dungaree-kitted hoodlums air material of their own that's just as fun - "Keeping Your Poo In A Jar" is an unromantic song of lost love that raises a massive Dundrennan smile. It's left to Fun Lovin' Criminals to close Friday night's main stage proceedings. Watched by Jack Sparrow, a man in a wedding dress and Willy Wonka with his Oompah Loompahs - festival costumes are definitely becoming weirder and weirder - the boys work through a funky set that to the delight of a big swaying crowd includes "The Fun Lovin' Criminal", "King of New York" and "Scooby Snacks".
Surrounded by fire breathers and jugglers, the Wickerboy is then set alight for kids whose eyelids are beginning to drop. The small scale model on flames is a spectacular sight, and in the shadow of the much bigger effigy somewhat tragic - no father should outlive his son...
So, what do Santa Claus, a surgeon, a ninja and "Big Beard" have in common? They're all members of 10-piece jam ensemble The Kazoo Funk Orchestra, the Solus tent's Friday night headliners. The band behind "Adventures
In Fuzzy Felt Land" are here for a party, and as they burst into "Did You Ever (Get That Balloon I Sent You)" with kazoos and tongues firmly in cheek, a wave of 150 balloons suddenly sweep through the audience - the ever-growing crowd of glow-stick waving nutters descend into all-out balloon warfare. There's standing room only outside the tent by the time "Little Beard" starts reading random lyrics from today's Daily Record - a spontaneous
song about the dangers of Amsterdam magic mushrooms, and the return of Turin Brakes to Scotland - and a cover of El Judagor's "Muff Diving" goes down well, no pun intended, with their new fans. A girl with rather wee hands gets up on stage for "Tiny Little Hands", the real magic of this kazoo-driven nonsense is showcased with "Baby
You've No Eyes", and a megaphone sounds the encore before we're left with a sadly empty stage - nothing this weekend is going to be nearly as fun as The Kazoo Funk Orchestra. Asked afterwards to describe in any four words how it was, bassist Boycey told me: "Orgasmic meatball sub... way". And that's that.
(Chay / editors note: while the line-up was varied right across the site, the band of the weekend was, for me, without any question, The Kazoo Funk Orchestra in The Solus Tent. If you could splice The Flaming Lips with the Polyphonic Spree within a multi-coloured balloon fight, well, quite frankly, you’d be nowhere close to how much fun it was as the grown ups became kids at the best technicolour birthday party ever. I got my Santa hat back from Grum after the gig, little bit sweaty as Solus was packed and hot, but did I care? Did I f*ck. Disco Disco Discoteque. I think I’m wearing their t-shirt right now.)
On the Woodward main stage, Uniting The Elements ply their Nightwish-wannabe rock through wind and rain, the highlight of which is "Get Your Head Around" and lead singer Dawn's half-skirt, which is like something out of The Flintstones and gives us all a good view of her arse. Heavy technical riffs, touches of melody and a human pyramid of fans - Nailbed stomp their way into the Scooter tent like a JCB with broken brakes. Metal may not be the order of the day, but the few who have elected for an early afternoon headbang find Nailbed do the job.
More rock with boobs - an encouragingly increasing trend, with a definite thumbs up from the boys - follows as sexy Lora helms Darkwater through some biting heavy rock done Glesgae-style. Electro soundscapes are thrown on top of their punk to keep us on our toes.
Full of youthful energy, Stonehaven rockers Copy Haho tell the Solus crowd "We're here for your money...and your children" before tearing into sonic rock with just a hint of Julian Casablancas in the vocals. As more and more distorted guitars ring out on a variety of stages, the Eden Zone provides a haven for dance nuts - the Vishnu Lounge cooler than a fridge, with rugs, lanterns, clouds of cigarette smoke and for no apparent reason, a Dr Who tardis; the Bhutan Tent pumping breaks and house for druggies pulling shapes to the super-fast beats; and the Dance Dome, for pure and simple unabashed dancing.
The Belhaven Best tent meanwhile has another angle covered - The Dangleberries (tee hee hee) blasting bagpipes in their sexy kilts. The army of pipe blowers excite the crowd with a barrage of Scots ditties and fast-paced fun that has early afternoon drunks fleein' roon' the makesift dance floor.
Just in case metal, punk, rock, dance, house and bagpipes weren't enough for your fussy palate, a man called Johnny has stripped to his silver thong, jumped in a gyroscope and fires the whole thing alight. As kids look on with hanging jaws, he tells the crowd to stick in at school or else face being a 39 year old that sets himself on fire for the entertainment of hippies. And with that, he douses a ring with petrol, conjures up some flames and jumps through it on his bike.
Big instrumentals boom out from Jah Wobble and his English Roots Band. The ex-Public Image Ltd bassist plies a set full of spacey guitars, trippy beats and bongos that make the ground shake, before reading aloud lines like "When the stars threw down their spears" from William Blake's poem "The Tyger". Compelling, if all sorts of odd.
Smell the sweet-smelling skunk smoke as 70s/80s 2-tone ska punk band The Beat take to The Scooter stage to wrap things up for a crowd full of Proclaimers-hating Hearts fans, ska lovers and curious drunks. More than 1500 witness a set of old cheerful material, with a cover of "Rock The Casbah" thrown in for good measure.
The Proclaimers - patriotic socialist left-wing acoustic twin rock. Love or loathe the brothers who give The Corries a run for their money in the Scottish anthem stakes, you have to admit there's no-one else like them in the world (not including their own twin). Belhaven Best frisbees and balls fly as Craig approaches the mic, smiles, and the boys cheerfully strum their way into "Letter From America". Lifted from the 20 year old album "Sunshine On Leith", the classic anthem is received with rapture and the boys have well and truly arrived. Though they air a variety of material, old and new including 2003's "Born Innocent" material and next single "Life With You", it's really
only material from "Sunshine…" that anyone cares about. "I'm On My Way", "Cap In Hand" and "Shaun" all sound brilliant tonight, and in between we wait patiently for more chorus-echoing opportunities. Then it's time for one last party – finisher "500 miles (I'm Gonna Be)" will be the lasting memory that comes to mind when we reminisce of
Wickerman 2007. 20,000 pissed Scots united in song is a bolder image than even the burning of a 30ft Wicker effigy. Brilliant, and The Proclaimers swagger off with identical chins held high.
Gee / Graeme Johnston
(pic of The Kazoo Funk Orchestra nabbed from Stuart/IsThisMusic)
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FROM SKIDDLE SNAPPER ROZ MCGARRY!