Warming sunshine during the day, cool beer and queue free clean toilets, acres of green grass, talkative strangers and a 30ft Wicker effigy of a human sacrifice brilliantly burning up the midnight ned-free skies of South West Scotland. The WickerMan wasn’t just the latest festival to cash in on the ‘alternative’ scene. 3 years old with a choice line-up over two days that gives off the Glasto vibe but without the 3 day trek to the opposite side of the arena to see someone you never liked in the first place. This truly is a Scottish festival and nobody in the world parties quite like the Scottish. I said it to a stranger. I said it three times into a mirror before I left. No hooky-handed fella appreared. Probably off trying to annoy someone in Wales then which means the loser couldn’t have got a ticket.
A hairy tit in the South Park-gayest cabaret jacket jumped on stage with the worst handlebar moustache this side of (name withheld). This was Eh? No, I said Eh? Damn, ‘EH?’ Oh fuck, you know, like the ‘?’ in ‘Therapy?’ They were, without a doubt -and let’s pause for that killer effect but it’ll build too high so your expectations might be a little, urm, dashed- the least likeliest band ever to open the Wickerman festivals main stage wearing…pink. All of them. 4 blokes. It was just oh so wrong. The singer, and only he knew his name, maybe tattoed on his forehead backwards under his fringe, I dunno because I had a perplexing drunken conversation with him the next day (I was sober) about the magic elements of carrying green and black chairs, he writhed, jumped, screamed, and told us not to kill bears. As if by magic, his friend in a bearsuit was romping around the crowd, chasing an invisible bee that’s stolen his honey, like the non-threating grizzly pooh-bear that he is. By the 3rd song, the bears clambered back onstage to do a funky ska skank teaching us that maybe we should go easy on the not-so wild wildlife after all. Eh? are freaks. And I thanked them greatly for it. Humour’s their abrasive twist from a dizzying break-yer-neck height. If you didn’t know what they’re singing about, it doesn’t matter. ‘This is El Zorro’ was a mad mad mish-mash of Spanish riffs, kick-in-the-balls-while-youre-not-looking punk, and for that extra lip-burning jalapeno topping, the crowd got to shout ‘Ole!’ on cue. Eh? won one of the the South West Sounds Battle Of The Bands competition slots to open the main stage. They deserved to win a place as well as the crowds relatively sober affections. The opener’s a hard slot; not enough people were drunk or had been drinking. Me? I was pissed the previous night and there I was 4 pints down and staring at the sun for far too long having a bloody ball. Many people were still getting up while others were busy wandering around the site. Eh? took the festival on and sorta won. But, if someone can explain to me what the mime-artist of inditerminate sex was wandering the stage for holding up a placard saying ‘Eh? Fuck Rock Eat Pasty’ oh, but then again, keep that one to yourself. They scored highly. If you’ve ever lost that bear-loving feeling, give them a call. O-bloody-le!
Slacking off from the bands for a bit, I decided to wander around the festival site. This would take me more or less many hours. It’s a small festival but there’s just so much going on. Some bands were missed, some were seen, some were looked at with a squint because the sun was, thanks to beer, in my eyes yet again. Or maybe I was after all getting some of that summer fun via the love of a good goddess, yep, that top class slinky bit of pagan skirt called Nuada. I was in a feverishly good mood, but please do remember YOU ARE AFTER ALL READING THE HIGHLIGHTS.
Smeared with a twisted mask of make-up that would’ve made the tongue of Gene Simmons blush, Alex Product was down amongst the rabble (us) telling people that ‘Bunjee jumping people die’. Not liking heights yet enjoying seeing Alex suddenly up close, I concurred, very quietly. Who else could take the metal-glitz of Kiss and the uber-singalong Abba and create a twisted-bohemoth called Antiproduct? Alex, ya see, is a true droog. His name and the film are a coincidence. Offstage, he’s Penry the mild-mannered janitor until the glamour god of metal comes out to play and then it’s a wild day-glo leather freakout, because with Antiproduct, it’s all about the glitterball glare in the eyes. This was their 2nd year at Wickerman. They’ll be back next year and as far as everyone’s considered, punters and the staff, because Antiproduct will forever be a permanent part of the front and backstage crew. Keep it in the family Alex.
The Levellers, not posh at all, but they did look remarkably healthy. It’s an acoustic gig under the guise of their alter-ego ‘Drunk in public’ which meant they sat down, playing things a little less hard, raising the mood via dusk, some classic tunes, and a pint; ergo they parked their arses and take the easy road to Hope Street. If I were any more carefree and relaxed I’d have stapled a set of windchimes onto my septum. It’s a ‘best of…’ set and I took it slow, low, and easy, recall the rainy days when seeing them meant 8 people cramped into a dodgy van on a 2 hour trip to Newcastle Riverside (RIP). Nowadays, call it Chicken-karma with fried rice and a tie-dyed t-shirt, but they’ve come to us, dog free and no strings attached.
Darkness rumbled in, the stage lit with hues of deep red. It was headliner time. Psychedelic feedback aplenty, space-rock blasted through a brain-melting fender, the pre-show orchestral boom kicked into place a true spectale which lasted over an hour for a show that became the beating centre of the entire festival. Spiritualized have never done anything small. Building slowly, layer upon layer, J Spaceman lead the battle till the layers become one gaurgantuan fuck-off orchestra of noise. Yes, one gaurgantuan fuck-off orchestra of noise. J’s looking at the floor while he did what he does. Relaxed, chaotic and harmonious. That’s what I looked for in this Spiritualized gig. ‘I think I’m in love’ never sounded so bloody pure. Ever so slightly, J Spaceman looked, check out the view from the stage, and smiled to himself. We took our leave with waves of happiness all round and continued watching it from the hill where it looked like a brightly lit playable UFO turned up to a Spinal Tap-ish 11.
The Carling Weekend can shove it. They can expect the vicious hoards of teenage tent-slashing scavengers, drugged-up wastrels (whatever their was a wastrel was, because because because because because…). Some Linkin Park fans and the usual wannabee worst kind of evil villainy this side of Gengis Khan’s barbaric hordes, that’ll be the Evanescence fans then or whover you care to hate, they’re my choice, just use your imagination and pretend your writing this review. So, while they’ll all be praying for sunshine, smaller queues, sensitivity and restraint from the scumfuck boot-boy security guards down in darkest Berkshire, Wickerman was half way through, and it was pissing it down. I had a hangover and Mother Nature keeps kept kicking me just below the ribs. Thanks to the combined effects of some crap cooking and booze, I would be mostly spending Saturday keeping dry and warm, which meant the odd trip back to the tent under a walled gazebo with the occasional foray into the arena for hot tea, a waterproof Austrian hooded army coat, and the best samba band to grace this blue and white nation.
Tauntra were the other winners of the South West Sound Battle of the Bands competition. Ska-punk, or possibly spunk. They’re good for a while, a little sticky near the end, and the climax was nowt to behold. In fairness, they played like the worlds just run out of spunk bands. I differed on that point. Fresh like the soon-to-be students that they are, Tauntra have a got a lot of work to do. They’ve got the attitude and talent and gigs at Nice’N’Sleazy which is loads more than plenty of the bands on this stage have. D Zel for starters. A fucking pub covers band. I couldn’t be cruel because I couldn’t judge it. There’s never any need for karaoke at a festival, except for Bjorn Again, obviously. I recalled seeing a band called Cherokee a few years back at a holiday complex near Ayr. Suits, Sultans of swing, you get the idea. Now they were shite. D Zel however, well, while it’s always good to hear She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult, it’s only ever good to hear She Sells Sanctuary BY The Cult. I sat, scratched my chin, scratched my arse, watched someone else do the same, and wondered why God hated me this much to make the bill so very very wrong. To have Tauntra kicking off the music with guts and flair and then this shower of brown spreadable material that’s not Nutella after them, it’s been just beyond me. It was a struggle. Shit sandwich anyone? So I bugger off for a smoothie and don’t come back until Kantaro, a Chilean pan-pipe pppfffftttttfpffftttt wooden-spit flying bad-bongo of a band who made me run for cover anywhere less terrible than on front of them. My tent mainly. ‘I hope you get splinters’ was my only comment at the time. Bit harsh, but, if you like panpipe sorta stuff, fine, at a festival in the afternoon, people just stood and stared like the confused sheep that they were. This wasn’t the Andes dude and there was fuck all up my sleevies worth talking about.
However, before the Bonzo-dog windpipe ppffpffffttttt saliva experience fiasco band, I had stuck around the Pixie Picture film tent where Shrek 2 was gonna playing later on in the day. 2pm, it was a date with density (not destiny), soul, depth, rhythm and shake-yer-bootyness. Wearing more orange than a tangerine eating protestant march at Rangers FC, South West Samba had hit the cold spot running with the drumming of many many latin beats to warm the heart. They stood in t-shirts, bashed away at their skins, people of all ages, all sexes as well (well, 2 I suppose), and they had my respect and ears within a few seconds. I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d just seen the surprise hit of the festival.
Thwawed out and back in the mood for some noise, the band I’d been most looking forward to all weekend were Aereogramme. They came on politely, said hello, took a few seconds to check each other out and then with very deep breaths, proceeded to shred our fucking ears with post-modern/rpost-rock whatever/fill-in-the-blank-word-here. ‘Indicretion#243’. Unbelievable. If you want a wanky journ term, try ‘darkness or light’? ‘Angular?’ ‘Genre-bending?’ If you like. ‘Older’ blows away any remains of any doubts that Aereogramme were a poor support band to anyone on the weekend’s bill. We’re thanked for standing in the rain between songs. (You’re welcome) The band are introduced and the Charlie Brown-shirted Campbell Mcneil, who, after talking into the mic for 30 seconds about the successful points of being in Aereogramme, soon had several hundred people, maybe thousands, shouting his name. The gig is declared a success by the band, naturally, and Craig B christens it as the true birthplace for ‘The Campbell McNeil Appreciation Society’. Aereogramme are a band that I love greatly, but you decide if he’s the messiah. He’s got the hair, the bass, and a hairy scary face that would make people turn to religion. All hail Aereogramme. High-preists of heartache, lust, venom, and yeah, just gotta love those beards. If it’s good enough for Undergroove Records, I’m more than sold.
Headliners the Buzzcocks do what they do. It says so on their tin. They’re a great band, they march on, although, when all is said and done, I neither wanted to jump around or leave. I stood, watched, nodded my head a little, went for a cheese&onion pasty, hummed a few lines, ’what do I get?’ And that was it. I could’ve gone for a slash but I was hungry. I came back and found that nothing had changed. An old-skool punk band still living off their hits but also still releasing new Cd’s, bit like the Stones then. The Buzzcocks have always been touched by greatness, but sometimes, it takes more than a divided opinon on legendary status to make me a believer. Twice. It’s 4 old men playing the songs of yesteryear that we’ve all heard a million times. They’re a good headliner, just not the best headliner. Still, they’re not the Damned and for that we’re grateful. The burning of the WickerMan’s coming and the punks loved the Buzzcocks. I decide to bugger off for that slash after all. Hey hey Rock’n’Roll. Live the life and take a piss-break when it gets to the dull moments. And no, my cock wasn’t buzzing either. We then watch the big fella burn and ‘mesmerising’ wouldn’t do it justice.
Here’s the deal. The Wickerman is the perfect festival. It’s friendly, there’s families, it’s a good time sealed within a fantastic, no, a fantastically beautiful area of Scotland. The organisation is simply outstanding. The campsite’s secure, safe, and there’s very little crime. Its biggest downfall however, was the two main stages. The dance tents boomed. As they would. The acoustic tent, chill-out, Scooter tent etc, they all did the business. But why were their bands on the main stages like D Zel who were nothing more than a piss-poor pub covers band? Zachariah Toadstool, Recc, Kantaro and a few more. If I was distracted away from the main stages, I wanted it to be because there’s something else on, like the excellent South West Samba troupe, and not because there’s a local bloke killing me not-so softly with hair-metal covers. Alternative festival or not, the choice wasn’t perfect. I’ll be back next year, regardless, because it’s that kinda festival. It’s a grower. It’s all about the vibe and no band is bigger than the festival. I’ll say it again, this is a grower. Next year is gonna be better. Get yourself there and buy me a pint. See you down the photopit.