Wickerman Festival 2014 – goNORTH, Scooter and Solus Tents
Still Burning gives his review of a wee corner of Wickerman Festival.
So, my fifth Wickerman in a row, but the timing wasn’t the most ideal for me. I was still recovering from a pretty major setback healthwise and not just that, one of my knees had also been playing up. That sounds like I’m unfit but I’m not, I can usually trapse around a festival for twelve hours with no problems but this time, for the first time ever, my movements had to be restricted. For many festivals this would be a problem but not really when it comes to Wickerman. If you discount the dance tents, and (sadly) the reggae tent, and try not to venture up and down the hill to the main stage so much you can totally entertain yourself for the duration in the `top corner` of the arena. We have the Scooter Tent (mainly punk and ska acts), the goNorth tent (a countrywide selection of up and coming and also established artists) and my favourite, the Solus Tent, where I’ve `discovered` many bands in the past. These three were all within a couple of hundred meters of each other and with food vans on one side and also a pile of tractor tyres scattered around nearby to sit on, in hindsight, if there is a festival I was going to be broken for, this was it.
We did a few circuits of the arena daily though, and enjoyed seeing all the various bars, stages (comedy and acoustic for example), it really is a spacious layout despite the 101 things going on at any given time. It’s busy, but apart from the bar areas and (obviously) in front of the stages, there’s plenty room to stroll around or indeed as we did at one point, just lie down in the sun and chill the f*ck out with an ice-cream. Sounds like the perfect medicine? Too right it was, but I was there to write about the event and take lots of (hopefully) pretty pictures of the artists in action.
Two days (discounting the Thursday night as it’s mostly a settling in evening, get your tent erected and get your bearings for the two days ahead) with over twelve hours of music each day to discover and hopefully enjoy. It was actually the first time I’d been for the Thursday, it saves the drive down on the Friday morning thus keeping you fresher for the long day of music and sunshine ahead. The beer tent was already noisy and jumping though, plenty of drink tokens must have changed hands within no time of purchasing them.
There are different ways to prepare for such a rammed programme of music. Last year, I think it was, I researched every single act beforehand (by researched I mean, listened to on YouTube where possible) and marked my timetable to catch all the ones I liked most, or seemed interesting enough to see them in action at least. But this doesn’t work for me… there’s just too much going on at any given time. And you end up zigzagging your way all over the place trying not to miss anything you’ve highlighted. This year I already knew maybe over half of the acts that were to play the Scooter, goNorth and Solus tents so restricting myself to those stages I was happy enough with the selection I had and left the others as treats to be discovered and hopefully enjoyed.
goNorth and Solus are rectangular marquees with the stage at one end and a couple of entrances at the other. They take time about for artists playing so when one act has their half hour stint in one, the next act is setting up etc in the other so it’s just a case of hopping next door to continue your audio treats. I guess these would hold maybe 500 or so folk but I need to check this. Nearby is the large, circular Scooter tent which I guess would hold around 1500 people at a time.
That’s my Wickerman 2014 scene set, but what about the music? Well I saw far too much to list here (over 40 part or full sets over the two days), and the headliners have been written about many times elsewhere already so I’ll just mention the artists that I enjoyed most over the weekend. There were two I did miss (one due to Martha Reeves on the main stage, the other due to that aforementioned ice-cream in the sun with Dark Secret) however, The Amazing Snakeheads, and Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5, who people told me many times over were two of their best acts of the weekend. Such is life, and I’m glad others enjoyed them, even if I was regrettably elsewhere at the time of their sets and during that ice-cream break I did discover the bouncy Baby Strange (on Dark Secrets recommendation I might add) so all was not lost.
I’ll start with the Scooter Tent, usually a big favourite of mine but this year I must admit it disappointed a little. I’m not sure why but there just seemed to be too many acts that didn’t stir my tea this year. Not that there were any poor bands or performances but it was only a couple that grabbed me and made me watch their set instead of wandering off for music enjoyment elsewhere. That sounds negative, and it’s not meant to be, there were plenty of people of all ages in there enjoying themselves for most of the acts from start to finish. Ach, just put it down to being over selective on the day(s) and acts performing elsewhere that I’d never seen before.
The first act that made me smile was covers band Berry Tweed and the Chasers, with their selection of sixties soul and all its variants, it really is good to see the dancers come out to entertain us on the still fresh green grass of the Scooter Tent. Tainted Love was a favourite for most. Then it was time for the intensity of Root System, the 100 mph ska band who seem to take the most fans to Wickerman with them. We also enjoyed the now customary onstage appearance of a couple of kids from the crowd. How good a story must that be when you next see your mates from school? The spunky punky Pukes were up next, fun dot com right there but sadly a lot of the audience had gone outside for a cold beer after the sweaty nonsense that was the dancing at Root System.
I’d already decided to swerve headliners The Beat (seen many times before) to be elsewhere but my, what a tonic Barney and Laila served up whilst doing their bit for Sonic Boom Six, bouncing all over the stage with smiles as wide as Delboy’s own.
So, that was the Friday, and with an eye on one particular band on the Saturday it was to be a day of clockwatching till they came on stage. I guess the older punks in attendance would have been happy to see The Members, The Lurkers and Anti-Pasti in the course of the day but for me it was all about the Cockney Rejects. Its been a while since I last saw them, apart from talking to Stinky at half-time at the last play off final that is. He’d decided to spend the entire set on his toes sparring and from start to finish deliver their street anthems which include old, new and in between songs which I’m sure pleased any Rejects fans in the audience. Highlight for me was Bubbles, a lot better than their recorded version, and with the added extra West Ham song snippets threaded through it I left that tent a happy man.
Every year goNorth select a cross section of bands and artists from all over the country and from that list have some playing at various events and festivals such as Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, where they have a dedicated stage for a couple of days and indeed, here at Wickerman. Each band gets half an hour with the headliners getting slightly more. This year we had a 0-80mph start with Felix Champion who played intensely and set the bar for other acts to follow such as the shorts wearing Halfrican, beat-tastic Our Future Glory and then slowing down again for The Moon Kids. After seeing them at Inverness recently I was pleased to catch Vladimir again.In my opinion United Fruit have improved enormously in the last few months after taking a slight change in direction, it makes for a much better set these days. Last up on the Friday night was my favourites, Broken Records, seen many times previously and still maturing and highlighting why a band never need to tweak their accents to get popularity.
Saturday was to provide a consistently interesting listen from start to finish with an eclectic range of acts playing such as Angus Munro and Ella the Bird to poptastic Teen Canteen and Schnarff Schnarff, overseas imports Pale Honey and the electronic powerhouses from Glasgow that are Roman Nose. Great entertainment as always, you really don’t need to be glued to a timetable to enjoy these tents, just pop in any time when someones playing and discover some (hopefully) new talent that you can keep an eye out for in future. If you are not too blinded by genre then goNorth will entertain you without fail.
In hindsight looking back, I think this was to be the year of Chay Woodman’s Solus Tent. I’ve spent many a happy set in here in the last few years but 2014 was the year they properly owned Wickerman, in my humble opinion of course. Catching bits of the openers, double drumming Gastric Band, Algernon Doll and (the much improved) Call to Mind took me to the indie powerhouse that is Tijuana Bibles who I’ve just found out will support Alabama Three at The Lemon Tree next month. This is how your festival sample-age snowballs, see a band you like, put ’em in your mind to check out at a venue near you. Audio marketing at its best. They aren’t my cup of tea but Neon Waltz are damned good at what they do, another band that will get bigger and better with maturity. I’ve been a fan of LAW and Young Fathers for some time now. I just love watching the theatre that is a Laurel Holt performance, and although I missed the dramatic darkness that usually accompanies her performances it was still mesmerising to watch. Like the Cockney Rejects earlier, Young Fathers were to be one of my three must see acts of Wickerman 2014. They’re dark, loud, captivating and the version of Ebony Sky with LAW just has to be recorded properly. Such a mix of musical styles in the YF game but it works for me, and by the full to capacity tent it does for everyone else here as well.
Although Friday at Solus was enough to make a tired and broken man happy, I had fatigue late on the Friday night, my knee was seriously fking sore and when myself and (a shattered) Dark Secret had dumped the cameras and went to enjoy Esperanza playing a late night set I think we could have just curled up and gone to sleep there and then. We still stayed for most of the set, just people watching through tired eyes and just enjoying all the different goings on that is a post midnight ska bands crowd at Wickerman.
After a sound sleep (once the dance tents FINALLY shut down for the night) I was all set for round two on the Saturday at Solus. Cutty’s Gym are a non vocals act I wouldn’t have the balls to kick-off a Saturday with but there you go, guitars and frantic drums and what a start it was, one of these acts I just couldn’t walk away from, not many of ’em these days. So, you’re thinking how do they keep the momentum going… with Thin Privilage that’s what. A vocalist that near strangles himself with the mic cord and a (two stringed, Seasick Steve eat your heart out) bassist that climbed the speaker stack and invaded the pit more than once. And it was still early afternoon. I really need a hobby that will chill me out. (I don’t). The busy Tuff Love got marked for future investigation as well as Deathcats and Pronto Mama with a million members. After missing the Amazing Snakeheads (“fking brilliant” I was told) due to being elsewhere that just left one more act for me at this years Solus, quite possibly the band of the weekend.
Hector Bizerk, the Scottish white man rapper with a ton of stuff going on around him and his band. It was like a carnival performance rolled into 40 minutes or whatever it was. Louie’s songs have a message but he’s a polished gem these days. We had three drummers at one point. Red Peril, artist supreme is painting away on stage and Louie struts and weaves about, the Hector masks have been handed out and the game and bouncing audience are wearing and waving them. A couple of hip hop dancers appear all whilst the beat goes on, the huge Hector flags come out and this tent takes on a world of its own, ending with Louie having his now customary crowdsurf. A performance by a band at the absolute top of their game. Performance of the festival? …of the year more like.
I was shattered. My knee was burning but yes, I was smiling at the end of it all.
And a million and one thanks to Dark Secret who made it happen and put up with my moaning all weekend. You’re the very best kid.
You can read Dark Secret’s review of The Rest of Wickerman Festival 2014 here
And you can browse our flickr gallery of images from Wickerman Festival 2014 here
Words by Still Burning.
Wickerman Festival 2014 – The Rest
Wickerman Festival Website