Wickerman Festival - East Kirkcarswell, Fri 20-Sat 21 July 2012
Scissor Sisters, The Levellers, Newton Faulkner, Texas and more hit Scotland’s pagan festival
Wickerman. For those not already familiar with the 10-year-old music festival in hilly Dumfries, the word might conjure up images (or nightmares) of pagan rites, maniacal dancing, heady Hebridean-island-hippyism gone terribly awry, as witnessed in the same-named 1973 film. And burning men, of course.
It was much to The List’s relief then to be greeted at East Kirckcarswell by a ‘mini’ (14 foot?) Wickerman, his branch-webbed skin clad only in a skimpy pair of Union Jack boxing shorts. A Wickerman with a sense of humour - a good omen, and a great start to a festival which, amidst a month and more of dreary, dispiriting weather, stayed dry and even sunny for most of the weekend.
Friday night kicked off with raucous folkies The Levellers electrifying the site with throbbing beats and fiddles that got the crowd’s feet a-stamping and hearts-a-thumping. The strobe-happy Scissor Sisters then stormed in to own the headline spot, effervescent and crowd-pleasing at their very best, Ana Matronic alight in a resplendent emerald dress and appropriately declaring Scotland her favourite place to play.
Newton Faulkner was the one to watch on Saturday and the dread-locked hippie took to the Summerisle stage as the first main evening slot, combining surprisingly effective covers with impressive guitar work and guitar hand-drumming. The next band on stage, The View, were accurately summed up by one audience member as “a Scottish Arctic Monkeys, only a bit less good.” The bobbing, buzzing crowd seemed largely to disagree however, with a particularly strong teenage fan-base going absolutely ape at every hit. Texas followed, awakening a flood of 90s nostalgia for everyone over the age of 20 with classic old-timers including ‘Say What You Want’ and ‘In Our Lifetime’ as well as some more recent songs released since their 2005 re-grouping. Frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri was looking sharp and singing perfectly in tune in a striking red jacket; despite the intervening years since their first audio cassette release, they were definitely ‘bringing it’.
At midnight the Wickerman was set ablaze, his flame-engulfed Olympian stance putting all the torch-bearers in the world to shame. Appropriately the theme for this year’s fest was ‘Olympics’, hence the Union Jack boxers. Around the blaze fireworks erupted before an awestruck (and presumably drunk) crowd.
A DJ set from Mike Skinner rounded the Saturday night off. It was good to see the former Streets frontman back again, but almost underwhelming to hear snippets of former hits interspersed with quite an average DJ set – The List would rather have had The Streets back again. Pretty please.
Non-music highlights of this year’s festival included a couple tying the knot and going on a fairground ride to celebrate their marriage, apparently in lieu of a honeymoon; an incredible array of all-night fancy dress shops which the average reveler could scarcely resist in the heat of the moment; and a Mr. Whippy ice-cream van that appeared from nowhere at around 3am on the Sunday morning.
The crowds were sad to pack up on the Sunday after such a glorious, and relaxed festival. The wonderful thing about Wickerman - beyond the indisputable claim to fame of being ‘Scotland’s only pagan festival’ - is the entirely stress-free experience of it. It’s small-scale as far as the well-travelled festival circuit in the UK is concerned - about 10,000 people were there but it felt like half of that. And everyone feels very relaxed and happy. Which may be down to excessive intake of Irn Bru, but never mind.