Wickerman 2012: Friday
In a year when other music festivals have fallen by the wayside, killed off by a mixture of public apathy, a diminishing roster of artists deemed to be headline worthy, and the infrastructure demands of a certain London sporting gala, it's to Wickerman's credit that not only has it survived, it is positively thriving. The appeal is no mystery; with views of the Galloway Highlands and the Solway Firth, the compact site is a pleasant environment to spend a weekend, unlike other festival arenas which can feel like army internment camps for the under-30s.
Wickerman is also well-known for encouraging families to attend, which doesn't result in a no-fun puritanical atmosphere, instead promoting a more respectful and consensual nature amongst gig-goers. In other words, the punters still consume plenty of booze, but there's no chants of "here we fucking go" or drunkards wazzing on your wellies. The music on offer also helps. Whilst the main stage mainly serves up a cosy variety of 90s nostalgia acts, the Solus and Go North tents offer a cutting-edge line-up of the best new bands that few other Scottish festivals can match.
Jake Bugg draws a decent crowd to his mid-afternoon main stage slot on Friday, thanks in part to the considerable hype he has been attracting of late. The 19-year-old singer looks like he might struggle to get served in most pubs, but his songs hint at a maturity beyond his years. His percussive acoustic guitar playing and drawled delivery brings to mind Lee Mavers, but unlike the La's songsmith, Bugg chooses to be backed only by a bass player and drummer, meaning his performance is too often lost in the wind.
Miniature Dinosaurs can come across as unnervingly up-beat to the uninitiated. The Stirling four-piece are all about fast-paced, good time pop hooks and enthusiastic yelping backing vocals. You can tell they've been doing this for a while, their sound is tighter than an overstretched jam jar lid, and they appear on familiar terms with many of those in the front few rows. Latest single Lemonade is as fizzy as you would expect. Even the sudden appearance of an urban dance troupe in the crowd goes down well, rather than sending punters fleeing. The band's fun vibe is obviously infectious.
Standing at the opposite end of the musical universe are Holy Mountain. Power trio doesn't adequately describe this lot - their apocalypse-inducing sound is heavier than a iron-hulled gunship and every bit as powerful. No strangers to regular readers of this magazine, the doomn'roll band smash their way through a 30 minute set that's just too short to do their considerable skills justice. "It's too hot in here.. So taps aff?" suggests axe-wielder-in-chief Andy McGlone. Of course his tap was aff well before the amps had a chance to prepare themselves what is a brilliantly riff-heavy set.
It's hard to square the band of 30-somethings on stage with the excitable indie pop that's being fed to an eager, if rather sparse, main stage crowd. No band can be expected to fight the passage of time, but you always felt Glasgow's Bis would somehow forever remain 18, kept young by regular performances of Kandy Pop and Eurodisco. But receding hairlines matter little, Sci-fi Steven and his band are still just as enjoyable live this afternoon as they were in their 90s heyday. The band are still clearly loving every minute of their latest reunion - it's smiles around, both onstage and off.
Over at the Go North tent, Olympic Swimmers struggle to win over an apathetic early evening crowd with their slow burning, pastoral sound. It's a shame, there's much to treasure about the quintet - especially the voice of Susie Liddell. But each song is met with disinterest, which has an understandably demoralising effect on the band. Even when the pace picks up, it's not enough to save what is a set that would have been far better suited to a late evening slot at the Acoustic Village.
The Birthday Suit initially suffer from similar problems in the Solus tent, but manage to salvage the situation by winning the crowd onside. A new project led by long serving Idlewild guitarist Rod Jones, the Edinburgh alt-rockers initially fail to move the decent number that have turned out to watch them. Heavier than you might expect, their set is turned by some great moments, including Do You Ever? "Thanks for choosing to see us instead of Cast," says Jones. It's a decision you suspect most people didn't agonise over.
When United Fruit begin their headlining set in the Solus Tent there's only half a dozen people present. But the crowd quickly grows, and by the time the Glasgow band are three songs in, the tent is near capacity. "We last played here two years ago, it's so nice to be back," says Iskandar Stewart. "I think we're actually camped in the same spot. It's like dogs to piss." UF already enjoy a reputation as a formidable live act, but even by their high standards, tonight's set is something extraordinary. Their energy never drops, and the intensity of songs like Go Away, Don't Leave Me Alone keeps the crowd gripped. It's a set that the band have clearly been looking forward to. Stewart sums it up: "This is the best festival we've ever done."
Late night headliners in the Scooter Tent, The Blockheads seem as every bit out of place tonight as you imagine they must have to the punk audiences they first played to 35 years ago. A gang of blokes all the wrong side of 50, decked out in Teddy boy jackets and silk scarves, they certainly cut a dash compared to the jeans n' wellies being sported by those in the crowd. Even without the presence of Ian Dury, their much-missed frontman and spiritual guide, The Blockheads are still a classy live outfit and their set goes down a storm. Their pub-blues boogie sound would have been mocked even in the late 70s, let alone now, if it wasn't for the genius wordplay of Drury that accompanies it, performed tonight by Derek Hussey. Sex And Drugs And Rock N' Roll, What A Waste, and the ubiquitous Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick - these have become more than songs, they are snapshots of a London scene that's still widely celebrated now. Most importantly, the Blockheads are great fun. Which is exactly what Wickerman is all about.
• Click here for our extended gallery of images from the event, courtesy of Sol Nicol.