Wickerman 2012: Saturday
Given the sodden, grey-skied summer that Scotland has endured this year, it seems almost a miracle that the second day of Wickerman begins exactly as the first: with the sun shining and no rain in sight.
In the Solus tent, the warm, friendly vibe of the festival is perfectly suited for an afternoon set from Julia & the Doogans. “If I was camping, I’d still be asleep now,” says Julia, thanking those who have taken the time to see her. “I thought there would only be one of you down the front”. Charming, witty and with a unique, honeyed voice, she is a captivating performer. Opening number ‘Diamonds’ is a perfect capture of delicate melody and husky vocal. The Hidden Lane Choir accompany her for three songs, and their backing gives the set an extra dimension. This is a strong performance from an obviously talented songwriter.
A member of the audience recognising you from your day job is a common occurrence for many musicians. But being outed as a maths teacher by one of your pupils would be enough to throw some performers. There Will Be Fireworks simply laugh it off, and get down to the serious business of premiering much of their long-awaited second album. “This is a new one called Too Soon, which we will release....eventually,” reassures singer Nicky McManus. Given the positive reception the new material receives, even that could be too long a wait.
Brimming with the kind of confidence that comes from having played a sold-out album launch show the week previous, Hector Bizerk’s MC Louis strides on stage with the swagger of a man who knows he’s about to deliver a huge set. This is a home crowd: no other band has brought this many obvious fans to the Solus. Many own t-shirts, others even have flags – and they all belt out the words to the urban biography of Niche II. When Louie moves his mic, the crowd bounces. He doesn’t have to ask for a cheer, they drown out the end of every song. The drums n’ rap revolution is gaining momentum at breakneck speed. This set is nothing short of a triumph. It’s impossible not to be swept along with it.
Being able to overcome niggling sound problems, in front of a festival crowd that is made up largely of folk that have never clapped eyes on you before, is an admirable talent for any band. The Machine Room don’t let it spoil their show, or let it detract from what is a quietly-confident performance from the Edinburgh outfit. Their electro balladry, and girl-boy harmonies, is a pleasing mix that’s easy to enjoy. A set free from technical hitches could well be a delight.
One of the joys of a smaller festival such as Wickerman is being able to easily divide your time between several stages, meaning you can make plenty of chance discoveries. In the fantastically-named Ingrid Pitt Word Stage, Glasgow metallers Mair are delivering a seriously heavy teatime set of riffs and finger-tap solos to a family crowd who are mostly sitting around on wooden benches. Their bassist, naturally playing a cordless instrument to allow more freedom to run around the tent, leads the headbanging. Everyone joins in, even if some do more reservedly than others.
Chris Devotion & the Expectations might have a name that conjurs images of a teenage punk act, but they play with the assurance of men who have clearly been round the live circuit more than once. ‘I Need Your Touch’ is a snarling garage rocker that could have been written by Billy Childish, but most of their half-hour Solus appearance consists of the sort of tightly-written new wave guitar pop that could grace any album by The Knack. The Expectations might be not cutting edge - but their set is sharp nonetheless.
Whatever their detractors might think of them, The View can still make a justifiable claim to be the most popular Scots guitar band currently touring. Five years have passed since their debut album, and despite each subsequent release failing to make anywhere near as big an impact, the Dundee quartet can still pack them in. Teenagers can be seen are running, some of them literally screaming, to make it to the front of the main stage in time for their evening set. It makes you wonder that if their output was anything more than standard three chord sludge, they would surely be selling out stadiums by now. Every song is played at the same speed - breakneck - and every chorus is the same shout-along bollocks. Even the oldest, and least abrasive, of their songs, like the sweet Wasted Little DJs, is tossed off with all the subtlety of a brick being thrown in your face.
It would take a hard heart not to make the comparison between the blissful electronica of Human Don’t Be Angry and the surrounding scenery, even if the latter can’t be viewed when standing in the middle of a tent. Malcolm Middleton’s latest project is something of a departure for the Falkirk native. His personal weapon of choice for this group is a Fender Strat, his chosen method five minute soundscapes of surprising complexity. Middleton, never an artist to let talking get in the way, seems comfortable in delivering what is largely an instrumental set. Densely layered, yet delicate on the ear, HDBA are a perfect choice to close the Solus tent, and complete what has been an incredibly diverse and rich line-up of music. The only thing left now is to watch the big man on the hill burn. Policemen beware.
• Click here for our extended gallery of images from the event, courtesy of Sol Nicol.