Saturday at Wickerman 2015: Zyna Hel, Wells & Moffat, The Sonics
Despite taking place during the second Scottish winter in six months, Wickerman was spared the worst of the July weather on Friday. So when the rains arrive with a vengeance 24 hours later there's a noticeable mood of concern among those present. Thankfully, by the time the first bands have plugged in, the sun is out and by late afternoon it's almost warm. The variety of artists playing the second day respond in kind, seemingly amazed at this good fortune.
More than a few bands would baulk at being asked to open a cavernous tent early on a Sunday afternoon, at a time when many are still dealing with their hangovers or still not made it to bed from the night before. Glasgow fuzz-rock trio Halfrican are not one of them. There's always been an agreeable sense of nonchalance around them. Few groups can wear matching outfits on stage – in today's case, black gym shorts and granddad shirts – and not look a bit try-hard. Halfrican just look like they're having a lot of fun - and sound it, too. Down to Fuck, released on a four-way split EP earlier this year, could be their calling card. Halfrican are a band who know where their priorities lie.
Self-proclaimed disco witch Zyna Hel recently secured funding to record her debut album and is thus in confident mood when she struts on stage. The Solus tent might be a little sparse for her mid-afternoon set, but you can confidently predict those who are here could be boasting about their foresight before long. Backed by two synth players, her sound and visual style recall the glamour of Goldfrapp with the production of M83, most notably on recent download single Constellation Woman. Her sound may be more suited to a dark Berlin nightclub than a clammy Galloway tent, but it works equally well.
One-time Chemikal Underground signings Sluts of Trust returned to gigging last year following a lengthy sabbatical and are a welcome addition to the Sunday Solus line-up. The glabrous-headed John McFarlane is back on guitar and vocals, knocking out riffs that suggest what Marc Bolan would have played if he'd lived long enough to embrace math-rock. "Play the sexy one!" shouts one punter mid-way through, but in truth even their heavier tracks like Seven Seal Blues carry a certain roguish charm. It's good to have them back.
The Wickerman main stage in early evening is traditionally reserved for artists comfortably assigned 'legend' status, and has previously witnessed euphoric sets from the likes of Nile Rodgers and the Zombies. Tonight we have none other than a silver-jacketed Jimmy Cliff, 67-years-young, and perhaps Jamaica's finest songwriter short of Marley and Perry. A bongo-driven cover of Rivers of Babylon prompts the first mass-singalong, but it's Cliff's own songs that shine brightest – You Can Get it If You Really Want, The Harder They Come and a genuinely moving Many Rivers to Cross. Cliff is preaching to the converted with a greatest hits set, of course, but his vocals and energy remain undimmed.
Like Kathyrn Joseph the day before, Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells have to deal with some serious sound leakage from the main stage down the hill. Moffat deals with it in customary style, rolling his eyes and muttering a few 'fucks sakes' in between songs. Falkirk's finest lyricist is in a generally upbeat mood, however, and he should be – his second album with fellow Bairn Wells has proved equally as strong as the pair's SAY Award-winning debut. This Dark Desire is as brooding as anything Arab Strap produced, and we're treated to a reworked version of Glasgow Jubilee, which is a strong claim for their signature song. It's a short but satisfying set.
It's a full seven years since The Sonics reunited – not for the first time, it should be remembered – and interest in the seminal garage rock band from Washington state continues to grow at an unlikely rate. The two excellent studio albums (Here are the Sonics and Boom) that cemented their reputation were almost entirely ignored in the UK upon release in 1965 and 1966. Unlike contemporaries the Kingsmen, they had no smash-hit single to carry their reputation. But what the Sonics did have was an energy and full-throttle attitude that predicted the punk rock scene that exploded a decade after the original line-up had split.
Looking at them on stage tonight, its difficult to imagine them ever raising eyebrows or being considered remotely dangerous. They resemble a Midwestern roadhouse band booked to play a granddaughter's wedding. Set opener Cinderella sounds okay, and a brace of new songs prove they've not lost the ability to cause an exciting fuss with three chords, but it lacks the excitement fans would normally associate with the Sonics. It's a relief when they step up a gear with a blistering performance of Boss Hoss – still a candidate for the best song on car ownership ever written – and by the time they bring out Have Love, Will Travel they've easily won over the crowd.