Wickerman Festival 2008

United Kingdom United Kingdom | | 30 July 2008

A Day-Glo fairy screams into a mobile then runs off sobbing, tutu wafting forlornly behind her as a gaggle of other fairies have a concerned huddle about it all. Welcome to the Wickerman where everything is just a little bit different.

A wander down the hill into a little valley, above it towers a mountain, beyond that a forest and presiding over everything is the Wickerman himself, an awe inspiring behemoth silhouetted against the blazing sunshine, this year sporting a Mohican and some rather impressive thighs.

Unlike the singer of Sonic Boom Six on the Summerisle main stage, who could fit several times - Edward Woodward style - into that wicker torso alone. She is one of those tiny energetic types who would be annoying if the band weren’t putting all of their considerable energy into rock and ska, perveying a jaunty anger which proves perfect for this time of day explaining the considerable moshpit. A version of The Streets' 'Don’t Mug Yourself' is a bizarre delight as is the previously unseen concept of a ‘circle pit’. Moshing whilst going around in a circle-sort of a hardcore conga with extra facial piercing. Just what the world needed.

A wander around the stalls sees us marvel at a sign advertising a ‘donut delight’, which is (wait for it) four donuts topped with whipped cream and strawberry or chocolate sauce. Sadly no deep fried pizza is to be seen but lots of people are tucking into haggis and neeps and tatties, often washed down with a frozen margherita. Globalism in action. 

There are some spectacular cases of emerging sunburn on the nodding backs of fair heads watching Max Romeo, pensionable age superstar and innovator, who performs his malice and posture free reggae music on the main stage. There is brass, swaying bling-free women with spectacular voices, bass reverberating through the soft grass and general mellow loveliness under an endless blue sky.

This mellowness evaporates the minute The Fall take to the stage. Mark E Smith resembles an embittered terrier at the best of times and today he is resplendent in a shiny suit and high up trousers, looking akin to a snooker player from the eighties. His trademark drawl that is also a yelp is somehow magnetising as he repeats ‘the door will never be open’ about a thousand times to the accompaniment of deep thudding bass. It’s basic, elementary yet compelling-convoluted nursery rhymes, forming hypnotising chants, but it is a relief when the female singer, Elenor Smith (a female singer in The Fall has the same career span as the average Iraqi security guard but then again she is married to him which gives her a few more months) interjects with some inspired X-Ray Spex style fast staccato verses.

Over in the Rowan World Music Tent, the legendary Hacienda club has rolled into town.  A dad is trying to teach an exceedingly cross child how to rave. Child does not wish to put his hands in the air like he just doesn’t care. Father looks heartbroken. But Bez is having fun. Bez always looks like he is having fun. Rage Against The Machine is played along with The Clash and Black Grape and apart from small child, the crowd are going crazy. Shaun Ryder on later, much later, plays a more ‘experimental’ set, meaning that things are played at the wrong speed.

There’s cool and there’s cool and there’s Alabama 3. Suits, hats, impeccable tailored manners and choreography. Redneck rhythms are infused with hick techno, gospel and soul. All the best sorts of music really melded together with panache and beats. The female vocalist, Devlin Love is mesmerising and glamorous in a fifties pin up way, red lipsticked and immaculately haired with a triumphant soar of a voice that could raise the dead. Or Amy Winehouse. She moves with the elegance of someone born to be a star but does not take over the show. Instead, this is a united front where the songs rather than the personality come first.

Gary Numan does not want to be your friend. Gary Numan just wants to rock in an ‘if anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus’ way. He is surprisingly good at rocking though, seeming to have leapt out of a Nine Inch Nails video about ten years ago. He has big black boots, a weirdly youthful looking waxwork face and he is pulling all the rock stars moves whilst making big big noise. ‘Cars’, the one guaranteed crowd pleaser is sung quickly so he can get on with the real business of making industrial noise.

It’s a while before you notice the lack of any discernable tunes amongst all the industrial noise and lights and rock star moves, but he puts on such a show you don’t really feel disappointed. The important thing is he’s happy. And respect for him being happy performing possibly the most unfashionable 'unfestivally' musical genre ever and still getting to headline. 

A drift through the night to sleep, serenaded by the sound of The Red Hot Chilli Pipers playing John Farnham’s The Age Of Reason' and slight strains of sweet sweet carnage from the dance tents. I told you things were a bit different around here.

Saturday is enshrouded in mist, it feels like some enchanted kingdom as I stare in a reverie over to the distant moorland. Until I’m hit by a football. Bright happy kids run about annoying hung-over parents.

In the World Music tent are Tauntra, in which skinny boys play dub reggae rhythms and rock and it somehow collides perfectly. Mike Breem in the acoustic tent manages to sing folk music whilst sounding like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam and Sarah Gillespie on the main stage plays some gutsy bluesy songs, reminiscent of Ani Di Franco and with some interesting twists and turns along the way.

The Bootleg Lidos in the World Music tent have attracted many teenage groupies with stuff written over their limbs in pen with their happy pop rock, all charming smiles, good hair and accomplished tight tunage. What’s not to love? It’s like the polar opposite of emo and for that as well they must be commended.

In the Scooter tent,  sweaty scary looking shiny skinheads are high kicking with their arms around each other beaming, then singing ska fuelled anthems that go ‘na na na na na na na’ and calling the crowd beautiful and then beaming again. They are utterly joyous and funnily enough there are no emos around Root System either. Conversational lyrics are bandied back and forth. It’s clever buoyant and so so happy.

Hugh Cornwell over on the main stage plays a selection of classic Stranglers fare along with his new material to an appreciative crowd but The Lancashire Hotpots in the acoustic tent are where it’s at today. ‘Let’s get leathered!’ they irresponsibly cheer, raising their cans before launching into an anti-alcopops ditty. Ribald seaside humour reigns supreme, at one point manifesting itself into a conga. There's a song about chippy teas with the refrain of  ‘I don’t want Lobster thermidor in raspberry coulis, I’m a working man from Lancashire and I want a chippy tea’. There are songs about eBay, emos and chavs and they make me proud to be an honoury Lancastrian. Wurzels, eat your heart out.

Back to the main stage and The Cuban Brothers are bringing sexy back. Squally brass, Latino porn rhythms and jokes about paedophiles by guys in sharp suits and ridiculous wigs. Funky samples galore, fluid rapping, filthy banter. I have the words ‘double penetration’ underlined in my notebook but I am unsure as to what the context is apart from it has to be something to do with the Cuban Brothers. They’re just the sort. There is random break dancing, gyrations, saxophones, g-strings and as I walk off to the loo, what appears to be a naked orgy on stage. Damn.

The Dub Pistols are as one might expect from the name, anarchic dub dance, fists are pumped frantically as the mist lowers still further so even the Pimms bus is enshrouded in a sense of evil menace. The giant Wickerman is but a vague lumpish outline. I feel empathy with the Wickerman.

Neville Staples, ex Special, is on in the Scooter tent for seemingly an eternity as KT Tunstall caterwauls, happily  ignored by me on the main stage. Neville’s boundless energy and vigour takes ska to whole new levels. Specials classics sound as frenetic, angry and happy as they were on their conception. Crowds drift, the dance tents are coming into their own now and Annie Nightingale has showed all the young upstarts just how it is done.

Then away in the near distance, the sound of wailing sinister bagpipes. Flaming torches glow and proceed towards the true climax. And still enshrouded in vapour, the Wickerman begins to burn.

by Tamar Newton

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Photographer: Matthew Jones

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