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The Wickerman Festival 2009: Rated!


United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Gemma Fraser | 28 July 2009

Overall - 9/10

For a festival based on a film about human sacrifice, Wickerman is unbelievably friendly. Wicker-goers would rather smother you in hugs than offer you to the Gods of harvest. That said, the sunshine which blessed the event for most of the weekend when it was supposed to be torrential rain does make you wonder if there wasn't some kind of sinister deal struck with those above.

From the Pimms and champagne bars and the hog roasts and falafel vans to The Guardian stall and the poetry tent, Wickerman has a mature and laid-back feel. But with the abundance of tents catering for punk fans and ravers, the bizarre activities like racing on a penny-farthing and the burning of The Man Himself, there's no doubt this festival is open to everyone. It really is no wonder it just keeps getting bigger every year.

Getting There And Back - 8/10

Despite there being only two visible signs guiding us to the festival after entering Dumfries and Galloway - in contrast to the two dozen directing motorists to a tiny art exhibition nearby - the Wickerman is incredibly easy to find. Head for Stranraer, take the turn-off for Kirkcudbright, pass through a couple of picturesque villages and Bob's your uncle. Getting to the campsite is completely stress free, usually because you just tell the stewards where you fancy going and they give you the thumbs up. Getting off-site on Sunday morning was a bit more chaotic as a sudden downpour coupled with high winds forced everyone to pack up and flee at the same time, but traffic flowed freely once on the road. The only obstacle was dodging those who had parked up to vomit at the roadside.

The Site - 10/10


One of the biggest complaints about larger festivals is the amount of time it takes you to get from one stage to the other or from the campsite into the arena or the ridiculous toilet queues which force women into thinking a "she pee" is a good idea. But not at Wickerman. Everything is so close that you feel comfortable heading into the arena in the morning without the need to pack a suitcase for all eventualities later in the day. The stages are suitably far apart so there's no issue with sound, but close enough that you can pop from one to another without the military planning usually required to avoid missing your favourites bands. Security staff were more on the ball this year when it came to searching bags for booze, but, thankfully, they don't know all the tricks yet.

Atmosphere - 10/10


If anyone comes away from Wickerman without having made friends with at least a dozen randoms, then they've spent far too much time nursing a hangover in their tent. From people falling over themselves to offer you the foot pump you desperately need to blow up your airbed, to folk offering to help others cart their camping essentials - aka a wheelbarrow full of alcohol - from car to campsite, the Wickerman is a complete love-in. The burning of the Wickerman followed by the fireworks on the Saturday night is a spine-tingling event, with the anticipation leading to excitable chattering and drink-sharing amongst strangers. From babies right through to pensioners, the festival is the perfect place for anyone wanting to let their hair down and have a bloody good time.

Uppers

Utah Saints – 9/10

What could be better than watching a giant 30ft effigy of Robert Burns  - which has taken some poor bloke months to put together - burn to the ground then half-running, half-dancing across to the main stage to the pounding beats of Utah Saints. Okay, so there's probably lots of things, but this moment of anticipation for the hardcore 90s revival that awaits us is not to be underestimated.

Those clever mixers kick-start their set with an eerie Celtic tune from the original 70s Wickerman film, which pounds across the night as the sculpture burns slowly but regally in the background. But these boys are not stuck in the 90s by any means, mixing in top tunes like ‘Mr Brightside’ and ‘Bonkers’ to capture the hearts of the younger generations. After two days of anticipation, the unmistakable beats of’ Something Good’ are finally released, sending glow sticks and wellie boots flying left, right and centre.

Idlewild – 8/10
OK, so Roddy Woomble looks like a tramp and the band could learn to crack a smile every once in a while, but none of that matters when the sweet vocals and unmistakable plinking riffs of Idlewild hit your eardrums. They offer a much-need injection of indie to the festival, offering an open invite to go crazy and bounce around to classics like ‘Little Discourage’ and the penetrating ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’. Yup, that's woken us up.

The Amphetameanies – 8/10
Thank God for the downpour. Otherwise, the dozens of people who flocked to the Scooter Tent to shelter from the rain would not have witnessed one of the most energetic and ridiculously happy bands of the weekend. Apparently in a competition to see who can crowd the most people onto a stage, the loveable Scots bound their way through songs about important topics like whisky, while start-stop dancing to their refreshing ska melodies, dressed in bumble bee yellow and black attire. After finally tracking down a saxophone so they can cram yet another band member on stage, the madness - or Madness - of The Amphetameanies banishes the gloom of the rain and brings out the sunshine.

Pearl and the Puppets – 7/10

A cancellation on the main stage gives Pearl and the Puppets their second performance of the weekend, this time getting their message out to hundreds of potential new fans, as well as the half-asleep baskers and kids with funny masks on. With her calming and angelic voice, and chilled yet commanding acoustics, this is exactly what the doctor order to quench the alcohol-fuelled thirst of the crowd. Like a refreshing bottle of Lucozade when you're mouth is so dry you can't even speak, Pearl and her Puppets offer an injection of understated energy that leaves us gasping for more.

Billy Bragg – 7/10
It's not possible to imagine a better choice for the Wickerman Festival than the man himself, Billy Bragg. Attracting a hard core of fans branded in t-shirts with his name emblazoned across the front from some political protest concert in 1985, he's a perfect representation of everything the Wickerman stands for. What he lacks in visual prowess - there's only so much one man and his guitar can do to inspire - he more than makes up for in charisma and jolly-good-bloke-ability. With a drop the debt hand jive which makes every follower look both ridiculous and cool, a few obligatory digs at the Government and a set which interweaves the comical and the serious, Bragg unites the young and old with the sense of silent and inexplicable camaraderie that only he can muster.

Downers

It's the year of the comeback kids, but as it's very clear to see, The Human League are far from kids any more. These guys have the potential to be the highlight of the festival, but sadly fail to deliver on all fronts. Someone should have told them that spreading the hits throughout the set is key to keeping a nostalgia-thirsty crowd on board, and that a bit of movement also goes a long way to looking like you're having fun. If we'd have wanted to see a bunch of middle-aged has-beens dressed up to the nines, thinking they're better than they are, we would have gone to Saturday night karaoke at the local pub.

Phil Kay cancelling his Saturday afternoon slot. The woman who bagged his vacant slot hadn't a clue what had hit her when dozens of comedy-hungry zombies descended on the usually empty poetry tent.

Random Events
The Wickerman is all about random events - crazy festival golf, fire-walking, bike racing and silent disco dancing to name but a few - but the event to get the biggest collective "awwwww" of the weekend was the Wickerman wedding. With a handful of guests gathered around the 30ft sculpture to celebrate the nuptials of the happy couple, the bride arrived by scooter clad in a modest white dress and wellies. Unlike a grand white wedding sponsored by Mastercard, this moment truly is priceless.

By Gemma Fraser

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