Highlights: The Wickerman Festival 2009

Tess Askew | Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Highlights: The Wickerman Festival 2009

Once again, Dumfries and Galloway's Wickerman Festival did not fail to disappoint. The festival delivered across all fronts; entertainment, music, comedy, friendliness and above all, atmosphere.

The beautiful surroundings made this festival one of the most important and indeed enjoyable of the summer season. The campsite filled on Thursday night in preparation for Friday, when the music and entertainment officially got going. The festival's ticket sales were up this year, and this was demonstrated on Thursday night when a stream of excited punters waited in line for their wristband from a bunch of friendly staff.

Zion Train played the main stage on Friday afternoon. Reggae really matches the vibe of this festival perfectly; sunny, relaxed music, based around unity and people coming together. This collective takes on many forms, and The Wickerman was graced with the presence of a brass section, the original DJ for Zion Train, and Jono, who is a funny, charismatic host.

Next on the main stage came a passionate performance from Billy Bragg, who gave one of the most impressive and enjoyable sets of the two days. Billy stands alone on stage; just himself, a mic and a guitar. He's complimentary of the festival, its surroundings and Scotland as a nation, and carried out a massive amount of political dialogue throughout his set. He worked his way through a number of his songs, namely 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards' and 'There Is Power In A Union' whilst breaking into well-known riffs by Thin Lizzy, The Ramones and The Clash, which the crowd respond to energetically.

'A New England' was when the crowd really kicked into gear; Billy simply played guitar for most of it and let the crowd drown him out, whilst touchingly asking them to sing a verse for Kirsty MacColl. He finished on his own doctored version of The Beatles classic 'One Love' to rapturous applause.

The Solus tent played home to the finest emerging Scottish talent for the festival; Edinburgh band Meursault, for example, worked their way through a triumphant set to a packed out tent. Vocals from Neil Pennycook filled the venue at an impressive volume and played out an awe inspiring set, with songs from their debut LP, Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues, which ended up sounding even more striking in a live setting.

Later on on Friday, the Skiddle tent, which is placed in the commando-styled bass camp for the dance-heads, played host to a DJ set from Felix and Joe of Hot Chip. The tent was packed, and when they came on playing a remix of their own song 'Ready For The Floor', the full-capacity tent erupted. Next up were Friday night headliners, and 80s legends, The Human League. The band played a slick, perfected and almost clinical set of their well-known songs, including 'Love Action', 'Don't You Want Me' and 'Being Boiled'.

Saturday provided the climax of the Festival, which ended at midnight with the burning of the Wickerman.

The acoustic tent was the venue for Sweet Billy Pilgrim on Saturday; a band who has just been nominated for this year's Mercury Music Prize. The 4-piece band is by no means acoustic and gave an interesting performance to a mixed crowd. Even though they're now on their second album, there was a disjointed feeling to their set, almost as if they haven't found their music-making home yet. Their songs are all rather different, sometimes hard to follow and overall give an impression of too much texture. It was a disappointing performance from a band with such a buzz around them.

Candi Staton played the main stage to an excitable, happy crowd in the early evening on Saturday. Her band was a selection of seasoned, talented performers, and when Candi stepped on stage, albeit late, she received a lovely response from the crowd. She looked like a woman who loves life; comments were flowing towards the beautiful crowd. Her stunning and powerful voice was impressive. She worked her way through a set filled with classics, even throwing in a cover of 'Suspicious Minds' before finishing on what the crowd had been waiting for: 'Young Hearts Run Free'. The climax came with recent Florence live favourite 'You Got The Love'. As soon as her guitarist started the recognisable riff of to that track the crowd exploded, with the sun beaming directly on Staton from right in front. An outstanding festival moment.

Saturday night headliners The Zutons took to the main stage for what was probably the biggest crowd of the festival. It came just before the burning of the Wickerman. The band worked the crowd up and made sure there was a massive amount of audience participation; everyone was singing, clapping and dancing. The audience as a whole had a ball while the band played their biggest hits, including 'Pressure Point', 'Oh Stacey' and 'Always Right Behind You'.

Bad Manners were also present at the Festival, playing The Scooter Tent, which had to be closed due to the massive amount of people inside, but this didn't stop a huge crowd gathering outside to listen to their set.

By this point, the atmosphere at the festival was excited and frenzied; the burning of the Wickerman, which takes a different form each year, was about to commence. This year, he was disguised as Robert Burns, to mark the Homecoming year, standing as an impressive figure for the whole festival, just to the left of the main stage, and visible for the whole weekend. Last year, he was covered by fog, making for a rather creepy experience, but this year was completely different, and a massive firework display complemented the burning, which really has to be seen to be believed.

After this amazing spectacle, the crowd travelled the short walk back to the main stage for the last performance of the night; it came from Utah Saints. The legendary house duo lined up a magical set, which started with various songs and sound clips from the film which the festival is based around. It worked into a set full of remixes and well known tunes, which the audience lapped up. It was a fitting, excitable end to the main stage experience for the festival, whilst the dance tents played through the night and into the morning.

The Wickerman is a gem of a festival, which really deserves the massive rise in ticket sales it received this year. It is a varied, relaxed and friendly event, which you really need to experience and be part of to understand just how special it is. An experience to enjoy with friends and family alike, The Wickerman should provide the soundtrack to everyone's perfect summer.