There’s an upbeat mood spreading across the campsite as the warm summer sun turns up in the afternoon to bestow a powerful and much welcome heat on the countryside surrounds of the Wickerman festival.
The fecund air connects the pagan summer wishes of agrarian communities with the footloose revellers of the 21st century.
Those massed revellers have begun to multiply and occupy an ever-expanding area of land, bordered by the pines and firs heading off into the surrounding hills.
Such clement weather always hastens the communal rise to excitement and this first day, basking, jovial interaction spreads through seasoned veterans of the festival and those first-timers who are drawn to the Scottish borders to celebrate music, arts and the pagan rituals that had in times past denoted the importance of this time of year.
Such excitement spills over from the bustle of the campsite into the Ingrid Pit stage early on as the Victor Pope Band are joined onstage for their uniquely punchy offerings by a raucous fan, who manages to stay on her feet despite the combined hazards of a clasped whisky bottle and a dramatically rolling gait.
Stomping through one of their tracks she adds a hedonistic frisson to the energetic performance.
One of the joys of the open-air festival is played out in how people merge with the elements, and during this festival there is throughout a sense of nature, as the weather seems to depict mood and infer a sentient understanding of what is being performed and how it is being received.
Such correlation is immediately reiterated in the late afternoon by Dreadzone, a band who are in this instance blessed with blazing sun at the SummerIsle stage where their blend of dub, bass music, ska and a plethora of well-balanced musical productivity find the most perfect home in this climate.
Throughout the set classic tracks and elements of covers such as ‘Iron Shirt’ and ‘Under Me Sleng Ting’ are briefly intermingled with the whole band sound which Dreadzone project so well, to create a familiar and hugely popular set.
The instrumental jump-up rhythmic styles are peppered with other elements such as brand new track ‘Too Late’, featuring Mick Jones on the recorded single, which edges towards rock with a circling lead riff and sensitive echoing vocals.
The set highlights the eclecticism of the band with long dub synths and variable rhythmic patterns among the rock, electronica, reggae and other elements.
It is interesting to note throughout this performance the reflective acoustics, which are a product of the festival being located in a landscape bowl, the lip of which is created by the surrounding hills.
Crowd responses are excited and vociferous, resounding around the main stage area and bolstered by the acoustic setting.
The sizeable turnout stretching back from the stage have an expectant glee, looking to this band to act as catalyst for the subsequent proceedings, which Dreadzone manage with aplomb.
The big kick drums and resonant bass wallow in the atmospheric summer air and create a tangible atmosphere that touches everyone leading to symbiotic movement and thrall peaking with the first ‘Ahoy’ call and response I have heard in a long time.
Finishing with ‘Little Britain’ will always impose a great sense of positivity, enthusiasm and joy to a crowd and on this occasion it rounds off a perfectly timed and executed set.
In terms of programming there would always be a lull in the transition between these two styles of music and that was evident on this occasion, as Admiral Fallow have to gradually build up their own identity and draw a fresh crowd in.
The languid and ethereal flow of the set highlights some of the great positives of the band but should be understood in the context of a slow dynamic build throughout the performance.
As the set progresses people constantly filter down to the front of the and are drawn in as the band produce a bigger, broader sound pushing forward as an ensemble driven by well-balanced kick and splash moments.
The clarinet employed in the first track actually offers a synthetic tone to its sound that seems to be the desired effect and works as an interesting solo focus.
As they warm into the set the band produce a funkier, breakier set of tempos and begin to convey a feel of Americana, conjuring images of South Western bars on flat expanses, circled by the interested snouts of multiple pick-up trucks.
This is further deepened with a percussive stomp and what a crowd member defined as “a garrulous attitude”, in reference to lead singer Louis Abbott.
There is ebb and flow to this and a softer, tempered lyric, “I’m in soft focus…is there not more than this”, floats over the crowd.
The mellow sunset music continues and creates a relaxed feeling supported by the smooth multiple vocals which float with the music.
When the band build again, employing synths and repetitive melody lines, the vocals become much punchier, more direct and in that sense are a more captivating prospect entirely, with a fully relaxed delivery.
The circling instrumentation helps the sound to layer more and the crowd are much more attuned to the style, which it has taken the band a while to convey.
This is evidenced in a great crowd response in overhead clapping interludes in the music with lyrics such as “the only thing we ask…is that we’re left alone”, seemingly more empathetic than anti-social.
A change of scenery ushers in a new festival ambience, that being only found in music tents, where heat and proximity and a kind of investment in the moment come to the fore.
So, it is with excitement that I journey to the Solus tent to get involved with the bountiful offerings held within.
From the off they are direct and their staccato percussion mixes everything up.
The melodies are well developed and prominent bass lines help to situate the sound allowing the strong vocals to pierce the enclosed air and engage directly with the welcoming crowd.
There is a real sense of spontaneity with everything pulling together for this performance, individuals take stints on different instruments and everything is functioning to cater for the sound that bounds on loud and thrusting.
There seems to be a fearless enjoyment of the situation and a love of performing that spreads across the band highlighted by bass player Fraser McKirdy’s dancing, the interaction between members, drinking, cavorting and general up tempo entertainment.
This sense is heightened dramatically by a great brass section that adds further dynamism to the sound fondly supporting the drum rolls and fills and picking out the rhythm while at interval offering a real sense of pathos in the brief moments where this is desired, such as when all sections hit blues and patches of New Orleans jazz.
The harmonising is strong and well timed and the tent is filled with a sound, conveyed with the utmost enjoyment and aptitude.
Moving towards the end of the set, the energy and enthusiasm of the band are manifest in the drummer Nick Dudman’s cry of “That’s how we’re doing it, STRAIGHT FUCKING IN!”.
Upon leaving the Solus tent it is time to take in some of the evening ambience of the festival set-up, that re-energising transition from summer days to LED-lit nights and in doing so I find my way to the Starwood Beer Garden, which is a distinctive wooded enclosure expressing a life all of its own.
Hidden midst the verdant undergrowth of the festival the wooden bar and wood-chip strewn ground provide a heady dose of the organic and with a secluded small PA set-up didn’t suffer from sound bleed from the nearby stages.
All of which means that it makes for a great stop-off to enjoy the fresh descending evening air.
Talking with numerous festival-goers and performers this seemed quite a central spot to collect thoughts before cascading down the hill to the SummerIsle stage once more.
As the light dims Chic take to the stage and the man behind a plethora of distinctive disco and funk tracks throughout the decades, Nile Rodgers stands to at the front replete with blindingly white suit.
With a band of the scale and experience of Chic you know that you are in for extensive musicianship, producing sounds that will make people move, lift the emotions and offer a constant expression of music which doesn’t falter.
A classic funk/soul build up ensues immediately, to identify that yes this was a well-balanced collection of musicians highlighting mood and dynamic and letting members occupy the focal point throughout.
An understanding of show dynamics is what provides the most striking introduction.
There is no need to analyse the construction of melting-pot sound and communal music making in this form and style, with a tangential and intuitive interplay of instruments coming in and rhythmically extending out of melody and the rhythmic backbone.
Backing vocals take on a different hue in these classic tracks as they become seminal to the impact and sound of the tracks.
This is highlighted clearly on ‘I Want Your Love’, which leads to mass backing from the crowd following the powerful vocal lines.
There is sass and fluidity in abundance both onstage and off and during this track and the melodic bridge to pre-chorus to chorus identifies how wonderfully constructed some of Roger’s compositions are, with hints of minor keys and augmentation.
At this point I am inundated with opinions from the surrounding crowd who shout their own appraisal of what is happening on stage, “beyond fantastic”, “don’t forget the past” and “bands aren’t like this anymore”, the latter of which I certainly take umbrage with given a strong personal belief in the ever expanding, innovative and unifying power of music, but my theorising may be lost midst the sounds and atmosphere of a funky disco get together.
So many classic numbers make this a wholly interactive and enthralling experience for those present with the instantly recognisable and much sampled riff of ‘I’m Coming Out’ acting as a call to arms for the subsequent weighty and extended version of the track.
This riff also provides a great touching stone showing how music influenced and developed from this has always continued to be developed and will continue in the same vein.
I think it is of great credit to the band that they take the time to thoroughly explore, extend and enliven the tracks journeying through instrumentation and sound to actually address a much more contemporary form of music that shifts and cycles as is seen across various genre, regardless of delivery.
However, it is this connection, which means that music such as this will forever link and evolve, and we needn’t look back with strict and autonomous nostalgia as everything explodes forwards.
After witnessing Chic’s farewell and with ‘Good Times’ ringing in my ears I circle the collected crowd in the knowledge that most of those in the surrounds of the Wickerman would be indulging in a Chic to Primal Scream schedule and it was great to see people continuing the vibes with intermittent singing and repetition of lines from Chic mixed with anticipatory extracts from Primal Scream.
I decided it best to position myself relatively close to the action and almost accidentally manage to slip to the very front of the crowd.
I have had a long musical history with Primal Scream seeing them perform at their height and witnessing what many deemed their low points (I however took delight in some of the more inflammatory behaviour of, say, Glastonbury 2005 etc.).
As a bridge between electronica and rock music they hold a very special place and when firing on all cylinders can create magical performances that are engrossingly powerful.
I commend the philosophy of 2011 and the reconfiguring of Screamadelica as a whole set, which they performed in numerous venues and festivals, and it provides another insight into the development of the band regardless of the lessened rock imprint, which works so well at larger scale festivals.
On this occasion the duties of hoisting random audience members onto my shoulders and mopping sweat from my brow helps to identify another distinct gig with the band, even if the line-up has cycled again and there is a different impetus.
There are murmurings among some at the festival that Bobby Gillespie “didn’t really give a fuck” during the performance, but the point missing there is that he has created a particular style vocally and physically of which this may seem often to be a part.
I respond to these almost slighted declamations by suggesting that in fact this is an amicable display from Bobby compared to other examples, and that performance and presence are not necessarily about making everyone feel special but rather conveying a quite distinctive aura.
I think this was achieved in this instance and although seemingly lacking energy or empathy Gillespie has a style all his own that has been hugely influential in delivering some of this great music to the world either live or on record.
My major concern during the gig (I was energised by the great XTRMNTR tracks, which for me identify that unique musical bridge) was the fact that the crowd seem to be at its most energetic and vibrant during tracks like ‘Country Girl’ and ‘Get Your Rocks Off’.
The latter I can understand as it has created its own place in music and is familiar.
However I think to see Primal Scream as hit makers may be slightly remiss and their blander offerings tend to be in this area, this is of course a subjective appraisal.
The gig supplies the diversity and range that people may otherwise have bemoaned if they had focused solely on their latest works and structurally worked perfectly leading to the classic Screamadelica finale and spiritual moment of united clapping and repetition of the central motifs, ‘Together As One’ and ‘My Light Shines On’, which played such a role (and continue to do so in settings such as this) in distilling belief, shared experience and a united desire.
Words: Joe Leightley
Photos: Gordon Ballantyne