Friday night was spent cavorting in the Bass Camp area taking in the joys of the Skiddle.com Tent along with a hunt for total bass immersion leading us to the Reggae Tent, and final indecision as to the benefits of trying out the bungee sphere ride.
Therefore it was, and always has been at festivals, essential to recline, reenergise and allow the power of music and the special atmosphere of bands setting up to take over.
The tangible anticipation that is involved in those moments soothes what can sometimes be less than ebullient mental states.
First of all it is back to the goNorth tent for a suitably lively OK Social Club gig.
The crunchy guitar riffs and forceful bass and rhythm help to blow away the cobwebs.
There is a distinctive New York sound which may be attributed to TOSC but this is made all the more an element of the band’s sound rather than the defining characteristic by the exposure of accent at interval and the powerful direct vocals.
The Scottish accent serves to heighten a loose demeanour and comfortable delivery.
The vocals throughout are pushed out well without erring on the side of scratchy and that attests to the strength behind them, there are good boundaries and the vocal sound doesn’t represent notable gaps, helped with delay and reverb at times.
New track ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ is an ode to rock excess and is brought in with well-managed tempo shifts.
Lyrics such as “what did I do last night? How did I get here? We’re wasting away” are sung with a sense of heartfelt truth and sit well at this time in this heated environment.
Also the gig manages to provide my first sighting of the obligatory festival horse mask, nodding away at the feet of the band.
Wandering around on the Saturday sees us engage with all manner of festival-goers from young to old, helped immensely by the demonic outfit sported by one of our cohorts.
Festooned with punk tartan and home-made Minotaur horns he attracts notable attention and intrigue from everyone.
To my amazement young children are not running from this diabolic apparition but rather keen to jump on him and touch his wicker horns.
I imagine the connection to the later burning of such wicker beasts suggests an affinity with the soul of the festival.
With this in mind we walk up to the Wickerman structure itself for the first time and find more groups of children who are after photos, and Segway practice areas which don’t seem to allow adults to participate.
The most striking scene is a group of ten men and women kitted out in latex S&M gear, of all shapes and sizes casually posing for photos and resting beer on ample stomachs.
Being moments from the Scooter tent I head off to catch The Ramonas, an all-female Ramones tribute act.
It’s always good to have diversity and to get into the capacious interior of large festival tents, looking up I always wonder as to the scale of the rigging and the great atmosphere that always seems to develop in these unique spaces.
The Ramonas bash out classic Ramones tracks one after the other, as is the only way to emulate the great New York icons.
The band doesn’t quite seem scruffy enough, and the vocals not quite whisky and smoke addled, but that is apt given the toddlers on shoulders dancing to ‘Psycho Therapy’ and ‘Beat the Brat’.
The set is completed with ‘Jackie Is A Punk’ and the standard “Hey-Ho let’s go” outro, to which I can only think back to the original with some delight.
Downscaling in tent size I catch Fake Major countering some of the more rambunctious acts with a mellow, ethereal style that communicates well in the Solus tent.
Harmonising is again good, which is a trait of the genre, and a switch to a steely acoustic sound really elevates the last songs and is particularly beneficial as the band reach a strong crescendo before leading out on a held solo vocal.
There is a strong Glasgow contingent for this performance and for many of the performers in the Solus and goNorth tent, following some of the burgeoning acts from the city.
I stick around in the Solus for a suitable fillip of heavier rock.
The satisfying crash of metal sounds the call of Fat Goth, an invigorating three piece who blast it out.
The drummer’s gritted teeth throughout the performance identify the essential energy in the rhythm section with a harder style and there is a good understanding.
The clean well-timed hammer ons and pull offs are another essential element in this genre and are delineated very well by the lead guitarist/main vocalist.
It is also good to feel a sense of ominous foreboding in the darker tracks and the vocal style incorporates the roar and bellow of metal.
This is a fast, frenetic and forceful outpouring and sends me out with a skip in my step, which carries me down the hill back to the SummerIsle stage.
A big crowd have collected for Dexys (Dexy’s Midnight Runners) and as the piano and organ sounds are tested those old enough begin to remember the unique eighties tone.
On taking to the stage the band pose statuesque for minutes as the backing music softly introduces the scene to the audience.
This identifies that the set will be following Kevin Rowland’s solo style and leading more into the musical and duet works that he had developed in recent years.
As an initial introduction it is specifically stylised and by dint of this somewhat soporific in a musical sense, but the performance element in the duets and the rolling flow of the winding backing music infer a stage or musical offering and it is this style that actually creates a coherent link throughout the performance, with extended songs and some softened edges, different in tone to the rougher spitting brass of the earlier recordings.
‘Gino’ is delivered in this style as is ‘Come On Eileen’ and both are developed to provide audience interaction and a good full band performance.
The great riffs and rebel rousing vocal of ‘Come On Eileen’ still depict a painful yet hopeful song and it is easy to understand how it has stood the test of time, added to this the trembling vocals of Rowland, still hitting the high notes, and the communicative nature of all the supporting vocals make this a strong moment, one which is reconfigured instrumentally throughout the rest of the performance and certainly adds a comfortable humour to the subsequent onstage interaction, with Rowland’s cries of “y’areet big man” being met with suitable appreciation.
The striking brass lines and potent beats are mellowed and hence the whole performance is less energetic but it is well thought out and held together stylistically through this new coherent sound.
Circling back to the Solus tent it’s time to retune with those at the other end of their musical journey and Vigo Thieves are certainly starting out with a flourish on this display.
A very loyal and hugely enthusiastic crowd fill the tent and the catchy synth-tinged pop suggests why they have built a young and enraptured audience.
There is a real focus on audience interaction, control and communication with the lead singer having great skill in this department, aided in one instance by getting a crowd member to play sax due to the absence of their saxophone player, it is important to note however that this crowd member is not let near a microphone, with providing the physical presence of a saxophone player seeming to be his main duty.
The band and particularly the lead singer are able to unify the crowd, get among them and perform well at the same time.
A certain confident swagger helps to put the crowd at ease and inspires increased vocal support, with chants of “VIGO! VIGO! VIGO!” proliferating between songs.
‘Forever’ is blasted out with suitably anthemic ambition and the whole sound is a very accessible proposition.
There is a real positivity to the message and music of Vigo Thieves and such a sound and style will see them playing increasingly bigger festivals, tents and stages.
To round things off musically the Solus tent is the place to be and headlining the tent is the most innovative act to perform there, Roman Nose.
Merging bass music, electro, house, hip-hop and driving percussion the Glasgow act seem to offer a very contemporary sound.
The visual show in combination with the music is truly striking with the drummer hidden in a triangular cage upon which the crowd can see the changing visual projections on the fabric walls of the cage along with the drummer locked within.
With faces covered in distinctive masks the band highlight a keen eye for aesthetics as well a keen ear for heavy rampant beats and sounds.
High energy expression from the start draws crowds in from a wide circle of the surrounding area and at first they give time for the spoken word in electronic tracks to have the prominence it requires, building and building behind this rather than bludgeoning immediately with synths.
The intensity of the Roman Nose sound is compelling and this is shown by the immediate dancing taken up by everyone who enters the tent.
There is a competent understanding of the bridge between drum-led tunes and out and out electronica and this creates a balance, which extends the energy from start to finish allowing for calm interludes that melodically offer breathing space.
Good drops, well built up and cycling into darker, dirtier sounds make the experience one that carries the highly-energised crowd, identifying some of the power of music to take over.
The ramping up of some dirty bass, which crunches and wallows, as the set progresses is a welcome addition and the big breaks have the crowd in a euphoric state.
Ending with ‘Man’s Gotta Eat’ is a real highlight, a great, unique track that stands within its influences and time and provides a perfect end to the two days of sonic expression; music, which across genre, has brought all manner of sounds to Dundrennan.
It is with contentment that I walk off into the night to bear witness to the ceremonial ritual.
The Wickerman, totemic symbol of the festival, and a nod to shared moments of paganism, burns to the ground to mark the end of another year.
Words: Joe Leightley
Photos: Gordon Ballantyne