We were told that Wickerman Festival 2015 was the year of the Phoenix, a year of transition and change.
On arrival that change doesn’t seem apparent – the festival layout is pretty much the same as it has been in years before (aside from the installation of the new ‘Phoenix’ tent).
The bars, festivities and traders are pretty much unchanged too and even the lineup does not signal a rapid departure from years past.
So far, so familiar.
The festival organisers have had a troubled year; the passing of founder and creator Jamie Gilroy, along with health concerns over his replacement – daughter Jennie Camm – have most certainly had an impact on this years festival.
Loyal revealers were asked to wear waistcoats in respect of Jamie Gilroy – the man who, over 14 years, furthered this festival into a, annual highlight of the Scottish music scene.
To kick off Friday we begin at the Acoustic Village to see ‘3000 Trees, The Death of William Macrae’ by Andy Paterson.
It’s a one-man monologue about pro-independence campaigner William Macrae and the unlikely circumstances of his death.
The extremely talented Paterson delivers a provocative and vindictive Memento Mori, portraying Macrae as a self-loathing, sexually repressed alcoholic wallowing in regret and bitterness.
The Friday was set to move up a gear with the prospective performance by expected crowd pleasers Sugarhill Gang, unfortunately due to the recent death of a band member it was announced that they would not be appearing at this year’s festival and would be replaced by Martha Ffion.
Ffion attempts to conjure the sultry gloss of 1960s pop acts such as Nancy Sinatra and in standout track ‘No Applause’, manages to invoke impressions of Angel Olsen to it, but despite all this her short set is overshadowed by the disappointment that she is, in fact, not the Sugarhill Gang.
It’s an unlikely criticism that Ffion was probably not expecting to endure pre-festival; she does, however, manage to step up to the mark and I can’t wait to see her in a more receptive setting.
Amidst the mid-afternoon optimism of the Phoenix tent, the increasingly well-established Kathryn Joseph sits in calm preparation.
Joseph, who was victorious in this year’s SAY award for Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I Have Spilled, opens with the instantly recognisable, ethereal track ‘The Bird’.
On stage she is accompanied by percussionist Marcus MacKay, and as Joseph hovers delicately across her beautiful and expansive compositions, crowds are unconsciously drawn into the aural tranquility of the large tent, and many of these present will no doubt leave converts to the fragile and reflective tones set within.
Only yards away – but musically sequestered – White take their place in the Solus tent; there is an awful lot of hype surrounding this band at the moment – and with good reason.
Comprising three past members of Kassidy along with vocalist Leo Condie and drummer Kirstin Lynn, White have an instant style and a swagger, which could be identified, in part, as a product of maturity in the music industry.
Their image is bold, but they have a lot more to offer musically.
Three tracks into the set, ‘Future Pleasures’ really compounds the sense of dynamism and expression intrinsic to the band’s sound.
It’s a boisterous and hedonistic tune, which, when further reinforced by Anonymous acts, leaves no one in any doubt that Glasgow may have produced another band who can deliver expansive and well-crafted pop music.
Next up in the Solus tent are Glasgow duo Ubre Blanca; they benefit from White’s tent-filling exploits, but manage to immediately infuse their set with the energy required to keep the pre-formed crowd engrossed.
Comprising of Joel Stone on synth/guitar and Andy Brown on drums, Ubre Blanca serve up a balance of soundscape and rhythmic pattern, which imposes itself throughout the confines of the tent.
Loud and progressive, Ubre Blanca hold the crowd’s interest with a playful announcement heralding the fact that their second number – “will be our last tune”.
Confused and questioning my own sense of time and space I ask the sound engineer for clarification I am told that this would in fact be their last tune, however it comes in at an extensive 18 minutes.
Friday headliners The Waterboys take to the Summerisle stage and open with classic rebel-rouser ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, which seems a perfect song for Wickerman, ensconced as it is in the environs of Kirkcudbrightshire, a region holding a deeply felt and proud fishing heritage.
A strong, nippy wind further echoes the sea-faring tradition and similarly those present don’t allow a bit of weather to put a holt to after dark festivities.
They play a long set that is already 15-minutes behind schedule by the time they perform a slow tempo, and somewhat alien rendition of ‘Whole of the Moon’ to those audience members who had braved the increasing sou’wester.
After hours, comfort is found in the Acoustic Village where acts continue late into the night.
One such band is Glasgow natives Woodwife, who are a relatively new band who have respectfully worn waistcoats in honour of Jamie Gilroy, and their overall appearance speaks appropriately of pagan overtones.
They are fronted by Freya Giles who has great vocal range, and she benefits from the completeness of the sound, emboldened by perfectly measured harmonies and fluid percussive envelopment.
They finish with a pounding rendition of Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Wanna Make it Wit Chu’ – it’s a spirited end to a day in which the gathering momentum took hold of all those gathered on site.
Words/Photos: Gordon Ballantyne