By Chris Hammond
Every year festivals come and festivals go. The best ones don’t just survive, they prosper. Now in its 11th year the Wickerman Festival can safely say that it has cemented itself as one of Scotland’s premier summer music events. Since 2001 Wickerman has played host to an eclectic selection of artists including the likes of The Hoosiers, Ocean Colour Scene, Idlewild, KT Tunstall and eternal festival favourites The Proclaimers. Getting the bands together and making sure everyone who attends enjoys themselves isn’t an easy task however.
With Wickerman much of the planning and line-up booking falls to their Festival Coordinator Helen Chalmers. Starting work for the Festival in 2003, Helen has witnessed a huge change in both the scale and scope of Wickerman. “Because I’ve been working for Wickerman for so long I’ve seen year on year changes which maybe the attendees don’t always notice,” she says. “I think I see more of a change than most people. I noticed quite a few back in 2009 in particular. I remember ticket sales being strong, the weather was amazing and we got a lot of great reviews. You notice other things like people coming to the campsite earlier on the Thursday and making the most of the full weekend.“
Back in 2009 the line-up at Wickerman included Human League, The Zutons and The Magic Numbers. This year festival goers can look forward to seeing the likes of The View, The Scissor Sisters, Mike Skinner and Kassidy. Not that booking the bands is always the most straightforward part of organising a festival, as Helen explains. “We added Twin Atlantic on the Wednesday last year and we had attendees coming through to set up on the Thursday. It’s not ideal because you always want to announce your line-up weeks and months before.“
Still with a few slots to fill for this year’s event, Helen admits that booking the acts is part of an ongoing process and one which starts almost instantly after the festival finishes. “I suppose it all starts when myself and the board of directors sit down and go through the previous year’s Wickerman. We look at what we’d like to change and look at how much we’ve got to spend budget wise. But really it’s an all year round job, apart from the occasional holiday, there’s not any time off. It really is a continual thing.”
Getting the right mix of acts is important to Wickerman and Helen admits to keeping an eye on festivals in Scotland and England to see how they’re approaching the season. Her main priority is to make sure that Wickerman doesn’t end up repeating the same line-up as anyone else.
Not that watching the performances is something Helen has much time for when the event eventually kicks off. “I don’t get the chance to see too many bands,” she admits. “But we’ve had a good range of acts and are always delighted with the mix. James played last year and they’re a huge festival band. Feeder too, were incredible live. The Coral were a late booking last year and they were also fantastic I’ve liked them for years.”
One of the ways Wickerman is kept fresh year-on-year is because Helen and the team are willing to innovate and expand what’s on offer for attendees. From fancy toilets, luxury yurts and family friendly areas to gourmet food and mountain biking; Wickerman offers much more than music.
As diverse and different as her festival is, Helen also admits to taking inspiration from a couple of other Scottish music festivals. “I’m maybe a bit biased here because my other half is involved but Loopallu is completely different from anything. The fact you can get out there and enjoy the village (Ullapool) is totally unique. It’s such a small place, with about 1500 people there, it just doubles in size for the weekend. Also people think Wickerman is remote because of where it is, but getting to Ullapool is a different kettle of fish. You also have to really admire T in the Park. It started as a small event and now it’s huge, with people travelling from all over to go there. It’s pretty spectacular.”
So what does Helen think makes Wickerman such a popular and enduring festival experience? “Wickerman is a good first festival. It’s a real party but with space and freedom too. It also has a unique friendly atmosphere and families are welcome to take their children along. Then there’s also the small matter of us setting fire to a great big Wickerman on the Saturday. Musically I also fell that every taste is catered for … there’s even a dance tent open till 5am. For £90 a ticket you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.”
For more information on the Wickerman Festival check out www.thewickermanfestival.co.uk