Wickerman Festival co-ordinator Helen Chalmers
new plans for this year, Rabbie Burns, line-up, and more
published: Tue 10th Mar 2009
The Wickerman Festival 2009to
Kirkcarswell Farm nr. Kirkcudbright, Galloway, Scotland
last updated: Fri 17th Jul 2009
With the first details of the line-up for The Wickerman Festival held near to Dundrennan in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland just announced eFestivals got the opportunity to have a chat with the festival's co-ordinator Helen Chalmers about this year's festival.
Where did the idea for Wickerman festival come from?
It came from Sid Ambrose, who is our artistic director, he works for Dumfries and Galloway Council, and worked with a youth group who had put on an event in the local area. It was just on a small scale, and they decided they wanted to do something on a larger scale for the communiity. So the idea of the festival came about.
The name the Wickerman came about because the original film was filmed on location in and around Dumfries and Galloway, amongst other places. Jamie Gilroy, the gentleman who owns the land, and is the MD of the company now, he offered to show Sid what an acre looked like because Sid wasn't sure of the sizes, it was the first time he'd done anything like this. So Jamie showed him the size, and then offered him the land at East Kirkcarswell. It was complete chance that it's held where it is, but it's an absolutely beautiful setting.
I took on the role on the 1st September 2007, as festival coordinator, before that I worked for the lady who had the contract to organise it. I've worked on the festival since 2003.
How did you get involved in festivals in the first place?
Through agricultural shows, the lady who organised it before, Audrey Fenton, used to organise the Perth Agricultural Show and I had a summer job with her from the age of 12, right through until the age of 16. Then went to work for someone else for a while, and went back to work for her for another year while I was at Uni.
Then, after I left University I had a job working in Agriculture, because I had my degree in that. Then I went to work in Woolworths for seven months, before Audrey offered me a job working for her event company, and one of her clients at the time was The Wickerman Festival. She had been brought in to take over the organisational aspects of the festival, at the time I started with her it was only the second year of the event, and I started in the office that week. I just fell into it really.
For those that haven't been how would you describe the festival?
Well, obviously, excellent. I think it's different from a lot of the bigger events, it's a great first festival, and it's a great festival to take your family to. It's friendly, there's so many different groups of people that are there, but, everybody gets on. Everybody has an excellent time, it's pretty laid back, and there's lots of kind of quirky bits and pieces going on at it. It's a festival that people hold really dear in their hearts, a lot of the bigger events people go because of the bands, a lot of people come to Wickerman for the atmosphere and because they know they are going to have a good time. It's a bit mad and a bit chaotic at times, but it's a really good event.
Have you been to other festivals other than Wickerman yourself?
I have indeed. I hadn't been to any before I started working on the festival, I'd been to gigs. My first festival experience was at T in the Park and since then we try to get to as many possible. More I suppose now because of being involved in the of the festival. You look at things slightly differently from the days when you used to go just for a laugh, or just to be part of the audience. But I c4rtainly try to get to as many places as I can, just to have a look around. It's good to see other events, and it's good to see other events prosper in Scotland.
There does seem to be an increase in festivals in Scotland over the last few years...
Definitely, I think T in the Park will always be the one that people and bands want to go to, just to experience because everybody knows about it. But there have been a lot of events appearing, and there has been some disappearing as well, and some that are coming back. I think there's certainly a lot of love for the festivals that there are in Scotland, people are very, very proud of them, and having them so close by. Because before it really was only T in the Park, and once tickets had sold out you had to travel a long distance, where as now they are much more accessible.
Moving on to this year, what new plans do you have for Wickerman?
We've had a bit if a change around this year, in that before we had two dance arenas, one of the was the Eden Zone and the other The Skiddle Dance Arena, we've merged them this year, and we've come up with 'Base Camp' which is going to be our military themed dance area, we have two tanks coming on site this year, obviously they're not for public use.
We have some bits and pieces coming up, but we have some headphone activities coming up, I can't say too much about it yet, but we're doing something different on the whole headphone disco idea. We have plans for a hoe down Wendy House which is exactly as it says. Our VIP area this year is going to be VIP House Party with a house inside a tent.
I suppose we are looking at exploring different ideas at the moment, we don't want to change it too much. We're also bringing back some of the things we've had in the past, such as the Secret Golf Society who we're going to make a bigger thing of this year. They had the nine hole golf course in the Wickerman field, and that's coming back and we're going to try and push that forward. We're also planning to have the Mountain Bikes come back as well. Because it was such a hit last year, and there's so much of the site that can be used for tracks, and all the rest of it. It's a great thing for kids, the up take on it was far beyond our expectations, lots of kids that hadn't used mountain bikes before going out and trying new skills.
We've also got workshops going on this year that people can get involved in. We've got a kite building workshop, culminating in a kite competition, weather dependent, we're hoping to fly them at 5pm on the Saturday. We've got some fire walking, we've got yoga workshops, and we've got other bits and pieces, there's still a lot to come together.
How do you come up with ideas, do you spend all year thinking about it, or is there the occasional Eureka moment?
Well we all come up with different ideas, they might sound great to begin with, but when we put them to the other members of the board, they might comment and say that's not going to work or it's financially to expensive, or just ridiculous. But most of the ideas are off the top of our heads, I suppose it's as you say it's like a Eureka moment, you're sitting there and you suddenly think of something that will be fun.
There's some ideas I suppose that everybody if they travel around different festivals and see other things going on, they think, "That will be great for us, I wish we could do something like that." But it's putting it into practice and also trying to do it in a way that makes it an original idea rather than stealing someone else's.
Have you been to the Electric Picnic before? The amount of things that you can see there, we went there last year for the first time, it's an absolutely fantastic festival, it makes you come away thinking, "Why don't we do something like that?" After going there, it was a case of trying to make much more of the site with a very limited budget.
So we've come up with some different ideas this year, and everyone's contributed, the other thing we've come up with this year is doing a 24 hours Burns-A-Thon because it's the year of 'The Homecoming', it's quite prominent. Rabbie Burns is supposedly buried in Dumfries, so we thought, Let's do something to commemorate the 350th anniversary. So Jamie, the landowner, decided he wanted to do this 24 hours Burns-A-Thon, so it will run from midnight on Friday night until midnight on the Saturday night. It's basically people from all walks of life reading Burns in different ways. It's not just going to be in one place and one person standing up at a time, reading a poem or a story, they are going to be all over the place, in strange positions and poses.
The Homecoming thing is quite intriguing to someone like me who isn't Scottish, I just wondered how much it has captured the imagination up there?
It's big, it's a big thing in Scotland. There's two sides to it, the Scottish Government have put a lot of money into it, we aren't actually a recipient of any Homecoming Scotland money or funding, but we thought it was worthwhile us celebrating it, hence the Burns-A-Thon and the kilts and camouflage theme for this year.
The whole point of it is to bring back to Scotland those people that have a link with Scotland, either Scottish people who have left and gone on elsewhere, trying to encourage them to come back for a visit this year, or people who have history or ancestry in Scotland. so they're targeting the American market, because they tend to buy into these things more.
Certainly there's a lot of things going on, a big Highland Games, lots and lots. It's aimed more at the people out with Scotland although the activities are to happen inside Scotland, it's aimed at trying to bring people to Scotland for the first time.
We're very pleased. We've got The Human League, and The Zutons as our two headline acts for this year. The Human League are the Friday night headliner, and The Zutons the Saturday night headliner, in addition to that we have Billy Bragg appearing on a Scottish festival exclusive, we have Dreadzone, Zion Train, and we've got for The Scooter tent which is punk and ska stage we've got UK Subs and Penetration booked, with still lots and lots to announce for in there. We've also got the local favourites The Dangleberries back again, and we have the comedian Phil Kay appearing in the acoustic village. At the moment that's where we are at with our announcements.
It'll be great Dreadzone have been before, and they're hugely popular, we're delighted to have them back, a bit like Alabama 3 they've played the festival a few times now, but people always ask for them back. I suppose it's the same with The Dangleberries who are a local band, and they are hugely popular. We're delighted, and quite honoured that Billy Bragg wanted to play the Wickerman this year, and all the other bands that have agreed to come along as well.
I'm led to believe we tried to get The Zutons back in 2004/5 but didn't manage to get them then, and we're delighted that they've agreed to come along this year. The Human League is one that our artistic director has been trying to add to the bill for the last couple of years. So as you can imagine, he's over the moon.
We're all really looking forward to it, and we've still got all the acts for Solus, which is the emerging talent stage to announce, we've still got all the Dance stages, the Acoustic Village line-up to announce. There's still a lot to happen.
You have UK Subs and Penetration on the Scooter Tent, will the tent be all ska and punk influenced acts?
That's the idea, yes. The idea of that tent when it came about was for ska and punk, and it's possibly lost its way a little bit in the past couple of years. But the aim for 2009 is to take it back to our roots, and have it traditionally ska and punk. We're very pleased with the way that things are coming along at the moment. That's the only two acts we've announced just now, but we have a lot of irons in the fire as they say, in terms of other acts of that ilk.
When the Wickerman first started up we had Stiff Little Fingers as our headline act, and a lot of people thought it was a ska and punk festival, rather than anything else, but it's not, that's not what it was supposed to be. We had The Damned, and Bad Manners, and all these acts, and when things went a little more mainstream people thought we were kind of losing the idea of the festival, but that's not the intention. The intention was to keep it for that market along with everyone else.
If you had anyone you wanted able to headline next year who would you go for?
I personally am a massive Radiohead fan, and I think they would be absolutely excellent for the festival. There's so many acts, I'd love to see The Divine Comedy play, and Ryan Adams, these are all my choices. There's loads, and loads of acts.
What's the wierdist thing you've ever seen at the festival?
Last year there was a man in one of those mankinis, it was quite a frightening sight, it was probably more frightening than anything else.
Probably the wierdist thing is when we burn the Wickerman at midnight. We used to get quite a high incidence of runners, people who would once the thing was set alight, would run towards the Wickerman. not quite sure what their aim was, because it's pitch black you cannot see these people, so we have quite a high security presence which some people think takes away from it. But, if we didn't we wouldn't be able to burn the Wickerman.
Yes, last year I think it was the 1st July they started they started. It takes a bit of time to do, but they are pretty quick at doing it now. It's a couple of local guys Trevor Leat and Alex Rigg. and they work on the design, it takes maybe a couple of months from start to finish. They are getting faster and doing it now, if they were doing it full time, it would probably only take them two to three weeks, but they build it on site. There's a frame there, and they just come round and work around the frame. Last year it was finished the Friday prior to the festival beginning.
interview by: Scott Williams
The Wickerman Festival 2009to
Kirkcarswell Farm nr. Kirkcudbright, Galloway, Scotland
last updated: Fri 17th Jul 2009
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