Frank Finlayson reviews BFest 2012 held at the Riverside, Wick.

BFest takes place in Wick. Wick’s name, for those that don’t know, comes from the Norse word vik meaning bay. Also, Wick Airport has 3 runways, but one is disused. These interesting facts are courtesy of Team Kapowski, who we will hear more about later. The festival site is a flat, grassy site on the north side of the River Wick, within a two minute walk of the High Street. As such the festival is predominantly aimed at locals, as it does not have camping facilities. The festival is in third year, but this year for the first time, it had been extended to take in the Friday night.

Friday night was a single stage affair with an assortment of local acts who played to a smaller crowd than there would be on the Saturday, the exception being the headline act, The LaFontaines. Early slots found that there was a reluctance for festival goers to get close to the stage, a theme which continued throughout the weekend. In fact, The Outlanders and Friday Night Lights played to a fairly quiet arena. The beer tent appeared to be a bit of a draw but Jamie Reid brought a few more forward, and a pumped up Always the Sixth edged a few more in the main stage direction. Next up were local singer and, I’m led to believe, painter and decorator, Sid Davidson and his band, as local support in the arena grew, but always a safe distance from the stage. By the time we had reached Sheppy on the bill, a decent crowd had grown to hear his crowd pleasing set.

The above mentioned displayed the range of acts plying their trade in Caithness, but the next act really caught my ear, The Maginot Band. As darkness fell, they lit the stage. They produce a quite magnificent, almost euphoric sound. This is a band that should go places. They are destined for greater things. Next time they play in Inverness it will be worth catching them, as it may prove more difficult in the future.

Finally, a group had filled the void in front of the stage, for the arrival of The LaFontaines. They did not disappoint, with those at barrier letting it be known who their headliner was. Kerr Okan bounced his way through the band’s rock infused hip-hop set. Worthy headliners on the Friday night, just unfortunate that not enough of the Saturday crowd turned up to see them. Those that did witness the LaFontaines had something to talk about in the curfewless pubs of Wick afterwards, or, if not, at least in one of the numerous takeaways in the town centre.

Saturday dawned with the prospect of three stages on the site. The main stage, the Go North tent, and Inverness Gigs’ first festival stage, a SingnSign tent. The Go North tent, was a left turn on entering the site, and unfortunately the main stage, and more importantly to many the bar were a right turn. Go North had acts of quality, starting with Make Sparks who opened the stage with their catchy indie rock, which stood above earlier such offerings on the main stage. When vocalist Craig Parker asked the crowd what was Wick famous for other than being miles from nowhere and BFest, he was quite taken aback by the response, though a second shout clarified that it was Old Pulteney, and not old pussy!

With acts appearing at quarter to the hour, next up was the bluesy rock sound of Naked Red. Classical, west US influenced rock combining the vocal talents of Andy Forbes and the guitar of maestro Tony Baxter to great effect. Following on, and in front of the biggest crowd in the tent, were local lads Oskar Empire. This 5 piece have caught the imagination of the locals and are making waves further afield.

Next was a group that always give value for money. T-E-A-M Kapowski. Not just for giving out the facts at the start of my review, or even for throwing party poppers into the crowd, but for their pure energy as they hip-hopped their way round the stage as they lost their Wick virginity. Following on from their zany antics was a more full on assault from He Slept on 57, featuring some new material, and old favourites, the trio ripped their way through a well received set.

It was my intention over the two days to see the lion’s share of each performance, with some acts getting longer than others, the next to grace the Go North tent were Them and Us, and it was very difficult to tear myself away from their slot. Them & Us are essentially electro producers,  Mark Mackenzie and Liam Macleod with today the addition of singer Emma Hay and rapper Krts, that’s Kurtis to you and me! Technically there were issues early on, but Krts, in only his second appearance on any stage, earned his corn with his off the cuff performance. With normal service resumed, the combination of Liam and Mark’s wizardry, Emma’s vocal and Krts’s freestyling made this one of the highlights of the festival. Don’t believe me? Them and Us support Riton on 1 September at the Ironworks, so find out for yourself.

Another act that got more than their quota of my time were Sienna Lights. The Graham Brown led band are sounding pretty damn tight these days, and are giving Graham’s previously solo work a rejuvenated coat, and they introduced some tasty new material too. This, in turn, took me to the early evening headliners, Iain McLaughlin and the Outsiders. Having seen Iain and co each of the last three weekends they would have been mistaken if they thought that I was stalking them! Playing to different audiences each time, previously Mad Hatters and Belladrum, the enthusiasm never dips, from either band or crowd.

While all this was going on at the Go North tent, there was activity elsewhere. At the Inverness Gigs sing and sign tent, Fatherson’s Ross Leighton played a short four song acoustic set, to a group of committed fans, who sung each word back to him. James Mackenzie also stepped up to knock out three songs, and the Invernessian was equally well received. The signing event came in the form of The Proclaimers who dealt admirably with a very patient and enthusiastic queue who wanted autographs and photos with the Reid brothers. Oh, and one of the Inverness Gigs banners was given a bit of a pasting as acts took the time to sign their names on it.

With the Go North and Inverness Gigs stages accounted for, the focus was on the main stage. Openers Bassment, who had made the long trip up from the borders were given the opportunity to entertain the early arrivals, and their rousing indie rock with somewhat rasping vocals at times, set the main stage in motion. Sinister Flynn who appeared hot foot after the openers (ten minute turnarounds!) played their punky, ska infused rock, to what should have been a party, as the crowd trickled in. It was clear from the early attendees that the general plan was to pitch your chair in a social circle and enjoy the day. Many of these little groupings were beginning to form but all some distance from the stage. Penguins Kill Polar Bears did their best to entice them closer, but most were ensconced within their circles. Those that stepped forward understood their post rock promise, while the others were happy to soak up the atmosphere.

Fire in Effect were next to unleash their indie rock, which they did with aplomb, keeping the gathering crowd entertained. ROADWAY were next to tread the boards, and their classic rock certainly hit the right note with the Wick crowd. The vocal gymnastics of Dougie Grieg livened up proceedings and the band’s full on aural assault brought a worthy response.

The crowd though, in the main, were very much settling to a picnic in the park, and the introduction of Katie Sutherland was very much to their liking. Katie, formerly Pearl of Pearl and the Puppets, has a summery vocal and this was reflected in the mellow, raise your glass of wine vibe coming from the field. Katie produces some great music, the stuff that, coupled with a summer’s day, puts a smile on your face.

James Mackenzie was in fine form as he tried to fill some of the gaps at the front. “It’s 90 degrees down there!” he cried. It may only have a brought a few forward on this promise, but he no less endeared himself to the BFest crowd with his banter. The likes of The Journey, Comfortable and forthcoming single, There’s Something I’m Not Telling You, only enhance his reputation. James made way for the Imagineers, who due to the shenanigans in the Go North tent, found me catching the tail end of their set. Craig Ferguson can’t be wrong.

Stepping up the pace was Rhythmmreel, who created a jigging mosh pit in front of the stage. Adding a couple of covers to their original material, they brought a party feel to the proceedings. Jim Kennedy did his best to make sure that was maintained.

Fatherson followed on, and though anything but disappointing, suffered a little from the dispersing of the Rhythmnreel crowd. It does appear that, other then their faithful, the word may not have spread this far north. Kazabian were a somewhat different proposition as they postured for effect, they also kicked a good few into action. Many fuelled by the beer tent may have believed they were seeing the real thing.

All that was left was the headliner, The Proclaimers. It was quite clear that there were two sections here, or three if you you include the lot that that stayed at the beer tent, and each drew their own enjoyment as the night darkened and the stage lit the night. On one hand the aficionados revelled in each song, while the general throng enjoyed the likes of Letter From America and 500 Miles, so much so that a sizeable number left before the encore. But that didn’t tell the whole story. The Proclaimers gave people what they wanted, and in that respect, most, if not all, left happy.

So BFest, in its third year had a great response from locals, and much credit should go to the organiser, Ryan Cook, for bringing a festival to Wick. It was run slickly, professionally and was a well managed site with a strong family feel. Security was never heavy handed, and always done with a smile, again in keeping with the atmosphere. The lack of camping did give it an edge towards locals. The locals do it their way though; seats down for the day, and soak up the atmosphere. Others just stay at the bar, a bit like a county agricultural show. The headliner, The Proclaimers, probably played to an older audience, but they turned out, and therein lies the potential strength of this festival. A broad base will no doubt ensure its future, and if ticket prices can be maintained then there is no reason that next year can be as successful as this year.

Have a look at our other BFest 2012 photos.

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Chartered surveyor by day, music reviewer by night, and occasionally I get to use my camera. A strange mix, but one that I enjoy.A chance meeting in the queue for Bella in 2010 led to the opportunity to write for InvernessGigs; a far cry from the days of writing for a football fanzine back in the late 80s, early 90s. My interests lie between the mainstream, the emerging and the local. Increasingly I find that we have more than enough locally to entertain us to necessitate a trip south. I’m always happy to give a listen, whatever the genre.Inverness has a plethora of talent, all of which I am more than keen to write about. If it encourages just one person to make the effort to listen to some new music I’ll be happy.You can contact Frank direct via frankieboyfin@gmail.com