A review of BFest 2013, Wick on Saturday the 17th of August.

Honestly, our  first thoughts of the site at BFest 2013, were ones of anxiety; somebody had quite clearly forgotten to build the mainstage. However, in reality,as with many of the festivals in Scotland this year a downsizing of the site had occurred. The mainstage in particular had morphed into a much smaller proposition than the stages of 2012 and 2011. Of course the benefits were almost immediately evident, creating more intimate surroundings that encouraged people to get closer to the mainstage.

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Praise must go to the festival gods (and organiser Ryan Cook’s faith), with the horrible mix of rain and wind blighting last minute preparations, the sun began to shine as the music began to play,perhaps predictably, to Furry Vengeance sound checking to ‘Little Ray of Sunshine’.

Wearing complementary tops the five piece band champion “cheesy indie pop” from ‘Call My Name’ to ‘I Can’t See’. The banter was flowing with lead singer Barry McKay sharing stories with the crowd including one involving his adventures which saw him being chased by a horse. By all accounts, the band’s performance was the perfect prelude to the afternoon’s events.

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Jamie Reid has built up a reputation for his solo acoustic performances, with more than a touch of sincere vulnerability, however on entering the tent we were faced by a different proposition all together in the debut of his new band Wasted Sidelines. There is a strong punk feel to the band that perhaps is not communicated well in their live performance, but more than certainly in their sound. The band are recording their first EP in Wales at the end of the year and certainly join the ranks of North bands with plenty of potential.

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Next on the go were The Oxides who have been wowing audiences with their incendiary sets, most notably their recent outing at Belladrum on the Seedlings Stage. Somehow the spark just wasn’t quite there today, or maybe we have just been spoilt recently. Sure, the songs were delivered to a small but appreciative front of stage audience, but the electric performance was just a little under par.

Early vocals from Archie just didn’t hit the note in ‘In Control’ but to his credit he backed off and helped deliver the driving bass. Maybe some of the energy was left behind in the Y-Not Bar in Thurso where they had warmed up the night before. However, as they launched CDs into the arena they were sought after and fought over, so even a dip from their high standards is appreciated. It was probably just a bad day at the office, but come their next appearance in Inverness, at the Ironworks Showcase, on the 29th of August I’m sure they will be back on course.

Sid Davidson’s set was a well supported affair, as it has been in previous years, although this year sees him return to his solo act after last year playing with his band. His songs carry an emotional depth that filled the tent, which seemed to be emphasised by the stripped back nature of the set. He certainly does earn the “local hero” tag but the occasional trip down south wouldn’t go amiss at all.

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Toby Michaels Rolling Damned have grown in numbers since we last saw them with Ross McEwan, an iron board wielding Josephine Sillars, Brian Mitchell and Louise Sutherland being brought on board for this performance. Arguably it is difficult to take your eyes off of lead singer Toby Michaels charging through the vocals and laterally wandering around the crowd with impressive aplomb. ‘Hound Dog’ sung as fitting tribute to mark the recent anniversary of “brother” Elvis Presley’s death, led all too quickly to set ender ‘A Little Bit of What You Fancy”.

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Anderson, McGinty, Webster, Ward and Fisher’s slot in the sunshine felt the almost ideal setting to experience the band for the first time. The are charged with giving the nu-folk genre a good name despite the Mumford & Sons sized backlash. In fairness they do a very decent job, with very high level of musicianship and a general feel good vibe, which saw them sell out of CDs after the set.

Cactus & Cardigan well earn the tag of being a marmite band and their gig in the tent did nothing to change our minds that you will either love or loathe the local boys. The band inexplicably had paper or toilet paper on their eyebrows and moustaches and whilst strange, the stickability of the glue was impressive, given some of their song titles, we hope it was glue!  The band create a magnificent din, with an inexplicable amount of skill, credit must especially go to Jack Macphee’s incessantly powerful drumming. Not for everyone, but certainly for us, wow!

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If there is anybody who has not seen the next mainstage act, Scooty and the Skyhooks, in the last few years, please give us a shout. A run of three high profile gigs in consecutive weekends, saw , arguably the biggest crowd of the day, dance and sing along to everything from Dusty Springfield to Paolo Nutini with more than a dusting of soul. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is clearly the approach that the band have, and going by the crowd response it certainly ain’t broke.

Last year James Mackenzie filled a slot on the main stage, and this year he returned with a different band to take up an early evening appointment on the second stage. A lot has changed in the last year for James with his move to Glasgow, and his beefed up rockier sets are going down well, and today was no exception. ‘Lifeline’ and ‘Pause Your Life’ two tracks of his recent critically acclaimed EP were particularly pleasing. He hasn’t left his roots behind and the band exited the stage to let him play ‘Something I’m Not Telling You’. All in all it was a good return to Caithness for James, even if the journey south is a longer one these days.

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Arguably The Xcerts had a difficult task, they have of course recently played on the same bill as Biffy Clyro, but despite having played for so long together we doubt they have acted as a warm-up act for a soul band before. But this was the first of two issues for the Aberdeen band, fresh from Brighton, the other was the weather and a crowd shrinking after the retro feel good Side performance. It was shrinking even more as the heavens opened for the first time since the start of the festival.

Despite the conditions the surprisingly loyal and good humoured audience remained and saw out the storm which saw them conclude the set with ‘Slacker Pop’. It will not be long till the boys start promoting their third album and an opportunity to catch them play again.

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The headliners, The Stars From The Commitments, are essentially a tribute band of a fictional cover band which includes two of the actors/musicians who were in the film of the aforementioned cover band. If that appears flippant it does not mean to be, any band that has survived twenty plus years is impressive in their own right, and to have won the plaudit of best soul revue by Dan Ackroyd even more so. Myles Hyland makes an admirable front man rattling through the hits and conducting the audience with amazing confidence.

Whilst the musicianship is without doubt, the task at hand is essentially simple; that is to provide a sing-a-long of soul classics. The band and it’s evolving line-up have done this more than a few times before,so there is a special skill in making the performance feel special and unique, a task that they do with assurance. A more than apt finale to the festival.

So with the financial and meteorological climate against them, BFest 2013 came out fighting and we would argue leaner and meaner than before. It’s all too easy to roll out the cliches, but bring on next year.

Please look at our other pictures of BFest 2013.