“THEY BUILD effigies of great size interwoven with twigs, the limbs of which are filled up with living people which are set on fire from below, and the people are deprived of life surrounded by flames.”
So wrote Julius Caesar in his book The Gallic Wars of the terrifying wickerman which certain Celtic tribes used to punish criminals or to make human sacrifices to their gods.
The wickerman has continued to haunt the imagination since, first as a classic 1973 British horror film starring Christopher Lee, and more recently as a music festival in Scotland.
The Wickerman festival will be held at East Kirkcarswell, in Dumfries & Galloway, southern Scotland tomorrow and Saturday and among the acts taking part is Galway’s Emmet Scanlan & What The Good Thought.
The festival will see performances by Teenage Fanclub, The Charlatans, the Buzzcocks, and The Go! Team, as well as Irish bands The Saw Doctors and the Undertones. Emmet and his band will be headlining at the festival’s Acoustic Village stage tomorrow. So how did Emmet and friends get added to the bill?
“A Scottish singer called Andi Neath is friends with Nicola Geddes who sometimes plays cello with us,” Emmet tells me during our Monday afternoon interview. “Andi sent our CD to Nicola Black who looks after the Acoustic Village stage and she loved it and asked if we could play the festival.
“I thought we might get a slot on the Saturday morning at 11 or 12 o’clock when most people are still asleep but the news that we will be one of the headline acts at the Acoustic Village is amazing! There is good potential there for us to win over new fans and hopefully get more gigs in Britain.”
In keeping with the classic film from which it gets its name a giant wickerman will be burned on Saturday night to mark the end of the festival. Indeed much of the film was shot in the area where festival is now held. So would Emmet be a fan of The Wickerman?
“We haven’t actually seen the film yet,” Emmet admits, “but we will do so before we go. Myself and the boys are going to sit down to watch it with a bowl of chillies. I just hope we don’t make a mess...”
Emmet is the vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter in the band and the line up is completed by Italian Alan Preims on percussion, Swede Peter Åkerstrom on classical guitar, and Irishman Cathal Doherty on bass. Emmet feels the mix of nationalities brings a real sonic diversity to the What The Good Thought sound.
“Alan is mad into Cuban and African percussion, Pete’s into classic, folk, and bluegrass, and Cathal brings a rock feel to things,” says Emmet. “That brings different tinges to our sound. I would come in with a notion for a song - some chord progressions, an air - and then we’d all bounce ideas off each other and thrash it out together.”
The band are currently bouncing ideas off each other in studio as they work on their second album, the follow-up to their 2009 debut Hands. Hands was well received with The Irish Times saying it made “a considerable virtue of its scattergun song book”.
“I love that phrase because there is a lot of diversity in our sound,” says Emmet. “We’re recording the second album at the moment and it’s going to be even more diverse. I’m very proud of Hands but I think the new record will be better. The first album was a sample of what we can do, but the second one will be edgier, more confident, and have more attitude.”
In April, Emmet took part in an extraordinary adventure, when he and his brother volunteered for the Haven charity, and were among 300 Irish people who went to Haiti to help build homes in the earthquake devastated island. What was that experience like?
“Before I went out I had to admit I was scared and thought that maybe this would be too intense,” he says, “but I thought I can’t be chicken and if that’s where help is needed I should go.
“When we were flying over the island at a distance, you see the most beautiful landscape, surrounded by turquoise waters. When you get closer you see the tin roofs, and closer again you see the tents made out of cloth.
“We went to Gonaïves where some 50,000 people had been killed in the flash floods. It was 90km from the airport but it took us five and half hours because the roads are bad and were destroyed in the earthquake.
“On the way you saw the roads filled with Haitian life. People live outdoors, had baths outdoors, they only go inside to escape the heat and get some shade. The kids were running around the busses and despite all, there was joy in the faces of the children.
“When building the houses we worked with 80 Haitian men and women and every one of them had a song to sing. One guy liked Kenny Rogers and would break into ‘The Gambler’ every now and then. They are just lovely, lovely, people.
“I brought a guitar with me and before I left I gave it in at a depot where volunteers could leave items for local people to use. They asked me ‘Do you know anyone who could use this?’ I had met a guy and he is a singer. He runs a music school but they only have one guitar and one piano so it’s difficult to teach people to play, so he was the man to give it to. I’ve been emailing him since and he tells me the school will be giving a concert soon.”
For more information on The Wickerman Festival see www.thewickermanfestival.co.uk Emmet Scanlan & What The Good Thought will also play a free gig at Tigh Neachtains on Sunday at 9pm