Wildfire Festival is turning up the heat in Wiston

Flying in...from Australia for the 2017 Wildfire festival are Tequila Mockingbyrd.
Flying in...from Australia for the 2017 Wildfire festival are Tequila Mockingbyrd.

Les-Fest has come a long way since its first outing in 2012 at Valley International Park.

That inaugural festival won the coveted Best Festival Award at the 2012 Scottish New Music Awards.

Make some noise...for the lads from Those Damn Crows at this year's Wildfire Festival in Wiston.

Make some noise...for the lads from Those Damn Crows at this year's Wildfire Festival in Wiston.

And the following year, the two day festival grew to encompass three days with the band count jumping from 26 to 63.

Les-Fest has since changed its name and venue but there’s no doubt that its popularity has continued to grow each year.

Billed as the most comprehensive UK showcase of the new wave of British classic rock, the 2017 event will be held at Wiston Lodge from June 23 to June 25.

And weekend tickets are available at 2016 prices until the end of April for what is set to be one of the must see rock events of the year.

Thrilling set...and a whole lot of great music is promised at the Wiston festival by The Dirty Thrills.

Thrilling set...and a whole lot of great music is promised at the Wiston festival by The Dirty Thrills.

The Wildfire Festival is the brainchild of Lesmahagow electrician Dave Ritchie.

He launched the festival in 2012 to give young bands a platform to break into the mainstream – and to give music lovers a chance to experience a festival that wouldn’t break the bank.

Dave (52) said: “For me, and everyone involved with supporting the festival, Wildfire is a labour of love – run by music lovers for music lovers.

“It’s a platform for new bands to get noticed and for music fans to discover at least half a dozen new bands they want to support.”

The festival will have an international flavour for 2017, presenting bands Tequila Mockingbyrd, Other Animals and Massive (from Australia), Dan Baird (USA), The Soap Girls (South Africa) and Forever Still (Denmark).

Headlining the two main stages on Saturday night will be Toseland and Forever Still.

But young bands from all corners of the UK are gaining main stage slots over the weekend, including Bad Touch (Norfolk), Broken Witt Rebels (Birmingham), The Treatment (Cambridge), Gasoline Outlaws (Belfast), Little Brother Eli (Oxford), The Texas Flood (Swansea), Fragile Things (Milton Keynes), Dirty Thrills (London), Jupiter Falls (Leeds) and Empyre (Northampton).

And as Scotland’s only major rock festival in 2017, Wildfire is also championing grassroots Scottish bands with 11 local acts confirmed including The King Lot, Anchor Lane, Tantrum, Black King Cobra, Disposable and Swamp Born Assassins.

Wildfire will mark, for some, their debut at a major rock festival.

That’s largely thanks to the addition of a third stage at Wildfire for the first time this year – which will be specifically geared to a teenage audience.

And it is here where a number of young bands will gain their first ever festival experience.

A supervised Wildfire bus service will also ensure youth groups can travel safely to and from the venue.

Explaining why new talent is so important, Dave said: “This year we cater for all tastes – music that appeals to the young and some legends for our more mature fans. But our main focus is to help emerging bands get a break.

“After a 2016 when we lost too many music heroes, it’s decision time: if we want a future for guitar music, the time has come to back new bands.

“We all love the classics but we need to look forward and invest in the next generation of talent too.

“So at Wildfire this year audiences will see a who’s who of the new wave of British classic rock in one place over the three days.

“We will have people flying to us from airports around the UK – it’s a cheap flight and, with the festival set in such beautiful surroundings, Wildfire for many is proving to be a springboard for a family holiday in Scotland.”

That can only be good news for local businesses, as well as the many sponsors who help to ensure Wildfire tickets remain affordable.

This year, that includes stage sponsorship from greatmusicstories.com and Moshville Times; technical sponsorship from Blackstar Amplification, Cleartone Strings and drinks sponsor Pistonhead.

Dave added: “With a recent YouGov poll of UK rock fans suggesting mounting concern over the rising cost of festival and big gig tickets, Wildfire maintains a committed value for money philosophy.

“With a weekend camping ticket costing just £70 – and children’s entry from just £1 – a three-day experience at Wildfire equates to less than £1 per band.”

Tickets are also available at 2016 prices until the end of April so it’s worth snapping them up now!

Wine fuelled festival flames

Dave Ritchie first came up with the Les-Fest concept thanks to another festival being cancelled. That fateful day was March 30, 2012. With Sonisphere cancelled, Dave and his son Lewis were gutted.

Having consumed a couple of bottles of red wine that night to soak up the disappointment, Dave came up with a plan to hold a festival in Lesmahagow.

He said: “I said to Lewis don’t worry, son, we’ll do our own festival instead! I knew a few bands locally and I thought we could just go for it.

“I went looking for a domain name that night. I knew Les-Fest might be slightly controversial but I did it all the same. Once it was registered, there was no going back!”

Dave had previously played in bands, managed artists and done a few tours but it had been a long time since the electrician had dipped a toe in the music industry.

The first festival was not without its problems – indeed it was feared that it would be cancelled the night before it all kicked off.

But Dave and his small band of supporters pulled out all the stops to ensure it went ahead.

And it proved to be worth all the blood, sweat and tears for Les-Fest won the coveted Best Festival Award at the 2012 Scottish New Music Awards.

The rest, as they say, is now history but success has not changed Dave’s philosophy for his much-loved baby.

He added: “I don’t make any money out of the festival – I don’t do it for that. I’ll be lucky if we break even this year!

“For me, it’s all about the music and making sure we put on a safe, family-friendly event.

“There’s never any trouble and I’m really proud of that.

“It has also got me back into music in a big way and I’ve really enjoyed that too.”

For more information, visit www.wildfirefestival.co.uk.