Well, it has been over a week since I got back from the End of The Road Festival, and the delay in writing is down to a busy schedule and wondering how on earth I could do justice to such an amazing weekend in a blog post (or few). I had such an incredible time I could probably waffle on for weeks, but instead I’ll try and capture my thoughts as efficiently as possible.
In a sentence:
“Had an amazing time at the End of The Road: 3 days, 24 bands, gorgeous setting, fab weather, great food, lots of laughs and very good company. I’ve found my festival!” [as I posted to Facebook immediately on my return]
In a paragraph:
A really welcoming, well organised festival that is clearly run and staffed by people who love music, and very good music at that. The setting is unique and wonderful and the line-up was really excellent – that 24 band tally could have easily been 30 if it weren’t for scheduling clashes and not being able to be in two places at once. Got to see some bands I love play live for the first time, and discovered many more great bands and artists. Great weather helped, but the atmosphere was lovely and friendly, all facilities and refreshments were far better than expected and it all added up to a wonderful experience I’ll never forget. A cracking choice for my festival debut!
The top ten
So, who were the best? In order to build suspense slightly, I’ll cover my top ten favourites from the weekend in reverse order:
10. Fleet Foxes (Garden Stage, Saturday 9.30-11.00pm)
They were good, but not as good as expected. Headlining on Saturday night was always going to be difficult for a band with only one album’s worth of material. Long gaps between songs, constant needless retuning of guitars and one awful cover version (‘Go your own way’ by Fleetwood Mac? Why cover a band/song that’s far worse than your own material?) used up the time, but detracted from the spectacle. As did the moronic wailing of a drunken idiot in our vicinity trying to ‘sing’ along. Why would someone do that when listening to a band famed for their wonderful harmonising? Because he was an absolute ……… However, it’s hard to think of a better band to listen to in this setting – surrounded by a forest under a clear star-filled sky. Best songs: Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, White Winter Hymnal.
9. Neko Case (Garden Stage, Sunday 7.45 -8.45pm)
One of many very nice surprises over the weekend, Miss Case and her band delivered a very lively, varied set with great energy and enthusiasm. Good songs, great co-singer and amusing banter made for a very pleasant warm-up for The Hold Steady immediately afterwards. Best songs: Some People Gotta Lot of Nerve, Middle Cyclone, Don’t Forget Me.
8. The Acorn (Garden Stage, Saturday 4.45 -5.45pm)
Another pleasant surprise. We’d decided to stay in the Garden Stage area after The Broken Family Band because it was such a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Had never heard of The Acorn before, but the programme write-up sounded promising, and so it proved. Folk rock with a world music tinge, two drummers and a very smiley and amiable lead singer combined with some chilled out, dreamy songs matched the weather and the mid-afternoon mood perfectly. Best songs: Crooked Legs, Hold Your Breath.
7. Darren Hayman (Garden Stage, Saturday 1.00 – 1.45pm)
Biggest and best surprise of the weekend. Neither I nor my mate Jon had heard of Darren Hayman, but we were in such a great mood after the wonderful opening set from the Leisure Society that we stayed put on our comfortable chairs and gave him a chance. Very glad we did. Turns out he used to be the singer in Hefner, a semi-popular indie band of the mid to late 90’s and he is still in possession of an ear for a good tune and some of the funniest lyrics I’ve ever heard. He clearly loves this festival, and his enthusiasm, great humour and sunny disposition create a really convivial atmosphere in marked contrast to his arch songs of suburban tedium. Best songs: Pram Town, Rachel and Amy.
6. Dirty Projectors (Garden Stage, Friday 7.45 – 8.45pm)
Immediately preceded by a great Festival moment – sitting down to give our legs a much needed rest, a couple of parrots flew just over our heads as the sun started setting. That moment of tranquility was soon shattered by the experiments in noise being conducted by Dirty Projectors. Three girls, three guys, some occasional screeching vocals, and frenetic guitar sequences produced a barrage of sound that was sometimes challenging but also very fresh and interesting. Their boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm combined with some impressive songs to create a very memorable set which would have been worthy of the headline slot they just missed out on. Best songs: No Intention, Two Doves, Stillness Is The Move, Remade Horizon, Knotty Pine.
5. The Broken Family Band (Garden Stage, Saturday 3.30 -4.15pm)
In the three months between seeing the ads for the festival line-up and actually attending, I’d discovered the many delights of The Broken Family Band’s back catalogue and was greatly looking forward to seeing them. Even more so as they’d announced a couple of weeks before the End of The Road that they are splitting up in October, so this would possibly be my first and last chance to see them. They didn’t disappoint exactly, and produced a very enjoyable set, but because they didn’t include many of my favourite songs I was left a little underwhelmed, probably hampered by sky-high expectations. There were still some great moments, including great versions of ‘It’s All Over’ and ‘John Belushi’, but the understated set was perhaps best summed up by the singer’s intro to their last song: “It’s not one of our best songs, but it’s in A”.
4. The Leisure Society (Garden Stage, Saturday 12.00 – 12.30pm)
I knew very little indeed about this Brighton-based band before they opened Saturday on the Garden Stage, but they provided probably the nicest surprise of the weekend. They were only on stage for half an hour but made a very big impression, their intelligent, beautifully played indie-pop songs providing the perfect backdrop to a sunny Saturday lunchtime. In particular their female flute player and the two guys on violin and cello who’d travelled overnight from France to get here really shone. Another highlight was the very witty banter from the singer/keyboardist, which greatly amused us but seemed to pass over the heads of most of the assembled throng. The songs were more than enough on their own though, and ensured that I downloaded their debut album ‘The Sleeper’ on my return home. It’s since become a firm favourite and I’d love to see them play live again soon now I’m familiar with the songs. Best songs: Matter of Time, A Fighting Chance, The Last of The Melting Snow, Save It For Someone Who Cares.
3. The Duke & The King (Big Top, Friday 6.00 – 6.45pm)
Friday’s highlight was a fantastic performance from The Duke & The King which really lifted the festival to another level. I’d been enjoying their first album recently and was looking forward to seeing them here, but wasn’t prepared for how good they’d be live. Simon Felice (from the band the Felice Brothers) made an early bid for front man of the festival with a mesmirising display – shy he ain’t! In fact all four band members gave energetic performances full of soul that transformed many of their songs into really moving, uplifting experiences. They all enjoyed their moment in the limelight too: the female violinist and the bassist taking centre stage for a fantastic rendition of ‘Suzanne’, and the drummer pretty much stealing the show with his spine-tingling vocal contributions. Best songs: If You Ever Get Famous, Suzanne, Union Street.
2. The Hold Steady (Garden Stage, Sunday 9.30 – 11.00pm)
They’ve been one of my favourite bands for a couple of years now, and this was the first time I was going to see them live. Given the fact that they were virtually closing the festival, in Sunday’s headline slot, I was a bit worried that my expectations would be too great and I’d be disappointed. Not so.
By the time they came on stage I was very excited, and it was just great to be able to hear so many songs I like given a new lease of life by a band on the top of their form. Well, eventually. It took a little while for them to get into their stride and the sound engineers took about 5 songs to get Craig Finn’s microphone right, which is a bit of a disadvantage when you miss all the lyrical nuances because the singer’s not properly in the mix. They got better and better as the set went on, the whole band growing in confidence and enthusiasm. Franz Nicolay on keyboard was coolness personified – playing incredibly whilst appearing to be making no effort whatsoever, and as Craig Finn careered round the stage, yelling and jumping up and down he carried off a perfect impression of a man who loves his job. A great end to a fantastic weekend. Best songs: Stuck Between Stations, Chips Ahoy!, Massive Nights, Your Little Hoodrat Friend.
1. Joe Gideon & The Shark (Big Top, Sunday 3.00 – 3.45pm)
And the best performance of the weekend? An absolute belter, quite out of the blue, from this London-based brother and sister duo who have more than a whiff of The White Stripes about them. Except they have better songs. I’d checked them out on Spotify a week before the festival and was impressed enough to suggest to Jon that we should make sure we saw them. So glad I did! After a slightly unsure start, playing two of their weakest songs, Jon showed signs of wanting to do a runner, as we had on a couple of occasions already on Sunday. Thankfully we stayed put and were rewarded as from somewhere, something quite magical started to happen. The Shark, on drums and sampler keyboards, started playing out of her skin and was mesmirising to watch. Her confidence seemed to rub off on her sibling, who discovered an unforeseen swagger and started wielding his guitar like a weapon.
A four song sequence at the end of the set was worth the admission price for the weekend alone: After the amusing and raucous ‘Hide And Seek’, came the wonderful ‘Kathy Ray’ gently unfolding the tale of a backing singer reliving past glories. By this stage there was a real emotional bond between band and audience and the next song took everything to another level. ‘Anything You Love That Much … You Will See Again’ is a really beautiful, moving yet uplifting song that just came to life in the Big Top here in a way you couldn’t replicate on record. Hit by wave after wave of raw emotion, I suddenly understood why bands play live. It was a spine-tingling, jaw-dropping moment, and the best song of the festival for me. I couldn’t believe they didn’t finish there, with the entire tent in their palms. As it was, the bold move of playing ‘Civilisation’ as their closing song paid off and left me buzzing and breathless. What a show!
Best of the rest
Suspense is not as important with these, so I’ll keep to numerical order:
11. She Keeps Bees (The Local, Sunday)
An American boy/girl duo sounding a bit like Mazzy Star and The White Stripes – deserved a better stage and time slot than very last band on in the claustrophobic Local marquee.
12. Explosions in the Sky (Garden Stage, Friday)
Huge sweeping instrumental tracks with orchestral scope produced by three guitarists and a drummer. Headlined on Friday and were best enjoyed with your eyes closed so you couldn’t see their onstage gurning and hystrionics.
13. Vetiver (Big Top, Friday)
Would have been great on the Garden Stage on Saturday instead of Alela Diane, but performed well enough in the Big Top without wowing anyone. Felt they were playing within themselves and could have been even better if they’d been a bit less laid back. One or two really good songs though. The only set I actually had a lie down for … it seemed oddly appropriate.
14. Stars of Sunday League (Tipi Tent, Sunday)
Missed the start of this short but sweet set, and caught most of it from the back of the tiny Tipi Tent, but was worth the squeeze. Well written, beautifully sung indie folk songs from a young bearded gentleman with a lovely Dundee accent and a young lady on a violin. One to watch out for.
15. Bob Log III (Garden Stage, Sunday)
A man alone on the centre of the huge Garden Stage, dressed in a tight-fitting gold lame suit with flared trousers, and a motorcycle helmet with a microphone inside it, shrieking along to his incredibly fast slide guitar antics. Produced the best ending to any set, walking down into the audience playing guitar and then walking back up, across the stage and off, still playing with his back to the audience. In his own little world, and maybe it’s for the best.
16. Alela Diane (Garden Stage, Saturday)
The ‘future star of Americana’ according to critics. ‘Sweet but dull’ according to me. Maybe it was because I was flagging after so many hours standing up and feeling hungry, but this set of pleasant-ish folk songs kind of floated over me without leaving any real impression. I can’t remember how any of them went, but I do recall with fondness the over-enthusiastic bassist called on for one or two songs towards the end and behaving like a hyper-active bearded toddler.
17. Loney, Dear (Garden Stage, Friday)
First act we saw: Swedish bloke, bit mad, gibbering on with frankly baffling banter in between a couple of rather good electronic pop songs. Not very polished, but reasonably pleasant.
18. Charlie Parr (Big Top, Friday)
Kind of a cross between Badly Drawn Boy and Giant Haystacks, he played the blues a lot, lot better than he looked. Came alive whilst playing his guitar, but lacking in stage presence. Bumped into him a couple of times that evening and he seemed quite a surly fellow with little patience for fellow artists. Looked a bit too much like an axe murderer to discuss those foibles with him though.
19. Beth Jeans Houghton (The Local, Friday)
Could have, and should have been really rather brilliant. She’s quirky with a cute Northern accent and a set of self-written whimsical songs but her late night set in the Local was a right shambles. She took ages setting up and the sound engineers let her down badly: a catalogue of technical errors undermining a collection of interesting and sometimes beautiful songs. That, and the fact she was wearing a peacock on her head atop a huge blonde frizzy wig that kept getting in her way. When we saw her briefly again on Saturday in the Big Top she’d ditched the peacock but was wearing hotpants and looking frankly ridiculous. She doesn’t need such gimicks, the songs are enough. If she ditches the fancy dress, she might be huge one day.
20. Herman Dune (Big Top, Friday)
Quite confused to discover later that these guys were French – seemed like a straightforward American alt-country band to me, even down to the accents. Fairly impressive, especially the drummer, though we didn’t stay too long so we could catch the above-mentioned Miss Beth Jeans Peacock. Stayed longer than Charlie Parr though, who stood in front of me for one song, grunted, and walked straight out.
21. The Low Anthem (Garden Stage, Saturday)
A huge disappointment. Thought they’d be great having heard their latest album but it was a case of wrong band, wrong stage, wrong songs. Started off with three really quiet ones that bored us into submission and sent us in the direction of lunch.
22. T-Model Ford (Big Top, Sunday)
Lovely old poppet, 80 plus years old. He can’t remember how old he is. Or the lyrics to any of his songs apparently. Helped onstage by his drummer/roadie/nurse, he looked at home playing his blues guitar, grinned happily throughout, but seemed to be playing exactly the same song eight times over. We left out of a mixture of boredom and embarrassment.
23. Treecreeper (Tipi Tent, Sunday)
Only decided to watch this lot because we had found a space in the Tipi Tent and didn’t feel like moving. That soon changed when this very poor pub band started playing. Worthy, hard-working but very dull. I lasted a song and a half.
24. Brakes (Big Top, Sunday)
But compared with this bunch of reprobates, Treecreeper were U2 or Coldplay (worthy, hard-working, very dull..!). Brakes were highly praised in the programme and had appeared here every year so we were quite expectant. Oh dear. Obnoxious bald singer suffering from short man syndrome did a couple of similarly short, shouty horrible songs, and we were almost running out of the Big Top to escape. Absolute rubbish and the only totally unlistenable band of the weekend.
The ones that got away
These are the ones that I wanted to see but missed, either due to scheduling clashes, or other unforeseen circumstances:
Mumford & Sons (Garden Stage, Friday)
We arrived too late to see them kick off the festival, which was a shame.
Shearwater (Garden Stage, Friday)
We had to miss them in order to get some food – having since checked out their most recent album on Spotify, I regret that decision.
First Aid Kit (Tipi Tent, Saturday)
We tried and failed to get to in the Tipi Tent to see these Swedish sibling songstresses which was a disappointment at the time, but even more so having checked out their most recent album and their fantastic version of Tiger Mountain Peasant Song by the Fleet Foxes. Should have barged our way in!
Efterklang (Big Top, Saturday)
Clashed with the Fleet Foxes. Jury’s out on whether we made the right decision, pending a Spotify investigation.
Blitzen Trapper (Tipi Tent, Saturday)
Clashed with tea time on Saturday – very good write up in the programme but will have to investigate further.