End of the Road Festival 2014, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
[Writing Soundtrack: Ores & Minerals ~ Mazes
So, here’s the thing, I had made a solemn vow not to do any more outdoor festivals which involve camping. Too wet, too muddy, too cold, too uncomfortable, too tiring. I had reached the inevitable conclusion that I really was too old for this shit. ATP had spoilt me for the level of discomfort offered by camping; but in the end ATP spoilt everything for everyone, so I was as surprised as anyone to find myself with a fully laden car at 6am and on the road to Dorset. It is fair to say my arm had been twisted. A stellar line up didn’t do any harm either.
It was worth the early start though, as we sailed through traffic and made it to our destination just after 10am. We had taken the Tangerine Fields option, because we are lazy, idle and a bit hopeless when it comes to the practicalities of camping. After a painless wristband exchange we were greeted by a helpful and smiling youngster who took us to our ready erected abode which would be home for the next 3 days. Seriously, its worth it not to have to lug a bloody big tent across a field and undergo the Krypton Factor puzzle of putting the thing up. As we were in the boutique camping field next to the yurts and bell tents (henceforth known as Hotel Bellend ~ thanks @DrElfy for that one) it meant the abluting facilities were slightly less crap as well. Result all round.
Dropping off our luggage we quickly made our way down to the arena, so as a first time visitor to this festival I could acquaint myself with layout. This didn’t take long. Being used to bigger, more commercial affairs such as Glastonbury and Latitude, EOTR is a refreshing change. Pretty location, easy to navigate your way around and in the Garden stage a truly unique location to watch music. Making our way to the Big Top , we wandered to the front to catch the first band of the day, Mazes. Seeing this band was a primary reason for the 6am start. Kicking the festival off at the ridiculously early time of 12.00 the band looked as shocked as we were to be playing so early. Nevertheless they put in a spirited performance, delivering intricate, melodic, guitar led tunes, airing just on the right side of noodly. I have been listening to Ores & Minerals a lot lately; an album full of hooks and energy, marking them out as a band to look out for. On the strength of what we heard today, the new album will be on my must purchase list for sure. Well worth the early start, I can’t wait to see them again at Liverpool Psychefest in September, hopefully playing at a time when they have had a chance to fully awaken.
Next up on the Woods Stage it’s Loughborough’s finest, The Wave Pictures. Over the past 12 months I have come to love The Wave Pictures; a band that look so young but also seem to have been around forever and possessed of a dizzying back catalogue. There is something about their unique mix of deeply personal lyrics wedded to deceptively simple pop melodies, scintillating guitar solos and flashes of Bhundu Boys bounce that really resonates with me. In David Tattersall they possess one of the politest most unassuming front men and songwriters around, and one of the most unlikely of guitar heroes. Dressed in what appears to be one of his dad’s jackets, Tattersall , Franic & Jonny take the stage just as the first drops of rain began to fall. Luckily it’s a passing shower, and a set which draws heavily on last years City Foregiveness double helps to beat back the rain clouds. Looking relaxed and comfortable DT’s stage presence sometimes seems at odds with his lyrical concerns (family, death, sadness, sex), but he appears to be having fun up there, and his guitar playing is jaw dropping as always. You have to respect any guitarist who can play without a vast array of effects peddles to hide behind; DT plays without any safety net and seems to be able to pull off staggering guitar solos while maintaining the demeanour of somebody waiting for a bus. I can’t wait to see them again in the autumn, performing Daniel Johnston’s Artistic Vice album.
Festivals are all about pacing yourself, and after an early start we were already starting to feel a bit weary. So a break to mooch round the stalls, grab some food and a sit down is just what the doctor ordered. Also meeting friends for large Gins at the G&T bar is just the thing to set you up for the evening. Then it was time to make our way over to The Garden stage and take up a good position near the front for Ezra Furman & The Boyfriends. Having seen him at York Duchess earlier in the year, he has become a firm favourite and his appearance was a major draw of the Festival. Bounding on stage early, because they were ‘bored’, Ezra arrives wearing the kind of dress that if your daughter tried to go out in it, there would be strong words. Skinny and frail looking, the addition of the tiny dress just makes him look even more vulnerable. Songs about heartbreak, alienation, attempted suicide and the rest of life’s gristle and sinew doesn’t sound like a recipe for a fun afternoon, but it is delivered with such energy and enthusiasm that it becomes an almost cathartic experience.
The band are tight, like a pocket E-Street Band, following their front man’s lead and adapting to his digressions. The physical gap between performer and audience, common to all festivals, was clearly playing on his mind. Half way through Sunglasses he disappears off stage only to come dashing into the crowd 5 minutes later, while the band play on waiting to see what his next move will be. Reappearing on the tiny Victorian singing stage at the edge of the garden, he picks up the song where he left it, eventually diving back into the crowd which parted for him to make his way back to the stage. This is the kind of out there, showboating performance which can turn a casual passerby into a lifelong fan. Later on in the set, he introduced a tribe of children on to the stage, in defiance of all health and safety considerations, to leap from the stage and throw balloons into the crowd. Looking round the audience, everyone was left with a huge smile on their face; what more can you ask for.
Proving the theory that it is impossible to watch & truly engage with more than 4 or 5 bands per day, the next couple of hours pass by in a bit of a blur, Steve Malkmus half heard drifting on the breeze, British Seapower spied in the distance fighting off mad stage diving polar bears. Eventually we get our act together and get a place on the barrier and wait for the Gene Clark ~ No Other Band. A project spearheaded by Beach House to perform an obscure old Gene Clarke album with which they had become obsesses, they had a corralled together a bunch of similarly smitten and extremely talented musicians to form an Amercan indie supergroup. Vocal duties were shared between a diverse group of singers; Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear), Iain Matthews (Fairport Convention) and Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen). This had been a must see for us from day one.
The only negative point I can make is that there was really no need for each vocalist and song to be solemnly introduced to the crowd; it all seemed a bit unnecessary and broke the magical mood at times. However, that point aside, it was one of those spine tingling, hair on the back of your next performances that will stay with me for a long long time. It felt like we were watching something truly special, and Iain Matthews announcement that it would probably be the final performance ever, made it feel like a genuine privilege to witness it. The band provided a lush backdrop for the different vocalists to deliver powerful, respectful performances (although Hamilton couldn’t resist throwing the occasional rock star shape). I felt genuinely moved throughout, but when all four singers came back on for an encore of Eight Miles High, my jaw hit the deck with a thud. Simply stunning. Walking away from the Garden Stage, at the end, head full of buzz and smiling, it prompted the conversation of which other classic albums might benefit from a similar treatment. Forever Changes? Big Pink? Highway 61? Sweetheart of the Rodeo? It’s a tempting proposition, but unlikely, as this felt like a deeply personal project drawn out of love for an obscure old record.
Tempting as it was to stay around and try to catch some of the late night revelry, it had been a very long day. A long day, but a joyous one filled with good music, good vibes and happy people. So we made our excuses and returned to our canvass palace to fall into a deep and happy sleep almost immediately. A brilliant first day.