End of the Road Festival 2014, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
[Writing Soundtrack: With Light & With Love ~ Woods]
Firstly, and by way of apology, sorry this is taking so long. Also, sorry if this one is a bit hazy; its been a few weeks and I have the memory of a gold… er… oh you know those shiny orange things that float around in tanks. You get the picture. Anyway, bear with me, it will all be over soon.
Day 3 of a festival is always a tough one; especially if like me you think camping is the devil’s work. I have had some wet and miserable Day 3’s, where it has been more about fighting off trench foot and getting to the end of the day without murdering a juggler. However, today is going to be different. Today we do this thing with minimum effort and maximum enjoyment. Well that’s the plan anyway.
Things get off to a good start; it’s dry. Not just dry, it’s sunny; one of those perfect late summer days, bright sunshine & little fluffy clouds drifting slowly past. This bodes well. A look at the clash finder indicates that there is lots to see at the Garden Stage today, so we decide to throw a couple of camping chairs over our shoulders and find a nice spot to park up and watch the day unfold in relative comfort. Following a leisurely breakfast, this is precisely what we do.
First up in the garden is Futur Primitif, the nom de plume of Daniel Lefkowitz. He used to be in The Low Anthem, a band who I admit never really crossed my path, but they seem very popular at EOTR so a reasonable crowd has parked up to watch him in the warmth of the early afternoon. He takes the stage, thin and unshaven, in an old suit jacket and carrying just an acoustic guitar and clearly at this early hour, very hungover (possibly still drunk). This is just what I need to break gently into the day. Actually, I should digress a moment here. Because what I really needed happened a few minutes earlier when the question was posed ‘would you like a Bloody Mary?’. The answer obviously was yes…. if you are ever asked that same question, the answer should always be yes. Very nice Bloody Marys they were too, from the groovy little cocktail bar at the back of the Garden, very spicy and no scrimping on the vodka. Frankly I’m spoilt now; any festival which doesn’t have a cocktail bar just isn’t going to cut it for me any more.
Anyway, seated in comfort with a delicious alcoholic concoction in hand seems the perfect way to watch Futur Primitif. Long rambling songs about life, and how not to live it, politics and pain, all delivered with a wry humour and an acerbic eye for the absurd. Just a man and a guitar, he is an interesting stage presence; slightly edgy with a hint of future self destruction, but not without warmth and has a real ability to connect. At one point a child joins him on stage to join him on a duet of Pale Blue Eyes… however this is post-Bloody Mary, so maybe I imagined this. A great way to start the day, this was my favourite song of his set…
After this I wander off to the Library stage to try to catch Viv Albertine discussing her autobiography. It is a tiny stage and there is a big crowd so it is impossible to see, however I hang around outside and listen to the interview. She is honest and funny and really seems to enjoy talking about it rather it just being a sales pitch for her book. A story concerning Johnny Rotten and a failed blow job, leads to a lady in front of me, young daughter in hand slipping away with the words ‘er… i think it’s time too find the loo’. Bawdy stories aside, her tales from the front line of punk can’t help be anything other than inspirational and I can’t wait to read her book.
By this time the sun is high in the sky and it has turned into an absolutely glorious sunny day. Perhaps influenced by Mr Lefkowitz I grab a sneaky early afternoon flagon of foaming ale and head back to the Garden. I am tempted to watch John Cooper Clarke in the Big Top but the lure of a nice sit down in the sunshine is just too tempting. Next up is Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear doing a solo set. He had been wonderful with the Gene Clarke No Other Band on Friday so I was intrigued anyway. In fairness he has a pretty torrid time of it, enduring some horrendous sound problems with his guitar and looks pretty stressed throughout. But the voice is still strong and rich and reminds me a bit of Harry Nilsson. A perfect accompaniment to a sunny afternoon.
Sometimes just finding a spot and letting the day unfold is the best way to enjoy a festival, and today is shaping up quite nicely. Yo La Tengo arrive and set up on the little singing stage at the edge of the arena to do a largely improvised set. In fairness unless you are near the front somewhere it is difficult to hear everything, but they seem to be on good form, accepting requests & questions from the crowd and bantering happily. At one point even doing a spot of synchronised dancing. Visually it is a lovely spot to play, but we decide to offer our camping chairs to a nearby couple and make our way forward and get a good spot at the front for Woods.
A theme of the weekend for me is seeing for the first time many bands who I have only discovered, or been introduced to, in the past year or so, and Woods very much fall into that category. This can be a bit perturbing, as you have a picture in your head of what a band looks like. On record they seem like the ultimate west coast folk rock band; strummed acoustics, 12 string jangle, wild wigged out electric guitar, all present and correct. So I was expecting to see a bunch of hairy doped up CSNY clones shambling onto the stage. It comes as a bit of a surprise to see they appear to be fronted by a high school supply teacher. Appearances can be deceiving though, as they proceed to unleash a set of sun dappled psych-folk which is the perfect accompaniment to the baking hot afternoon. Lead vocalist Jeremy Earl proving himself to be no mean guitarist either, swapping acoustic for electric and indulging in some impressive axe work on a wild and wooly With Light and With Love. A perfect Sunday afternoon festival band in many ways, and a real highlight of the day.
Feeling a little weary, the early afternoon alcohol intake making it’s presence felt, we head back to the tent to drop off the camping chairs. A quick nap turns into a rather big sleep so sadly we miss much of the early evening entertainment, from the Felice Brothers and Yo La Tengo’s main stage set. But hey, you can’t watch everything right? We manage to get our act together and head back into the arena later in the evening. We grab some food and hear the early part of Wild Beast’s set drifting over from the Woods stage. They seem to have attracted a decent crowd, which is pleasing, as the have been around for a while and this is a big gig for them, so I am sure it must be the icing on the cake for what has been a very good year.
Making our way back to the Garden we find a suitable vantage point to watch our final band of the weekend, White Denim. I last saw them play years ago, when still a three piece, and they tore apart the tiny Ruby Lounge with a set of ‘amps to 11’ raucous garage rock. Even then it was clear to see they would go onto bigger things. Subsequent albums have seen them develop and expand their sound to incorporate aspects of jazz, folk, & latin, played at sometimes deafening volumes and laced with a healthy dose of good old southern rock. As they launch into Pretty Green from Corsicana Lemonade it is interesting to see just how much singer/guitarist James Petralli has developed as a front man.He has never been the most chatty or engaging of characters, but there is no doubting his immense stage presence as he seems to channel the spirit of every classic rock performer of the last forty years. It has been a weekend of great guitarists (Tattersal, Nielson, Earl) but Petralli is the full package; rich and soulful on the more complex recent work and ferocious on the early stuff from Workout Holiday. To be honest, I had been feeling pretty ropey before this, but it is a testament to the healing power of rock music that this really lifted my spirits. So glad I saw them, a perfect end to the festival.
So thats it. Three days of sunshine, music and good vibes & better people; I’m glad to say that my first End of the Road was an amazing one. I hope there are many more. Now its just the tricky task of negotiating the journey home, locating a Little Chef (hopefully manned by an actual little chef) and then easing back in to the dull reality of the workday grind.