01 September 2019 (gig)
05 September 2019
End of the Road Festival has been going for over a decade now and has gained itself a great reputation for being the place to go to disover alternative acts that have been waiting to jump out and grab your ears.
This reviewer looked at the line up, and although there were several defintes in there that I wanted to see (Fontaines DC, Goat Girl, Wand, Sweaty Palms, Parquet Courts to name but a few), there were a whole host of others that I was unfamiliar with. And that's where the exciting part of the festival build up begins, the research. I listened to tracks, watched videos, and gradually built myself a (not so) shortlist of some acts I was very excited to see.
The organisers of this festival clearly don't choose acts on a whim. There are no has beens churning out long forgotton albums, and no fillers. By the time the day splits came out my main concern was worrying about who I would miss and how quickly I could sprint (ok, walk quickly...) between the different stages.
The festival is just a nice size, approximately 16,000. Enough people to make the 4 main stages comfortably busy, but compact enough to mean it's a 10 minute or so walk from the furthest 2 stages and around the same again to the outskirts of the camping areas, so no great treks are needed. There's separate areas for general and family camping, a campervan, and a glamping area so most needs are catered for.
As regards the festival in general, it's difficult to have a bad word to say. We're handed a bin bag and a recycling bag on our way in and we all dutifully use them. Even on leaving there was hardly a trace of litter to be seen anywhere, great to see. There's a fine choice of different food, plenty of veggie and vegan choices (the indain Dosas firm favourites) and a great choice of craft beer, including a whole Beavertown bar. The whole thing is set in a the beautiful Larmer Tree Park where it's easy to get away from the crowds to a quiet corner if needs be, plus there's plenty of play/games areas for small and big kids alike, and hidden little gems everywhere, including the resident peacocks who seem to roam around quite unabashed by their weekend visitors prescence. The whole festival is like one giant VIP area!...and so it's on to the music....
Once we had set up our tent on Friday the festival started for us with Georgia. The multi instrumentalist is the modern equivalent of a one man band and creates an electronic wall of sound full of 80s house influences and cool beats alongside her enchating vocals. She's surrounded by keyboards and drums and everything is played by herself, quite a talent.
The Beths gave us happy sunny afternoon indie tunes outide at the Woods Stage before we headed back into the Big Top for Wand. The LA 5 piece have evolved their psych rock sound over the last few years, and the heavy riffs of 2015's Golem have given way to the more spacey psychedelic world they have created on new album Laughing matter. Corey Hanson and co were in fine form here and their almost constant touring shows in their polished performance. Corey is a super talented axe man and has now added another string to his bow, or bow to his strings more like as he attacks his guitar with a large violin bow on a couple of tracks. The overall performance sends you to a different dimension for the best part of an hour.
After chilling out to a Baxter Dury's ultra cool tunes that he narrates deadpan over in a voice chillingly similar to his dad Ian, we head back instide to the Big Top for Wire. These uncompromising pioneers of post punk have been name dropped by every man and his dog over the years. They are famous for coming out and playing sets largely consisting of new material, so we consider ourselves lucky to get a bit of a retrospective dip through the Wire back catalogue with classics like Three Girl Rhumba and Red Barked Trees getting an outing alongside some hugely impressive and angry sounding new material.
Parquet Courts (who would undoubtably be one of the bands counting Wire as an influennce) finished off the Friday for us as they bought the best of the Big Apple to the Garden Stage. Quirky, angular, and damnright catchy we got a cross section of their back catalogue with tracks from their latest album Wide Awake getting the most people bouncing along. Total Football, Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience and modern classic (and ironically titled) Freebird II getting the mosh pit moving down the front.
Sweaty Palms filled the Big top at midday on Saturday. Debut album Quit Now has been my most listened to long player this year and I have high expectations, the Glasweigans don't disappoint. "It's nice to be nice" snarls frontman Robbie on their set opener which is full of angst and stilted angry guitars riding on a moody bassline. The band have this packed tent captivated for the whole set with their bitter social commentaries backed by a sordid array of dirty hooks. Transit Paul is the highlight of a performance that will be hard to beat this weekend.
TVAMs massive video backdrop (which is also relayed on an old school tele on stage) provided fascinating viewing (showing clips of arty 80s haircut models and car crash public information films etc) behind the band who have crafted quite a unique sound of the darker side of the 80s with a futuristic tinge to it.
Brighton's Squid are one of the most exciting young talents out there at the moment. refershingly inaccessible, you need to listen to this band properly to appreciate their jilted, sometimes shouty art rock. Drummer/Singer Ollie surely has the most wonderful screamy shout since Black Francis. Ollie mentions that he and the guitarist have been coming to the festival since they were 12 years old so this, their first performance here is extra special for them. The sometimes chilled, sometimes frenetic perfomance brims over with energy. Squid are different to anything out there right now and songs like Houseplants, The Cleaner and The Dial, all of which astound the crowd here are belted out like it's armageddon tomorrow. Even more fascinating was the surprise show they did in the Tipi tent late on Sunday which included a raucous version of Pigs In There by Robert Wyatt. Watch out for these guys.
Goat Girl wowed the crowd on the main stage with tracks from their debut album. Their melancholy sounds comlimented so well by Lotties amazing and oh so deeply voiced vocals,she has such an amazing vocal range, mainly on the lower end! Stunning a performance as it was it was hard to feel that they're not a little bored with playing the same set over and again as they have over the last couple of years. In fact, later in the evening when they play a secret set in the Tipi they seem a bit looser and happier as they trialed a few new songs which on first listen sounded good, if not a little more commercial than their stuff so far.
The Tipi Tent today also hosted Porridge Radio who wowed a packed tent with perfectly crafted dark jangly guitar tunes with a bitter edge. Songs like Danish Pastry Lyrics need to be heard by a wider audience, check them out.
Also in the Tipi on Saturday were a band so new they only have 2 tracks released so far in their so far short life. Six piece Black Country New Road are an ensemble which includes a saxophonist and a violinist alongside the more regular, guitar, drums, keyboards and a vocalist who sings (or narrates,almost) like he's just on the edge of losing his sanity with each sentence he utters. These guys are young, early 20's at most and looked nervous at times but once they got going, wow! Their sound is impossible to categorise, elements of alt rock, jazz, world music, The Fall and anything else you care to try and label them with, don't bother just listen. The cocophony of noise spoken over by Isaac's bizarrely delivered and fascinatlingly incisive (he speaks like a man well beyond his years) lyrics is exhilarating, and crowd of us down the front who have had the good fortune to have already heard ( and ,ok, memorised ) the lyrics to the 9 minute epic Sunglasses shout "I'm more than adequate, leave Kanye out of this" back at the stage. The band members almost look surprised at how good they are and the raptuous reception they get. So much potential here it's frightening.
Courtenay Barnett cracks out classic after classic on the main stage. The performance is slightly marred by some very badly positioned stage lighting that seems to be aimed at the whole of the right hand side of the crowd like a giant interrogation spotlight. We put our shades on (in the dark) and get on with it. She's a deserving Saturday headliner. Better still though, we still have a late night show to look forward to from the inimitable Sleaford Mods.
A guy pressing the odd button on a laptop whilst constantly sipping a beer, and another guy jumping along to the repetitive beats madly ranting and swearing about stuff might not sound like much of an act, and on the surface that's all Sleaford Mods are, but scratch under the surface and the humour and you realise many of Jason Willaimson's lyrics are riddled in biting social commentary as well as comical soundbites. All the same it's a captivating watch and the Big Top bounces and chucles along as Jason pihouettes around the stage and asks " Are you enjoying it?" after pretty much every song....the answer is always a resounding yes!
Norwiegan 4 piece Pom Poko start off Sunday with a noise explosion. The complex yet catchy guitar sounds are complimented sublimely by the sweet enthusiasm of singer Ragnhild who sings joyously and jumps around wildly all over the stage, seemingly in constant awe of the size of the crowd they are commanding "There are so many people here!" she gleefully shouts. She needs to get used to that!
In the Tipi, brothers Loral and Ronnel, along with a very 60's looking reel to reel tape machine make up Sons of Raphael. The pint sized brothers play an intense and sometimes frenzied set, banging into and off each other frequently, the two guitarists have an ear for melody, an eye for style and a need for greatness. Vocalist Ronnel inparticular plays to the photographers, posing each time he sees one lift a camera, most impressively into one of the most confident Jesus Christ poses I've ever seen. The songs are up to their arroagance, title track to their debut EP A Nation of Bloodsuckers (and only release so far) the stunning best of the small bunch they perfrom with such zeal today.
It's back to the Big Top for Stockholm's finest (and winners of worst name competition) Viagra Boys. The throbbing basslines and crunching guitars get no better than on set opener Research Chemicals. Singer Sebastian pours been down his chin and tatto covered chest ( I think a bit went in his mouth) during the show. Top cheer comes for the amusing and insanely catchy Sports.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs walk on stage, the singer Matt dons his cape as GNT builds from a slow rumble to the heaviest riff of the weekend. The influences are worn on their sleeves here, it's Sabbath et'al all the way, in fact at one point Matt asks us all to imagine that we're not here, we're at Monsters of Rock, it's 1979 and Judas Priest are on next! His witty musings continue throughout including a very funny moment where he pretends he's going to let slip who the secret act is on later in the day...he then goes on to say how he's seen Peter Andre out the back carb loading on the biggest plate of chicken nuggerts he's ever seen! ( In reality it's Shame who surprise us all with a storming set of old songs and a few new tracks thown in, awesome stuff!) Pigsx7's thundering riffs and Matt's hollow howls are recipe for the biggest mosh pit of the weekend, it goes off big time in there, especially on A66. These guys seem to have succesfully bridged the sometimes difficult gap between metal and alternative and have owned it, seven times!
Fontaines DC have risen from nothing to seeming world domination in the last 12 months. The Big Top actually gets shut off 5 minutes before the start as they can't squeeze everyone in but spaces appear as those who came just to see what all the fuss is about slowly disappear. They should have stayed. Grian is mesmerising with his Dublin Drawl and his stage twitches and ticks, each and every song, including brand new track Televised Mind, has it's own unique appeal. The hooks are plenty, the lyrics are engaging and the potential is huge. It's a cheap play on words, but if they're not already, they're gonna be big!
Must JARV IS evolve? Yes yes yes yes apparently he should. His new ensemble are granted a headline slot on the back of just one single, can he pull it off? Yes yes yes yes, of course he can. There's no need for Pulp songs (ok, one ep track, His n Hers gets thrown in as a gesture) to get this crowd going. Jarvis' trademark wit and banter inbetween each track closes the festival off in a fun, friendly manner, the way it should end. Well the main stages anyway....some of us sneak off to the Tipi for the final couple of secret shows from Squid and Viagra Boys and a final can of Beavertown.