Our fourth visit to the Larmer Tree Gardens for the End of the Road festival reveals a few changes. New main stage (Woods), new pathway and entrance to the site from the car park (which was the only real negative issue all weekend, being a trolley-busting experience made up of large sharp rocks) and a new layout meaning a wider expanse and no overcrowding on the site. I would guess the capacity was around the 8,000-10,000 mark and still a ‘small’ festival...
A great selection of food and a brilliant selection of beers and just like the Green Man festival, a nice, friendly mix of people of all ages. What everyone had in common was with an appreciation of the music, their surroundings and fellow festival-goers. I really cannot recommend this festival highly enough along with Green Man - they are both just perfect weekends, whatever the weather.
Thursday / Friday
For those arriving on the Thursday evening, there were shows from the likes of Admiral Fallow, Junip and Herman Dune to enjoy. For those of us arriving on the Friday, it was a matter of establishing ‘Base Camp’ (plenty of camping space) and then straight into the action with Caitlin Rose, looking ‘super cool’ on the Garden (now second ) Stage and delivering a delightful set. Sarabeth Tucek & Urusen provided an eerie and wonderfully lo-fi session of songs from the ‘Get Well Soon’ album in the Tipi tent.
The first spectacular highlight of the day was Merrill Garbus under the moniker of TUnE-YArDs. She was totally original, particularly during the first part of the set where she was solo and produced the most remarkable grooves and sounds. The vocal chants suggested an African influence and there was a total worldwide mix in the complete sound.
Best Coast were perfect for the hot late summer afternoon on the Woods stage with their brand of Californian pop followed up by a rather (too?) slick Joan as Policewoman and the ‘out there’ rockers Bo Ningen who delivered a blinding show of rock music. Another highlight followed with the perfectly in tune and tightly knitted band, Clap Your Hands say Yeah. New album on the way and a crowd pleasing set of old and new music.
The evening session started after a trip back to the tent (an easy 10 minute stroll on this site) with Washington’s The Walkmen on the Garden stage. Starting slowly (perhaps after driving the van through a hedge backstage on arrival) they quickly gathered pace. Last year’s album ‘Lisbon’ is their strongest for ages and with songs from that and the back catalogue they delivered a triumphant set.
Beirut were sublime as the festival headliners on Friday night: all about the brass and Zach Condon’s vocals. The songs drifted dreamily in the night air across the site. Just wonderful.
The Big Top tent usually has a later band and tonight it was the turn of White Denim who hit a ‘jam’ groove pretty quickly and rocked to the midnight hour.
A more mature and somewhat subdued Beth Jeans Houghton opened the Garden stage with some nice songs while overcoming hat problems. Then we were off to an absolutely rammed Big Top Tent for an astonished Allo Darlin’. “Is it raining” says Elizabeth Morris. The crowd totally love the band and they respond with a great energy-fuelled set of twee pop songs. The band are also playing the Fortuna Pop celebration at the Scala in London on 3 November - they are highly recommended.
Canadian Dan Mangan had the benefit of strong vocals, strong songs and a band with added brass and string section which all led to a fine main stage set.
Diagrams (Sam Genders ex Tunng) debut gig was a masterpiece in the Tipi tent. Having asked the label for extra funding for effects for their debut show (Lasers, pyros etc), Sam said he was given £15, so he took that to the local Poundland and got some bubbles and balloons. On the day these were then distributed throughout the audience and a merry time was had by all. Great fun and nice songs yet again.
Jolie Holland was intensely delightful and solo on the garden stage followed by the reasonable if uninspiring Twin Shadow in the Big Top.
The Evening session was one to savour and had had us licking our lips ever since the schedules were announced. A line up of Wooden Shjips, The Black Angels and Mogwai was just thrilling.
Wooden Shjips mainly cover material from the new album ‘West’ extending four minute songs into eight minute psych-outs. Brilliant! … The Black Angels again playing under dark light and more dry ice, evoked a mix of Psych and garage rock to great effect. Jim Morrison / Doors comparisons abound but I am not quite sure on that one. A fine band.
Headliners Mogwai made one hell of a wonderful racket on the main stage. The only band to use a video backdrop all weekend, this was like a big ticket show. The band seemed very happy to be there and the crowd lapped up the post rock delivered peerlessly.
Zola Jesus was the late show in the Big Top tent but Mogwai were always going to be a hard act to follow. With a band made up of a drummer, three keyboardists and two mac books, it was certainly an interesting approach. Nika Roza Danilova has oodles of energy prowling the entire stage and speaker stacks. A sterling effort in pop electronica end the night.
Last day and a change in the weather from overnight rain to an overcast, windy and chilly morning.
Black Mountain offshoot of Amber Webber and Joshua Wells’ Lighting Dusk had the benefit of an early sunny midday slot on the Garden Stage and were excellent with their brand of gentle and eloquent songs.
From Newcastle, Lanterns on the Lake were not quite the Sigur Ros-like band as described, but they were excellent regardless. Vocalist and guitarist Hazel Wilde fronts this six piece, who had some lovely songs. Adam Sykes’ guitar is another centre point of the music producing a landscape-size sound to the music. There are many people and instruments on the stage so they are also visually interesting but it is the Laura Marling-like vocalist and guitarist Hazel Wilde who most enchants and intrigues in equal measure. A real find, much like finding Chailo Sim at Green Man, Lanterns on the Lake were one of the main discoveries of End of The Road!
Megafaun sounded good as I was have a quiet moment in the healing retreat wooded area. So after tea and carrot cake it was off to the San Franciscan garage rock of the Fresh and Onlys, yes dark lights and dry ice again but a decent outfit.
Straight afterwards a couple of the band members joined the fabulous Woods on the Garden Stage. The closest thing to Neil Young & Crazy Horse all weekend, the band sent stringing guitar workouts into the late afternoon sky. Woods have been around since 2007 although this was the first time I have seen them live. Based around a three piece they are well worth checking out. Kurt Vile seemed to think so.
Kurt Vile and the Violators rocked the Big Top. Mainly (disappointingly) Kurt was on plugged-in acoustic guitars. When he picked up an Axe though., that was another story!
The final evening kicked off with marvellous Wild Nothing’s brand of California indie surf guitars as light rain started to fall and temperatures plummeted. This was followed by my set of the festival from Midlake on the main stage. Coming “out of their cave” (where they are recording a new record) they really seemed to be enjoying the moment and the songs just seemed to have added momentum somehow. One new song plus lots from The Courage of Others and further back to songs like Branches from The Trials Of Van Occupanther. A unanimously well-received, great show.
John Grant under the stars on the Garden stage followed. Very relaxed and with Midlake watching from the sidelines, he covered Queen of Denmark with some Czars songs thrown in.
A totally different pace to the Midlake set, it took a little time for me to get into the groove but it sure was a lovely set. The very talented Joanna Newsom enchanted as headliner but with the night getting colder and colder as her set went on, the crowd had thinned quite substantially by the end.
Heading home on Monday there was time to reflect on another brilliant weekend. A festival that both artists and audience enjoyed. A sister event is being launched next year; No Direction Home (8-10 June 2012) in the middle of Sherwood forest, so we will be getting two festivals from the same organisers in Olympic year - how great is that?!
Visit our messageboards to comment on this review, read others, add your own reviews, or share a new festival that you've discovered