- Festival Reviews
Our tenth trip down to Dorset for the End of the Road festival, the Eleventh edition of this ever growing boutique affair. Not much to report site wise, a few cosmetic changes but mainly the same set up as recent years.
A main stage start on a Thursday this year meant that the majority of the weekend crowd were there on Thursday night to enjoy a crack set from Teleman followed by a re-generated Shins back on stage for the first time in a very long time. An excellent set as they have a catalogue of wonderful tunes, we even got, ‘Chutes Too Narrow’.
It’s a pretty grey weekend weather wise but Amber Arcades bring some sunshine with their dreamy Scandinavian indie. Dawn Landes and band plays a set of great tunes and looks in top form and over the "break-up album" phase. Fiery Furnace, Eleanor Friedberger, played a lo-fi indie set on her birthday.
Margo Price is on the main Woods Stage, which was introduced a few years back at the same time that the bigger bands arrived at the festival and the capacity was increased. For what the Wood Stage lacks in ambiance the artists themselves create unique musical vistas. The vista for Margo Price and band is Nashville in the rain. A great set of modern day C&W.
Stealing Sheep replace Omar Souleyman and play a great set at short notice, they look like a female Kraftwerk on stage I must say. Now into the evening session and Field Music, running late (van broke down, borrowed equipment etc), are still sound checking when the set should start, but once they get going it’s a superb set.
Phosphorescent plays a one off set on the Garden stage as the night draws in followed by, an outstanding set from Cat Power, what a voice! Later night shows in the Tipi tent from Mothers and Big Thief and both are excellent. Mother’s hypnotic and intense, Big Thief, bright and sparky.
The majority of rain falls today but before the heavy downpour arrives, there is time for breakfast with Wilco, well, a playback of the new album ‘Schmilco’ and a chance to chat with the neighbours. A fine record by the way.
Julia Jacklin, a Caitin Rose like singer/songwriter from Oz is in fine form with a full band, in the Tipi tent. A real find is Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, a folk duo recently signed to Rough Trade Records. Ben play guitar and Josienne, with a dry dark sense of humour sings. Absolutely wonderful, look out for the new album this autumn.
Meilyr Jones storms the Garden stage before the rain hits which means it’s back to the tent for some shelter and red wine. By the time Local Natives hit the Woods Stage at 5.30pm the rain is still coming down but, these guys from L.A. soon have us forgetting about the weather as they pile massive energy into their set. The band have not been around for three years so, all these classic songs from the first couple of albums sound fresh as does the new material. A brilliant hour and oh ... the rain has stopped!
Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop played a lovely set accompanied by some coordinated wildfowl on one song. This is followed by M. Ward and band in full rock n’ roll mode and again an ace set. Our headliner tonight on the Garden Stage is Ezra Furman, who has been playing sets around the festival since Thursday evening. Ezra tonight is in fully focussed, rock n’roll mode and with his band, The Boyfriends, plays an outstanding set.
Tonight’s late night show is an hour in the company of Wild Beasts in the Big Top tent. a nice surprise appearance from these, previous festival headliners.
A nice dry and sunny day at last as Sunday dawns and Pinegrove from New Jersey are an ace early find. slightly Pavement like this a a great band destined for bigger things. The Blind Shake deliver a raw rock n’ roll set on the Big Top stage.
Bill Ryder-Jones in the mid afternoon sunshine is in fine form with his ace band along side and still in a Neil Young and Crazy Horse frame of mind. JD McPherson is a sonically loud rock-a-billy dude in full flight on the Woods stage followed by a 20 piece? Broken Social Scene who flew in for just this set and where heading back to Canada the day after. A sense of occasion was in the air and the band delivered a great set to an adoring crowd.
Tonight’s headliner on the main stage is Joanna Newsom. In fact with nothing else on any other stage at the same time, she is the true End of the Road headliner for 2016 however, like chalk and cheese, before Joanna, it’s Thee Oh Sees on the Garden Stage. A psychedelic 3-piece from San Francisco, these guys just blast the audience off their feet for a hour. a tour-de-force of a gig unlike any other band delivers at this moment in time. A stunning highlight of the festival.
A total opposite and it is the divine Joanna Newsom, for the second time left stranded on the Woods stage on a cold dark chilly night. Sitting in a concert hall her music is stunning. In a cold dark field, at the end of a long festival (with nothing else to watch) it’s just not been thought though it seems.
11.15pm and Teenage Fanclub are on the Garden stage and the festival end in fine style.
This is the festival for us that always draws a big group of friends so, is a constant on out festival calendar .... roll on 2017!
- Festival Reviews
If you were looking to have a new and eclectic festival, who better to curate it than a respected and influential independent record shop, ( hello, Drift Records!) and where better to house it than a hippy intellectual enclave in the south west (yes, that is you, Totnes!) .
It’s near the sea, so the three lovely record shop organisers called it Sea Change – motto, I Can Sea change. I knew it was to be a special weekend when we woke in the bijou campsite in the dairy fields of Dartington estate to find a table laden with free tea, coffee, milk and flasks of hot water. Then Bob the Community Bus arrived to take us the short trip to town.
The five diverse venues were mostly close together in the High Street, where every other shop is a cool café or organic eatery. The opening ceremony was led by Ways with Weirds, two poets who really are undertakers. It had a death and rebirth theme, in the little used Civic Hall where Blondie and 90s raves once shook the tiles from the ceiling – now reborn with a line-up so diverse that even I could not appreciate all of it... full of new discoveries whose records Drift liked and had connections with.
A full-on Membranes rock show was preceded by lead singer and writer John Robb being interviewed about his love of science by John Duran of the Quietus, who later curated a stage in the S Devon Arts Centre featuring his mates like Teeth of the Sea and Bo Ningen...you get the picture. Incidentally, Teeth were so powerful my friend ran out screaming during the first number, joining several other deafened partners on a big leather sofa outside next to a ping pong table.
One of the finest venues for both architecture and acoustics was the 13th C St Marys Church (no bands til 4pm on Sat because of a wedding, when the large festival Bar Open sign was discreetly replaced).
Highlights here were 20 year old Holly Macve from Yorkshire who walked up from the train station with her guitars and sang just like Loretta Lynn, Alasdair Roberts in a trio with Stevie Jones from Sound of Yell and Alex Neilson of Trembling Bells, and James Yorkston with Jon Thorne from Lamb and the stunning voice and sarangi playing of Suhail Yusuf Khan from New Delhi, as heard on their hypnotic and emotional album Everything Sacred.
James then went on to tell anecdotes from his life and two books as part of a spoken word bill in the Birdwood House art gallery.. and then played acoustic solo at a perfect venue, the tiny but welcoming New Lion Brewery.
New Lion had brewed some special beers just for the festival, including British Sea Power IPA (100 numbered bottles – I drank no. 22!), named for the headliners and big name draw who packed out the final session at the Civic Hall. Totnes has two other breweries, including brew pub the Barrelhouse who hosted great dance music with Bizarre Rituals and guests such as Neil Landstrum of Planet Mu and the wonderful Throws, made up of the founders of folkpsych favs Tuung. The two singers played opposite, staring into each other’s eyes.
Perhaps the best new discovery of the weekend was Ultimate Painting, one of several acts referencing the 60s, in this case the Beach Boys and the Byrds. Shame I missed them solo on New Lion’s intimate staircase. Other highlights were BC Camplight roaring out his soulful songs in a big black hat and coat with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a keyboard in the other, and 30Lbs of Bone playing his sad slow laments to a seated Civic Hall. Then it was rocking out with Brighton’s version of the Beautiful South, Pure Conjecture, featuring new Heavenly artist Rose Elinor Dougall.
- Festival Reviews
Come rain, wind, storms, sunshine, blue or grey skies, the middle weekend of August brings us The Green Man Festival, in the glorious setting of the Black Mountains in South Wales.
This year it’s the 14th edition of the festival. A festival that is special in the calendar mainly for the laid back, chilled, mixed ages and general happiness of the people attending. Thursday this year, sees again a fine line-up to wet the taste buds for the weekend ahead.
First on the Far Out Stage ( bigger tent this year) are Cigarettes after Sex from Brooklyn. Slightly National like in style these guys are excellent. Deep, dark songs from next year’s debut LP sound very promising indeed.
Next up it’s King Glizzard and the Lizard Wizard from Australia who nearly blow the roof off the tent on the first evening. Psych Rock at its finest.
Final band of the night is Wild Beasts, the biggest Thursday headliner the festival has had. The band back with a new album, ‘Boy King’ are in fine form and play a full 90 mins set.
First up on the Mountain (main) Stage is Tony Njoku, winner of the Green Man Rising competition. An excellent voice mixed with Synths make for an interesting sound. Palace Winter, a Copenhagen rock outfit seem polished and able to blow the cobwebs away! Always a good sign.
Next a band that certainly fit into that category are the 9 piece O’Hellos from Austin, Texas. Absolutely fabulous, full of life, full of fun and great songs! Ex- Megafauna man Phil Cook gives us an accomplished set of great songs and chat before it’s off the the Far Out tent for the legends that are The Membranes. Suitably shell-shocked post gig we head for Georgia band Mothers who took to the Walled Garden Stage having switched slots with Emma Pollock .
The band highlighted their set with a number of songs from their latest album 'When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired', which has received rave reviews from critics. Whilst you may not find their show full of party central songs, their sophisticated songwriting was evident in their 30 minute set. Showing just why their band are gaining an up and coming following.
Julianna Barwick is someone you always want to listen to lying on the grass with your eyes shut. Magnificent! Next it’s The Mountain Stage for local hero Meilyr Jones who was excellent with great songs and lyrics. Then comes veteran U.S. indie band The Miracle Legion. Mark Mulcahy and co delivered a great set in the pouring rain to an enthusiastic and very wet crowd.
Oh Sister, another Green Man Rising band were something special on the Rising stage. Very soulful and great musicians ... a Brit Warpaint in the making. Throws were surprisingly loud on the Walled Garden stage ... excellent songs created during a winter in Iceland apparently.
Early evening now and Connan Moccasin takes to the Mountain stage with the evening sun shining bright and warm. It takes a while for the band to warm up, but when they do, wow! Suuns clash with Jason Isbell but with the staggered stage time we get 20 mins of this superb band, after which the aforementioned Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit play a storming set on the Mountain stage.
Dark now and it's White Denim who get everyone bouncing before it becomes a choice of James Blake or a re-formed Lush. We opt for Lush and get a Shoegaze, Brit pop history lesson. Brilliant!
I See Rivers (Staves like) start the day off beautifully. Sea Pinks from Belfast raise the pace with their bright sparking indie tunes followed by Fews, a Foals like band finding their feet fast. BC Camplight and band have a sunshine set on the Walled Garden stage, which is great fun as is, the ever delightful Emma Pollock, who is always someone to make the sun shine.
The Weather Station, Canadian Tamara Lindeman and band play a sublime set in the Walled Garden. Shut your eyes and think Joni Mitchell and you have it. Joan Shelley also guested on one song.
The Magnetic North with Simon Tong, Hannah Peel and Gawain Erland Cooper plus strings are magnificent, again on the small Walled Garden stage. Both their albums get a good look in during the hour long set. A real highlight of the weekend.
Night time and Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeros get the Mountain stage crowd on their feet and dancing. A brilliant frontman and equally brilliant band, turn a large crowd into a club!
Laura Marling played a wonderful set as headliner but, this wonderful set was more suited to a concert hall. As a Saturday festival headline set it didn’t really work, the crowd seemed pretty deflated after the exuberance of the Edward Sharpe show.
They didn't use video screens on the side of the stage, which meant that those on the slopes around the stage and at the middle / back of the flat area in front of the stage lost their connection with the artist. The same thing happened with Tindersticks earlier in the evening and Neutral Milk Hotel a few years ago. Laura played some beautiful music, but with warning of 55 mph winds due overnight, we chose to trudge back to our tents.
No obvious major tent damage after a second night of storms! Sunday was dry day for the most part and very warm. A real great find and opener on the Mountain Stage at midday was Margaret Glaspy, a real gritty singer/songwriter from Red Bluff, California and now based in New York. A real one to watch!
Daniel Norgren from Sweden leads a 3 piece band with heavy Neil Young influences, a great grungy hour in the sunshine. Gengahr are up next, songs form the new album due next year sound good as does the more established material.
Ex-Woods man Kevin Morby plays a blinder in a very warm Far Out Tent and he is followed by a dose of prog psych from The Besnard Lakes. Back to the Walled Garden for some tropical pop from Black Peaches after which the garden becomes rammed as a massive crowd squeezes in for Whitney. A real hit of the weekend, the band suffering from a long night partying still provide a fun packed show of songs and banter. Guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich have really hit a rich vein of form with this band. There are autumn UK dates, so check them out.
Down to our final two bands of the festival. Warpaint, perhaps played the most fluid set of the whole festival. This band have such a brilliant vibe about them. The music each member plays just flows together between the four of them to create a groove laden whole. Outstanding set and again they have Autumn UK dates scheduled.
Unfortunately Warpaint clashed with Ezra Furman, who from comments of those smiling people coming out of the tent after the gig, put on the most talked about set of the weekend. End of the Road beckons for our Ezra live experience!
The legend that is Grandaddy wound up the festival for us in fine style. Pushed for time they still completed an hour long hit laden set to the joy of everyone present.
The burning of the Green Man and speculator fireworks ended the 14th edition of the Green Man festival which was a real joy to attend.
- Festival Reviews
A lovely sunny day for strolling between the five locations up and down Mare Street, Hackney that comprise this festival. The venues are all indoors and are dispersed along a mile-long stretch so a bit of planning is needed. Key thing for us is not to be too ambitious given the requirement to build in 'moving about' time, but at the same time we wanted to take in all five venues which we managed to do.
Good quality street food on offer and plenty of craft ale from local micro-breweries. So with all that, mixed with an eclectic band line-up we couldn't really go wrong.
Gabriel Bruce - Moth Club
Our favourite small venue in Hackney and this was a must-see act for us as well. Particularly good quality Hackney Golden Ale was consumed as we sat in the bar area of this social club awaiting proceedings to begin.
Gabriel Bruce can be best described as 'effortless rockin', his dark brown voice never showcased better than in second song 'Sacred Heart'. Supported with a four-piece band, together they got funky on 'Kurt And Kanye’. Finished with 'Come All Sufferers', title track from Gabriel’s forthcoming album (I confess I thought the song was called ‘Come on Suckers’ until I saw the set list)
Japanese Breakfast - Oval Space
Perhaps I'm getting to be a grumpy old man but I get increasingly irritated at events like this when stage schedules run a long way out of time. This band were second on this stage but (not their fault) were a full 50 minutes late starting. This feels like uncaring disregard for the paying customer (there are other bands I could be seeing!.... or perhaps I should just chill out a little).
At 3.35 the band were ready to go but were looking non-plussed toward the sound desk. At this point I had two templates in my head for this mini-review: (a) ‘....resulted in making what might have been an enjoyable set a rather tepid affair’ or (b) ‘.... but it was worth the wait as this exciting US band blew us away....’
First song in was definitely option A, but things picked up massively as the set progressed and I'm glad to say option B prevailed. This was their first visit to UK. Pop tunes in Alvvays/Sunflower Bean vein but with a thumping beat. The fifth song was sung solo by lead singer Michelle Zauner. Interestingly she seemed most at home on this number; shades of 'See Of Bees'. Unfortunately the guitar sound was out of kilter with the vocal suggesting an acoustic accompaniment might suit it better. Final number went electro a la Polica.
Michelle Zauner is a talent to watch, not necessarily, I suspect, within the confines of this band.
Let's Eat Grandma -St John's Church Hackney
This venue presents a slightly sorry picture. A cavernous building but with a ceiling sadly discoloured from water penetration. Still has the trappings of a working church but the pews all taken out, so unusually for an ecclesiastical venue this is an 'all-stander'.
Let's Eat Grandma are two 17 year old girls from Norwich, Rosa & Jenny. With matching waist long curly hair you'd be forgiven for thinking they were sisters. Having seen pictures of them before today but without hearing their material I was expecting an angry punk-edged shout-fest. This was nothing of the sort. This pair produced sounds of a maturity that belied their years. Supported by a drum machine they both skipped between multiple instruments: keys, glockenspiel, sax, mandolin, guitar and recorder - all complementing the vocals which they also shared.
A few songs in, the drum machine was ditched for real drums, once again both taking a turn. But this was the one area I feel they over-stretched themselves. It felt like wasted energy that might have been put to better use expanding on the quirky synchronised dance-moves that became an increasing feature as the set progressed.
A wonderful performance though surprisingly not the most striking we saw – this was to follow at the Brewhouse....
Drones Club - London Fields Brewhouse
The performance that blew us away most today. As we came out of the Brewhouse bar heading to the small auditorium we followed the band as they exited the 'Band Dressing Room' area. They were bedecked in jump suits all with multi-coloured burkah-style head-dresses. Put me in mind of Devo in their pomp.
As the band went into their first dance-groove electro tune two other (presumably female) band members, similarly attired with only their eyes visible through their head-dress, came toward the stage and proceeded to dance in front of the stage, where they remained, beguiling throughout.
Two of the band members revealed their faces as the set progressed but the remainder remained unidentified. A great spectacle.
Bleached – Mangle Club
Jennifer and Jessie used to be ‘Mika Miko’. Now the band is three girls with a dude on a drumkit which was bedecked with flowers. Girl punk in sensible shoes
Gengahr – Mangle Club
Delivered excellent renditions of songs mostly from their excellent 2015 album ‘A Dream Outside’. Set included three new tunes, played with perhaps a tad more energy. Most interesting was titled ‘Mallory’.
Yak – Moth Club
Missing their usual bass player, tonight’s line-up included Leo of Gallon Drunk on bass. Plus guests Jono (Jagwar Ma) and Jay (Tame Impala) on guitar. This auspicious line up played guitar heavy tunes with plenty of electro keyboards interlaced, all complemented perfectly by sax interludes.
From previous experience of this band we knew the crowd was likely to be ‘lively’; and as expected a mosh started from the opening chords. As drink became spilt on the dance-floor area it became like an ice-rink and in the second number two girls fell backwards to the floor, limbs akimbo. Singer Oliver Burslem wasted no opportunity to max out on this opportunity, leaping from the stage to lay backwards on top of them, hampering their efforts to get up - playing thrashing chords on his guitar all the while.
This was the first of multiple forays into the audience through this vibrant set that comprised songs of 10-12 minutes in length with drum/bass/sax solos aplenty. Fantastic stuff – by the end we were battered and exhausted in equal measure, and wet with beer, water and sweat. An appropriate state to catch the train home with whistling ears....
- Festival Reviews
Splendour festival is hosted by Nottingham City Council in Batman's back garden, or as it's more usually known Wollaton Hall. (Fun Film fact- Wollaton Hall doubled for Wayne Manor in 'The Dark Knight Rises'), and whilst Batman doesn't appear to be in the crowd today 20,000 residents of Nottingham and surrounds are present.
There are two noisy stages in the parkland next to the hall and an acoustic stage in the courtyard of the hall's outbuildings. Seen first today on the second ('Confetti') stage is grunge-punk band Babepunch. I've seen this very young, local band a few times recently opening shows in Derby and Nottingham and their thick, grunge-like sound works really well outdoors. Particular mention must go to the lead vocals of Molly Godber with her Courtney Love style roar , which is used to great effect on their cover of Hole's 'Violet'. Babepunch's single 'Snake Tongue' is another highlight.
Over to the main stage for Turin Brakes, whose Summery, laid-back sounds fit well with the unusually good East Midlands weather. The small but appreciative crowd gathered down the front sing along with 'Painkiller' and 'Underdog'; both of which are still simply lovely.
By total contrast back on the 'Confetti' stage is Stiff Little Fingers. The mass of old punks in SLF t-shirts heading towards the stage replace the exodus of teens heading the opposite direction possibly confused by the sounds of live guitars and drums; the benefit of experience wins out as SLF play a great set. Opening with 'Barbed Wire Love' they deliver a blistering set of fan favourites including 'When We Were Young ' and 'Tin Soldiers' and just before they finish with 'Alternative Ulster' Jake Burns promises the crowd a return to Nottingham's famous Rock City really soon.
Quick trip to the acoustic stage as Ellie Keegan, who's a highly rated local folksy-acoustic singer songwriter is on. Ellie finished second in the Future Sound of Nottingham 2015 and has appeared on local new music radio show 'The Beat', so she's getting a good reputation locally. There are a couple of things which sets her apart from many other singer songwriters in her clever use of vocal and guitar loops as her own backing track and compared with others older and more experienced she appears confident and totally relaxed on stage. The track 'Change Your Ways' stands out.
The sun is still shining and the quantity of drink increases, so the presence of UB40 gets the picnickers on the hill in front of the main stage off their low deckchairs and blankets for the first time today for a festival-friendly hits set including 'Cherry Oh Baby', 'Be Your Baby Tonight' and 'Many Rivers To Cross'. Their music is the perfect accompaniment for the warm, boozy early evening feeling and their end of set selection of Kingston Town', ' Can't Help Falling In Love With You' and inevitably 'Red, Red Wine' get the first mass field sing alongs of the day.
The average age of the punters gathering in front of the main stage means that we've probably got a 1980's favourite next and The Human League were always one of the best. In a hits-heavy hour you're reminded what a great selection of pop songs (let's not be afraid of using that word) they wrote. First surprise is that Phil Oakey, a man who was once famous for his lop-sided fringe is now completely without hair. Starting the set with 'Mirror Man', then 'Love Action', it's clear the tunes haven't aged at all. The perfect pop melodies provided by Phil, Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall in 'Open Your Heart','Tell Me When' and '(Keep Feeling) Fascination' encourage the audience to join in with every word. Another costume exchange gives the band time to play the first verse and chorus of 'Don't You Want Me' with the audience on lead and backing vocals, the full band plays the whole track to the biggest field sing-along today as the audience are transported back to their adolescence.
A lovely venue, good local refreshments, interesting and varied music and luck with the weather, Splendour was obviously splendid.
- Festival Reviews
The first day of this new festival on the edge of the Thames in Fulham. Music and literature are the themes along with some pretty decent beer, coffee and cuisine. Much the size of a village green fete, the surrounds of Fulham Place are a fine location on a sunny day.
Ticket sales seem to have been pretty sparse with the number of special offers on tickets flying around prior to the two day event, but basked in glorious sunshine the small site did seem comfortably full.
One main music stage is the centre of attention and the music kicks off with Imarham from Algeria with a perfect sound for the sunshine. Into the palace building for a chat with Charlatan’s front man Tim Burgess about his new book ‘Tim Book Two’ .. a lovely interview helmed by Emma Warren.
Back outside for an ethereal set from Be Play One followed by the hazy sunshine sound from a tie dyed t-shirt adorned Ryley Walker.
Back indoors for Darren Hayman playing a rather intimate show around his latest venture ‘Thankful Villages’.A Thankful Village is a village where every soldier returned alive from World War 1 so, lots of stories are told between songs. A lovely set.
Early evening and it’s the return of Beth Orton, slightly overwhelmed to be back on stage it seemed, the three piece outfit start with songs from the new album and Beth really grows into the set. Mixed with “songs from the olden days” it is an accomplished return. Look out for Beth’s September dates.
Final band of the day and headliners are Low. On stage five minutes early, they deliver a magnificent set over the next 90 minutes or so. This band just get better with age it’s an awesome set.
10.00pm curfew so it’s a early train home from a lovely day out.
Day Two is headlined by Super Furry Animals so, it should be another great day out for those there.
- Festival Reviews
I was at Cambridge Folk Festival last weekend. Glastonbury may have the spectacular location and world famous party vibes, but if I could only come to one festival, Cambridge is the one I would choose. It is musically right up my street and everything is just so pleasant, friendly and comfortable.
When you camp at Cherry Hinton you are so close to the stages that you can get to your tent and back in between sets. The weather was fairly good, even though at Cambridge that does not really matter as the stages are in tents. This was my 11th time at the festival and as many people come every year there are familiar faces everywhere.
Apart from gigs I attended some of the special events. Singer/songwriter Chris Wood did a talk on songwriting, which was fascinating. Audience members would ask about particular songs and Chris would talk about the song, explain technical stuff that I never would have thought about and he played some songs as well.
Eliza Carthy did a similar thing about singing. She rarely plays solo these days, so it was a treat to hear her do quite a few songs completely solo. The Mojo interview was with Kate Rusby this year, who can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Damien O'Kane was with her and accompanied her on the guitar for a few songs. Kate explained that she cannot play guitar anymore due to arthritis in her neck.
1. Gogol Bordello
This will go down as one of the most fun gigs I was ever at. They were exactly at the right place at the right time, as the last act on stage one on Friday night. We had barely recovered from Glen Hansard when the stage was invaded by these 'Ukrainian gypsy punks' from New York. Eugene Hütz is a great frontman, kind of a deranged pirate with wine bottle constantly in hand. There was so much to see and hear and everything played on proper instruments. Not a computer or a gadget in sight. I like that Eugene sings in his original accent. At the end of the show the two dancers threw their big drums into the audience and Eugene and one of the dancers then climbed onto these drums that were being held up by the crowd. It was thrilling stuff and it made for a great change from all the flutes and fiddles.
2. Christy Moore
I had seen Christy a few weeks ago in Killarney, but Cambridge was the better gig. He was accompanied by Declan Sinnott, Seamie O'Dowd and Jimmy Higgins, and I realized that I had missed Declan's contributions in Killarney. Christy paid compliments to the great listening audience. I was a bit unlucky in that a very drunken Paddy who evidently had Christy's greatest hits (we were okay on the newer material...) was near me and roaring loudly along to the songs (he knew them word for word, I have to give him that). He was that drunk that his own friends did not dare to try and silence him. But at least he was not talking and I was more or less able to zone him out. The tent was absolutely rammed. One of the highlights was what Christy described as "something local" - 'Shine on you crazy diamond'.
Cambridge does not publish the performance schedule in advance, so it was only when I got there and saw the program that I learned that Kíla would be the closing act on the Sunday night. Couldn't wish for a more perfect end to the festival. I am a huge fan and therefore biased, but they got a great reception and CDs were selling briskly afterwards. Of all the festivals I go to Cambridge has by far the best stocked CD stall.
4. Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mary was on stage directly after Eliza Carthy and her 12-man/woman circus-like Wayward Band and it was the perfect antidote. Accompanied by a guitarist and a keyboard player, Mary's songs are so strong they do not need any embellishment. Her chat in between the songs was very nice too. Another one in the long list of grand country dames I have seen at Cambridge (Emmylou, Lucinda, Rosanne, Nanci Griffith, Kathy Mattea).
5. Glen Hansard
Glen had a huge band with him and played a blinder. His enthusiasm is so infectious. It is like he is still a busker at heart. There is a real carpe diem vibe about his performance. I particularly loved his cover of 'Astral weeks', with just Glen on guitar and his bassist playing. Eugene Hütz said later, in his inimitable Ukrainian accent, that it was “a real honour to play with Glen – respectus maximus”. Glen brought Lisa O'Neill on to sing 'The Galway shawl', as he said he was sorry to have missed her set earlier in the day.
As with Kíla, I am a fan of Solas, rarely miss a gig and I have everything they ever released. This was a top notch trad gig; a great mix of songs and instrumentals. It was my first time seeing them with new singer Moira Smiley. She is good, but then so were all her predecessors.
7. Duncan Chisholm
Due to an unfortunate clash I only saw half of Duncan's show. I had planned to leave halfway through Mary Chapin Carpenter to go to stage two, but Mary was so good that I stayed. The 25 minutes I caught of Duncan's gig were still absolutely beautiful. There are many good fiddlers out there, but it is the fact that Duncan writes all these amazing tunes himself that makes him stand out. I bumped into several of my friends at the CD stall immediately afterwards, so I wasn't the only one who thought this was extraordinary.
8. Le Vent Du Nord
I love the Québécois music. So much so that I actually went there a few years ago. I had a lovely time but was disappointed not to find any of this music. “Ah yes, we believe zis is very popular in Europe”, people would say.... Oh well, their loss. Le Vent Du Nord never disappoint. Despite the early hour (they were on at 11:30 a.m.) it was full in the tent for their gig.
9. Chris Wood
One of these artists that never seem to come to Ireland, so I have to catch him when I can at a festival. Chris is a great songwriter, storyteller and performer. During his songwriting talk he had said that he never really took to playing with a band and quite frankly he does not need one. His was one of a few gigs at stage two that suffered badly from sound overspill coming from stage one, which was most unfortunate.
10. Imelda May
I was in doubt whether to go and see Imelda, because I had seen her before and when you have seen her once you have kind of seen her. I knew that she recently went through a divorce and I wondered if it would be different as a result. It certainly was. She looked fantastic for a start, kind of Shirley Manson meets Chrissie Hynde. Not only was it 'a bit different' – it seems that the split fired up her creativity and the new songs were great. Nice talk in between the songs as well, about how lucky we all were to be standing in a tent listening to music. True of course. She finished with a cover of U2's 'All I want is you', during which she got half of the audience to sing 'Walk on the wild side' and the other half 'You can't always get what you want'. It worked wonderfully well.
11. Lisa O'Neill
This was my first time seeing Lisa with a band. I first saw her in Whelans quite a few years ago when she supported Joe Pug and she has gone from strength to strength. Another great stage personality with very dry humour. She finished with a cover of Jefferson Airplane's 'White rabbit', which really suited her voice.
12. John McCusker Band
One of trad's greatest. I had seen him play many times with others, but this was my first time seeing John McCusker front his own band. Heidi Talbot sang a few songs, as did Kris Drever. I love Heidi's voice, have never quite taken to Kris. Graham Coxon also came on as a guest. Top gig from start to finish.
13. Kate Rusby
Last time Kate played I left halfway through as I wanted to see something else, so this time I was keen to catch her entire set. She has the most beautiful voice and her own unique way of making you feel like you are sitting in her living room listening. She did some old songs I knew ('I courted a sailor', 'Awkward Annie') and a number of new ones, one of which ('Big brave Bill') I have not been able to get out of my head since (“The hero who drinks Yorkshire tea all the time.....”).
A vocal harmony quartet from Boston. They found themselves suddenly in a prime time slot on stage one as Charles Bradley had called in sick. Every year there is one act who takes Cambridge by storm, is on everyone's lips and sells out all of their CDs and this year Darlingside was that act. The boys looked charmingly chuffed with the overwhelming reception they got. Their singing was very beautiful indeed (CSN-style) and very humorous in-between-song-chat as well.
15. Jon Boden
From the 11-piece beast that was Bellowhead to performing completely solo, Jon Boden headlined the Thursday night. It was good, but maybe I had expected more, because I liked Bellowhead so much and indeed Spiers & Boden as well. This is a new venture for Jon. It took me a while to warm to Bellowhead, so no doubt this will get better as the tour progresses.Cambridge being Cambridge, what lurks outside the top 15 is still top quality stuff: Michael McGoldrick, the Afro Celt Sound System, Leyla McCalla, Megson and O'Hooley & Tidow.
One thing I will be mentioning to the organisers about was the new lighting on the Cherry Hinton campsite. These lights make it seem as bright as day in the middle of the night. Who wants that? My tent was under some trees so it was not too bad, but there is no need for lights that you can read by when you actually want to sleep.....
Finally a big thank you to my friends. It was great watching bands together and talking music with you. Hope to see everyone again next year.
- Festival Reviews
Steve's notebook from Shefield
Friday 22nd July
Clay [Leadmill] - 4 piece pop band from Leeds who although describing themselves as 'indie' played groove based songs (from their new EP 'Heaven') sounding all a bit sub-Friendly Fires/Jungle. Very young band, attracted a good female following
Inheaven [Leadmill] - Definitely of interest, not least because this 4 piece South London outfit have sealed Julian Casablanca's approval via release of their debut single 'Regeneration' on his Cult Record label in the US. And I can see why, lead singer James Taylor has the Strokes front man's style and intonation. Latest offering on single is the doom-laden 'Bitter Town'. Worth seeing again.
Virgin Kids [Washington Pub] Forgoing Meilyr Jones (as he's at EOTR), I plumped for this band. I can see why the NME would champion them. Playing 3 minute slabs of garage rock in what I can only describe as a pub corridor they really went for it. The comparison to Black Lips isn't too far off the mark, and their 30 minute set covered songs from their album 'Greasewheel'. Powerful for a 3 piece, I enjoyed them - well worth a viewing again
Saturday 23rd July
Holy Esque [O2 Academy] - Glasgow based 4 piece who sadly didn't draw a crowd - there must have been about 30 of us. As such they were pretty sullen, especially singer Pat Hynes. They played songs from their 2016 album 'At Hope's Ravine' which were pretty good - worth a second look when they don't have to do a set at 4pm maybe...
NARCS [City Hall] - 4 piece Leeds/North England band who aired songs from their current album 'A Thinking Animal'. Part Indie punk interspersed with anti-Tory political rants involving the lead singer jumping into the crowd to get his point across, they have had some airplay from Tom Robinson and Steve Lamacq. Plenty of energy but it wasn't their crowd, as I discovered the majority had come to see....
Yndi Halda [City Hall] - What can I say - a revelation! Sounding to me like a cross between Sigur Ros and BSP [when Abi and the band 'go melodic'], they couldn't have been more suited to the massive City Hall ballroom which had fantastic acoustics. I spoke with guitarist/singer James Vella who said that him and the band are friends with BSP so understood the comparison to the instrumental stuff. He also said that they made a tacit effort in their song writing to 'not be as electronic as Sigur Ros' and it certainly works for them. I immediately purchased their 2 offerings, 'Enjoy Eternal Bliss' from 2006 and their new 2016 release 'Under Summer'. They finished their set playing bell-like glockenspiels, and here's a rarity for a gig these days - the audience (100+) didn't make a sound. The highlight of the 3 days for me.
The Crookes [O2 Academy] - Home town gig, so the audience was with them from the start and this was their 7th consecutive Tramlines appearance. Very polished, but the songs seemed to be written for maximum sing-along appeal. Not my cup of tea. If The Crookes were footballers they would be described as 'journeymen'. Too Kaiser Chiefs....
Mystery Jets [O2 Academy] - Second highlight of the 3 days, they were fantastic, benefitting from a huge crowd. Sheffield doesn't get many bands like this - they tend to by-pass Sheffield for Leeds, so they were surprised by the reception. Playing a full set which included songs from 'The Curve Of The Earth' such as 'Bombay Blue' and 'Telomere', I was chuffed that they still include 2008's 'Young Love' in their set which originally featured a very young Laura Marling. They were great - top value.
Sunday 24th July
Eliza & The Bear [O2 Academy] - A crowd pleasing band first and foremost; their anodyne lyrics and nursery rhyme tunes all rushed headlong to a chorus that typically included 'ooh, ahh' instead of WORDS. Sadly, the crowd: 200+ loved 'em. What do I know.
Silver Wilson [The Harley] - Nottingham based 3 piece pop band who were excellent considering they looked about 12 (they aren't). Shades of Bombay Bicycle Club and Kajagoogoo type pop resulted in a slick 30 minute set from a stage area in a an intimate setting. Nice Sunday pop.
Reflecktor [Leadmill] - Doom laden electronica/psychedelica with guitars who I actually quite enjoyed. The guitarist had a bit of The Kills Jamie Hince about him. They aren't a band as such, more a collective of musicians/DJ's and Producers.
High Hazels [Leadmill] - Sheffield based band who had more carefully constructed songs than most, with a story telling based set along the lines of Richard Hawley. Early days, and the songs weren't that memorable yet but I'd like to see them in a year's time.
Johnny Lloyd [Leadmill] - You get the impression this ex-Tribes man was born in a leather jacket - he oozes rock 'n roll. Songs such as 'Hello Death' - produced by Jamie T - and 'Happy Humans' were perfectly crafted classic indie. Big crowd for him, and he was up for it too.
Gaz Coombs - A massive crowd for Gaz who played an acoustic set aided by drum machines/electronics. Drawing from 'Matador' and 'Here Come The Bombs' he put an acoustic slant on songs such as 'Hot Fruit' and 'Matador' plus - my personal fave song - 'The Girl Who Fell To Earth'. The crowd went nuts for him and he played a full 90 minute set. Excellent.
So, that's it. A great event and I'll be back next year.
- Festival Reviews
There can surely be no better ‘value for money’ festival anywhere in the land. Tickets were £89.50 for the whole weekend, including camping. And this year the festival was extended to three days, where previously it had just been two. Truck has a local feel and the absence of corporate badging is refreshing and the festival continues to punch above it's weight in terms of line-up.
Many of the outlets are run in aid of charities, eg local Rotary Clubs or churches, which complement the usual food and drink stalls. This gives the festival a 'do it yourself' vibe which is fine apart from the amateurishly constructed urinals many of which sloped the wrong way - enough said......
There are five principal stages with only the main one ‘Truck Stage’ outside. Second stage is ‘Market Stage’ inside a large-ish rectangular tent, then ‘The Nest’ and ‘Veterans & Virgins’ in tents of decreasing size. The ‘Barn’ is in a cowshed on the farm – on previous visits this housed some established acts but this time around felt like it was just peripheral bands appearing there. Finally there was ‘The Saloon Bar’, a mock western bar but with a real drinks counter inside – catering for country/folk performances.
The good thing is the site is small so extremely easy to dip between the stages. Sally and I got to see 31 bands across the weekend with loads of variety. As usual for us though, this didn't include any of the Main Stage headliners (Catfish & The Bottlemen, Friday; Manics on Saturday; Kodaline Sunday). Stand out sets we saw were Youngfathers and Yndi Halda, a new discovery for us. Also one to look out for: Palm Honey
Reflecting the diy vibe, alcohol can be taken into the festival. Really welcome but can lead to some hazy afternoons (and band reviews, below).
Connah Evans - Palm City Stage
Indie singer-songwriter dude. Songs complemented brilliantly with guitar (Leon) and drums (Callum). Guitar gave the songs colour, depth and quality. A confident lad but with no swagger.
Willy J Healy - Market Stage
Lively songs from WJH supported by a quality band
Ady Suleiman - Truck Stage
Cloudy afternoon with sun occasionally peeking through made for a marvellous backdrop for AS's RnB tunes. 5-strong support. We particularly liked the little acoustic guitar player
Hooton Tennis Club - Market Stage
Played some songs from their forthcoming second album. Powerful Pierre was a crowd favourite (as usual)
Boon Mew & Wooster - Saloon Stage
Rockin country tunes that somehow failed to get the place rockin. Good box-beating though.
DMAs - Market Stage
An accomplished Aussie band. Punchy and anthemic songs. Best band of the day so far albeit a little repetitive. Much chanting of 'D, D, DMA' from the ebullient crowd
Soak - Market Stage
There was an irritating over-fussiness through the set up and sound-checking which lead to Soak taking the stage 45 minutes late by which time much of the crowd had departed for the Main Stage (for Catfish & The Bottlemen). So the set was played to a sparse crowd, lacking a vibe. And ironically the sound was poor with overly heavy bass (guitar and drum)
Applewood Road - Saloon Stage
Emily Barker's latest side-project with two American girls, Amber and Amy; all three each taking a share in the lead vocal. Excellent folk harmonies and included a great rendition of Losing My Religion.
Saturday 16th July
Flights of Helios - Truck Record Shop Tent
1.00 pm set. Very pleasant dreamy tunes while we browsed the vinyl racks and sat outside firming up our plan for Day Two. Rather comically on the stroke of 1.15 the crashing opening chords from Judas on the nearby Truck Stage swamped the band completely. Fair play, they soldiered on.
Judas - Truck Stage
Rockin guitars. Perfect sunny afternoon stage-opening set.
Virgin Kids – Nest Stage
Excellent band, a pre-fest pick for me having been impressed by them in a recent supporting slot (to The Big Moon) at The Joiners earlier on in the year. 3-piece guitar band. Song 'Never Nude' is worth checking out.
Shame - Nest
5-piece guitars. This band has a lead singer with serious attitude. "We're Shame - to listen to us is a privilege". Second song in he pulled his arm out of his T-shirt so he was half bare-chested and proceeded to pour lager over his stomach and chest. The next song was titled ‘Lick’. After that they threw in a new untitled number that got a spontaneous mosh-pit going which heralded beer throwing amongst the crowd, lead singers shirt coming fully off and a spit into the audience. The final tune saw him join the mosh. Great stuff – the kind of youthful exuberance that rock n roll was built on. Ones to watch.
Estrons – Truck Stage
Estrons means ‘Aliens’ in welsh. 4-piece from Cardiff. Thumping bass and female lead vocal. A bit shouty in places
Traams – Nest Stage
This brilliant threesome from Sheffield was another ‘must-see’ for me. Bass and Guitarist share the vocals. Parquet Courts soundalike in places so they’re in great company. As ever, they build their set and culminate with Klaus, an 8-minute tune with an exhilarating guitar climax
The Big Moon – Truck Stage
London female foursome; slightly edgy but actual playing well-constructed pop songs. Totally at home on the main stage. Included a Madonna cover ‘Beautiful Stranger’. Penultimate song ‘Formidable’ sounds like a tune to listen out for on their forthcoming debut album.
Public Access TV – Nest Stage
This festival serves up a good helping of British bands so it was a refreshing change to hear some good old American garage rock from PATV. Good set.
Spector – Nest Stage
Back to quintessentially English tunes. Indie pop to perfection. The tent was the most rammed we saw it all weekend. Brilliantly crafted tunes, the crowd singing along to most of ‘em.
Ratboy – Truck Stage
Jordan Carty’s show takes on a different hue on the bigger stage. Solid performance, fully appreciated by youthful crowd, but loses a bit of edge compared to performances we’ve seen on smaller stages.
Spring King – Nest Stage
Spring King’s debut LP ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ is one of my favourite albums of 2016 and was given a good airing here. Started the set with ‘Better Man’(not on the vinyl but is a bonus track on the download) a belting song that got the boisterous crowd forming pit-circles from the off. Drummer and Lead Singer Tariq Musa sounded truly genuine when he said this was the best festival crowd they’d ever played to.
Youngfathers – Market Stage
Marvellously different to anything else we heard all weekend. Dramatic drumming in the Scottish standy-up style. Perfect backdrop to the rapping/chanting of the three front-men. Strong on social commentary. Particularly impressive is that they can all sing very well. Powerful in all regards. The most striking set of the weekend.
The Long Insiders – Saloon Bar
Was expecting country but got rockabilly rock n roll. With disguised relief we had to depart after four numbers for our final band appointment of the day
Recreations – Veterans & Virgins Stage
‘Recreations’ is Sam Duckworth’s new persona. Played some tunes off recently released album under that moniker, including excellent song ‘Built To Last’. Also several songs of inaugural ‘Get Cape Wear Cape’ album ‘Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager’, Joined on stage for final two numbers by Festival co-organiser Joe Bennett on cornet.
Day Two was rounded of with an hour in the Silent Disco – an experience I cannot commend highly enough.
Sunday 17th July
Palm Honey – Veterans & Virgins Stage
From Reading – four-piece band but refreshing to see keys rather than the usual second guitar. First on at noon but I made a point of catching their set as had encountered them previously in a support slot. Great vocalist and the keys give an electro/orchestral feel. Shades of The Boxer Rebellion...... or in places even Radiohead (but that may be brain being unable to break the connection with this band’s name). Drummer was shoeless. Penultimate song was a wonderful orchestral/melodic 6-minute song. Final number ‘a new one’ was a seven minute epic with a lengthy metronomic middle eight and a fantastic guitar climax that wound down to see the band take us into ‘two additional minutes’ of scuzzy guitar. Real potential here.
Cassels – Nest Stage
A guitar and crashing drum duo. Grunge rock in a classy style, interlaced with some good social comment (or maybe they were just angry because their booking agent had ripped them off so they weren’t getting any fee for playing the festival). Confident in what they do. Lyrically clever.
Emily Barker – Market Stage
Usual top notch country folk from EB. Today supported by The Dreaming Spires
Yndi Halda– Nest Stage
Our find of the weekend. This band has a welsh-looking name with a sound like Icelandic favourites Sigur Ros mashed up with Scotland’s Aerogramme, but actually hail from Canterbury. Yndi Halda means ‘Enjoy Eternal Bliss’ in Old Norse. Fantastic cinematic tunes with violinist taking centre stage. Definitely will be seeking out their recorded material.
Storme– Band Stage
Our one visit to this stage. 3-piece with female lead vocal, keys and electronic keypad.
Get Inuit– Nest Stage
Angular rhythms, sounding like Alt-J in places. Confident lead singer.
Danny & the Champions of The World– Market Stage
The best thing by far about this band is the great sight and great sound of the Hammond Organ.
Blossoms– Truck Stage
Looked highly presentable on the main stage. Played their increasing recognisable pop-indie tunes.
Black Honey– Market Stage
Crowd in excellent lively mood for this band who I feel are slightly underrated. Haven’t had the same attention that Wolf Alice have had, but their songs and stage show are equally as strong.
Mystery Jets– Market Stage
Irritatingly were 45 minutes coming on (in common with the Friday and Saturday headliners on this stage). Particularly annoying in this case as the excellent Blaenavon were paying another stage at this time and we could have squeezed them in as well. But during the wait the crowd was extremely good natured and remained lively during MJ’s excellent set that featured a number of tunes from their excellent recent release ‘The Curve Of the Earth’ with some old crowd-pleasing favourites thrown in ‘Two Doors Down’ and ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’
- Festival Reviews
So the annual, small and bijou family friendly Deershed festival was upon us once again, and the weather gods were smiling on us with a forecast of sunny spells over the whole weekend.
The live music is only actually spread over 2 full days, 4pm start on Friday, and roughly 5pm end on Sunday afternoon, but if you have young kids, there’s plenty of other activities to keep them occupied.
Being in the massive minority with no kids to entertain, after the tent was erected, we headed into the arena on Friday afternoon with the first stop being a cold cider to keep us cool.
The music takes place over 4 stages - Main, Lodge, In The Dock and Obelisk, in decreasing capacities, and the festival does its best to avoid any clashes, which means due to the intimate venue, it’s simple to stage hop and catch sets from pretty much anyone and everyone.
Highlights from day 1 were Lusts - Leicester based shoe gaze, indie types, Gwenno and Patch & The Giant - a 5 piece, multi instrumentalists of alt-folk. Everything Everything closed the first day, doing what they do.
Day 2 dawned warm and sunny making it impossible to stay in the tent after about 9am, so the hangover had to be nursed alfresco with the obligatory bacon sandwich....although the baby crying at approx 5.30 woke most of us in a 100 yard radius.
Saturday is the real meat of the festival, where the established acts mingle with newer unknown artists and where I always look forward to finding someone new to go on about. New (to me anyway) were Fews (Swedish/American guitar driven indie), Plastic Mermaids (uncannily sounding like Mercury Rev playing Flaming Lips songs), and a 17 guy called Declan McKenna who played some lovely songs to a sun drenched, lazy midday audience on the main stage. It’s also worth mentioning the quality of the sound system at this festival - always top class.
The wonderful Emma Pollock played the Lodge stage on Saturday afternoon - incredibly engaging and charming - swigging from a bottle of York Brewery Guzzler, and playing mostly songs from her magnificent latest release In Search of Harperfield. The only downer was her declaration that she no longer plays Delgado’s songs....”a line had to be drawn”.
Misty Miller was next up, on the Main Stage, and have to say left disappointed. She seems to have been turned into a pop princess - over produced and polished, as opposed to the rock chick I first saw a couple of years back.
Boxed In livened us up again, being the first band we saw you could dance to. Excellent set. This Is The Kit were there usual charming self, but with 1 major omission.....no Rozi on bass. And no explanation either...
Steve Mason pulled the largest crowd so far, which still was’t much as most of the kids and therefore parents, were still playing and enjoying the other distractions. He did hilariously keep referring to the people on the slope of the hill with their camp chairs and picnics as the Melton Mowbray brigade.
Anna Calvi was next up on the 2nd stage, where I bumped into Mr Marc Riley, who was also doing a DJ set at midnight. Ms Calvi reminds me of another Annie....Ms Clarke. I admire both of them, without actually liking much from either of them. Leaves me cold.
Leaving half way through the set meant we could catch C Duncan playing to approximately 50 of us in the In The Dock stage - massive highlight of his set (and maybe the festival) was his cover of The Cocteau Twins’s Pearly Dew Drops Drop. Fantastic. I may have been the only one present who knew the original...
Richard Hawley closed the night and was as professional and fantastic as ever. We finished the night watching Mr Riley press play on his ipod a few times, before staggering off to bed.
After the horrendous tasking of dismantling the tent etc, the few of us that bothered to make it down to the main stage for 11am on Sunday had our spirits well and truly lifted by the wonderful Mt. Wolf. Sounding like a choirboy accompanying electronic, ambient and at times indie music, these guys were a most pleasant surprise. Laters on The Lake were also as lovely as ever, even when the unexpected rain shower hit.
A trio of folk acts closed the festival for us - Serious Sam Barrett (finger picking a 12 string acoustic like a banjo), the uplifting Buffalo Skinners and Sam Lee & Friends playing earnest folk to a large gathering. We didn’t stay for Beth Orton which in hindsight I regret at least not staying for the minimum 3 song Bob Boilen set.
And so that was that for another year. For me Deershed always feels like a warm up for the rest of the summer, especially for the End of The Road festival, but the loveliness, politeness and quite frankly value for money it affords, cannot be denied. 25 bands seen, from stage front and centre, while the kids and parents are playing, cannot be argued with, and add to that the fabulous food and beer, and that’s what I call a good weekend.
- Festival Reviews
This event should be high on every free-thinking person’s bucket list – a warm and generous helping of traditional English eccentricity, in a beautiful setting.
I had never been before but knew the village and its ancient sycamore, meeting place of 6 agricultural workers who were expelled to Australia for campaigning against poor pay and conditions; I helped to select the tree as one of 50 Great British Trees many years ago. It’s normally a quiet place of thatched cottages and tranquil streams – except for the third weekend in July, when thousands of trade unionists march along the high street with full brass bands and banners to honour the 6. In recent years this has developed into a 3 day festival of talks, debate and music – and it’s not what I expected at all...
For a start it would be possible to avoid the politics all together, and some people do. No-one harangued me or tried to influence my thinking, it was more like a large country fete run by well-meaning socialists. There were lots of stimulating things going on, but they were all optional. I started with a film, Cultures of Resistance, shown in a rare 1960s cinema coach, apparently commissioned by Tony Benn to show public information films.
Maxine Peake did a great Q&A about how to succeed in acting without compromising your principles, and there was a fantastic comedian, Elvis McConnogal, who had plenty of material given the current political chaos. There was wonderful food, including a travelling community Real Food shop and the WI doing salads in in the village hall, and lots of stalls covering everything from Cuba and LGBT supporting migrants to Greenpeace and the RSPB, plus all the unions of course. Instead of the morning papers I got a free Morning Star (which seemed remarkably conventional , even covering sport and tv. I may well buy it in future).
And the music? Well, the big names were Dreadzone, Ferocious Dog, Lisa Knapp and Tom Robinson Band. The latter was way better than he had any right to be, with great new material, sing-a-long classics and a genuinely warm audience rapport. He gave a solo spot to his guitarist, Mancunian Lee Forsyth Griffiths, definitely a songwriter to look out for. Worth mentioning that his stage, along with most of the festival site, is on a distinct slope, suggesting band and audience would all end up at one end after the encores.
Ferocious Dog were fantastic as always, channeling early Levellers and the Pogues and playing to the ideal audience for their political songs of sacrifice and history. Said audience did suffer a bit from seeing them outside mid-afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year, and on an even steeper slope than Tom Robinson...but no obvious casualties.
Best discovery of the weekend were local folk rock heroes Skimmity Hitchers, impossible not to dance to, every one of their humorous songs about either cider or modern life in Devon or both. It was great to see an old friend Jon Langford of the Mekons , here playing songs about 19th C Welsh riots with his band the Men of Gwent, along with lots of Mekons stuff.
Rob Heron and his Teapad Orchestra won me over, playing bluegrass and 1940s Americana but almost all original songs, many set in their native Newcastle.
The highlight of the weekend? It had to be the march. Like the Durham Miners Gala but in a totally rural setting, and thousands strong. I walked with the actors union Equity, who had a great band of elderly musicians blasting out rousing tunes, and briefly helped Cambridge politicos Rebel Arts Radio carry their banner. It felt great to be part of it all, whatever your beliefs.
The climax was a speech by one J Corbyn Esq, a great chance to hear him direct without the filter of a biased media. For what it’s worth he seemed to me a good man, kind and honest, old school Labour, though maybe not the strongest speaker. I was a bit disappointed that, surrounded by adoring fans of all ages in a huge variety of JC t-shirts, he didn’t deliver a rallying cry to vote for him in the Labour election. But then that was Tolpuddle in a nutshell – understated, warm and human, politics plus, with a smaller p than expected and a bigger heart.
- Festival Reviews
Located on a waterfront site in Barcelona that has a slightly industrial feel to it, but at the same time provides excellent views across the sea. The festival is heavily corporate-badged, with each stage carrying a sponsor’s name. Seven principal stages, the two main ones ‘Heineken’ and ‘H&M” are located either end of an area the size of an enlarged football pitch with band sets alternating between the two. In theory this sounds like you could sit in the ‘centre circle’ and enjoy pretty much non-stop music. But in reality the sound desks and more particularly the bar areas do not make this possible. Additionally, with strong headline acts scheduled to play these stages it was necessary to get there early to get e decent position (i.e. for the previous band on that stage, meaning a wait of 2 hours).
Other stages are set in natural amphi-theatres giving an option to view from a seated position
The main festival area opens at 4.00 pm with bands on at 5.00. The main stage area opened just before 6.00 pm just before the first act. The late afternoon start time is entirely sensible given the heat, and it means the bands play through till 3.00/4.00 a.m.. Headline acts are on at 11.00 pm / midnight.
Organisation across the festival is very good. Plenty of bars plus vendors walking round serving beer from back-packs. Large beer is €5, with a €1 premium if purchased from a roving vendor. Only Heineken on offer - craft beer has not reached these parts (or maybe the sponsors are insistent on monopolising ?). This lack of variety is disappointing and after three days you are left craving something more flavoursome.
The festival ticket was €175. We purchased a package at £294 each which included 3 nights in a Holiday Inn - perfectly adequate. The festival ticket includes entrance to free gigs at venues in the city the night before the festival and during the afternoons while the festival is on if you are energetic enough and want to get some bands in before the 4.00pm opening time. Alternatively you could use your ticket for entry to the Beach Club, a chilled out area next to the festival site with DJ’s all afternoon.
There are 190,000 attendees across the three days, but it never felt too crowded, apart from the headline band sets. Food outlets were plentiful and provided good quality and value for money.
And so to the bands we saw:
Wednesday night - pre-festival gig at Sala Apolo
Stara Rzeka - a great deal of intense knob-twiddling creating soundscapes that somehow didn't seem to grip the audience. Penultimate track moved into Jonsi-esque territory and was the best song. Finished with a vocal-accompanied song which made for an eclectic mix.
White Fence - four-piece guitar band from California featuring Tim Presley on lead vocal. Good songs and would have liked to have stayed for longer than the 20 mins our schedule allowed
Younghusband - the smaller downstairs room (400/500 capacity) was full for this exciting English indie band. Their half hour set comprised mostly songs from their excellent 'Dissolver' album.
Suuns - took to the stage as a massive blow-up 'SUUNS' appeared which acted as a very effective back-drop for the light-show.
Beach Slang - Firestone Stage: Philadelphia four-piece guitars. Lead singer sported a shirt, jumper and blazer so must have been extremely hot in the afternoon sun. Opening number had overtones of British sea Power but as the set progressed the band moved into a post-punk groove. Included a cover of ‘Friday Night And I’m in Love’
Autumn Comets - Rayban Stage: Six piece with guitars, keys and violin. Saved best songs till end of the set, slow-building numbers with screeching violin, ok but a little reminiscent of Snow Patrol
Algiers - Heineken Stage: Started off as a taste of WOMAD in the Spanish sunshine. From Atlanta. Played a variety of styles, World, Rock, Blues and Soul
Car Seat Headrest - Pitchfork Stage: Opened with solo rendition of ‘Way Down’ with the band taking to the stage and joining in toward the end of the song. Voice has a 60s/Lou Reed quality. PA was not as loud as it could have been and people chattering was an irritant. This was the most inventive of the bands of the afternoon. Their first tour in six years, but they still look extremely young. Across the set the songs moved from mournful to anthemic. Additional entertainment provided by blow-up blue dolphin in the crowd.
Destroyer - Rayban Stage: Eight on stage included trumpet, sax and keys. Dylan-esque vocal. Glad to catch this band that we were due to see in London later in June, but we have had to swerve due to a clash
Suuns - Primavera Stage: this time the blow-up SUUNS letters appeared three songs in. Some good songs but they need to work a bit harder to achieve the artistry and charm of (say) a Hot Chip
Floating Points - Rayban Stage: Having caught the end of his DJ set earlier in the afternoon at the Beach Club it was intriguing to see whether this would be a true 'live' set. We weren't disappointed. Supported by a three strong band this was a find of the weekend producing a blend of ambient and rockin tunes
Tame Impala - H&M Stage: given the fairly specialist sounds this band create it is always surprising just how well the assembled masses know the songs. Centring their set on their excellent 2015 release 'Currents' the band were in fine form until, at the end of 'Eventually' the sound went bringing the set to a premature end. They tried to resume several minutes later but the vibe was lost.
Oh Pep! - NightPro Stage: a female duo from Melbourne, Australia; Peggy-Ann and Olivia, supported today by a couple of guys from Ireland on bass and drums. First set of the afternoon on this tucked-away stage so just 82 people there at the start (it filled up a bit during the set). Very good tunes, reminiscent of Emily Barker. Olivia was the main vocal lead. Peggy-Ann played excellent mandolin and made it sound like a plinky piano in places. Excellent set.
White Fence - Primavera Stage: Having seen the first 20 mins of their set the previous evening was glad to catch the second half this afternoon. Centre-piece of their set was a metronomic, floyd-esque number that saw the guitarist on drums (still with guitar) and the drummer playing feedback/scuzzy guitar
Ben Watt - Rayban Stage: Including Bernard Butler on a guitar who provided the best guitar-playing we saw all weekend on a couple of numbers. The bass player alternated between guitar and full double-bass giving breadth to Ben Watt’s feelgood yet thoughtful songs
Savages - Heineken Stage: Occupying the slot preceding Radiohead this had the feel of a support act. Not the band’s fault but this was a large crowd made up of people content to invest 3 hours waiting for the main act. With just pockets of interest, the audience showed polite appreciation to Jehhny Beth’s fantastic efforts at getting the crowd going with her multiple crowd surfs
Beirut - H & M Stage : Superb vocals harmonising with one another and also with the full-on brass trio that made up the six-strong line-up. The vocal sounded like Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip in places. A mix of waltz and paso doble rhythms
Radiohead - Heineken Stage: With the crowd now swelled to massive proportions we were understandably unable to retrieve the reasonable place we’d had for Savages so we ended up quite a long way back. Not a problem in itself but there was much chattering during the opening 4-5 songs which showcased their excellent new album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. The screens were a let down too, projecting the same as the stage back-drop (which everyone could see anyway) so no chance to see the band in action. We gave up on the set after 25 minutes due the chattering and constantly moving crowd, but we were still able to enjoy some classics (see below)
The Last Shadow Puppets - H & M Stage - Sat in front of this stage at the other end of the arena to secure a good space for this set. Fantastic festival moments when, despite everyone facing away from the Radiohead stage we all joined in with Karma Police. For a minute we lost ourselves. As for TLSP, the new sexy Alex Turner strutting around the stage owns this band completely. A lot of Libertines-style buddy-up moments with Miles Kane but you can’t get past this being AT’s side-project. A good mix of times with plenty from their solid 2016 release ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’.
Beach House - Heineken Stage: A shame that after the rest of the day running to perfect time this 2.00 a.m. set was late (they only started disassembling the Radiohead rig at 1.45). But it was worth the wait. Wonderful band, wonderful tunes perfect for a starry Spanish night. Chased away all feelings of tiredness.
Cass McCombs - Firestone Stage: Featured CM with bass, drums and keys. Chilled out indie tunes with a hint of Americana. Some impressive keyboard/guitar interludes and the keys-man added occasional falsetto harmonies
Joan Serat - Rayban Stage: Spanish female singer-songwriter supported by a 5-strong band that gave depth to her sun-filled and enjoyable tunes. Occasional overtones of a country twang
Wild Nothing - Heineken Stage: 5-piece indie guitars and keys. Nothing to get wild about apart from a stand-out track which had a keyboard intro, deeper vocal and a dancey middle section. Best tune of the day so far
U.S.Girls - Adidas Original Stage : Unlike American band ‘Girls’ and Ireland’s ‘Girl Band” these really are girls..... two of ‘em. Dressed in jump-suits, one white one black; put you in mind of Abba c.1974. A highly theatrical performance - both girls on vocals with back-up loops. Edgy, funny, quirky, raunchy in equal measure. Funniest moments were when a guitarist appeared from behind the PA sporting a cowboy hat and white trousers. The first time he appeared for no more than 10 seconds playing a riff and immediately disappearing. Two later appearances were slightly longer with slide guitar riffs complementing the loops. Different, quirky - great fun.
Autolux - Primavera Stage: Three-piece guitars with a female drummer who shared lead vocal. The two guys were all in black; she was also in black but with a fluorescent pink tabard which was particularly stunning when she took the lead vocal standing on the drum-kit. Could really play their instruments.
Richard Hawley - Rayban Stage: we have seen a lot of RH over the years and had there been a competing act we might have swerved this set but glad we didn’t. It was utterly brilliant. Really has moved on over the last 5 years, playing a rockin set with just the occasional crooney ballad. A fantastic musician and surrounds himself with great people to create his marvellous sound.
Chairlift - Pitchfork Stage : Curious line-up: vocals/drums, bass/sax. Energetic dancey tunes
Parquet Courts - Pitchfork Stage: Our original motivation for booking this festival was Saturday’s headliner Sigur Ros, so it had been a disappointment to see Parquet Courts were billed to clash with them. All things considered with the main stage layouts (and the fact we are seeing SR later in the year in UK) we opted for Brooklyn’s finest, Parquet Courts. Their 2016 album ‘Human Performance’ is also one of my very favourites so far this year. I had a minor reservation that the crowd would not be as ‘up for it’ as an English crowd as there had been little evidence of mashing/crowd-surfing all weekend. I needn’t have worried. The band opened with 4-5 songs from ‘Light Up Gold’ and the crowd was extremely lively from the off; and the mashing didn’t cease as they moved into songs from their latest release which were delivered with the now familiar aplomb from this excellent band. A wonderful set for us to conclude the festival with.
This is a great festival albeit we found it a hard slog. Fortunately we had had the foresight to book a further three days in a resort hotel which allowed us to recuperate and enjoy the sights of Barcelona, making this a highly agreeable trip.