As summer draws to an end, it must be time for End of the Road! Our third and year 13 for the festival itself. Four of us went this year: me, Jon, his son Louis and Louis’ friend Tom. The weather forecast was good – a first in our experience. And the line up looked amazing – the only problem was going to be those choices. Big Thief vs Fat White Family and the Orielles; Alex G vs Wild Billy Childish and Josienne Clarke/Ben Walker; Vampire Weekend vs Oh Sees; Idles vs Snail Mail. Hard! But choices were made, and you can read about them in what follows.
I managed to do a bit of mugging up before we went this year, helped by EOTR’s Spotify playlist and another put together by an individual, which was even more extensive. That’s when I discovered Big Thief, and instantly liked their music. Caroline Spence’s beautiful country sound really appealed, while Snail Mail had the same vibe as Soccer Mommy, who were also playing. And Aussie punks Amyl and the Sniffers sounded lively. It was going to be good!
A literary interlude
Before I get on to the music, I want to say a bit about the literary talks. Between 10 and 12.30 each morning there are three talks about books, at the Library Stage, in the woodland. Jon and I have been to a couple before – music-related ones. This year we went to most of the talks. They were really interesting. In most cases so interesting you wanted to buy the relevant books afterwards. In one case I did.
On Friday I saw a bit of Caroline O’Donoghue talking about her book, “Promising Young Women”, which was about an office affair and the ramifications. Jon said it was very good (he got up a bit earlier and missed the worst of the shower queue – one of EOTR’s blind spots). The bit I saw was a bit of a love-in with some tarot readers who were also on stage. She was followed by Sally Bayley, who has written an acclaimed book called “Girl with Dove”. It’s a memoir of childhood that merges with fiction – Miss Marples, Jane Eyre and Betsy Trotwood from David Copperfield. Sally grew up in a house with no men and she lived a very bookish life. She explained all of this through what you could call a performance essay. As she read, she acted out the passion, even hysteria that affected her house. It was both weird but also captivating. I bought the book in the Rough Trade tent later and had a very nice conversation with the author.
On Saturday the first talk I saw was with Daniel Rachel, who talked about his book “Walls Coming Tumbling Down”, which is about the Rock against Racism and Red Wedge Movements of the late 70s and early 80s. He interviewed many of the people involved, and it’s their story. It was at once nostalgic, but also a reminder about how bad things were at the time and how certain sections of music responded. As Brexit plunges us further into race and general foreigner hate, perhaps it’s time for another counter-movement. Jon and I had a chat with Daniel the next day, before one of the talks. We quickly got into our love of the music of the time. Bad times politically, brilliant times musically. The next speaker was Tot Taylor, who has published a book called “The Story of John Knightley”. It’s a complex, 800 page tale of a musical genius who goes into hiding, which looks back into the past as well. It sounded interesting, if rather daunting, and Tot rather showed off his expertise and name-dropped a lot. So he lost us a bit, but I still feel tempted to read the book – it could be brilliant.
Sunday was the one day I managed all three talks. Mainly because I got up at 7am to beat the shower queue – only to wait in line for 45 minutes! Mad. First up was Christina Patterson, a journalist, who has written a book called “The Art of not Falling Apart”. It’s about coping with setbacks and depression, but she was adamant it was not a self-help book. She was funny and quite bitter. Her biggest downturn was when she was made redundant by the Independent in 2013. She’d had some family bereavements too, and breast cancer earlier. So a huge load. She battled through, and the book describes some of that, but also tells the story of a whole lot of other people she interviewed. It sounded really interesting, though pretty intense. Next was an engaging, but rather obscure tale from Matthew Clayton about an 18th century diarist from Sussex called Thomas Turner, mixed up with tales of getting pissed and rock star trajectories (he knew Kirk Brandon of Spear of Destiny). I couldn’t quite figure out what Matthew was really trying to tell us, to be honest.
Then maybe the best session of all: a live podcast of “Backlisted”, hosted by John Mitchinson and Andy Miller, with a guest, Tom Cox, a journalist and writer who’d given a talk on Friday which we missed, as we wanted to see some bands – Tiny Ruins in my case, Penelope Isles in Jon’s. The podcast was both funny and erudite. The format is that they first talk about what they are reading at the moment, then they talk about a book from the past, maybe an underrated one. In this podcast it was “Ulverton” by Adam Thorpe, published in 1992. It’s about the life of that village through the ages. All three regarded it as a masterpiece. Another one for the reading list! Andy was also very amusing on Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople’s “Diary of a Rock’n’Roll Star”, which has been re-issued. First published in the mid-seventies, it is a classic. I read it at the time as a teenager and loved it. It’s a warts-and-all tale about life on the road in America. John talked about the latest novel from Sally Rooney, an Irish writer, called “Normal People”. I think it’s long-listed for the Booker. Again, I thought, I must read this.
Yeah, the literary forays were just so interesting and actually cut through some of the music I might have seen early on. The spoken word is something I’m getting more into. Let’s see if it has an impact on Latitude next year, where there is more of it.
Moving on to the music…
Thursday evening, 30 August
EOTR has always had some bands playing on Thursday evening, but there were more this year, shared between the main Woods stage and the Tipi tent. We sampled a few of them, starting with a band who’d been successful in the competition to play at EOTR called Suggested Friends. It was jangly, punchy indie. Some good solos and a nice slow one. The singer was clearly so pleased to be there and that was infectious. Good band. We saw a bit of Laura Misch, also at the Tipi. She was really interesting – playing keys and sax, with lots of looped sounds. Gilles Peterson likes her music apparently. That is a good recommendation. Then it was over to the Woods for Shopping. We liked them! 80s-style jerky funk-punk. Think Gang of Four, Go-Betweens, A Certain Ratio, even Talking Heads. The bassist had a classic 80s floppy orange fringe. Most of the songs followed a similar pattern, but I liked their sound. We then had to choose between Yo La Tengo on the Woods stage and Kiran Leonard at the Tipi. We went for Kiran Leonard. He’s an intense performer and a brilliant guitarist. He plays not so much songs as compositions, constantly shifting in time. Slow and beautiful to fiercely riffing. With his anguished voice over the top of it all. It’s intriguing, though not for everyone. When we saw him on the Lake Stage at Latitude in 2016 half the people left quickly and the rest were passionate about it. Tonight the Tipi stayed packed. Kiran Leonard is special.
Photos in same order as the bands above.
Friday 31 August
First up for me was Tiny Ruins on the Garden stage. They’re from New Zealand and feature Hollie Fullbrook on vocals and guitar. She sings beautifully. The music is folky/Americana. Often the songs start slowly, sounding like Nick Drake or John Martyn, then gather force and the guitars are let loose. I really liked it. The last song, “Old as the Hills”, brought a tear to my eye. In the first show of the day! Loved it. One of the discoveries of the festival for me.
My plan was to go to the Tipi next, to see Stella Donnelly. But there was a huge queue – she is obviously getting a good name. So I caught a bit of Red River Dialect on the Woods stage. They play atmospheric folk, which I rather liked. One to explore. Then it was Saba Lou at the Tipi. The programme was pretty enthusiastic about her. It was kind of country/ rock’n’roll pop with some grungy riffs thrown in. There was a song called “Penny Royal” where I thought, where is the tea? Nirvana fans will know what I mean. Very likeable. Saba Lou sang a solo doo-wop at one point, which was probably the biggest hit with the crowd on the day.
Caught a little bit of the Weather Station at the Tipi – a sixties folk rock sound – before going over to the Big Top for Aussie punk band Amyl and the Sniffers. I heard “I’m Not a Loser” on Spotify and thought this could be fun. And was it fun? It was mind-blowingly fun! Absolutely brilliant. It was like a collision of the Ramones, Sex Pistols, Joan Jett, AC/DC and a bit of thrash metal. Singer Amy Taylor was a feisty presence, boxing her way through the songs. The guitarist, Dec Martens, had a mullet the likes of which I haven’t seen since the 80s. And his playing was spot on – a true riffmeister. I had a smile on my face the whole show. There was a lot of moshing. The whole thing was just so exhilarating. Pure rock’n’roll – no frills, just noise!
So, buzzing from Amyl and the Sniffers, it was to the Garden, for the gentler rhythms of This is the Kit. One of my favourite bands of recent times. Rooted in folk, but getting more rhythmic, jazzy even. Kate Stables, vocalist, guitarist, mandolin player and driving force, was on great form and clearly a bit overwhelmed at the size of the crowd. Loved it all, but “Moonshine Freeze”, “Silver John” and “Bulletproof” were real highlights. So good that I’d practically forgotten about Amyl and the Sniffers by the end!
Had a bit of a break after that – pacing myself in my old age! – saw a little bit of Lost Horizons in the Big Top – slick, blander version of the Cocteau Twins, with somewhat overblown vocals – and then went down to the Woods stage with Jon to witness the coming of Fat White Family! Crazy, anarchic, but actually pretty slick too. They performed their exact hour, even with all the crowd surfing and other antics of singer Lias Saoudi. They really had the crowd going – it was a performance. There aren’t that many of their songs that I particularly like – though “Touch the Leather”, the closer, is one – but it doesn’t matter. I also liked the image projected by the one woman in the band, the bassist Mairead O’Connor. She stood there in her raincoat, looking singularly unimpressed by all the boys’ antics around her. All part of the image.
Next we dashed off to the Big Top for the Orielles. Their show on the Sunrise stage at Latitude had been one of my highlights. The tent was utterly packed. It felt more remote than at Latitude, as a consequence. But it was still great stuff: the jangling guitars, the bouncing bass, fragile melodies – and that amazing guitar workout at the end for “Sugar Tastes Like Salt”. A really good band.
I didn’t have any strong feelings about which headliner to watch, but Jon and I plumped for St Vincent. A class act. I’ve never really made enough effort to listen properly to her music, but as the show wore on, it really grew on me. A mix of dance, pop ballads and some left-field rocking. I started to think of Prince as she laid down the riffs. Good stuff.
That wasn’t the end of the evening. The Big Top had a late show, at 11.15. The much acclaimed Protomartyr. It was a bit too much for me. I gave it half an hour, but it felt a bit too gloomy, monochrome, the same roaring beats, chanted vocals, relentless beat for each song. I could see the appeal, if you love Joy Division, Goth, grunge, hardcore. I quite like what I’ve heard of them on record. But it was time to take a break, regroup for the next day.
I did look into the Tipi, to see who was on the first secret show, but it wasn’t Amyl and the Sniffers so I called it a day. The others went to the Tipi later to see Warmduscher, a Fat White Family spinoff (one of many). Sounds like it was pretty wild, with stage invasions, the singer inciting the crowd. Louis ended up with the mic at one point! Well, if you have that lot on at 1.30am, what do you expect?
Saturday 1 September
Caught a few songs of Colter Hall on the Garden Stage after the literary talks and then Stevie Ray Latham in the Tipi. Colter Hall had tones of Johnny Cash about them and I would have liked to see more. Stevie Ray Latham is English, originally from the south west. He plays lovely, plaintive folk with fragile vocals. In that respect he reminded me of Danny Wilson, once of Grand Drive, now Danny and the Champions. Then it was back to the Garden for Boy Azooga. They played some quite complex songs, with a lot of time changes. Pop with passages of serious riffing. Took a while to get into it, but I liked them. Frontman Davey Henderson, from Cardiff came across as a very likeable, engaging character. The Garden stage in the sunshine has that effect on most people!
Next was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. Caroline Spence in the Tipi. She’s a country/folk singer, based in Nashville. She has the most beautiful voice and songs. Full of that country melancholy. She was accompanied by Chris Hillman on an understated electric guitar. Three of the best were “Slow Dancer”, “All the Beds I’ve made” and “Whisky Watered Down”, which was her struggling-in-Nashville song. Like Lindi Ortega’s “Tin Star”. Do listen to her albums – they are wonderful.
In total contrast to Caroline Spence, next up were Flatworms. From California, comrades of the Oh Sees, and similarly rocking. An awesome noise – one for the headbangers. Loved it! Though strangely they didn’t play maybe their best song, “Goodbye Texas”.
I then went over to the Garden for (Sandy) Alex G. This had been recommended to me by Jess, who was with us at Latitude, but couldn’t make EOTR this year. It was a bit of a phenomenon. Almost all of the oldies had disappeared, to be replaced by a mass of twenty-somethings. As the band kicked off, everyone seemed to know the words. The first few songs were breezy folk-pop; but then they went grungy, and later rather free form and jazzy, before returning to the songs everyone knew and loved at the end. If anything, it reminded me of Beck a bit – the slacker, lo-fi Beck. But a bit of a revelation.
After a brief rest, it was Shame on the Woods stage, following in the footsteps of Fat White Family. Punkier, less anarchic, but essentially going for the same vibe. They probably have more to say than FWF. Singer Charlie Steen spent a lot of time in (or on) the crowd. Another really lively, entertaining show.
Soccer Mommy at the Tipi were next. It was packed. Sophie Allison, the singer who is Soccer Mommy really, was tucked to left, almost behind one of the pillars, from my perspective. But what a wonderful performance. I love her songs – the album “Clean” is one of my favourites of 2018. Having listened to the music a lot since I saw the band at the Moth Club in Hackney earlier in the year, I had the benefit of knowing all the songs, though I still struggle to put names to them all in the spur of the moment. The show started with “Henry”, which is a lovely tune; there were plenty from “Still Clean”, including “Your Dog” of course, which got a big cheer. And Sophie ended with three songs which were just her and her electric guitar. First was her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” – marvellous! – and then, I think, “Still Clean” and “Scorpio Rising”. Or did “Allison” sneak in? The memory is a bit hazy as I was constantly trying to get a decent view, and had moved onto wine – not a good idea at a festival! One of the highlights, no doubt.
I did try to get into Hookworms next in the Big Top, but it was full and there was a long queue, so I went back to the Tipi, saw a few songs by Sweet Baboo – enjoyable observational pop tunes – before going down to the Woods stage for Vampire Weekend. It was a tough decision not to go to Oh Sees; but as I’d seen them twice in the last couple of years, I thought the opportunity to see Vampire Weekend was too good to miss. And I’m so glad I took that decision. It was a great show! They played all the classics: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (with a tribute to Peter Gabriel, playing a bit of “Solisbury Hill”), “A-Punk”, “Oxford Comma” and “Mansard Roof”. The afro-beats were perfect for a lovely starry night. They did a brilliant cover of SBTRKT’s “New Dorp New York”. And encore closer “Walcott” was a real celebration. The music was slick, crisp, tuneful. The crowd were loving it. A real feelgood vibe. Another show – with Tiny Ruins, Amyl and the Sniffers and Soccer Mommy – which I just didn’t want to end.
Sunday 2 September
The music began with Erin Rae, a friend of Caroline Spence, who guested on one song. More beautiful country heartbreak from Nashville. I so need to go out there! Only saw the second half of the show, but it was great.
A different kind of folk followed, with Richard Dawson in the Garden. Traditional English, given a twist. His 2017 album “Peasant” got rave reviews. I was expecting something quite mediaeval. Maybe it was, but he played a discordant electric guitar and screamed the words a lot. Powerful stuff, but not something I’d listen to, too often. Richard himself was very engaging and witty – a real Geordie. He started and finished the show with solo songs, just vocals. Captivating.
We stuck around the Garden for the Wave Pictures, who’d been drafted in for an ill Damien Jurado. They are Marc Riley favourites. It’s mid-tempo pop-rock, but with an indie twist. Singer David Tattersall has a plaintive voice and also plays some excellent guitar. That was the highlight for me.
I went to the Big Top to see Philadelphia band Japanese Breakfast next. They had a feature in the EOTR programme which made them sound promising. Fronted by Michelle Zauner, they went from sounding like Slowdive and Smashing Pumpkins at the start to quite poppy by the end. I really enjoyed the show. And towards the end they played “Dreams” by the Cranberries, which was definitely alright by me! Love that song. Yeah, one of the best shows.
Jon is a big fan of Ezra Furman, and I went along with him to see Ezra on the Woods stage. He’s an intriguing performer. His music, rooted the in 50s and 60s if anything, is then twisted around to match his fraught lyrics and delivery. He’s a man with a lot on his mind: a lot of hurt, anguish, anger. It’s a mix of vulnerability and protest. A powerful concoction.
Then one of those choices: Idles or Snail Mail? I went for Snail Mail as I’d seen Idles at the last two Latitudes. For Jon, Louis and Tom, it had to be Idles, and by all accounts they were amazing. But Snail Mail, featuring Lindsey Jordan, were a band I really wanted to see. In the same vein as Soccer Mommy. I got to the Tipi early, so early that I saw a couple of songs by Adrian Crowley, an Irish singer, who ploughs a similar melancholy furrow to Richard Hawley. I liked what I heard and shall have to explore. Snail Mail are from Baltimore. Hard not to compare them with Soccer Mommy: I’d say they were a bit rockier, with a lot of Velvets-style chugging riffs. The subject matter is similar, but Lindsey is a bit more intense, and has a kind of sneer as she sings. I noticed this as I got quite near the front for this one. A great show, with a really good vibe in the audience. There’s an album from this year, called “Lush” which came out this year. One that I’ll definitely be listening to a lot.
And so, the last show! Feist on the Woods stage, giving me the full set of headline bands. I like her music when I hear it, but don’t know it that well. The Guardian described it as space folk. It was folky, a bit dancey, a bit rocky. But she created a good atmosphere. It worked well on the big stage, on another lovely clear night.
As I went back to the tent, there was a big queue for the first Tipi surprise show. I’d heard it was Black Midi, who were amazing at Latitude. But I couldn’t be bothered to queue. I got back to the tent, took shoes and socks off, donned some tracksuits bottoms and poured a glass of wine. Jon got back, said next band on was Amyl and the Sniffers! I hummed and hah’d and decided to go up and see. Got my clobber back on. Got there and there was a queue a hundred yards long. No exaggeration. Thought no, I’ll leave it to the kids. Just keep the memory of the first show. Heard it all from the tent. That was nice. Louis and Tom were there for both Amyl and Black Midi of course, and they sounded brilliant when we discussed it on Monday morning. But occasionally you just say, I’m too old for this lark. But, but…
But what a great festival. Four amazing days. And we were blessed with the weather this time too. The literary mornings a great addition. But the music is what it’s all about ultimately. And it was so good.
We will back next year!