A week and a half after the Green Man festival, Jon and I were back on the road, heading for Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset, for the End of the Road festival. The third leg of our musical festivities this summer and our fourth EOTR. Jon’s son Louis and his friend Tom came with us, as they did last year.
I hadn’t done any prep beforehand, so there were even more bands than usual that I’d never heard of. The great thing is that you know you are going to see some bands in that unknown category who will become firm favourites. As soon as you get the programme and start reading the blurbs about the artists you are thinking, I really want to see Nerija, but what about Sweaty Palms, or Molly Sarle? (I chose Nerija, by the way.)
The morning talks in the Literature tent have become a fixture for Jon and me, and over the three days we listened to some fascinating conversations. So good that I am going to cover them in a separate blog!
So, to the music. There are four principal music venues at EOTR: the main, Woods Stage, the Big Top, the lovely Garden Stage, and the Tipi Tent, with its Hessian matting. What was the Comedy tent, now the Talking Heads Stage, also had a bit of music this year, but after four years I still haven’t gone down there! There’s a little Piano Stage too, where artists come and talk and play a few acoustic tunes. It seems to operate on word of mouth though, so most of that passes me by. That just left me with 95 shows to choose from, plus the seven surprise shows late in the Tipi and a few DJ sets. Here’s what I saw…
Thursday 29 August
The Woods Stage and the Tipi were open for business in the evening. We started with Peach Pyramid in the Tipi, one of three bands who came through the Play End of the Road submission process. They are Canadian, led by singer and guitarist Jen Severtson. They had a jangly indie sound which reminded me of Amber Arcades and Soccer Mommy. Which means I liked it! Even better was the next band, Pottery – also from Canada. I was really impressed by them. I liked the guitar sound, which was a kind of Parquet Courts meets Television at first, but then became quite choppy and funky in a Talking Heads way. Over that the band had a good rant. Highly recommended.
We then went over to the Woods Stage for Spiritualized, best known for their 90s psychedelia, notably the album “Ladies and Gentlemen we Are Floating in Space”. The band is the vehicle for Jason Pierce, who sat at a keyboard for most of the evening while singing. No exchanges with the crowd. They started with their best known song “Come Together”. Not to be confused with the Primal Scream classic (or indeed the Beatles song) but in a similar epic vein. It set the tone for the evening, which was essentially a trip back to the late sixties – Pink Floyd and especially “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. A lot of gospel sounds as songs built up. There were one or two guitar splurges, but less than I’d expected. It was all very slick and the lighting was suitably psychedelic, but it didn’t really move me. And they ended with “When Jesus Walked”, which they performed beautifully; but really…
Friday 30 August
First thing we saw in full was Stella Donnelly on the Garden Stage. Her combination of breezy tunes, biting lyrics and engaging between-song banter went down well on a sunny afternoon. Essentially the same set (and banter) as at Green Man, minus her flagship tune “Boys Will be Boys”. I particularly liked the third of her solo songs at the start of the show, “Beware of the Dogs”. And I was amused to discover that her disco song where she does a little dance routine, much to the delight of the crowd, is called “Die”.
Steve Gunn, down at the Wood Stage, was a new name to me. The blurb praised his guitar sound, which it said could vary between dissonant noise and drone through to folk. That sounded good to me. He’s a New Yorker and his music reminded me of Jeff Buckley and Ryley Walker, even a little of Jimi Hendrix. Tom thought War on Drugs. Definitely one I’ll explore on record. A contrast next, with Scottish singer Kathryn Joseph in the Tipi Tent. She sang songs of love, lust and heartbreak over insistent electric piano motifs. A rather beautiful melancholy with a traditional folk feel.
I caught a bit of New Zealanders The Beths on the Woods Stage. They reminded me even more of Alvvays as their pop-punk sound drifted out over the campsites nearby. That’s how I’d first heard Alvaays two years ago – lying in my tent with a sore back! I don’t think The Beths aren’t quite as good, though I do like the punchy tunes like “Happy Unhappy” and “Future Me Hates Me”. I stayed for about half the show before heading back to The Tipi for Girl in Red, described in the blurb as Marie Ulven from Norway, singing songs about her trials and tribulations with mental health and sexuality. Just the thing for a sunny afternoon! Anyway, Girl in Red turned out to be a five piece band and they all wore black! Marie sang and played guitar and wore the only non-black item – baggy blue jeans. The lyrical content may have been about those trials and tribulations – there was a song called “Summer Depression” – but the tunes were energetic pop-punk and Marie really threw herself about. It was great high energy rock’n’roll. Put a spring in my step and everyone else’s, judging by the crowd reaction, especially when she came down for a mosh during the last song. I came out feeling energised – best thing so far, I thought.
I then went over to the Big Top for Wand, an American band that Louis said were like Radiohead. That was enough for me. Trouble was, in the darkness of the Big Top, they felt rather gloomy and dull, after the high of Girl in Red. And not much like Radiohead. So I gave up on them after three songs. I went for a beer instead before Mary Lattimore at the Tipi. She’s an American harpist and has played with all sorts of artists, including Jarvis Cocker and Sharon van Etten. I was expecting something a bit like Joanna Newsome, I suppose. It wasn’t quite. The piece I stayed for was instrumental, with use of some electronic loops. New Age music. She had the best introduction to a song all weekend though: this is a song about a dead whale. Alright!
Arty punk legends Wire were next, in the Big Top. Their first album, “Pink Flag” remains one of my all-time favourites, and I’d never seen them live before. I have to admit they were disappointing. Not because there was only one song from “Pink Flag” as far as I could tell (“Three Girl Rhumba” for any Wire fan) but because it was all rather dull and dirge-like. New stuff presumably, but I rather lost interest, although I stayed for the whole show – in the hope we might get “12XU” or “Strange” or “I am the Fly”. We didn’t. No matter, because the next show was fantastic: Parquet Courts headlining the Garden Stage. I first enthused about them in 2014, when I heard their album “Light Up Gold”. At the time I just couldn’t stop playing the double opener, “Master of my Craft” and “Borrowed Time”. Both infectious rock’n’roll songs, with a great segue from one to the other. And they started with those two tonight! The scene was set for an hour and a quarter of the best New York punk and much, much more. Their newer material has branched out into funk (with obligatory cowbells) and it makes you want to move! An uplifting show, enhanced by the multi-coloured lighting with the shadows of the band projected onto the backdrop. Parquet Courts have come a long way.
It was 11 o’clock, but there was still a long way to go! First, Jon and I went over to the Tipi tent again, to catch the last of the bands curated by BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction. It was a Turkish band called Derya Yildirim & Grup Simsek. The songs had lovely melodies, beautifully sung by Derya, who also played a kind of mandolin. They were backed up by some very danceable beats, which reminded me of some almost jazzy traditional Greek music which I heard many years ago on a trip to Northern Greece. After they had finished I went to the Tipi tent to see what remained of Kelly Lee Owen’s show. And wow, what a show! It was just her, two keyboards and some stunning graphics. She laid down some amazing electronic beats and sang intermittently, silhouetted for the most part against the ever changing backdrop. There was something very intense and engaging about it. She was very emotional about her reception at the end. I wished I’d seen it from the start.
I caught a little bit of The Beths again, at the first of the Tipi surprise shows, but I was keen to take in some of Joy Orbison’s DJ set back at the Big Top. There are a couple of his tracks I really liked from 2009: “Hyph Mngo” and especially “Wet Look”, with its swishing synths over a rattling dubstep beat. Whether he played any of his own music during this set I don’t know, but the music and the lights were both captivating – a perfect follow up to Kelly Lee Owens. I stayed for about 45 minutes and then thought it might be a good idea to go to bed: there were two more days to go!
Saturday 31 August
After the Literature talks had finished I managed to catch about half of the set by Nejira at the Garden Stage. They are another of the youthful jazz bands who are making waves at the moment. Nejira are a collective fronted by four women – playing saxes, trumpet and trombone. They had a mellow groove which was perfect for the time of day. Some great soloing too – there were some very talented musicians out there, including Nubya Garcia, who had her own show later.
Afterwards I watched a little of Martha, a punk band from the North East, but more Green Day than Sex Pistols. They were lively and engaging, but not that different to so many others. So I thought I’d try TVAM in the Big Top. I liked them a lot. The guitars were shoegaze initially, but during the set I was getting My Bloody Valentine, Wooden Schjips, even Hawkwind. A spacey drone, and all with added electronica and something of an 80s feel to the singing – Visage’s “Fade to Grey” came to mind. They also had a video backdrop which included all the song titles. Gold star for that! I wish more bands did it – or even just told us the names of the songs. Some of the lyrics were displayed too. They were all a bit disconnected, but that went with the 80s pose.
After that, it was back to the mellow jazz vibes on the Woods Stage: Nubya Garcia and band. Nubya is mainly a tenor sax player; she was in Nejira earlier. I think the double bassist may have been too. Great music – shades of Miles Davis and John Coltrane; particularly that late 60s sound, which veered into jazz funk and rock. An excellent pianist too, called Sandra. After Nubya had finished I wandered up to the Garden Stage and caught most of Tyler Childer’s set. This was Nashville country and bluegrass music at its authentic best. Tyler is a new star who is winning awards, and I can see why. If you like this kind of music you would have loved this. I do and did! Really engaging, and had the crowd dancing in the sunshine. One of the delights of the weekend.
I tried a little of hard rockers Bilge Pump next – yes, that was their name! – but they didn’t do it for me, so I went back to the Woods Stage to see Kokoko, from Congo. They’ve been at all my festivals this summer, but this was the first time I could get to see them. They bang out some infectious beats and created a bit of a dance party. There was another band who did the same, but even better, on Sunday…
I stayed at the Woods Stage for one of my favourite bands at the moment, Goat Girl. I love their debut album “Goat Girl”, with all its twangs and quirks and riffs and sleaze. Loads of short songs – a “Pink Flag” for its time. I’ve been following them since I first saw them supporting Fat White Family offshoot Moonlandingz at the Village Underground in Shoreditch, and it was great to see them on the main stage playing with such accomplishment. The crowd were loving it too. There was just one problem: their show overlapped with the enigmatic Black Midi who were on at the Garden Stage. I hated doing it, but I left Goat Girl early to make sure I could get into the garden for Black Midi. What to say about this band? They rock, they noodle, the main singer, who looks like a young Tory (I’m sure he’s not) sings in a rather silly voice, and their drummer is truly astonishing. He is at once complex and the solid foundation of what feels like a load of improvised workouts. They are avant-garde jazz, prog rock, and sometimes punk. It’s an amazing mix live, and there was a lot of moshing up front. I’d love to know what music inspired them – maybe it was Captain Beefheart. One of the highlights of the weekend for sure.
I have a lot of respect for what Kate Tempest does and I was curious to see how performing her spoken word explorations on the Woods Stage would work. It was getting dark and was quite chilly too. She had a musician accompanying her, playing various dance beats as Kate told her poetic tales. It kind of worked, but it felt a bit repetitive and I found it quite difficult to follow the words. She finished with half an hour to spare, which was odd. That did allow me to go up to the Garden Stage to catch a bit of the Japanese psychedelic rockers Kikagaku Moyo. They were rather good – a kind of jazz rock, I thought. A heavier version of what Santana were doing in the early 70s, in albums like “Caravanserai”. There were plenty of time changes, noodling and out-and-out riffing. I started to think, this is the Japanese Black Midi! I’d have liked to see all of their set, but Moses Boyd Exodus in the Big Top looked too good to miss. The third of the new jazz bands at EOTR this year. Trumpet, trombone, keyboards, guitar and a very slick drummer, whose face was obscured by a large cymbal from where I was standing. I assumed that Moses Boyd was the trumpeter, who was excellent, as was the trombonist. In fact, it was the drummer, which may explain why he got to play so many solos! The band were seriously good, playing a sophisticated, sometimes funky jazz, that was both cool and atmospheric. All of them were virtuoso performers. If you like jazz try to catch these guys live; I’ll certainly be looking out for dates in London.
The headliners on the Garden Stage were Low, whose album “Double Negative” was highly acclaimed last year. That album is a real mood piece: slow, minimalist, dark, with deliberate hisses and crackles, like an old vinyl record. The live show was similar: songs built gradually, sometimes erupting into white noise, before subsiding. The band members were at times barely visible from near the back of the Garden; at other times they were silhouetted against the striking backdrop, which complemented the music very well. Minimalist lines of black and white, interspersed with bursts of bright colour, or the close up of a guitar, a building, a face. There was something very grand and dramatic about it all. You didn’t really need to know the songs – they just enveloped you. I did like “Always Trying to Work it Out” which has a stately melancholy to it. An intriguing, hymnal performance.
In complete contrast to Low, I tried a bit of Sleaford Mods, who were playing a late show at the Big Top. They’re a funny band: Andrew Fearn presses a key on the laptop and off goes the beat. He then stands there with a bottle of beer in his hand while Jason Williamson rants and raves about the state of Britain and does odd little dances. What makes them intriguing on record (sometimes) are the words, but I couldn’t really hear them. The place was heaving and I couldn’t see a lot either! I stayed for seven of their ditties (including the amusing “Kebab Spider” with its refrain, oh no they let the experts in) before deciding I ought to get to bed by 12.30, having been rather late the night before. On the way back to the campsite though, I was tempted to look into the Tipi Tent. The first surprise show was about to begin – and it was Goat Girl! How could I resist? They played a set of entirely new songs. They were good – mostly quite similar to their earlier songs, but with a hint of a dance beat here and there. I heard some grumbling behind me at the lack of familiar tunes – what happened to Cracker Drool? – but it’s Goat Girl: you don’t expect them to do the obvious. And it’s not a bad place to try out some new tunes live, see how they work. I enjoyed it, and it compensated for missing part of their earlier show on the Woods Stage. I wouldn’t have minded “Country Sleaze” and “The Man” though…
Sunday 1 September
The weather treated us kindly all weekend, with a few showers on Saturday afternoon the only rain; but Sunday was a belter. Lovely sunshine most of the day. Put you in the mood for the Woods or Garden Stage, where you could bask in the sun – or even dance…
We started with the Norwegian prog-punks – lots of riffs and lots of time changes! – Pom Poko on the Woods Stage. Jon and I saw them in April this year at the Lexington and loved them. We’re seeing them again at the Scala in October. And they were quite brilliant at EOTR. So much energy, dynamism and pure joy. Singer Ragnhild is a phenomenon: as she leaps around the stage a big smile is never far from her face. I wondered beforehand how their sound would fare in the big open space of the main stage. The answer is that it rocked, and the crowd rocked with it. There was a great atmosphere. Pom Poko’s music is just so much fun! If you don’t know them try “Crazy Energy Nights” – an amazing song.
We then headed over to the Garden Stage for Israel Nash. Feel-good Americana, the blurb said. Perfect for a late summer’s day. And it was exactly that. Lots of expressions of peace and love, breezy melodies, a bit of southern boogie and classic steel guitar solos. The band are from Texas, but the feel was West Coast via Nashville. Enjoyable, but half way through I began to feel the pull of something a bit harder: Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs in the Big Top. I saw them at Latitude, where they were ear-splittingly awesome, and missed them at Green Man. So I thought they were worth a second viewing. Jon agreed, so off we went, leaving the sunny chimes of Israel Nash behind. The Big Top was dark and heaving – and so was the music. Pigs x 7 are like Black Sabbath speeded up, with more shouting. But the openers are pretty dirge-like, and quickly I began to question whether this was what I wanted to be doing on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when there was the promise of some South African dance beats down at the Woods Stage. Jon said he’d been thinking exactly the same, so we beat a retreat from the murk of the Big Top and headed out into the sun.
It was one of our best decisions of the weekend, because BCUC were simply amazing. They made Kokoko seem a little subdued! I have never seen so many people at a festival dancing. Not just tapping a toe, but properly moving. It was just so infectious. The band are South Africans, and they play a variety of drums, backed only by a bass. But how they play them! And at what speed. Incredible. Their main singer was a force of nature – I think he may have studied the moves and the sermonising of James Brown. He was accompanied by a woman who mostly sang backing vocals, but let rip a few times. She got soul! This was an hour of pure exhilaration. Some politics too – BCUC clearly have something to say. And with music this good you listen.
We dawdled around for a bit after BCUC, got something to eat, caught a little bit of Cate le Bon on the Woods Stage, but were focusing on getting to the Big Top early to ensure our places for one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend: Dublin punks Fontaines DC. They are more than punk, but they know the meaning of rock’n’roll. And they know how to write a good song with interesting lyrics. Their debut album “Dogrel” is one of the best of the year. It was the first time I’d been able to see them and they were terrific. The sounded was a little messy, but they rocked. Grian Chatten prowled around the stage like there was something really agitating him. They seem to have written three or four total anthems already. Songs like “Big”, “Too Real”, “Sha Sha Sha”, “Boys in the Better Land” were greeted as old favourites. My favourite is “Liberty Belle”, which has a great riff and is the Pogues meets Stiff Little Fingers. Interestingly, the only song they didn’t play was the slow one, “Dublin City Sky” which is pure Shane MacGowan. A triumph, and I can’t wait to see them again in February next year at Brixton Academy.
There was just one thing hovering over the Fontaines show: could we get over to the Tipi in time to get in for The Murder Capital? The other great new Dublin band. Jon made sure by leaving Fontaines early. I stayed on as it was my first time and I’ve seen Murder Capital twice already this summer. But Fontaines only played for about 45 minutes of their hour, so I made my way hastily to the Tipi, and got in quite easily. I’m so glad I did, because The Murder Capital were unbelievably good. They, especially singer James McGovern, have a great, menacing presence. They had structured their set with real confidence, eschewing the hard rocking songs at the beginning, instead starting slow and brooding and building up the tension until they exploded over the last few songs. I’m just getting to know the debut album “When I Have Fears”. It is a dark album, built around the death of a close friend. They are often described as punk and are bracketed with Fontaines DC, but a better comparison would be with the sound of Joy Division, The Cult and even early U2. There is something, for example, about “On Twisted Ground” (which was the second song in the set) which evokes the atmosphere of “4th of July” or “Bad” from “The Unforgettable Fire”. But never mind the comparisons, The Murder Capital are an extraordinary band, and this was an extraordinary, compelling and exhilarating performance. The best of the festival. Even more extraordinary, we had consensus amongst the four of us on that!
We were all buzzing after The Murder Capital, and it took us a while to come down. We bought a beer and just talked about the show and the band. Eventually I tried a bit of Metronomy on the Woods Stage, with Louis and Tom. They are a good pop band, but I just found their music a bit lacking in substance after The Murder Capital. So I went off to the Garden Stage and tried a bit of Jarv Is, the latest vehicle for the ex-Pulp frontman, Jarvis Cocker. I enjoyed the show. There were no Pulp songs – at least none of note – and as much banter from Jarvis as music. But there was something rather warm and enjoyable about it all – a nice come down from the Murder Capital, in my favourite venue. It felt like a good end to the festival. Just as when a band plays their best song last and then comes back for an encore and plays something slow that hardly anyone knows. It helps you take stock of all that went before, eases you out of the experience. Not sure that’s how Jarvis would wish to be perceived, but it’s his fault for not playing “Common People”!
And that was it, musically. BEAK> were playing a late show in the Big Top, but I didn’t have the energy to stand in a packed tent watching them. Likewise, on the way back to the tent, I could have gone to see Squid. But really, The Murder Capital were just so good, that I didn’t need to see anything else. And we were getting up at six to pack up and make our way back to London. So I did the sensible thing and went to bed. The song in my head as I wandered back strangely wasn’t by The Murder Capital, but by Fontaines DC…
You’re always talking ‘bout the boys in the better land!