Back to End of the Road at last! My last EOTR was 2019. It was cancelled in 2020; and last year I was confined to the back garden self-isolating when the festival took place. So I was really looking forward to this one, especially as I skipped Green Man this year, in order to have a bit more flexibility about Edinburgh festival dates.
Cast list was Jon G, Louis and Gab and Louis’ friends Tom, Fionn and Dylan. Tom and Ffion are members of Butch Kassidy, who I reviewed earlier this year. It was good to have the youngsters around – all passionate about their music, and lively company. Jon and I generally part company with them around midnight and leave them to the secret shows in the Tipi tent and all sorts of other late night gatherings. Gone are the days when I’d be at a secret show at 1.30 in the morning, or dancing to reggae music in the Woods at Latitude at 3am; it’s all about pacing yourself when you’ve hit your 60s! A glass of wine out of the box back in the tent and off to bed, to conserve some energy for the next day…
Thursday, 1 September
End of the Road has an evening line up in the Tipi tent and on the Woods Stage – the main stage – on a Thursday. We arrived at around 3 o’clock, set things up then sat around chatting for a few hours, accompanied by a few beers. Then it was off to the first show of the festival: either K.O.G (rap with an African flavour) on the Woods stage or Joe and the Shitboys in the Tipi. Jon and I opted for Joe, on the grounds that a bit of lively punk might make a good start to proceedings. It was OK. Lots of crude lyrics and chants that might appeal to a thirteen year old – not many of those at EOTR – and a brevity to the songs that was straight from the Ramones playbook. We stayed for the whole show, which was mercifully short. Onwards and upwards!
Next up was Sudan Archives on the Woods stage. Sudan Archives is the stage name for an American artist, Brittney Parks. Her music combines electronic dance sounds with some African influences and, more unusually in this genre, the violin. Indeed, at one point she played an Irish/ Scottish jig. She was accompanied by a keyboard player, sticking mostly to electric violin and vocals herself. I liked what she was doing, but felt that the violin was a bit of an add-on really, and didn’t work for me. I daresay she would say it is integral to her sound. The best moment was a fierce bit of drum and bass towards the end of the set. Must check out how that dance/violin combination works on record.
Headliners on the Woods stage were Khruangbin. I’ve always liked their sound, and particularly enjoyed their collaboration with the singer Leon Bridges, Texas Sun, in 2020. That is a beautiful, summery soulful song. The core band is a trio, comprising Laura Lee on bass and vocals, Mark Speer on guitar and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums. They are from Houston, Texas, but draw on a range of global influences in their music. At the heart is a wonderful soulful, sometimes funky groove. I really loved the show tonight. Mark’s guitar twanged and echoed, Laura’s bass throbbed and DJ lay down a superbly spare drum beat that subtly held the whole thing together. Everything about the set was so stylish – the lighting; the way that Mark and Laura dressed, 70s style; the way they moved around, up and down the steps on either side of the ramp where the drums sat. It was really languid, and yet so funky. I got a little bit of Talking Heads’ Genius of Love at one point, and checking Setlist FM, I see that they have thrown that in before. The set lasted 90 minutes; I could happily have stayed for more. A great start to the festival.
Friday 2 September
The literature events – three talks before the music gets going – have moved home, to the Talking Heads stage, which sits behind and downhill from the Garden Stage. It’s a stage that is home to the comedy at EOTR, amongst other things. I had never been down there in all my visits to EOTR. It’s a lovely site, set into the slope, with the wooden stage at the bottom, against a backdrop of trees and a large hill behind them. All rather idyllic. I only made it for half of the second talk, with the journalist and broadcaster Kate Molleson, talking about her new book, Sound Within Sound, which is about composers across the world who have challenged classical music conventions. It was interesting, and went beyond its allotted time. It turned out that historian Matthew Green before her and musician/writer/film producer Bob Stanley after her had both pulled out because of covid. I suspect that in the days of the common cold and flu they might have soldiered on, but we live in different times.
The curse of the festival is the clashes on the timetable between lots of bands you want to see. On the flip side, there is a wonderful amount of choice. On the whole, I didn’t face too many dilemmas at EOTR this year, but there was a minor one to start off Saturday’s music. Rosali on the Garden Stage or Automotion in the Big Top? I hadn’t heard of Rosali until I listened to EOTR’s excellent pre-festival playlist on Spotify (look up EOTR 2022). I liked her bluesy Americana. Jon was keen to see Automotion though, so I went along to that. They are a young band, featuring Liam Gallagher’s son Lennon on guitars and occasional vocals. Most of the vocals are handled by the other guitarist Jesse Hitchman. Lennon wore a rather daft flying cap with very long flaps, which his father might have favoured, but there was no trace of Oasis in their sound. A lot of it was instrumental, with some of the Black Midi-style stop-starting and talk/singing. Jon thought Black Country New Road. Most of all though, it was early 70s heavy prog rock. Pretty good, but a bit lacking in light and shade. A very popular sound in the indie world these days though.
We tried a bit of south London lo-fi rap/R&B next with Keyah/Blu. I liked her sound, which reminded me a little of an artist I’ve really enjoyed in the last couple of years, Biig Piig. Quite what Keyah (if that is her name) made of playing to an audience of mostly middle-aged white people, I’m not sure, though she did talk of wanting to raise the energy level. Which, in fairness, she did as the show progressed – perhaps more young people turned up. The sound was pretty minimal, Keyah singing to a back beat created by the keyboard player, who occasionally left her console to leap around a bit. She also got the guitar out for a couple of solo ballads in mid set, which were a bit weak. I’ve been listening to some of her music as I’ve been writing this section – and it’s good. In her natural environment I think Keyah could get a real party going.
Straight over to the Woods stage next, to catch English Teacher. On the basis of what I’ve heard on 6 Music, I’d say they are one of the best new indie bands around. I’ve just read two interviews with them in which they say they aren’t a post punk band and they don’t sound like the Pixies. Well, actually… they’re from Leeds, a hot bed of post punk indie at the moment. One thing that distinguishes them from most indie is that their singer (and guitarist) Lily Fontaine is black. She addresses this in their best single so far, R&B. It has a classic Pixies slow build, before the guitars break out. As the chorus surfs the waves of guitar Lily sings, despite appearances, I haven’t got the voice for R&B. So what of the show today? In the sunshine on the main stage, at 2.15, it was good, it rocked; but both the subtleties and the full force of their music was lost a bit. On the plus side, they engaged with the crowd really well. You’d expect the singer of a band like this to say next-to-nothing to the crowd. Lily wasn’t like that at all – she came across like she was really enjoying herself. I liked that – and they ended with R&B. I’ll be looking out to see them on their next tour, for sure.
I went over to the Garden stage to see The Golden Dregs once English Teacher had finished. I was really taken by the band when I saw them at the Wide Awake festival at the end of May. The band are led by Benjamin Woods, who is from Falmouth in Cornwall. They are south London-based now, and play music which has an Americana base with an English overlay that reminds me of the likes of Lloyd Cole, Tindersticks and Gene. This time, in the sunshine, I enjoyed the performance, without being quite so engaged. The crowd were very positive though. I found my mind drifting elsewhere, while the band played in the background. That’s festivals for you: it’s a long haul.
I got back with Jon for Steam Down on the Woods stage. This is a band that absolutely demand you dance. A great pot pourri of jazz, soul, dance, African beats and more. We both took the opportunity to lie down on the grass and take it all in while having a bit of a rest! Gotta pace yourself, remember? I’m glad to say there was a big crowd at the front responding to the exhortations of the singer. There was a party going on, but we snoozed through it. And loved it at the same time. A band really worth going to see, but not a bad one to chill out to either. Not literally – the sun was blazing at the time.
Anais Mitchell was next for me, on the Garden stage. She’s a long-established performer, but the first time I heard her sing was with a band called Bonny Light Horseman in 2020. They had a song called The Roving, which I loved. She popped up again on an album by Big Red Machine, the collaboration between members of the National, Justin Vernon and Taylor Swift amongst others, last year. She released a self-titled album this year, which features a lovely song called Bright Star. And that’s what she was singing when I arrived at the Garden stage a few minutes into the set. I stayed for the rest – perfect music for a mellow late afternoon. She has a beautiful voice, which is just right for her poignant songs. An unassuming triumph.
Back down to the Woods stage next for one of the highlights of the festival – the sweet, slinky soul of Durand Jones and the Indications. They’ve changed a little since I first saw them at Latitude in 2018, when they had a very cool horn section, and a bit more of a 60s feel than now. It’s full-on 70s soul and funk now, and it is so good! The vocal duties are split between Durand Jones, who does a very good Marvin Gaye – think Let’s Get It On – and the drummer Aaron Frazer, whose falsetto takes you straight back to the likes of George McCrae and the Chi-Lites and, come to think of it, Smokey Robinson. It’s pure joy as every song unfurls – I particularly liked one of the slower ones called Is It Any Wonder? I think the crowd, which was a good size, felt the same way. Just about everyone was moving to the groove. It’s irresistible! This is a band to put a smile on your face and feel the love.
Having said that, I did dash off before the end, because I wanted to be there for the start of Skullcrusher in the Tipi tent. Possibly the most inappropriate name in music – far from being a purveyor of death metal, Helen Ballentine, she of Skullcrusher, sings delicate, introspective indie-folk songs. There’s some similarity to Phoebe Bridgers’ more reflective moments, and it’s no surprise that she has a song called Song for Nick Drake. I first heard a song called Places/Plans in 2020, which I liked; but the tune that really got to me was Storm in Summer, which came out in 2021. It has a beautiful melody and is a bit more upbeat sound-wise than most of her work. It has become one of those songs that frequently comes into my head for no reason that I can think of – a real earworm. That’s why I needed to be there for the start: just in case she played Storm in Summer first. I needn’t have worried: she mostly played songs which I imagine are from her forthcoming debut album. Accompanied by another guitarist, she played a sequence of slow, dreamy tunes that would sound great in a darkened living room on a winter’s evening, but didn’t really work in the Tipi. I got the impression she was pretty nervous and she stayed seated for the whole show. Storm in Summer did make an appearance near the end, but in a new guise – yes, slow and dreamy! So, a bit of a disappointment, but I will definitely give that new album a go – on a dark winter evening.
After a break back at the tent, with some rotisserie chicken and roast potatoes – quite difficult to eat from a paper plate on your lap with a wooden knife and fork! – it was time for Soccer Mommy in the Big Top. Soccer Mommy is the vehicle for singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, who grew up Nashville. Her music initially fitted the indie-folk label, but over the years it has become rockier. I first came across her when she released her first full album Clean in 2018. That album, which was full of catchy indie-pop tracks, included the defiant Your Dog, which has become her signature tune. Delving into her back catalogue, I really liked some of her slower songs like Switzerland, Waiting for Cars and Allison, as well as the jaunty melody of Henry. I saw her play a sold-out show at the Moth Club early that year and she appeared at End of the Road, in the Tipi. Even better, she supported Kacey Musgraves at Wembley Arena later that year. Her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire was a highlight of that show. I haven’t been quite as keen on some of her more recent output, though I did love the strident Circle the Drain from her 2020 album Color Theory. She has a new album out, Sometimes, Forever, and that naturally featured strongly in tonight’s show. I’m not too familiar with that yet, but it didn’t matter – Sophie and band played with a real confidence and verve which bowled you along. I couldn’t help thinking how far she has come over these last four years. This was a really powerful, rocking show. There was even a bit of grunge in there. Circle the Drain sounded great early on and Your Dog received the warmest greeting of the evening. Everyone knew the words to that one! I’m seeing her again at the Forum, Kentish Town later this month – this show really whetted my appetite.
You never really know what you are going to get with Black Midi when you see them live. They set their own rules – don’t expect a tune you might know from an album to sound anything like the recorded version when it’s played live. The band emerged in 2017 and cultivated an air of mystery at first. I first saw them play at Latitude in 2018, and was blown away. How on earth to describe them? Prog-punk-metal? One minute they’d be riffing, the next there’d be some delicate noodling; and always there was the amazing drumming of Morgan Simpson. You could spend the whole show just watching him. Over the last few years they have become stalwarts of the festival scene. Jon and Louis are both big fans; sometimes I find them a bit too much, but they are always interesting. In recent years they’ve added sax to the band, and at Glastonbury I thought they were really beginning to sound like avant-garde jazz rockers. So no surprise that they were nothing like that on the Garden Stage tonight. They were hard core, stripped back, rocking Black Midi. A mosher’s paradise. They went down a storm. A great end to the day’s music, at least for me and Jon. The youngsters had another three or four hours to go!
Saturday 3 September
I got down to the Talking Heads stage to catch the second half of the author Tom Cox’s talk. He has just published his first work of fiction, Villager, which synthesises his passion for music, nature and folklore. I liked his description of his writing process – lots of “faffing”, mulling over ideas; and then once he starts writing, it happens quickly. I can relate to that. He was followed by singer PP Arnold, who was a real force of nature. She was interviewed by author and music journalist Will Hodgkinson – he could hardly get a word in! Pat (as she referred to herself) married young and was in an abusive relationship in Texas. But providence came her way and she got a chance to audition as a backing singer for Ike and Tina Turner. It kicked off from there. Ike and Tina supported the Rolling Stones on tour in the UK in 1966, and she quit after that to pursue a solo career in the UK, encouraged by Mick Jagger, with whom she had a relationship. Her solo efforts never really took off, but over the years she sang with all sorts of stars, including the Small Faces in the 60s, Eric Clapton and Roger Waters. She also appeared in various musicals. She made some recordings with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees in the 60s and 70s, which she was finally able to release in 2017. After moving between the UK and Los Angeles, she settled in this country. She was such a great talker that she didn’t get much past the Stones and Immediate Records days in the 60s, but it was a joy to listen to her. She has recently published an autobiography called Soul Survivor, which I think I’ll have to get. And at the end of the talk, something happened that I haven’t seen at the literature events before – just about everyone stood up to applaud and cheer. Great stuff!
Jon and I avoided the temptation of see Sniffany and the Nits again – we saw them at Latitude – and wandered down to see The Heavy Heavy. I was keen to see the band, having heard their single Miles and Miles on Cerys Matthews’ 6 Music show recently. It has a lovely rolling riff and guitar work straight out of the Allmans’ songbook. Their debut EP Life and Life Only came out this year and is a good listen, if you like late 60s/early 70s melodic rock. The sounds of California, with just a touch of southern boogie for good measure. And live it was completely joyous. I loved their set from start to finish: the rolling rhythms, the harmonies, the guitar solos, the driving beats. Rooted in the past, but fresh and contemporary too. They had the crowd dancing almost as much as Durand Jones and the Indications. One of the highlights was when Georgie Fuller, who shares the vocal duties with lead guitarist Will Turner and plays keyboards, sang the soul classic Piece of My Heart. She gave it the full Janis Joplin. A wonderful moment – brought tears to my eyes. The band are about to start a big North American tour. I’m not surprised – they will absolutely lap up the Heavy Heavy on the other side of the Atlantic. For pure pleasure, my favourite show of the weekend.
Jon and I went our separate ways for a while after that: he to see Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan – mainly for the name! – while I went over to the Garden stage to catch a bit of country singer Margo Cilker. She was a new name to me when I heard her on the EOTR playlist. I liked her sound on record; and that translated to the live show. Nothing flash about this one: just good old country music, sung and played beautifully. Margot had a nice sense of humour in between songs too. One song had one of the best country music refrains I have heard: Crazy and died, crazy and died, everyone I looked up to has gone crazy or died. All sing along now!
Back at the Woods stage I watched a bit of the Umlauts while waiting for Modern Woman in the Big Top. I thought they sounded pretty good on the EOTR playlist, and I’ve heard them on 6 Music too. Naturally, with that name, the music has a German electronic angle, but it has punk elements too. The band apparently met at Wimbledon College of Art. The two women who front the band are from Austria and Monaco. I thought they were interesting, but like a few other bands, including English Teacher, it’s quite hard to get anything like the full impact of their music on the main stage in broad daylight. One to research further.
Modern Woman were playing the Big Top, a step up from the tiny stage I saw them on at Wide Awake in May, and the Alcove at Latitude. They certainly rose to the occasion. They played a powerful set of jagged post punk with elements of gothic folk rock – the latter coming from the subject matter of the songs and especially band leader Sophie Harris’ singing. Add to that the wild sounds that David Denyer conjures out of his synth and violin and you have an intriguing and unusual mix. Try the 2021 EP Dogs Fighting in My Dream if you want to hear them for yourself. That includes their two most streamed songs to date; Juniper and Offerings, as well as The Eel, which has some screeching sax on it. All featured in the show. Sophie, as usual, looked very striking – not in her flowing red dress this time, but a pale blue two piece suit that glowed in the lights. This is a good band – I’ll be interested to see how they develop in the future.
After a break, during which I quite enjoyed listening to Starcrawler on the Woods stage from the tent (lots of New York Dolls in there) it was time for Irish band NewDad in the Big Top. I stuck around for about half the set. I like their swirling sound – a bit of shoegaze, a touch of Cranberries. I enjoyed them at Green Man last year, and I Don’t Recognise You was one of my most played songs of 2021. Today though, I found them a bit tame – perhaps in contrast to Modern Woman. I decided to leave about half way through, so I could see the Weather Station from the start; but soon after I’d left the Big Top I heard the opening chords of I Don’t Recognise You. So I dashed back, enjoyed the swirling chords and Julie Dawson’s singing for a few minutes more, and then left again!
I’ve not listened to the Weather Station much, but their 2021 album Ignorance received a lot of acclaim in the music press. It was an album said to be informed by band leader Tamara Lindeman’s “climate grief”, the feeling of despair and anger at where the world is heading. I gave it a listen at the time, expecting to hear something that really channelled that despair and anger; instead I heard a lot of well-crafted songs that just sounded a little bland. Nonetheless, I thought they would be worth seeing live – perhaps the amplification and distortion you get in the live environment would give the songs a greater edge. I’d have to say that my view didn’t really change. The band were excellent, really tight. Tamara sang beautifully, but maybe too beautifully to convey that sense of anger that is there in the lyrics. I can’t really fault them and they went down very well on the Garden stage. But it didn’t really move me.
Perfume Genius was on the agenda for the gang, and apparently it was a great performance. I decided to go up early to a small stage called the Boat, which is the woods, to see Jockstrap. When I got there the place was already packed. The stage appears to be in a dip, so that when they came on most of the crowd, me included, couldn’t see them at all. A bit of a programming error by EOTR – Jockstrap could easily have filled the Big Top. I decided to try my luck back at the Talking Heads stage, where the guitarist Gwenifer Raymond was playing. All the benches were taken when I arrived, but I found myself a nice spot to the side with a good view. I spent the next 45 minutes completely captivated. Gwenifer’s guitar playing is extraordinary. How to describe? She’s Welsh, and there’s the sound of the mountains in there for sure; but there’s blues, there’s bluegrass and there is definitely flamenco. The speed of her playing at times, the double rhythms, the expressiveness, reminded me of two concerts I’ve witnessed recently: some flamenco in Cordoba, Spain, and a classical guitarist called Jonathan Prag (who I saw at Edinburgh) who draws heavily on Spanish and Latin American composers. Doing a little reading for this piece, it seems that the music Gwenifer is playing is called American primitive. All I can say that it wasn’t that primitive! The complexity, the dexterity was a wonder to behold. And there was a tone, maybe those Welsh mountains again, that took me back to side two of Led Zeppelin III, which fans of that band will remember was largely acoustic. I’d heard a couple of her tunes on 6 Music before, but Gwenifer Raymond was one of my top discoveries of the festival.
And so to the headliners on the Woods stage, Pixies. One of the great bands of the late 80s/early 90s. Pre-dating grunge, but highly influential on that whole scene – and early Radiohead too. And still one of the bands that so many others take inspiration from. The key albums are Surfer Rosa and Doolittle from the late 80s, though one of my favourite tracks, Planet of Sound came from Trompe le Monde in 1991. The band split in 1993, but reformed in 2004, and are still going strong. I saw them play at the Roundhouse in 2018 and they were outstanding. There are still three longstanding band members including frontman Black Francis. They’ve made a few albums in recent years, which I can’t say I’ve listened to, though I did like the single Blue Eyed Hexe from 2014. Tonight they had an hour and a half and a massive crowd, just waiting for the great songs. And there was a storming start, especially with Monkey Gone to Heaven and Debaser third and fourth in the set. The few minutes of those two was one of the absolute highlights of the weekend, with everyone chanting the choruses. There was a slight problem over the whole set though – quite a few unfamiliar songs, probably because not many people have listened much to those recent albums. And even on the classic albums, there were just a few tracks that stood out, at least for me. So there were some good-but-not-that-great periods during the show. And my feet were hurting from all the standing! I needed the boost of favourite tunes to keep me going. Planet of Sound did the trick late on; and then right near the end, Where is Mind? It’s a bit unfair on the band, but when they played the big hits it was brilliant; the rest of time it was OK. An hour would have been enough.
I’d been thinking about going on for a bit more after Pixies: Ross from Friends in the Big Top and Tom Ravenscroft DJ’ing at the Boat were tempting. But I was pooped. Back to the tent, shoes off, glass of wine, bed. One more day…
Sunday 4 September
I skipped the literature talks this morning in favour of a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast. Jon and I met up at the Garden stage at midday for folk singer Katherine Priddy. When I first heard her last year I assumed she was Irish, but she is in fact from Birmingham. That first song was a lovely single called True Love Will Find You in the End. I moved on to her album, The Eternal Rocks Beneath, which is a beautiful, wistful collection of soothing folk songs, with a modern beat here and there. Still sounds very Irish to me! On the Garden stage she was accompanied by a guitarist who added a subtle accompaniment to her guitar picking and a few harmonies. Katherine joked that it was perfect music for the start to Sunday, when a lot of people would be nursing hangovers from their Saturday revelries. And yes, it was music you could gently immerse yourself in. There were plenty of people lying on the grass doing just that. I loved the music, and enjoyed her introductions to the songs – a lot of them are inspired by books she has read. I left feeling mellow and ready for some rock’n’roll…
I’ve heard The Bug Club on 6 Music quite a lot. Steve Lamacq is a fan. They’ve got a song called My Baby Loves Rock and Roll Music which is just great rock’n’roll. They’d already started when we got there, and maybe they had already played My Baby… because we didn’t get to hear it. What we did get was half an hour or so of entertaining indie/punk with the kind of quirky observational lyrics that reminded me of the C86 bands of the mid-80s. I liked the refrain, If my mother thinks I’m happy then I must be happy, sung in the middle of a list of all the things going wrong in the singer’s life! The band are a trio from Monmouthsire in Wales, comprising Sam Willmett on guitar and vocals, Tilly Harris on bass and vocals and Dan Matthew on drums. I definitely like to see them again, indoors. They’re a lot of fun.
Briefly I popped into the Big Top with Jon to see Deathcrash, who Dylan had recommended. I took one look and listen, thought it was going to be very gloomy, and decided to stick to my plan A, which was to see Jake Xerxes Fussell on the Garden Stage. It was a good decision, though I’m told that Deathcrash were actually quite lively. I’d not heard of Jake until his songs popped up on the EOTR playlist and caught my attention. His American folk sound has echoes of Bob Dylan’s early work, though Jake’s voice is deeper. There’s an interesting piece on him in the EOTR programme. He is a historian of American folk music, scouring field recordings and catalogues to find songs that he can give a new interpretation. That’s very much in the folk tradition, as songs are handed down from generation to generation. Jake took the stage with just his electric guitar, and finger-picked his way through a riveting selection from his American songbook. The emphasis is, I think, on songs from the south; Jake himself is from Columbus, Georgia. One notable tune, Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing on a Sweet Potato Vine? had Jake hitting the high notes in a way that conjured up memories of Dylan. It took me a while to figure out which Dylan song it was, but it’s All I Really Want to Do. This show wasn’t a Dylan re-tread by any means, but Jake Xerxes Fussell is rooted in the traditions of his country’s music in the same way as Dylan was, and still is. Along with Gwenifer Raymond, my discovery of the festival.
I stayed at the Garden stage for my next show, having had another brief taste of something in the Big Top, this time Lee Paterson, a drum and guitar duo. The programme promised Royal Blood-style “noise rock”. It was shouty, tuneless metal to my ears. I beat a retreat and enjoyed the more soothing delights of Cassandra Jenkins instead. She had a critically acclaimed album last year called An Overview on Phenomenal Nature. Made with producer and musician Josh Kaufman, it was a response to the trauma and confusion she felt after she was due to play in the Purple Mountain band in 2019, only for the singer David Berman to commit suicide days before the tour began. The music is rooted in Americana (of the mellow sort) but has a jazziness and dream-like quality in places too. All of this was present in the live performance, along with the field recordings that are scattered around the album. I loved Cassandra’s voice and enjoyed her humorous between-songs patter too. All quite similar to the Weather Station you might say; but there was something about the music and the performance which I found more resonant. And take a listen to that album – it’s very good.
The singer-songwriter theme continued, with Jana Horn (pronounced Jayna). My notes for this one say, “self-confessional minimalism”. Jana, who is from Texas, strummed the bass strings of her electric guitar, and that was pretty much the extent of the music. Her songs were fragile constructions, imbued with a sadness. We watched about 25 minutes of the show, during which she twice told us that she had an unborn twin sibling, who was always with her. The two of them were singing, she said. It’s clearly a deep feeling that has remained with her through her life. That and the complaints about getting lost in the Dorset countryside did leave a pall of gloom over the show though. Jon and I decided to head off to catch the beginning of Ryley Walker on the Garden Stage.
Ryley Walker is a phenomenal guitarist. I saw him on the same stage in 2017 when he was new to me, and after five minutes I was transfixed. That day he and his band veered between something like Jeff Buckley on Grace and the 70s jazz rock of someone like John McLaughlin. The song I best remember is Roundabout, which just happens to be his most streamed song on Spotify. The recorded version doesn’t have the elaborate guitar of that live performance. I never really followed up on his music afterwards, although it was also a period when he had some serious alcohol and drug problems, from which he is now recovered. There was a new album in 2021 called Course in Fable as well as a collaboration with Japanese space-rockers Kikagaku Moyo – which, musically, makes sense. Today the band was stripped down to three – drums, bass and guitar. Ryley looked very different too, sporting a neatly cut mullet. He was in good, somewhat bizarre humour, which included extolling the virtues of M&S egg sandwiches and Tesco Coleslaw! He also revealed an anglophile side, paying tribute to Steve Hackett of Genesis and covering an XTC song called Knuckle Down. That wasn’t so great, but the rest of the time, his guitar playing was once again a wonder to behold. At times I was thinking Hendrix, but something more on the prog or jazz rock side is probably closer. Maybe it is Steve Hackett! One of the festival highlights.
I then went over to the Tipi for some good old-fashioned punk music, courtesy of the London punk collective The Chisel. Jon had left Ryley Walker early to get there for the start – he’s a sucker for punishment! It was amusing to see Chubby of Chubby and the Gang studiously playing guitar instead of strutting the stage and bawling out the lyrics. Jon said he did in fact sing on the first couple of songs, but it was full guitar while I was there. Singer Cal Graham did the strutting and the shouting. God knows what his throat feels like after a gig! The music was late 70s/early 80s style – more Sham 69 than the Clash or Pistols. Fairly limited, but enjoyable for half an hour. And they went down a storm. The punk spirit lives on!
The Chisel finished at six. After a break we convened with the youngsters at the bar near the Woods stage, for Kurt Vile and the Violators. I like Kurt Vile’s music, but tonight we stayed at the bar, talking for the most part. Kurt never really grabbed our attention enough to draw us towards the stage. After that there was a choice: Scalping in the Big Top or Cola in the Tipi. Scalping, from Bristol, are a hardcore electro-metal band, with an infusion of dub, which any self-respecting Bristol band must have. I liked what I’d heard on the EOTR playlist, but Louis was raving about Cola, so I plumped for them. Having said that, I could see some of the visuals in the Big Top as I walked by, and they looked impressive. Afterwards Jon pronounced it one of the best things he’d heard and seen all weekend. Meanwhile Cola at the Tipi played their post-punk indie. The band are Canadian, and formed from a band called Ought. The sound is quite dark and you can hear elements of Velvet Underground and Joy Division in there. Maybe some White Lies too. The basslines were at the forefront and relentless. I thought the band were pretty good, but I suspect some of the subtleties of their music – and the lyrics – were submerged by the live sound. Louis declared them the best band in the world – an accolade that is normally bestowed on fellow Canadians Crack Cloud! Definitely worth seeing, though I think Scalping were more of a spectacle.
That brought us to the last show – at least for me and Jon. Yard Act were due to play the Big Top at 11.15, and I might have been tempted, but events intervened, as I shall explain in a moment. Our last show was Aldous Harding on the Garden stage. Readers of this blog will know I am a fan of Aldous’ music, and have been ever since I heard her second album, Party, and saw her play a stunning set at Gorilla in Manchester in 2017. I’ve seen her a few times since then, not least at Green Man in 2019, when she had a large audience at the main stage captivated. Her music is quite hard to describe: there’s an element of folk – her debut album was very much a folk album – but it’s jazzy, poppy and sometimes downright odd. There’s a beautiful fragility about some of the songs; others get those feet dancing. She released a new album this year called Warm Chris. I’m not totally familiar with that yet, though the catchy Tick Tock was on my radar. That came quite early in the set, which drew mainly from songs from Warm Chris and its predecessor, 2019’s Designer. As usual Aldous sang some of her songs sitting down with her acoustic guitar, and others while doing her distinctive dance moves. There was a sequence of real beauty a few songs in: first Treasure and then Fixture Picture, both from Designer. Both acoustic, with subtle support from the band. I was still standing near the back with Jon and Gab at that point, but decided I had to get further forward for the rest, and made my way along the right hand side to somewhere quite near the front. It was a wonderful show, other highlights being The Barrel (in which the ferret is shown to the egg) and old favourite Imagining my Man from Party. So engrossed was I that I didn’t notice that towards the end, the sky was shot through with lightning. And, shortly after the concert ended, the heavens opened. It was the first rain of any note during the festival hours – we really got lucky, given the forecast in the days ahead.
Jon and I headed towards the campsite: the others geared up for the next few hours of entertainment. Unfortunately, that didn’t include Yard Act. Their show was cancelled due to the electrical storm. The shows in the Tipi were halted for a while, but resumed later. But Yard Act didn’t for some reason. On the way back we stopped near the cider bus, where Tom knew a few south London people who had gathered there. One of them was Sophie Harris from Modern Woman, back in red, and rather bedraggled after the rain. I had to go up and tell her how much I’d enjoyed her show. She seemed pleased and we chatted briefly about the other shows I’d seen them play this year. It turned out that all the tuning that delayed their set at Wide Awake was caused by a broken guitar string. It was a nice way to end proceedings.
We finished off the wine box back at the tent and reviewed the day – and weekend. A wonderful array of music stretched over the past four days. From Joe and the Shitboys to Aldous Harding – the ridiculous to the sublime. Some discoveries, some old favourites, and a great vibe throughout. As I write, Jon and I have already bought our tickets for next year.
Here’s to End of the Road 2023!