Sunday, September 16, 2012

End Of The Road Festival 2012. Day 1. Friday 31st Of August.

Why do I bother to go to music festivals?,this is a question I am often asked by curious people with different interests to myself. Mind you it's a question I sometimes ask myself particularly when I am trudging through a mud filled campsite carrying 30 kilos or so of luggage or indeed lying in a freezing cold tent, hungover and surrounded by noisy juveniles outside who somehow seem to never require any sleep.
However, some of the most memorable live music performances that I have been lucky enough to have witnessed over the years have been at such festivals.
There is also that total 'escape' feeling that goes with attending such an event, the copious amounts of booze, the eccentric, free spirited even crazy people you meet along the way, the sheer buzz of it all. Also the access to the other arts entertainment in the form of comedy, theatre and film always adds that bit of extra magic to the weekend..
Each time it's a new experience with the chance to catch heroes performing or indeed the opportunity for some new musical discoveries to be pursued.

This year I was attracted to the idea of trying out one of the British festivals for a change. The End Of The Road had been on my wish list for some time and after reading that this years line up included such luminaries as Dirty 3, Beach House, Midlake ,Mountain Man, Villagers and Tindersticks I was sold on the idea of getting there.
In fact the first day of the End Of The Road was a showcase for bands associated with Bella Union Records who were celebrating 15 years in business, this independent label has seldom failed to produce anything short of excellence across its wide range of signings since the day it was founded.

One of the endearing qualities that the End Of The Road has going for it is the location of the place which is situated at the Larmer Tree Gardens, in Wiltshire North Dorset surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside you are likely to see in all of southern England.
Originally when this festival debuted back in 2006, it was a much smaller affair and although still regarded as a minor sized event, (even managing to win an award for 'Best Small Festival' at the U.K Festival Awards last year) it now has at least doubled in size.
Personally I was hoping that such a set up could maintain it's tidy capacity of just 5000 or so punters but seemingly such was the demand for tickets, it was necessary to expand out to a wider audience of at least 10,000 in my estimation.
However it is important to point out that I have never been to a festival that had such a likable crowd as this one. The people attending were the most humble, friendly, polite, genuinely music loving crowd I have ever had the pleasure to mix with.
Total strangers had no problem with sharing stories and opinions with us throughout the entire weekend as we mingled without effort at the campsite, the bars or in front of the stage areas. This is what clenched our visit to this festival as being a great experience and an unforgettable one, the absolute friendliness of the people was alone enough to make us want to return there next year.

Our somewhat, unplanned late arrival on Friday evening was a disappointing start for us because it meant that we missed a few acts that we had earmarked as must sees. Notably Lanterns On The Lakes, Pure Moon, Peter Broderick and Mountain Man.
It was only on the previous day that I discovered that the festival was kicking off at midday, but such a hiccup was put down to a learning experience for us and would be underlined heavily for planning our next trip there.
If we do go again, we will most certainly be going an extra day in advance of the festival, perhaps staying overnight in Salisbury so as to get a head start.
As our bus rolled in that evening and we were unloading our luggage, a black van pulled up nearby. Two familiar faces appeared, it was Warren Ellis and Jim White from Dirty 3 stepping out to stretch their legs and have a look around, we knew instantly that a great weekend was in store..    
Roy Harper

Our first musical port of call was to see Roy Harper at the Woods Stage, this 71 year old whimsical troubadour held the attention of everyone there with his spellbinding acoustic string playing and haunting lyrics. I fully confess to have no prior knowledge of Harper's music but the truth is best here. I was later to meet a very friendly couple from Newcastle during the weekend who informed me that 'Stormcock' from 1971 was a highly recommended album of his. Their advice has been taken into account and James and Fran if you are reading this, I would like to say it was an absolute pleasure to chat to you..

To see Roy Harper perform was a perfect start to a late entry on the Friday evening, his songs were deeply affecting as the cool autumnal air began to blow through the crowd. Perhaps Harper could be compared to Neil Young in certain ways, but his lyrics seem more complex, his guitar work, more intricate. David Gilmore (Pink Floyd) and Jimmy Page( Led Zeppelin) are just a couple of notables who regard Harper as a huge influence to their careers, I can understand why.
'Hats Off To Roy Harper' is a song that can be found on Led Zeppelin's 3rd studio album released in 1970, not much more appreciation could be required from such a band. I will begin my shamefully belated interest in this man's recorded music, I believe there are over 20 studio albums and a host of live recordings, but I shall begin with 'Stormcock'.                                                   

Dirty 3
Next on the bill at the Woods Stage at 7.30pm were the ever manic Australian art-rock combo Dirty 3, one of the earliest bands to sign to Bella Union records and proud representatives of the label.
Front man Warren Ellis, looking like a mad shaman with a violin, tore into the strings with his bow, creating the most thunderous noise on such favourites as 'Everything Is Fucked' as Jim White built into a crescendo of percussion behind him. Mick Turner's calm yet steady guitar work holding it together, but just about. This is a band that never fails to thrill onstage, I have almost become a groupie since I first saw them play at the Lissard Festival in West Cork in 1998 and still rate them as one of today's greatest live acts. Warren Ellis's anecdotes and wise cracks between the music alone are blissfully uplifting. I already have my ticket secured for their Dublin gig at The Button Factory next November.



What do you do when 2 great bands happen to be playing on different stages at the same time?
This can be sometimes a scourge, but perhaps a source of relief for someone with ADHD. Baltimore duo Beach House were next on the bill at the Woods Stage, playing their own brand of dreamy indie pop to very satisfying appreciation while the Garden Stage hosted  Midlake as it's bill topper. Beach House latest album 'Bloom' has been getting multiple plays with me since it's release earlier this year and a mighty fine collection it is too, most notably the first single from it called 'Myth'.
This was my first time seeing Beach House play live, if I was to make one complaint, it would have to be a mention about the very poor stage lighting throughout their set. Perhaps it was intentional, or maybe it was a technical problem but it drowned a bit of the atmosphere for me personally to not be able to get a good view of everything happening onstage.They did however play the set list I wanted to hear including the gorgeous song 'Zebra' from the 'Teen Dream' album. With my disappointment  at failing to capture a decent photograph of Beach House aside, someone thankfully managed to grab this video and put it up on YouTube..

A quick dash across to the Garden Stage was essential we felt, to catch some of Midlake's set, this Texan 5 piece have been of huge interest to me since hearing their 2006 release 'The Trials Of Van Occupanther'. Clearly humbled to be part of this festival day dedicated to the Bella Union label, they introduced new material from their forthcoming album and came back on for no less than 2 encores. The Garden Stage was the perfect setting for their soothing harmonies amid the cool September night air, I was pretty pleased to get this photo too.

As with all the festivals I have ever been to in my lifetime, there is always and I stress the word always; a band or an artiste that totally takes you by surprise.This time around it came in the form of a 4 piece from Bristol called Zun Zun Egui, who played at the Tee Pee Tent. Heavily armed with an array of layers within each song, this group made a noise all of their own, amid 2 guitars, a set of drums and a keyboard, with an unstoppable energy.Even mild mannered onlookers found themselves strutting to the rhythms that this band were offering, almost like as if they couldn't help themselves. This is just the kind of band that John Peel would have earmarked for his radio play list if he were around today, they expel energy, originality and sheer brilliance as  a live act. News that they will be supporting Dirty 3 on their forthcoming U.K and Ireland tour is enough to rid any winter blues. My advise is do not miss this band if they play in a town near you.

Zun Zun Egui

 Listen to the title song here from 'Katang', the band's first and only album to date.


And so concluded our first day at the End Of The Road, Whitstable Bay Premium Ale and Somerset Cider had been the order of the day along with some incredible music. A short trek back to the campsite felt like the next best thing to do...Tomorrow would have so much more again to offer.
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