It’s early morning on a miserable Sunday, but we have had three pretty glorious days of the festival already. Thursday was the ‘orientation’ day with not much on but a few bands from 6pm on two stages whilst we got our bearings. The night was warm and expectant as we enjoyed music from acts including Brix & The Extricated, Slowdive, and The Moonlandingz.
Now, it’s raining, and we’re still parked up in the campervan fields, there’s huge tracts of clover rich green grass around us. Clearly many of our temporary neighbours have decided to leave and will just remember 2017’s festival as a dry one. There’s a steady stream of festival goers passing by to the car parks hauling trolleys piled up with soggy kit. These, I assume, are preparing to leave at some point today, depending upon how the weather forecast pans out. I can see the merits of leaving with your mind full of time spent only on a dry site. Both Friday and Saturday showcased a huge range of musical delights.
The former included headliners Lucinda Williams, and a wine swigging gungho Mac DeMarco as well as a terrific set from Jens Lekman including an encore where he had the crowd singing along to the Glady Knight hit ’End Of The Road’. It was one of those never to be forgotten indelible moments that End Of The Road stars manage to create year after year. Earlier in the day Julie Byrne had had a bit of a sound issue meltdown, Baxter Dury had reminded us all of his father, and Shovels & Rope reminded us how good instrument proficient Americana duos (White Stripes) can be. For me the highlight of the day wasn’t the return of psych rockers Pond, but Xylouris White. The creative pairing of Cretan lute player George Xylouris, and Dirty 3 drummer Jim White. It was mesmerising. Watching from the barrier White’s drumming skills were jaw dropping.
Saturday had a lot of acts we wanted to see and so we split our time watching beginnings of sets, and found that to be less rewarding, so we ditched that idea. The highlight for me was the emotive and amusing BUG: David Bowie Special from Adam Buxton. Whilst I missed Let’s Eat Grandma I was able to also hear The Lemon Twigs, and Car Seat Headrest on the nearby Garden Stage. It was also the day to unearth the best music I’d not come across before. Courtney Marie Andrews, and Sinkane both impressed, but I was stopped in my tracks by London’s HMLTD who mixed Eighties influences to amazing effect - throwing punk, new romantic, and goth into the mix to create a slick visceral coutured performance Billy Idol, Nick Cave, or Bowie would have been proud of. I think it won’t be long until this lot take Kasabian’s crown. It was lovely to watch Nadine Shah (now with a full band in support), Alvvays, and Band Of Horses again. Father John Misty delivered a strong headlining set (from just three albums!) and Romare and Gold Panda got my kind of heavy beats groove on, before the silent disco had us switching channels and singing along long into the night.
After all that, with T-shirt wearable days and nights augmented by hot Cider Bus mulled cider, I could certainly see why some people headed for home as the rainclouds gathered. But, how did they manage to sample all the culinary delights on offer in that time? The best of festival fare is here each year, and requires all four days to make a decent sampling possible. Joining the regular favourites this year were the dirty seitanic vegan fast food producers that are the Feral Food Store. Okay so vegan food is a bit trendy at present, but with food like this it’s easy to see why. It’s wasn’t just food, there were guest ales still on the shelf waiting to settle before we could sample. Incidentally, prices were the same as last year, and about what I paid elsewhere most of the summer. Around £10 a meal and £4.50 a cider. Food and drink is reasonably priced, a wealth of choice and frankly delicious. The food area having plenty of seating and real fires to sit around.
There were also installations to locate in the fairy light festooned woods. All well worth discovering, including the karaoke van, but not that ruddy fortune telling cat - cheers for the downer you miserable moggy! For some reason it decided to pick on me, it was nice enough to other visitors apparently.
Kaleidoscopes seemed to be a bit of a thing this year. But did’t appear to cause any trouble in the audience, who were by and large respectful of the musicians showcased reflecting the atmosphere well themselves, and seemingly to repeat the pattern of boho check, Trucker caps and big beards.
Well, until Sunday, when it seemed all the decent audience members cleared off and left the driving rain and cold to the domain of of a few noisy broken people who wouldn’t shut up. A wonderful set by Bill Callahan (who delivered a host of Smog covers) was almost derailed by the noisy people behind me, who constantly yelled they “loved Bill Callahan!”. Fortunately relocating to a quieter part of the crowd was rewarded with an emotional version of ‘Say Valley Maker’ which had me in tears. Bill’s voice seems deeper and richer in real life than it is on record. The set of the weekend.
Earlier the crowds had irked me at shows by the wonderful Deerhoof, and Blanck Mass. Both in the cover of the Big Top. Out at the exposed Woods Stage the wind and rain seemed much fiercer during Foxygen than it was at the same time in the enclosed outdoor Garden Stage for Waxahatchee, or the earlier Julia Jacklin, and Timber Timbre. Whilst the final day’s line-up may have been more eclectic it proved to be just as strong in terms of musicianship as the previous 2 days. Again despite sometimes heavy rain the crowds remained in front of clearly surprised acts who were incredibly grateful that their audience had remained.
It’s my final outdoor festival of the summer, and with it’s position in the calendar the moniker ‘End Of The Road’, and the setting of Larmer Tree Gardens has always seemed highly apt. The artwork created over the years, and the Americana leaning has added to how I reflect on the event. The addition of a Twin Peaks cinema with zig zag floor, white statue and red drapes, as well as a ‘Welcome to…’ sign, and the Double RR cafe with strong coffee really added to the cult alt-indie fanboy feel this year.
With over a dozen editions under their belt the event continues to feel incredibly well run, stewards upbeat and helpful, and security low key. The number of families is on the rise and with it the amount of things for kids to do. The comedy continues to draw huge queues, but everyone seemed to squeeze in amongst the trees. This year seemed to draw a few newbies whose only previous festival experiences (from their behaviour) were events like Reading. It was great to people watch and see them realise by day two that they don’t have to behave like that at festivals, and evolve almost overnight. You could almost see the baseball caps and beards materialise from the dayglo face paint.
Despite the wet conclusion, this festival continues to delight, to showcase new finds, and Americana favourites, to offer great food (I may have mentioned that already), great facilities (well done Andy Loos), cider bus cider, workshops and talks. The late night glory that is the Disco Ship and it’s disco floor, the silent disco, cider bus DJs, tipi secret sets, the woodland library, and healing area (thanks Debbie from dktherapy for fixing me again after over head banging at silent disco to AC/DC). In all it’s a well laid out event that hosts more decent acts than you’re actually able to see. We keep going back for our own favourites like Ringo Musical Bingo (always one square off a win), and a host of other annual delights. It’s still one of my favourite events of the year, one that lifts the spirits and celebrates comfortable nights under the stars before we’re drawn inside until the longer days return.
review by: Scott Williams
photos by: Karen Williams
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