End of the Road 2012 is a first rate, free range festival

End of the Road 2012 review

published: Thu 6th Sep 2012

around the festival site (2)

Friday 31st August to Sunday 2nd September 2012
Larmer Tree Gardens,Tollard Royal, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5PT, England MAP
£150, youth (13-17) £120, child (6-12) £50
daily capacity: 12000
last updated: Fri 10th Aug 2012

'End of the Road' has a certain ring to it. It could almost be the title of a children's novel. If it was, you might expect a few things from it, perhaps drama, surprise, wondrous delight and a bit of magic. Well, the good news is that the End of the Road is not the setting for a work of fiction. It's real and if you go there, all of the above can be yours for you and your friends to enjoy.

Like the best of magical tales, its' beginnings are sober and mundane. It's not quite 'Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.' It's more A350, A30 then onto the B3081. Then, when you arrive, it's five quid to park. This seems a bit of a liberty on top of the ticket price, given that, where we are, there aren't a great deal of sustainable travel options on offer. The clue is in the title.

The first character I meet is, true to the script, a tad mercurial. Camping wise, End of the Road is a park then pitch affair. But help is at hand in the form of 'Mr Trolley' who will hire you said item at a rate of five pounds for half an hour, and another five pounds should you over run.
"How long a walk is it to the campsite?" I ask
"About 10 minutes, maybe longer if you're pulling a trolley." He replies.
Mr Tumnus, sorry, Trolley, has clearly been doing his maths. The clock's ticking, and I'm still in the real world.

around the festival site (2)
Pitched up, and slightly stressed, I head to the festival site, and it's here that the magic starts to brew. There's a lot of space, plenty of room to breathe. It's almost as if a bunch of animal rights activists have designed it with the aim of giving the human beings present freedom to indulge in their natural behaviour. Be it sitting and chatting, lying and reading, having fun with your kids, watching your favourite bands, laughing at the comics, dancing until dawn, making new friends or yes, getting pissed and falling asleep in the sun, there's plenty of room here for you to do your thing. It's RSPCA monitored, free range festivalling at it's best.

Take the stalls, the vast majority are selling food, and the emphasis is on local, fresh and healthy. There's something for most tastes, it's a gastronomic world tour in a field. There's a food stall doing Gratin Dauphinoise, and other things that are proper French. Then there's North African, Middle Eastern, and all sorts of Asian. Then from the Americas we have Buffalo Burgers, Chilli, Tacos and Burritos. Vegetarians are well catered for, my favourite is the shockingly good value, 'Wide Awake Cafe.' True to the organic spirit of the festival, there's plenty of space to sit, to eat and to soak it up. When it gets cold and dark, they light fires and people gather round and carry on. It's Health and Safety gone sane.

around the festival site (3)
Otherwise, there's the usual arts, crafts and festival paraphernalia. There's a great deal of vintage and ethnic, as suits the crowd here, and a couple of surprises. I like the old Bedford lorry in which you can make, and star in, your own movie, but the pick of the stalls for me, is the artist blacksmith. He's here selling his wares and doing his thing. There's some bellows, and a forge. He'll let you have a go at blacksmithing for fifteen quid an hour; which is enough to make your own poker, if you want one.

End of the Road is an ideal festival to come to with a group of friends. The festival takes place on the site of an old Victorian pleasure garden which, though the Victorians are long gone, is not done with pleasuring people. There's always room to gather, and delights abound in every nook and cranny. Whether you fancy quiet space, musical space, active space, sitting and reading space, or intimate getting to know you space, all you have to do is mooch around the garden, and as if by magic, your space will appear.

The garden itself is zoned, each part offering a different feel and experience. Should you require some hands on therapy, there's the Healing Garden, where all sorts of remedies are on offer. You can get reiki, massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and much more. I come here every morning for strong coffee and a bit of cake and it sorts me out grandly, I must say.

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Follow the path a little bit further and you get to the 'Secret Garden'. Set in the woods, there's a trail of faerie lights, little doors for mice in the bottom of trees and ghostly white babies suspended from branches. There are sculptures of sundry kinds, my favourite being a shower cum Karaoke machine cum disco. A stroll through the garden, late on Saturday night, reveals solitary figures sitting contemplatively on camping chairs, glittery girls chatting on low, gently bouncing cedar branches, a worse for wear couple lying, fall of Pompeii style, in each other's arms and a beautiful belle and her beau sitting statuesque, for all to admire. It's like a Twin Peaks dream sequence only less disturbing. And real.

A bit more strolling reveals another forest clearing, within which is the games area. Folks can be found here throughout the day playing board games, table tennis and jenga. On a bit further is the 'Piano Stage.' It's a set out like a forties front room complete with flock wallpaper, vintage chairs and a piano. Anyone is welcome to pitch up and play, and there's always something on the go here. From prodigiously talented children to haven't-played-in-years adults, the ivories are tickled, songs are sung, and everything gets a clap. It captures the DIY spirit of days gone by and its good to know that we the British can deliver the goods, old school, when we have to.

around the festival site (3)
Walk a bit more and you get to the Forest Disco, with it's own groovy looking bar. The dance floor features flashing squares for you to jump between, and there's also a sailing boat. Then there is the Woodland Library, where you can help yourself to books, and, if spoken word is your thing, listen to live performances from writers and poets. Patti Smith does a surprise reading here on Sunday, much to the delight of those who stumble upon it. Many folk avail themselves of the library, there's a lot of reading going on, and plenty of space to sit down with a good book.

Elsewhere in the woods is the comedy venue. In keeping with the magic, you make your way through the trees to get there. The performers do their thing in an organic looking sheltered stage. The audience sit on an overlooking slope, among the trees, upon the vegetation. I saw Joe Lycett here on Sunday, and very funny he was. There's a full programme of top notch stand up, in addition to a book club, a story teller's club and a series of 'One Hour Plays.' You can easily spend all day here if you want to, and many do.

The Big Top Stage has an intimate, students union bar feel to it. It's a bit dark, a bit moody, and perfect for a band like Veronica Falls. What I witness during their Friday night set perfectly illustrates another important aspect of this festival, its' family friendly spirit. There's a lady in front of me with a couple of children. She clearly loves them but they're tired and she wants to get on with her rockin'. So, she lays them down, on a blanket, and covers them tenderly. They snuggle down, and within a couple of minutes they're asleep, and mum can carry on bopping about.

It's common to see children here, with ear protectors on, having a great time with their parents at the concerts. The Very Small are wheeled about in trolleys and there's plenty to do for children of all ages. Down the path from the garden stage is the pavilion. There are various workshops on offer throughout the day, quite a lot of yoga, and even the opportunity to make your own stop motion animated film.

around the festival site (2)
Opposite, there's a circus tent, and every time I walk past, there's a lot of Hula Hooping going on. Elsewhere, there's story telling, song writing and arts and crafts. Late in the day there's that typical scene where the kids are bored but the parents are having a whale of a time 'finishing things off.' In a way, End of the Road allows us all to be children. The day is for the genuine, small, young children but the night is for children too, just a little bit bigger and not quite as good at walking.

End of the Road is fine for families and perfect with a posse, but I get the feeling you could come here alone and quickly find kindred spirits. In fact, in true Narnia style, time seems to pass at a different pace, and you could, if the magic was with you, live a compressed mini life in the space of your festival weekend. You'd meet someone at one of the many workshops, yoga or tai chi sessions on offer. Then you could go for a coffee at one of the many fine stalls around the place. Moving to the next stage, you could catch a movie. There's a cinema tent showing fine films, ranging from Ong Bak to The Princess Bride. You could get married in a woodland ceremony involving Hearne the Hunter and a bowl of mead, I'm sure someone in the Healing Garden could conjure him up. You'd take a gastronomic world tour round the food stalls by way of a honeymoon. Then, you'd head for the music and live happily ever after.

around the festival site (2)
The term 'line up' is often mentioned when you ask people why they've come here, quite often coupled with the phrase, 'Best of the year.' When you ask people who've they've come to see though, they pretty much all say "Patti Smith," but then you get a list of acts that are as diverse as the festival goers around you. That the festival manages to create a favourable line up for so many different and diverse tastes is a minor triumph.

Take Friday night. The acts are as diverse as can be. I head for the loudest cheering and presently arrive at the Garden Stage to smell of coffee beans, cigarette smoke and the gentle trickling of rain. This is the stage where the music gets space to breathe. You can slosh it around your ears like a fine wine. John Grant is on piano. Intelligent, thoughtful, and with a large loyal following, he's going down a storm. In stark contrast, the Dirty Three, are on the Woods Stage. With their layers of psychedelic noise, it's like having Jackson Pollock throw a bucket full of LSD into your ears. At one point, he describes a scene of being in one of life's holes, taking a load of drugs, and realising you're in quite a good place, before introducing a song called, 'Everything is Fucked'. I briefly wonder if somebody should tell him that with ticket prices they way they are nowadays, its either a trust fund, a favourable marriage or dare I say it, a job for anyone who wants to be part of the experience. But people are having much too good a time to spoil things. Beach House headline and are on fine form, all atmosphere, mood and texture. People stand, sway and soak it up. The best thing about Friday, for me though, is Zun Zun Egui, who headline the Tipi Stage. Atmosphere wise, it's a festival highlight, they wind everyone up a treat. You don't quite know what's going to happen next. Its a musical maze of loud and quiet, consonant and dissonant, and everyone loves it.

Grizzly Bear headline on Saturday and have a bunch of new stuff on offer, which is well received by those watching. They share that that they are enjoying the experience of playing here, a sentiment widely echoed by many of the performers on the bill. Stuart Staples of the Tindersticks says something similar earlier. Their performance on the Garden Stage is a definite highlight; cheek by jowl packed, and everyone cheering them on. Clearly, happy artists make for triumphant, atmospheric gigs. The Antlers voice a similar feeling on Saturday during a performance that is one of the most talked-about of the weekend.

Patti Smith and her band
It's good to see that, a hundred years or so after the suffragettes, there's finally a bit of female empowerment in the music biz. Here, it is spearheaded by Patti Smith & her band. Even before she announces the fact, it's clear from the way she moves, the way she sings and they way she is that she is loving playing here. The crowd reciprocate and it's a blinder of a gig. The only way to follow something brilliant is with something different and Patrick Watson is at his sophisticated best on the Garden Stage later.

Down the bill, more girls are doing it their way and whipping up a storm. Abigail Washburn is a brilliant start to Saturday, before Anna Calvi sucks in a huge crowd on the Woods Stage for a mesmerising performance. She's followed by Alabama Shakes who keep the mood bubbling along nicely. Again though, it's the Tipi Stage where the real gems are found. This time its Moulettes, who play on Saturday, enthralling those lucky, or informed enough to be there.

"I woke up this morning with my head on a quiche." Says Ruth, their bassoon player. It doesn't seem to have affected her, their performance is one of the successes of the festival, crowd response wise. Assured, inspired and with bucket loads of musicality, they're definitely destined for greatness.

So, the site is beautiful and the line up is top notch. On a more mundane level, End of the Road still does not disappoint. The toilets are clean and have bog roll and hand wash, whatever the time of day. The stewards are nice and believe it or not, so are the professional 'Crowd Safety' people; talk about a festival first. Camping wise, there is plenty of space and there's choice too. You can have 'general' camping, quiet camping or of course, family camping. There are a fair few showers as well.

Grandaddy close the main stage on Sunday. A lucky few get to see the brilliant Justin Townes Earlegive a surprise performance in the Tipi tent, then, suddenly, the shop keeper appears and the magic is over. Until next year.....

review by: James Creaser

photos by: James Creaser

Friday 31st August to Sunday 2nd September 2012
Larmer Tree Gardens,Tollard Royal, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5PT, England MAP
£150, youth (13-17) £120, child (6-12) £50
daily capacity: 12000
last updated: Fri 10th Aug 2012

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