After several weeks of anticipation, we arrived at the 20th edition of Truck on Friday morning ready to go. Unloading the car with the sun peeking out through the clouds, we headed out of the car park and in towards the festival entrance, with the thrill of a massive queue at entry. Luckily we got to skip the worst of it, but it snaked all around the car park, with the shuttle buses adding yet more people to its length every half hour as we came to gather the rest of our stuff.
It took us about 90 minutes in total to get fully set up and unloaded, with the force 5 winds making tent pitching a slight challenge, and it seems we had it easier than most. We wandered around to get our bearings of the site, and find all 8 of the stages. It didn’t take too long, the arena being fairly compact, with a small yet distinct children’s area, a few fairground rides, and merchandise and food tents along the pathways between the different stages.
We grabbed a bite of food while vaguely paying attention to the slightly punchy pop-rock sounds on the main stage courtesy of Leader, who were desperately trying to produce an energetic performance to the 20 people who showed up. Sadly, this small attendance remained the theme throughout the afternoon, with tiny crowds continuing for the excellent Trash, the overly experimental 31Hours, and the pleasant surf-pop of Willie J Healey. The queues had clearly delayed a lot of punters, with some people saying they’d spent nearly 5 hours getting into the site.
Thankfully though, by 5pm enough people had managed to get into the festival and pin their tents down through the wind to form a decent attendance for The Big Moon, who produced a vibrant, energetic performance filled with catchy riffs. Over on the market stage, British Sea Power and their delightful meandering tunes offered a pleasant contrast to the punchier styles of most acts that day.
By the time Slaves started on the main stage, the rain had truly arrived, but this failed to deter them. The duo delivered a dominating, powerful performance, with a live show that justifies all the hype. I don’t like them on record, I personally find the identikit drum sequences and pseudo-angry shouting tedious, but their songs live had a pervasive energy that re-energised a very damp audience, getting the entire crowd bouncing and chanting along, interspersed with a couple of engaging anecdotes.
Franz Ferdinand were the main stage headliners on Friday night, arriving to a warm (if wet) welcome, and launched quickly into the well-received “The Dark of the Matinee”, “No You Girls”, and “Do You Want To”, with the crowd singing along and appreciating the classics. Sadly, they didn’t manage to maintain that interest through the rest of their set. Following their openers with a pair of new songs, all enthusiasm ebbed away from the crowd, which they never managed to regain, even when returning to other classic hits such as “Walk Away” and “Michael”. Alex Kapranos talked a bit between songs, but his ramblings were just as forgettable as most of the band’s set, lacking the spark that younger bands offered. Even a concluding pair of “Take Me Out” and “This Fire” failed to engage the audience properly. They walked off after a mere hour to lacklustre and half-arsed calls for an encore, which went ignored while the audience squelched their way back to their tents early following a disappointing conclusion to the evening..
The poor weather led to us deciding to wuss out and head back each night, instead of camping properly. We left our tent up as a base, arriving back on Saturday to a layer of thick mud, but it had been well-managed, with straw laid down at all important choke points, ensuring it never got seriously deep or dangerous, just varying between slippery and squelching. Soon after arriving the drizzle returned, and I decided to nap, while Owen went to the well-received Mr. Motivator, who had succeeded in getting the crowd ready for the new day.
Following our respective injections of energy, we engaged in more muddy meandering, getting photos from atop the helter skelter and further exploration of the food options. Most festivals nowadays seem to provide fairly varied fayre, but Truck, in addition to the now standard burger/pizza/chip/pie/hotdog/vegan/noodle stalls, had a large food tent run by local organisations with profits going to charity. There were some high quality and relatively cheap options here, with slices of cake/flapjack a particularly satisfying snack option for £2, and the indoor and outdoor benches were welcoming to punters wanting a short break for tired legs.
Band wise, my first act of the day was Yonaka, who had a lively stage presence, but lacked the songs to back up the delivery. The Shimmer Band disappointed more though, their noisy fuzz lacked the direction or haunting qualities of bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, a comparison which had led me there.
We headed into the Veterans and Virgins stage for Alphabet Backwards, a local act whose first EP I’d picked up at Truck’s music store in Oxford a few years ago. Their upbeat pop tunes delighted the packed and overspilling tent, offering a bright energy and sense of summer that the weather seemed to have forgotten. The crowd loved it, to the extent one of the festival’s founders invited them back to an encore and rapturous applause, the first I’d seen that weekend.
Strange Cages provided some powerful rock riffs in the Barn, in sharp contrast to Vant on the main stage, whose whiny style reminded me of terrible American post-grunge bands instead of the British punk act they supposedly were. Inheaven were much better, dominating the tent with a dark, yet energetic display. Sundara Karma were pleasant enough, but easily forgettable, while Nothing But Thieves impressed with their crowd-pleasing anthems.
I find it a peculiarity that Truck chooses not to put acts on its 2nd and 3rd stages (The Market and The Nest) at the same time as main stage acts, particularly for the top two acts, and the lack of choice at the end of a day was definitely felt, despite the 8 total stages at the festival, with another 3 just offering DJs or karaoke. The display of The Wombats made the shortage of options a greater let down, as despite lots of enthusiastic bouncing, their most charismatic member turned out to be the stuffed puppet.
Saturday’s headliner were The Libertines, whose set mirrored Franz Ferdinand’s in many ways, they were welcomed keenly despite the rain, they led with “Time for Heroes”, but soon drifted into songs written this decade and lost their audience’s interest in doing so. I have no problem with acts performing new material, but the crowd’s spirit continued to dampen with the band seemingly oblivious. In contrast to Franz though, The Libertines did manage to spark enough enthusiasm with “What Katie Did”, “Vertigo” and “The Good Old Days” for the amassed spectators to offer genuine cheers before they came back for a much better encore, a 4-song singalong with as much energy as the previous 14 songs together, concluding with a warm hug between Carl Barat and Pete Doherty to cheers before performing “Don’t Look Back Into the Sun”.
Sunday largely lived up to its name, with less than two hours of rain intruding on a brightish day. We packed up the tent and our belongings into the car early in the day, while listening to Star Wars tunes courtesy of The Oxford Symphony Orchestra, and conversed about the new alcohol policy. Like many larger festivals, Truck now has searches between the campsite and arena, banning punters from bringing booze between them. An unpopular decision, particularly as most bars were charging an extreme £5.50 per pint, and the security presence appeared focused on alcohol checks, instead of doing anything to prevent a wave of tent thefts. There was one hobgoblin stall selling ales for £4.50, a welcomely cheaper price, but the “specially created” Truck Ale tasted like just rebranded Brakspear, a fairly bland session ale that most drinkers in Oxfordshire will be well acquainted with anyway.
We used the improved weather to stage-hop a bit more, catching as many bands as Saturday despite the earlier scheduled finish and later start. Slotface bounced around The Market with a vibrant punk sound. The Dreaming Spires offered a pleasant burst of jangly guitar-pop, before Weirds blasted their noisy psych-rock loudly through The Nest. Cabbage performed explosively, I felt like they overwhelmed the main stage, although their politically charged lyrics did trigger another use of the tedious “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant infesting festivals this summer. Honeyblood impressed with their slightly dirty and spiky sound, before HOO offered a majestic trip into a shoegaze-infused hazy dreamscape. No surprise given their members include Ian McCutcheon, formerly of Slowdive and Mojave 3.
Impressively, despite the close proximity of many stages and tents, there was very little sound-bleed throughout the weekend, even between the adjacent V&V/Nest stages. I was more impressed considering that the end of HOO overlapped with the start of All Them Witches, who offered a powerful and groovy, bass-driven style reminiscent of Kyuss at their peak.
Maximo Park subbed the mainstage, and their performance put all the other early noughties indie bands to shame. Their set had just as much a blend of old and new, but with a vibrancy lacking on previous days, owing much to the charismatic Paul Smith, amusing the crowd with short and sweet transitional comments between songs.
Onto the finale, and The Vaccines were in great form. As uninspiring as I find them on record, live they produced a mature and powerful performance, oozing confidence in their ability to deliver a closing show and they definitely delivered.
Overall Truck was a good festival, and mostly well-organised, with the weather managed well, toilets well maintained, a lack of sound bleed and a sensible layout. Unfortunately, there was a clear sign of corporatism sneaking in and it was starting to hurt the vibe. The festival also seemed to invest fairly heavily on big name acts in decline, when almost all the best musical performances over the weekend came from younger bands. I would certainly return again if they offered a solid line-up, but it didn’t quite have that unique and rarefied atmosphere of the best festivals, that makes you itching to keep going year after year.
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