Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Spangly, Sparkly Place: The End of the Road Festival 2009

It's not often you leave a music festival feeling perkier than when you arrive, but that's exactly what happened to me at the End of the Road festival last weekend. Unfortunately, this wasn't anything to do with the reviving qualities of the festival, but more due to the fact that I'd only had three hours sleep the night before it started. I'd had a brilliant evening on Thursday at Brightwest II, playing 'Murder She Twote', chatting to the assembled Twitterati and knocking back a pint or five of ale at the Black Lion. How on earth we went from this relatively civilised gathering to a seedy all-nighter in the Bulldog (I know!) is anyone's guess . It must have seemed like a good idea at the time; not so much when the alarm went off at 7am the next morning.

"How much muesli does one man need?"
Steve, upon arriving at the End of the Road Festival armed with a mountain of cereal

But the End of the Road was calling (in so many ways) and I had other people relying on me to get them there too. I'd planned on having a disco nap when we arrived in Dorset, but as it turned out, it was all far too exciting. Set in the picturesque Larmer Tree Gardens, the End of the Road Festival is now in its fourth year, and fast gaining a reputation as the serious music lover's festival. Some would call the line-up alternative, I'd say fundamental. Much to my own personal delight, End of the Road is largely a festival for chin-stroking, album-buying, real ale-drinking DINKYS and empty nesters, with only the occasional obligatory festy crusty and over-excited tween.

"Do you consider yourself worthy of a poetic license?"
Paul, to me, sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning.

There were so many highlights during the weekend that it would be hard to boil them down into a single readable blog post, but a few bands stood out in terms of atmosphere and sheer accomplishment. The one I'd been most excited about was the Low Anthem, who I'd discovered back in May at the Great Escape Festival and have been raving about to anyone who'll listen ever since. I was extra thrilled when it turned out they were playing not one but two sets during the weekend.

"Unless it's cake, it can f**k off"
Matty, on my aversion to brandy other than in pudding

The first Low Anthem gig was in the smallest venue - the Tipi tent - which looked cute from the outside, but turned out to be a terrible space for live music. Despite persistent sound problems and noise pollution from the neighbouring tent, Low Anthem appeared composed as they delivered an intimate set, mostly of their more obscure material. But it wasn't until their second gig on Saturday that the band really shone, bringing a packed out audience at the Garden Stage to its metaphorical knees. I've never heard a quieter field of festival goers as in between songs during the Low Anthem's End of the Road performance. Rapturous applause gave way to mesmerised silence after each song as we all eagerly awaited the next. So many other bands get by on catchy tunes and adequate musicianship, that it's impossible not to be affected by the sheer arresting intensity of the Low Anthem's immense talent and potent delivery.

"In the light, I can tell when people's eyes are glazing over"
Nick, on our general inability as a group to pay attention

Efterklang came in a close second as most enjoyable set of the weekend with their uplifting New Wave tinged Post Rock. Not many of the bands I went to see were particularly danceable, though I did have a silly strut about to Herman Dune and hurt my neck moshing to The Heavy. With a choice of four different stages, plus the odd spontaneous gig in the woods, it was sometimes difficult to choose where to park yourself. I tended to wander round until something caught my ear and then stick with it. Out of all the festival's venues, The Local (curated by esteemed promoter Howard Monk) yielded the most exciting new discoveries, including my final band of the weekend, Quack Quack, who succeeded in fulfilling my (quite vocal) craving for a prog fix.

"Behave, or you'll get turned into sausages"
Linda, getting all teacherly on us

I was also really taken with Wildbirds & Peacedrums, who can only be described as 'Drum n Blues' - the set up being a female bluesy singer accompanied only by drums and various percussion noises. Her powerfully husky voice was enough to carry the lack of any other instrumentation, and I have not seen such fervent drumming since the Muppets. A namecheck must also go to Faceometer and his friend the Dapper Swindler, whose unofficial woodland jamming kept us all enthralled, and distracted me from the disappointment of being told not to climb trees by security. To be fair to security, they were pretty laid back in their fun-spoiling, even in the face of my loud protestation: "I climb trees all the time when you're not here. There's no law against climbing trees." All power to Nick for beautifully diffusing the situation, and winning a bet at the same time, when he offered the guy in question £50 to dance the Can-Can for him.

"You're my best sparkly forest band I've ever seen"
Michael, to Faceometer and the Dapper Swindler

It was exactly this kind of jovial, conspiratorial atmosphere that kept everyone smiling at the End of the Road and made it so easy to make new friends along the way. The lack of Hippy Shit and abundance of excellent food and ale also helped a lot. I sincerely hope the organisers are never tempted to increase the capacity, because it felt nicely intimate at the 5,000 mark. I came away feeling as though I'd shared a special moment with a chosen few, and I like that feeling very much. More of the same next year, please.


  1. I agree the End of the Road is a wonderful festival. It was our first time and we loved it. Great atmosphere, great music, lovely setting and even good food. What more could you want from a festival?

  2. Thanks for your message! I agree that EOTR was an extremely special experience... perhaps see you at the next one!


    (pp. The Dapper Swindler)


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