Friday, September 18, 2009

The Mornig That I Get To Hell

Better late than never. Possibly. A review of the End Of the Road Festival.

Being bright sparks, we choose our festivals carefully, to avoid high summer. We prefer to take our chances in late Spring and early Autumn. So we spent the last few weeks of August and first few weeks of September anxiously perusing the long range forecast and reassuring ourselves that, whatever it says, it's all a load of bollocks anyway. Still, it's like an itch that has to be scratched.

The week before, we were told by the eldests school that no unauthorised absences would be authorised (????????????) and he chose to drop out out, even though my attitude was so what? he can just be sick. We managed to find a suitable place of safety for him and, amazingly, managed to sell his ticket, which put some much needed cash into the beer fund. That left us with just the two to worry about kitting out for all weather eventualities, from wintry storms to a late heatwave. We tried to minimise the packing, we really did, but we still manged to fill the boot of a huge estate and a very big roof box, whilst forgetting to pack a table, pillows and a pump for the air beds.

The good news was that we both had Thursday off, so packed then and cooked then; we always like to take a hoard of good stuff to festivals, and we were ready to get off as soon as eldest was packed off to school and we had rendezvoused with the farting Harrises, our festival companions. It was a very easy drive down to Dorset and we managed to pick up a pump en route before arriving at about half eleven.

In all my long years, I had never been to Dorset before and I was struck by the beauty of the place and the rolling countryside that just went on and on endlessly, and the festival is held deep in all that emptiness.

So, we got there, to the car park, happy and earlyish, with a boot full of stuff and roof box full of stuff including the worlds heaviest tent. We had purchased a trolley and duly proceeded to load that and the kids up and off we trotted, for out first yomp of the day. We knew that there would be several yomps, so were prepared for a couple of hours of hard slog between transporting stuff and setting up camp.

The trolley was brilliant, but it was also crap, too small, with tiny wheels and it kept overbalancing and tipping over. We would never have carried it all though. And it was hot. And I was hungry, and thirsty and a bit grumpy, and so were the kids and this was just the first trip. An added complication is that I am a bit anti social and find the sound of people enjoying themselves offensive, so insisted that we yomp and yomp and yomp, far from the madding crowd.

This unilateral decision didn't meet with universal approval and the buggers took advantage of the slow progress I was making with the trolley to park themselves near people, between the bogs, the rubbish tip and a pond. Except it wasn't a pod, it just appeared to be one. My youngest spent ages gathering stones to throw into that pond, which wasn't a pond, the poor bugger. At this point I had to drum into my head that I would not say "I told you so" if we were kept awake until 6 am at any point during the weekend.

Setting up took fucking hours and the poor kids were bored shitless. Thank God fartmeister Harris was on hand to help out or we would still be there now. Still, it got done and we were sitting back, necking bubbly and scoffing the previously prepared food while other poor buggers were standing in an enormous queue. And the sun was shining and it was glorious.

Around 5ish we made a plan, it was good plan; some might argue that it was brilliant plan. We decided to go and have a mooch around and see what was what. So the six of us (two were still to arrive} ventured forth. Slowly. Never underestimate the ability of a bunch of nippers to slow ones progress. Never understimate the ability of a middle aged man (me) to come over all petulant and state that he didn't care what happened, he was not going to miss the Duke and the King.

Somehow, eventually, we got moving, and, 6 hours after arriving caught the end David Thomas Broughton. Didn't see enough to form an opinion, but he looked very fetching in green and I liked the way he shouted at the children. On the way over, I noticed the price of the grub, which was a bit scary. One nipper had some jerk chicken and the other two had pancakes, which delayed our progress further, and the prices were eye watering. Strangely, it doesn't matter how much the beer costs, I am always able to shrug that off.

I'm not sure what happened then. My Mrs went somewhere with the 3 kids ( one adult and one child were still to arrive)and me and my mate found our way to the beer tent en route to The Duke and The King. I had hoped the Duke etc would be good. They were amazing. they brought a moistness to the eye and made the hairs on my arms stand up. This is a special band, if you get the chance see them, see them, before it is too late. We felt a bit guilty, and wondered where the Mrs was with the nippers and did look around a bit for them but to no avail. They were at the front, hanging on the barrier, wondering where we were.

My youngest, who is 8, said he didn't think much of them, mainly, I think, because I play them and the Felices a lot at home and he finds them a bit mellow, plus I think he was still in a bad mood over what was for him a long and empty afternoon. But over the weekend he came to appreciate them in retrospect. In years to come he will come to appreciate what a big deal they are and how fortunate he was.

Well. There was more beer and not a little confusion. A man I barely know outside of football messageboards managed to recognise me ( hey, Paul) and told me of a secret gig by Simon et al later on, for which I owe him many pints, and me and the fartmeister were stuck. We didn't know where my Mrs nor any of our kids were and we didn't even know if his Mrs and second child had even arrived. Conundrum. Back to the campsite or back to the bar, or aimless wondering, hoping we bump into them? We chickened out and went back to the tent, where we found 'em. Everyone was happy, and we back over the field in time to get beer and see Euros Childs, who was a bit of a disappointment.

It's all a bit of a blur after that. Tiredeness, beer, unfamiliarity all took their toll. I know the two wives took responsibility for the kids as usual. Still, with all the kids and their different needs and wants, not to mention the adults (the male ones, anyway) it's all a big compromise. Mostly, we were just wondering around in awe of the surroundings.

Ask any football fan, any proper football fan, especially one who was brought up in densely populated bit of a densely populated city about their first time. They will all tell you about the jaw dropping greenness and vastness of the pitch when they first clap eyes on it, and the stands rising skywards. It is an unforgettable, indelible moment. Never to be repeated.

Unless you go EOTR. Walking into the garden stage field was just like that. Unbelievable, unforgettable. Fucking beautiful. I wanted a moment with the Mrs just to take it all in, and I have been around the block once or twice. And the whole damn site is just like that. It is amazing. Truly amazing.

Where the rest of them went, God only knows, but I saw quite a bit of Vetiver, who were much better tahn I expected and a bit of Explosions in the Sky, who were as dull as I expected. The field for eits was heaving.but somehow we all managed to meet up and agreed that this band was not our cup of tea and we wondered away.

Yes, we wondered away, and found ourselves in the same tent as the wonderful Herman Dune. I shall repeat that. The wonderful Herman Dune. Quirky, dancy, daft, fantastic, with room enough for the kids to either get into and dance along, or just lark about.

My Mrs, the good egg, took my nippers home and I went for more beer, having told the others I would be heading for the tipi at some point. Turns out I was lucky. The security was a bit heavy handed, apparently and was refusing people entry, but I was too tired to notice and just strolled in. Met my pals, we beered up but quickly went different ways as the unsuitablity of the tent became apparent and it became every man for himself. I ended up with a decent view, if I really bent my neck; not ideal for a man suffering from whiplash.

The D and the K, after a bit of a sorry start put on a storming set. My message board pal saw me after, and, true blagger that he is, pointed out a better way in and made the telling point that although the night was young, at about 2 am(ish), he supposed us old fuckers were going to bed. He was partly right, we were going back to the tent, but we had come prepared and sat out in the cold, drinking wine, nice wine, actually, talking shit and freezing our bollocks off, until god knows when.

Overnight, I was glad of our huge tent, not because it was warmer, but because it just feel so...................reassuring. A home from home. Another huge and welcome some point, all the revelry stopped, and a huge mass of people headed back to the campsite and, obviously, they were noisy, but as they reached their tents, they shut it, most of em did anyway and even those who wanted to chat loudly only wanted to chat loudly and didn't do it for hours, so, some precious and unexpected sleep was had.

Saturday dawned and as is usual I woke early, feeling like shit, but it was beautiful. The bogs were usable, the kettle was boiled, the view was spectacular and the promise of a beautiful day was peeking shyly at us. The rest of our gang wasn't so keen to rise, thankfully, so we had relative peace, and relative quiet, for a bit. Fartmiestr Harris had hit the cider in a most unwise fashion the previous night, and although he surfaced, it was clear he was best left alone.

I cooked, I brewed tea, we ate, we drank, then the two Mrs tidied it all up and sorted the kids out, while I tormented the still slumbering fartmeiser. I have to confess, I didn't just torment the fartmeister; I watched the large group of young campers who had pitched up by us and tried to work which ones I could take, if it came to it. I might be old, but I'm not mature.

Off we trotted, and found ourselves at the Garden Stage, where the Leisure Society were kicking things off. I had had a listen to them and considered them to be not my cup of tea, but, as it turned out, they were very much my cup of tea. A fantastic band, and possibly the politest band in the history of pop.

We mooched around the woods for a bit and then watched the very sharp and very arch Darren Hayman, of whom I had not previously heard and he was brilliant. How good can this festival be? the earliest bands on the Saturday morning both turn out to be brilliant, and the day had hardly begun.

One way or another I found myself in the Big Top when Motel Motel were on. Christ, they blew me away. Honestly, they were brilliant, full of passion, energy and fire and despite it still being very early, they were clearly having a ball. Plus, the young scoundrels can harmonise with the best of them. Nuance. This band understands the meaning of that word. Look out for them............if they keep going, they might not be big, but they will be special.

I had a strange interlude then. Despite going with my wife and two of my children, my mate, his wife, and their two children, I seemed to be spending most of the time on my own. A blanket had been put in the garden stage area as a central point for the kids to head back to and, obviously, one adult needs to be there at all times, and I hadn't putt a shift in yet.

Anyway. I wondered back and all the other adults were there. I tried to tell them how good Motel Motel had been, but they didn't get it, how could they? The Low Anthem came on, and I started to feel like absolute shit. I had to take myself off and ended up in the dish cafe with a cup of ginger tea and a bottle of water. Despite feeling like shit, this was highlight of the weekend. I could still hear the Low Anthem, but I couldn't see them. What a wonderful band, absolutely timeless. And. I was siting down, on my own, quietly editing photos, surrounding by beautiful people enjoying the quiet ambience. Twenty minutes that will stay with me for ever.

It all became a bit chaotic on the personal front after that. Beer was taken. Kids and adults all pursued their own interests. It became important to eat and as result of this basic human need and the necessity of rounding the kids up and queuing at 4 different stalls we missed a bit. But we gained a bit also. And we saw the Fleet Foxes queue up for a fish curry and have to sit on the grass and eat it. The curry, not the grass.

I had given up on the tipi, which was a bit of a pisser, because there was a fair bit I would have liked to see in there, but it was no environment for a man with whiplash and it was no environment for nippers, which at least simplified things. There was stuff going on, lots of it, but I ended up on point duty in front of the graden stage while the women went to see Wildbirds and Peacedrums. Fuck knows where the fartmiester was, necking some crafty ciders, no doubt. Anyway, I ended up falling asleep to the extremely lovely but soporific Alela Dianne. The women came back ecstatic. They came back................changed. I don't think they were sad at missing the lullabies I had endured.

Then what. Fuck me, we all got woke up. Okkervil River took to the stage and just blew the place apart. I wasn't really familiar with much of their stuff but it didn't matter, they, well, how else can I put it? They rocked, and they had the grooviest audience participation handclaps of the weekend. I want to see them again. I heard they played a secret gig in the woods the day after, but it's no good mourning what you miss at this do, you will miss loads and you just have to accept it and enjoy whatever treasure happens to be before you.

Fleet Foxes followed OR, but I didn't hang around for them. I saw about about 15 minutes before heading off to see Charlie Parr in the tipi. The tent was surprisingly empty when I got there, which was not surprising as it turned out that old Charlie had already finished. So I knocked back a swift one, replenished the glass and had ten minutes worth of The Heavy, before heading back to the bar en route for Josh T Pearson in the Big Top.

Pearson was absolutely something else. Scary and hilarious; if you don't believe me, ask the violinist who accompanied him on a couple of songs. There couldn't have been more than 30 people in there to begin with, but it soon filled with Fleet Foxes refugees. He was astonishing. One man, a guitar and a huge personality held a very appreciative audience spellbound. Yet another privilege.

We all had an early night then. The others had mixed feelings about the Fleet Foxes. Some loved em, some were disapointed. Whatever, following the obligatory food stop and the not so obligatory jamming session the 8 year old enjoyed with Dirty Projectors (that might have been the night before!) back to the ten we went. Where we carried on drinking. In the cold. It wasn't long before the cold saw us off and we were all tucked up warm.

The one sour note occurred here when some arsehole bastards decided to have a party until about 6 am. Minor quibble though.

Sunday, bloody Sunday. Bright, bright sunshine, warm, warm sun. Sometimes, as tired as you are, it is a joy to be alive.

I can't say much about Sunday. We got up, we ate, we drank lots of tea, we took stuff back to the car and we were at the Garden Stage in time for Bob Lind and his two mates Cocker and Hawley. Lovely way to start the day, that was. Gentle, old fashioned. Sundayish.

Then what? Bob Log 111. Christ. What can a man say about Bob Log? Nothing. I don't have the facility with the written word to describe him. Inspired, virtuoso, lunatic. A man amongst men. If I come back, I want to be Bob Log iv.

Food intervened again. Round the kids up, make arrangements with the other adults, queue for the piss corner, queue at the outlets, let the nippers have a look around and a play on the mushrooms and a bash on the drums and, once again, you have missed stuf, but you still win. Anyway, missed the Magnolia Electric Co, all but 5 minutes and it looked as if their set had been, well, electric. Missed loads more besides.

Again, it all gets a bit vague. I had been drinking very slowly and sensibly, but drinking nonetheless for several days, with no decent food and hardly any sleep (this is not a complaint) Steve Earle came on a did a typically robust Steve Earle set, I wandered about and caught a miniscule bit of Brakes and wished I had caught more before getting in for most of the brilliant Alasdair Roberts rather disappointing but still brilliant set.

I'm not sure what happened then, apart from some toilet and beer queuing. Saw about half of the uninspiring Neko Case set before a huge debate vis a vis Richmond Fontaine and The Hold Steady. To cut a long and convoluted story short, the kids would watch The Hold Steady, the first half with the women and the second half with the chaps. A pisser.

Vlautin and his mates were brilliant and I really didn't want to leave, but leave I had to. As luck would have it, the others didn't like The Hold Steady, so I got to see more or less all of Willy, a great, great man.

My Mrs and youngest had had it, and went back to the tent and me and the others had a huge late suprise. Apart from the organised and disorganized stuff that goes on in the tents half the night, all sorts of impromptu, unannounced stuff goes on in the fairytale nooks, crannies and walks around the site. And all the bars stay open. We hadn't previously realised this.

It's a beautiful site, a beautiful festival. I really can't tell you how good it is, because I really don't know how good it is; too much goes on that I know about and miss and Christ knows what I don't know about and miss.

It is a special place and a special festival. Don't tell anyone about it, they will only fuck it up.

Some pics

Some more pics.
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