A man and his dog, trying to make sense of it. A man trying to cook, while avoiding the dogs Cato like attempts to brain him. A man trying very hard not to complain about his working day. A man of no faith, who worships Birmingham City. A man who loves the sort of music that gets him labelled with bad words. .A dog with little brain but great appetite. Welcome to our world.. a world full of wife, children, cats and vegetables. A good world.
I have just endured enjoyed an exciting weekend. Myself and my mate were allowed out without adult supervision and we went to the End of the Road festival, which, as everyone knows, is the best festival there is. Without wives to control us, nor children to be cared for, we set off like a pair of decrepit teenagers, and, I am profoundly embarrassed and humiliated to report, we acted like a pair of decrepit teenagers too.
We arrived about midday on Friday and were a bit surprised to find that there were loads more people than were there at the same time last year, so we had to walk further from the car park and base ourselves at the far end of the field, which was OK by me, especially as, compared to previous festivals, we had hardly anything to carry.
We got ourselves established and had a bit of scoff and some drink and, as always happens, became extremely chilled and comfortable; so much so, that it was a bit of wrench to leave the bucolic bliss of the field and take ourselves off to the actual festival.
The first band we saw was Eliott Brood, who blew me, and the rest of the tent away. I was dimly aware of them before, but they took me completely by surprise. Just 3 of them, one on banjo and occasionally ukele, the guitarist remaining seated. The racket that these 3 made was glorious and as much as they blew the crowd away, it seemed that the crowd response also blew them away, they were clearly having a brilliant time themselves. This rates as one of the best and most enjoyable gigs I have seen. Ever. And I have been to a lot of gigs.
Nothing else quite matched up to that on Friday, not that I am complaining, it was still a beautiful place to be. I have seen EOTR described elsewhere (can’t remember where) as like crossing over into Narnia, before it all went tits up, and it is as good a description as I have seen. Everywhere you turn there is something just a bit different, just a bit lovely, just a bit wonderful, and despite all the noise and the hubbub and the bacchanalia, there is always a quiet spot, for those occasions when only a quiet spot will do.
I had been looking forward to Trembling Bells, as I really like their new album and I think Baby Lay Your Burden Down is the song of the year so far. I love it. They were disappointing. Don’t know why, maybe it was me, but there seemed to be something lacking and I soon got distracted by the guitarists stout brogues and the comings and goings of other bands hauling their equipment in. The poor sound quality didn’t help. They were alright, but they didn’t quite do it for me.
We followed that by having a peek at Jessica Lee Mayfield……………the winsome and wonderful Jessica Lee Mayfield. She played her sad songs in the Tipi tent, to an appreciative, but seated and, in some cases, unconscious audience and seemed to win most people over, although she couldn’t quite wake everybody up. She put me in mind of the female characters in books by the likes of William Gay or Daniel Woodrell……fragile, damaged, mistreated, fatalistic, but sparky and spirited. Like Elliot Brood, she seemed to be enjoying herself hugely, which is always a great help and it was evident that she was hanging out in the Tipi hours after she had finished her set.
After this, we somehow got all our timings mixed up, so, going into the Big Top to see….er…… can’t remember who, I was surprised to find Edwyn Collins halfway through his set. Dunno what the first half was like but the second half was wonderful and I am fairly sure that he will have been chuffed with the warmth and enthusiasm of his reception, but he has probably grown used to that. We got a bit distracted by the physiology of the human brain during this set. Although his speech was OK, he was much clearer when he was singing. Why the hell is that? I am assuming here that everyone who reads this blog is aware that Ed suffered a massive stroke a couple of years ago.
We only caught the end of Modest Mouse, but what we saw made us wish we had seen more, but then we would have missed something else. We peeked at the New Pornographers, but the tent was so packed we couldn’t be arsed with it, so retired to the tipi, where we found a hay bale to rest our weary arses on and continued drinking and congratulating ourselves for being so wise as to find ourselves at such a great festival. A couple of young Americans appeared on the stage at some point, I have no idea who they were and, frankly, was past caring, but they were alright.
Winding our happy way back to the tents, at time far too late for people of my age and shape, my pal suddenly disappeared. He had tripped over a guy rope and went down with alarming speed, and was lying face down on the ground, imitating a starfish, while trying to pretend that nothing untoward had happened. Rather gallantly, I tried to assist him, but he believed that me efforts were insincere and responded to my good graces with extreme profanity and petulance, which left me helpless with laughter.
A few years ago, we bought a huge polycotton Bear Lake tent and alongside it we bought a cheap pop up tent to use as an extra sleeping pod for the eldest nipper. Rather unwisely, this is what I took to the festival with me. It had rained in the night, and it was wetter in the tent than it was outside it. I had put the sleeping mat on top of a yoga mat and a picnic blanket, so apart from the water dripping down from the roof of the thing, I was quite dry, but everything that hadn’t been so protected was sodden, wet through. The water had got through my trousers, through my wallet and and out the other side, it was as though they had come out of a washing machine that had failed to spin. The universe had paid me back for my hilarity at my pals misfortune. Another punishment was having to listen to a grown man whinge and whine about his bruises and swellings for the rest of the weekend!
Aside from that, I felt pretty rough, and the dope I had chosen to spend the weekend with had been kind enough to bringer a cooker, but……………..no gas. It was grey and drizzly, but warm, and little by little I summoned up the energy to drag myself to my favourite spot on the whole site, Café Dish, where I turned my nose up at the herbal brews on offer in favour of two cups of coffee. They did not revive me.
What did revive me was Forest Fires, the first band up on the main stage. This festival has a genius for putting bands on very early, of whom few have heard, who turn out to be brilliant. To be honest, I can’t remember too much anymore, too much else happened, but I do remember that they didn’t play a duff tune, that the singer is a very cool dude and that the strange guitarist is a genuine axe hero. I would see them again without any hesitation whatsoever.
Saturday just got better and better, one of the highlights of which was the wonderfully spiced goat curry from the Caribbean stall, which both lifted the spirits and provided a bit of ballast. Phosphoresence was one of the way up there highlights of the weekend. The singer looked a bit like Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas, and there was yet another genuine axe hero on stage, not that band were heavy. The chaps songs are wonderful stories, a bit like Richmond Fontaine, and, like Vlautin, I’m sure the bloke could write a novel. Anyway, it was mid afternoon and they hit the spot.
Moddi were on just after and I missed them (or is it him) which is a pity, because later on I saw him (or is it they) put on a rather lovely set in the woods. I have since spotified them (or him) and they would been worth seeing.
In complete contrast, we did see Voice of the Seven Thunders. Strange lot, this lot. The main chap seemed to be in a bad, or at least a sarky mood. Maybe it is just part of his schtick, and, not being an aficionado, I didn’t get it, but he seemed like a right moody fucker. It didn’t help that he is a dead ringer for Tim Lovejoy, a man who is probably hated by his own mother. To begin with, they seemed to be enjoying themselves, amongst themselves, but they did not seem to appreciate their surroundings, then, when one of his pedals started playing up, even the good humour that they had shown between themselves went. Whatever, it was brilliant, thunderous music.
It may be beer related, but our sense of time went askew then. We headed back to the tents to get our night time attire on, namely, a fleece, and enjoy a drink sitting down and headed back over, by which time we had missed most of the Unthanks. We enjoyed what we did see, good, warm and fun.
I’m not a huge fan of Iron and Wine, but I don’t dislike him. We watched the first bit of his set and it was obvious that he is held in some reverence but we soon wandered off. I have since read on blogs and message boards and in the papers that he put on a warm and beautiful set. In fact, a peerless set, and I missed it, or most of it. It didn’t matter though because while he was being warm, beautiful and peerless, Caitlin Rose was being warm, impish and brilliant. She is virtually a child, but by God, she has a fine pair of classic country and western pipes with which to sing her literate and edgy country songs. She is going to be absolutely massive.
We popped in to see Black Mountain but they were not cutting it for either of us, so we headed back to the main stage for Yo La Tengo. I can pretty much take or leave this lot and hadn’t really planned on seeing them, but, and this seems to be a matter of some debate, they were superb. They played some of their quiet songs, which I generally prefer, but the last half hour or so was serious wig out shit, and was spellbinding. The drummer has some stamina, in her little arms to keep that beat going. They were another band who seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely and it really does make a difference.
The Tipi tent last year was a bit of a pain in the arse so I hadn’t really planned on seeing anyone in there this year, but they had added another huge tent to it and it was much improved; in fact, the bands were not really in the tipi, they were in the adjoining tent, which left the actual tip itself as very rustic drinking joint. So long as you got a bale of hay to sit on it was great. You could sit down, drink, enjoy the ambience and then when something started up, just stroll around and enjoy it. So we repaired to the Tipi tent.
It was something else, another way up there highlight. The Low Anthem and Christ knows who else were on stage, all dressed like loons, behaving like loons and playing raucous stompalongs like loons. Everyone, band included had huge smiles on their faces and the place was jumping. Just one more brilliant and unexpected surprise.
Sunday dawned and I felt like shit. There had been no rain but still water was dripping onto my head. On the plus side, the weather was looking superb. We roused ourselves and trudged like refugees to the Café Dish for more coffee, which we enjoyed in some little garden effort while the peacocks pecked around for food. Then we had a wonderful breakfast of pie, mash, peas and gravy, which was just about the job and set us up nicely.
Dylan Le Blanc kicked things off and his exquisite country tinged soft rock was just what was needed at this early hour. It was noticeable that the main stage area was much fuller than at the same time last year, so we made the decision to get there very early for all the bands we wanted to see there in order secure a good spot. We hadn’t bothered all that much with the main stage up until now, but today was different. Today promised to be special. Timing was crucial. Timing is not our strong point.
We had a general wander around all the loveliness and relaxed with a cider (over rated) sitting on a stone and watched the world go by. We saw a bit of Kath Bloom, but were too knackered and out of sorts to really appreciate her and got back over to the main stage for Daniel Lefkowitz. Fuck me. How can this man not be a huge star? Just on his own, with a guitar, a voice and a very wry look on his face he held the by now packed Garden Stage spellbound. He can’t be too much of a secret, because there were plenty of other artists at the back of the stage watching him. EOTR had done it again…………taken my breath clean away.
Dunno what we did then, mainly dossed about, keeping our beer intake up and taking in little bits and pieces here and there. The timing. The crucial timing. It still wasn’t our strong point. One of the bands I was most looking forward to was The Felice Brothers. We managed to miss the start. Only just though and we did manage to get a good spot. The Felice Brothers were superb. As mad as shithouse rats, every one of them, but superb. I don’t know what was going on behind me, but around me and in front of me everyone was going apeshit. I could go apeshit now, 3 days later, just thinking about it.
We stayed put for The Low Anthem who had possibly been the highlight last year and didn’t disappoint this time either. They seemed a bit warmer and looser if anything, and, once again, seemed to be really enjoying the spirit of the place and having fun, which, I feel the need to repeat, makes a huge difference; it seemed to be a very short set though.
Wilco were the band I was most looking forward to; I think Tweedy is one of the all time great songwriters and it is hard to think of anyone else who has written so consistently over such a long period…..it must be at least 20 years he's been at it. I was a bit wary, as this was the first time I have seen them and I was prepared to be disappointed, but I needn't have worried. They were magnificent, from start to finish. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, brilliant song after brilliant song, Tweedy invited the audience to shut the hell up towards the end so keen was he to just get on with it and bang out as many songs as possible. The garden was packed and everyone was going for it, in their own ways, whoops, roars, headbanging, footstamping, bloody air guitar, silent, rapt attention. In my not so humble opinion, it was a classic.
That was the end of the garden stage and it would have been a brilliant way to end a brilliant day. But the day was not over. Dengue Fever were supposed to be playing last in the Big Top, but they pulled out, to be replaced by Steve Mason, which was fine by me, as I love his new album. Walking over, it occurred that the music didn't sound familiar, or rather, it did sound familiar, it sounded like Caitlin Rose. God knows what happened to the other feller, but I don't care, because once again, Rose was ace.
The goodness still wasn't over. While James Felice was exuding bonhomie at the merchandise stall after his set, I asked if they were doing any other sets, and he said they would be in the Tipi at half twelve. Once Rose finished I wasted no time getting there. Someone else was on, don't know who but their audience evidently thought they were good because they were getting a brilliant reception. They finished and as their crowd headed away, another crowd was heading straight for the stage. It was clear that the Felice set was no secret.
After a longish wait, they ambled on, and tore the place down. It was utterly brilliant, and I am now more convinced than ever that they are all insane. The place was rocking and the goodness was added to by the presence of sundry Low Anthems and Deer Ticks on the stage, joining in. The set ended with a good natured stage invasion (started by James Felice) which left security looking extremely nervous. All that was left to do was to hang around and drink and talk shit with any passing kindred spirit until far too late.
The festival surpassed all my expectations, and once again I discovered plenty that I wouldn't otherwise have done, and missed loads that was probably just as good as the stuff I saw. Apart from the bands, the whole ambience, the vibe, is just special, and it is great to be around like minded souls, who do not think I am a posing obscurantist for liking bands hardly anyone else has heard of.
As a final thought I tip my hat to the bar staff who remained cheerful and patient to the very end of what was clearly a weekend of epic drinking for at least half the crowd.