With David Byrne, Sigur Ros and Belle & Sebastian amongst others on the lineup, End of the Road festival set in lush Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset looks like a perfect musical finale to the summer.
Far from feeling chilled and serene, I’m feeling a knot of tension. Which act should I see? … and while I’m seeing whoever they may be – who am I missing?? By day two the panic starts to subside, and we get into a rhythm of floating from one stage to another, taking in the incredible span of music which follows a distinct narrative, lead by the vision of the festival organisers. End of the Road has established its place in the festival calendar – a festival born of genuine passion for music.
On Friday afternoon we head up to The Garden Stage, an oasis of calm set in the trees where peacocks venture out during quieter moments. We lie on the grass and enjoy a peaceful set from Doug Paisley, an enigmatic Canadian country performer.
It was my intention to see much-recommended Mancunian band Money but, like so many times at EoTR, got pleasantly distracted elsewhere. Another time…
On The Woods (main) Stage, Eels preside over a much-anticipated sundown slot, just as the first (and only) drizzle of rain begins. Main figurehead E has a loaded backstory which takes equal billing with the music, sometimes that’s good, sometimes bad. Good = there’s so much touching stuff in his lyrics. Bad = sometimes it would be better to not know anything about the band and just enjoy the music for what it is. I did hope they would play Novocaine for the Soul or Susan’s House but neither are featured tonight, but Goddam Right it’s a beautiful Day is. There are also tracks from Wonderful, Glorious, Eel’s latest album, such as The Turnaround. E seems upbeat and positive and engages the band in a group hug – it’s maybe ironic, maybe not, but it looks cute with all the members in matching tracksuits. At one point they are nearly upstaged by the appearance of a double rainbow, a portent, perhaps.
And so to headliners David Byrne and St Vincent. It is, quite simply, a knockout set. Byrne arrives on stage with flaxen-haired Annie Clark ‘St Vincent’ plus an eight-piece brass band, to perform songs from the duo’s collaboration Love the Giant, tunes from St Vincent’s own back catalogue, and a few Talking Heads numbers. It’s a joyous, powerful, exhilarating performance, enhanced by the collective power of the brass band, Annie Clark’s vocals and rock-chick guitar style, and Byrne’s magnetic stage personality. Byrne and Clark radiate a mutual respect and affection for each other.
It’s fascinating to see how Talking Heads numbers have been adapted from their former jittery guitar productions to this – Burning Down the House and Lazy both feature. The performance is strong visually too – each song is accompanied with some entertaining choreography as the brass players weave in and out of each other, or play in a circle. Byrne too gets into his dancing groove. Road to Nowhere finishes the set.
On Saturday afternoon: After swearing in the presence of many small children at The Garden Stage, Angel Olsen apologises in case she’s offended anyone. “I’ve offended myself many times in my life,” she says. It’s a good way to describe that moment after you’ve done something stupid. Angel’s performance is one of those where I find myself just sitting there transfixed. Her voice is certainly unusual, and there’s a quality to it which is more pronounced live than on her recording, which I’ve subsequently listened to. The slow, steady pacing, that controlled break which at times is almost a yodel.
During the evening people are pouring into The Garden stage area for a set by Daughter. The band express more than once their amazement at their popularity here. Theirs is a characterisically dark and moody set, there’s an echoey quality with the unusual drum rhythm and Elena Tonra’s voice icy yet fragile.
Sigur Ros are Saturday headliners. They create a fantastic atmosphere and are visually stunning.
Daniel Lefkowitz, formerly of the Low Anthem and now otherwise with his Futur Primitif collaboration, gives a surprise extra show at The Garden Stage on Sunday morning, a perfect way to soothe a fragile looking audience after an evening of much partying.
On Sunday we witness a beautiful little pop up show in the Pirate Ship in the forest with Scott Hutchison of Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, a warm up before his performance on the main stage. He’s relaxed and entertaining, and although he attracts quite a crowd, it still feels like an intimate set. We are treated to half a dozen or so songs…
… before his appearance on the main stage with Frightened Rabbit. Midway through there’s a beautiful sunset, dramatically on par with Eel’s rainbow.
The Scottish themed evening continues with popular headliners Belle & Sebastian. Their amusing and upbeat numbers are a perfect festival closer, with The Boy with the Arab Strap to finish.
End of the Road is blessed by near-perfect weather and music to match – I’ll carry the memory of this lovely festival through the winter months ahead.
Bars: regular bars plus a Somerset cider bar, and cocktails.
Stages Two stages and two tents, plus a Forest Disco tucked away in the woods, which has music through to about 3am. You have to keep a constant lookout for surprise popup shows by the artists.
Always seemed to be clean. Plenty dotted around the site, and not too many queues.
The organisers have gone to lengths to find different and interesting food outlets. Particularly loved the Tibetan curries (meat, and the spinach and chickpea one) and the veggie Indian stall. Shepherds ice cream too. In the camping section there’s local organic produce on sale.
** a big thanks to Rough Trade Records, a great stall, and as always the most knowledgable and friendly staff.