End of the Road Festival 2013 - Friday Review


End of the Road, in its seventh year, confirmed itself as the best festival of its size in the UK this year, the idyllic weather definitely helped (though it sure did get chilly overnight on Saturday) but it was the glorious atmosphere and near-on perfect combination of musical acts and artistic crafts that makes the festival what it is. Basking in sunlight Larmer Tree Gardens had everything you could want, arts & crafts, decent festival food, a real ale festival and an impeccable selection of music from the delicious folk harmonies of The Staves to the brass-laden success of David Byrne and St Vincent and the imposing, wide-eyed Savages. The next few posts will be my trip through the weekend, the things I did and the bands I saw. Hopefully you'll pick up on a few nice things if you follow it through...

I'd spent the previous three days in West Lulworth with the family (a beautiful place, you should go) before packing up early on Friday and heading to Larmer Tree Gardens. We met no traffic at all and were soon in the car park. People scared of Glasto like experiences with travelling from the car park to the tent areas, fear not, you are through wristband exchange and into the camping areas in no time at all. A quick set up (thank you pop-up tents - I'd still be there now trying to put up the impressive yurt tent we were pitched next to) and we headed straight to Big Top stage to catch Widowspeak.

An incredible start to the festival saw clashes happen as early as midday. Widowspeak were a worthy selection though, as breathy, beautiful introduction as you could hope for. Playing as a duo they played songs taken from both their albums and were heavily based on the spaghetti western influenced guitar twangs and Molly Hamilton's seductive vocal purr (there is a small drum box providing some beats). A large audience lapped it up, hazy sweet and creeping mood - what more could you want. My five year old enjoys it too and pulls some dance moves more suited to the nearby silent disco which makes me worry what my future may hold!

We head outside and after spending a few minutes waiting for our eyes to adjust head to the nearby main stage to check out Landshapes. A band signed to Bella Union whom I really should have given the time of day sooner than this.

The quartet weave dreamy, upbeat melodies with funky bass, wonderfully percussive rhythms and superb harmonies that perfectly match the need of the audience sitting primarily in shorts and t-shirt with beers from the nearby bar in hand. The sun soon makes a welcome appearance, peaking from behind clouds to close a perfect summer show, the band are appreciative to their early audience and the feeling is mutual. A mental note is made to check out their record on my return (which I shall do shortly!)

As my weekend was one of balance with two young children with me (aged five and eight months) I had to ease my usual insatiable appetite to hit front row centre for as many bands as possible with their needs so we grab some food (the first of three stops at the wonderful Pizza stall) and then head to the circus area.

There are plenty of things to pass kids time there, on this stop my little one plays hula-hoop, juggles and does some other things I have no idea what they are called. Half an hour soon passes and we head for a drink.

I have ale, there's more choice than I can cope with but I find Viking an early winner and we also grab a Frank Water bottle, a brilliant and cost-effective way of keeping supplied with cold, fresh water throughout the weekend - do check out their website and support their great cause.

I get to do a solo trip next as my partner takes the children off, I head back to the big top for Pins. They deliver a set which has developed incredibly since I last saw them yet still oozes with the same raw attitude. The quartet are tighter and slicker than ever, the vocals uncompromising amongst darkly,  metronomic rhythms and guitar thrills. It's high energy and relentless (with the exception of "Eleventh Hour" which has been slowed down with languid shimmers), older tracks like "Say To Me" stand equally alongside new ones "I Want It All", "To You" and the title track from their forthcoming debut "Girls Like Us". That, like this set, promises to be electrifying.

I head straight outside to meet up with my family who have taken residence at the back of the Woods stage for Allo Darlin', the weather Gods haven't read the script and dark clouds form above, the rain keeps away but the quartet's beautiful, warming indie pop is not played out to glorious sunshine as it should have been. It matters not as the combination of tracks from their two albums (and new ones from a seemingly nearly complete third) keep the crowd smiling and singing along, Allo Darlin' seem in the rightful place and are the perfect festival band.

More family time and a change into evening wear follows before heading to the festivals most picturesque stage for the first time, we find Serafina Steer just walking onto the beautiful garden stage.

Her fluttering harp and beautiful vocals feel right at home here and when she's joined by a guitarist and percussionist her set comes alive, soaring peaks and sparser tracks sit side by side amongst her amusing banter. "Night Before Mutiny" is saved for the end of her hour long set - a length Serafina seemed not quite accustomed to - but it was sure worth the wait, just lovely.

Time for another beer next before we grab dinner and settle down at the back of the Woods stage to watch Eels. Not my pick but as I picked most of the weekend I can hardly grumble. What I can grumble about was the rain which briefly followed, perhaps only ten minutes or so but enough to make everyone reach for their waterproofs. We were treated to a double rainbow though so I won't complain. Once the kids are asleep I venture out solo and return to the Woods stage for the evenings headline act David Byrne & St Vincent. I wasn't sure what to expect, if you've followed this blog for a couple of years you may know I'm slightly obsessed with Annie Clark but I didn't connect fully with last years' Love This Giant album. Until now.

The show was phenomenal, any doubting concerns the crowd may have about the slightly unusual pairing is cast aside after about two minutes. They walk on stage, David Byrne impeccably dressed (like a happy Johnny Cash as Annie herself says) and St Vincent with hair dyed bleach-blonde armed with her guitar.

They are accompanied by a brass band (seven or eight members deep) an immediately launch into as quirky and commanding set as you'll see this year, synchronised dance moves from the full ensemble of musicians, the band playing their part and not hidden from the audiences view as the pair take it almost in terms to lead the songs.

Byrne's questionable dance moves remind me of Kryten from Red Dwarf with karate chops and robotic movements but it works in an equally baffling and amusing way. St Vincent's art-rock guitar playing is as electric as ever, her skills unquestionable as brass trumpets et al add a funk-laden backing. There are solo tracks from both careers too, "Marrow" an early highlight and "The Party" a sombre mood changer in the encore sandwiched between the two big singalongs of the evening, Talking Heads hits "Burning Down The House" and finally "Road To Nowhere".

Marching jazz bands, St Vincent's tiny tiny steps, robo-Byrne and fantastic music, this show had it all - I don't think anyone even noticed it rained.

It was going to be hard for anyone to top that if you could pick an act you'd want to be following it, Savages would be quite high on the list. I had time to grab a beer (I hope you're noticing a reoccurring theme) and heading somewhere near the front. I'd not seen them for a little while and what was a tight-tight set is now even more so, as slick and polished as any live act today. Jehnny Beth is imperious and a genuine front of the band, she stares out to the crowd wide-eyed in between her imposing lyrics. The music masterful, rumbling rhythms and colossal soundscapes ring out and a few people at the stage seemingly lose it as they bounce around in delight.

About as good as close to an evening as you could ask for. End of the Road day one - you've treated us alright.