End Of The Road Festival 2013, Larmer Tree Gardens, England

End of the Road is my favourite festival. The reason is not really the music, although it is always ace, no, it’s more the feel of the place. It feels magical, all the people there seem to feel, bands express their feelings in a way I have never seen elsewhere – almost as though it is actually special to play there, and finally, it oozes humanity. From kids selling 5 jokes for 20p to security waving goodbye to people. And what is music if it is not humanity?

Friday 30th August

I pick up my hungover self, give it a quick dust and a wipe down and head to the Big Top for American two-piece Widowspeak. It’s a sparse yet dreamy opener to the festival proper, leaving room for the listener to colour in the gaps. Their songs fall and rise with gentle understatement, Molly Hamilton’s vocals and guitar create landscapes, on the canvas of which Robert Earl Thomas flecks little particles of guitar-gold-dust. All of which is played out under the backdrop of a charming (and I presume sexual) onstage chemistry.

We then rushed ambled over to the Garden Stage for Woodpecker Wooliams. We missed the breasts, but were in time to catch the pendulous and rather mesmerising fuzz of Sparrow, which magnificently heaves and contorts its way through the speakers and out into the calm Dorset/Wiltshire (where is it exactly?) air. What was to follow was the sort of thing that makes you realise you are still too sober; a distorted but not wholly dysfunctional mix of musical theatre, impish beats, harp and the voice of an angel trapped in the mind of the devil. I would have stayed until the end but a wasp stung me which put a dampener on things so I headed back to the tent to plot my revenge.

After attempting to level up the score via the ol’ wasp-in-a-can-of-cider trick it was about time for PINS. Sometimes you can just look at a band and know they have got something special. Maybe it is psychosomatic, but PINS look like, act like, and most importantly play like it’s only a matter of time. They have an intensity about them that is irresistible. If they were to sing to me that the earth is triangular in shape, I’d believe them.

Manchester’s Money somehow initially manage to take me back to a time of Starsailor and Embrace. It’s not their fault and once I had got over the shock, brushed off the cold sweats and let their brand of atmospheric rock wash over me I got lost in a veritable ocean of atmosphere, with the separate elements of the band mere pin pricks within the sea that is the sum of their parts.

I had to dash over for the start of Wolf Alice, my pathetic haggling for breath not the only reminder that I am getting old, such was the yoofullness of the crowd. There are not many adjectives left for me to describe my love of Wolf Alice, but if I did have any nagging doubts they were blown away. The new tracks from the soon to be released Blush EP held up well against the now modern classics (yep, you heard, modern classics) Fluffy and Bros, with the title track in particular sounding as though it may just be something very special indeed. Did I do ok with the hyperbole?

I was on a roll now. And who better to push me down the hill than Parquet Courts? Another one of my favourite records of the year, and another that did not disappoint. They matched PINS for intensity, churning each song out and throwing it up. They less smoldered than exploded. But amongst this primitive fire and frenzy there was also a subtlety not always apparent on record with songs stretched out, massaged and then churned out and thrown up again.

And then it was time for bed. It wasn’t, but this is about the music.

Saturday 31st August

Today the dusting and wiping down took a lot longer. In fact it didn’t happen until a little later in our story. But somehow I made it down to Evening Hymns on the Woods Stage. You know the End of The Road schtick, first thing on the big stage with big hangovers, one man and his guitar soothes the sun kissed crowd, polite applause, then maybe consider the first beer of the day. Except this didn’t really happen.

We know great songwriters tell stories, but Jonas Bonnetta tells them two ways. He introduces each song in an unassuming gentle, witty, honest and human way. And these are stories and songs about some pretty shitty things. The songs that followed each story resonated so much more for it and for 45 minutes I was completely lost within myself. The music focused my introspection and it was intense, breaking my heart and then building it back up again. It was one of the most life-affirming shows I’ve ever been to and judging by the response at the end from the usually sedate midday crowd, it wasn’t only my heart that he stole. Bravo

Which all combined left Indians a pretty hard act to follow. But follow it he did. It’s dreamy stuff, awash with layers of sound that build up gently and break over your head. The keyboard notes tug at your emotions in an understated, ethereal way, evoking silhouettes of the fragility of life and reminding you that, as Søren Løkke Juul puts it, life is beautiful. He nearly made himself cry during one of his own songs, and you can understand, such is the emotion that flows and ebbs through them.

After perhaps a slightly more intense morning than I had envisaged it was up to Teleman to awaken me from my sentimental state of intoxication. From the first moment I heard them they reminded me of sadly defunct London electro magicians Clor, and this feeling pervades the live set. It is stripped down, angular and writhes and radiates good times. The undoubted highlight is new single Steam Train Girl, a musical onomatopoeia that chugs along, and looks rather stylish as it does so.

Snowdonia’s Golden Fable run a nice trade in mixing precious talent with North Wales charm, and as Rebecca Palin introduces one song by saying it is about the migration of birds Tim McIver pipes in with “and drugs”. It is a nice moment in a set aglow with them; pearlescent songs that soar and evoke, closing with the magnificent Restless Souls that make the goosebumps of this correspondent stand to attention

Half the world and her husband decide to descend on the Garden Stage for Daughter. It’s easy to see why, they produce gentle textures, beautiful vocals and lyrics that cut deep, however they aren’t a band for a massive crowd when half that crowd is jabbering away about what to have for dinner so we leave to try and find someone we can actually hear and enjoy.

Dutch Uncles are a curious bunch. On one hand sounding like nothing you have ever heard before, and on the other seemingly having been transported straight from 1986, fashion and dance moves included. In truth it’s not really my thing, but I have a dance and enjoy it for what it is.

Call me a heathen, but I have never quite managed to get Sigur Ros. On the face of it they have many of the qualities that tick the boxes for what I look for in a band, but the song-on-all-the-nature-programmes aside, they leave me cold. It is pretty cold outside so that may have something to do with it. I’ll have to file not getting Sigur Ros as one of my failings in life alongside smoking, laziness and a lack of empathy for others.

Sunday 1st September

Crocodiles sing I Like It In The Dark which is helpful as they swagger into town before midday to play a beautiful sunny morning in a dark damp tent. It’s an unenviable task, and they do not quite manage to awake the crowd from their slumber. But as they convulse around on stage one can’t help but enjoy their no nonsense brand of scuzzy reverb fuelled rock. I happen to catch the end of their end of festival set at 2am at the tipi tent later and it is conspicuous by its incomparability. It’s a much more lively affair and at 2am the swagger has a purpose, a meaning and a reception.

There is something slightly disconcerting about a Swede sounding and looking like someone from the deepest Midwest of America, and something even more disconcerting about said man singing a homage to moonshine whilst swigging water, but if we take these away Daniel Norgren is more like what we have come to expect from a sunny EOTR morning show. With a sound much fuller than guitar, baby drumkit and double bass may suggest, it is a thoroughly enjoyable jig in the sunshine, during which if you close your eyes you could just about be transported to Sweden a whiskey fuelled porch in Missouri

Cayucas are over in England from California and decide when in Rome they might as well engage in some small talk about the weather. I’m afraid you did not bring the weather over with you this time, chaps. But they do serve up a slice of Californian sunshine gift wrapped in the form of their songs; chirpy, frisky and charming affairs aglow with whatever they put in the oranges out there and enough to get the crowd on their feet for a spot of hoopla.

I head back to my favourite spot in the depths of the Big Top for Merchandise, a band whose dark, sprawling entreaties swirl through the air helped by the intricacies of Dave Vassalotties guitar playing and frontman Carson Cox’s barely-above-the-mix vocals that add to the air of intrigue. Live they transform from their recorded sound, like a chameleon that changes as the haze lifts from one part of a song into another. Indeed, Merchandise don’t really write songs in a conventional sense, and they sound all the better for it.

After a well-deserved Avalanche of Cheese I capture Frightened Rabbit who seem in a pretty good mood. Scott Hutchinson is happy to slag off his own songs (not a fan of Poke then, Scott?) other festivals (which I will not name – although why he left V off his hitlist I will never know) and to partake in the sort of banter that is fitting of their status. He could of course have just let the music do the talking, such they have mastered their craft of personable and intelligent indie rock. The crowd reciprocated for that “big band” festival feeling and it was all rather uplifting. Which was strange for me, as I had not been able to listen to Midnight Organ Fight for some time. The songs from that record were my personal highlight, with My Backwards Walk managing to both make me cry and smile at the same time.

Finally, I headed back to the Big Top (where else) where a sizeable crowd had gathered for Public Service Broadcasting. I have so much love for what they do, and getting to see them properly live for the first time was no let down. The soundbites, visuals and music create such a perfect mix that you can’t understand why it took someone so long to do something like this. And as the songs lurch from dance-like euphoria, fiddly banjo higgledy piggle to blazing Explosions in the Sky-style guitar epics the set takes off (pun intended) as Spitfire, ROYGBIV and Everest take us to the sky (I’ll stop now) and fill us with the awe of human endeavour and the ecstasy of musical genius.

The weekend finished off with Dinosaur Jr destroying any remaining cobwebs that hung from the trees and with dancing to Belle & Sebastian’s Teachers-theme-tune alone in a field. Perfection.

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