Having celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, End of the Road is a lesser-known joy the festival season. Held on the beautiful grounds of Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire, the event year this offered headline performances from Animal Collective, Bat for Lashes and Joanna Newsom (the line-up is notably packed with awesome female performers at a time when festivals such as Reading & Leeds are being criticised for booking overwhelmingly male acts). Here, then, are 10 things we learned at End of the Road, a genteel festival that rounds off the summer with panache.
U.S. Girls is peak David Lynch
We’re all sick of hearing that stuff is ‘Lynchian’, but off-kilter electro-pop musician U.S. Girls provides the Dictionary definition with a cabaret-style set in which she shimmies into a bright red, sequinned gown and skull cap, while at various points a cornball cowboy in a cream Stetson wanders on to shred guitar. The best bit is when she tells the guitarist to fuck off when he’s not needed. It’s pure theatre, and appears to have the audience by turns bewildered and transfixed, which is presumably just what she wanted.
What’s pleasing about End of the Road is the curiosity punters seem to have for lesser-known artists. County Durham’s indie-punk tykes Martha aren’t exactly the biggest band on the line-up, but perform to a packed crowd in the small Tipi Tent on Saturday evening. Not bad considering they’re loud and punk as fuck, and this is a festival once known for being folky and beardy.
GOAT slay even harder
– This lot were in the crowd for GOAT
It’s overcast and rainy and we’re in a muddy field, so it seems appropriate to go full Wicker Man with a main stage performance from GOAT, whose pagan schtick and psych-rock songs would be excuse enough to make a sacrifice to the rain gods. Also, one guitarist wears a white, oval-shaped mask, making it look like ex-Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison has swapped instruments and joined some kind of meditation retreat.
Ezra Furman knows how to shake it off, shake it off
Closing The Woods stage on Saturday night, Chicago’s rock’n’roll revivalist Ezra Furman barks and howls his way through a set that draws heavily on his 2015 album ‘Perpetual Motion People’. The songs are delivered at breakneck speed and fed through a punk filter, his voice scarred with emotion as he and band The Boy-Friends pogo through a show that fizzes with cathartic joy. You can’t not dance with glee to the glam rock waltz of ‘Lousy Connection’, though his introduction to the track is dark: “If you ever feel like a mosquito that landed on a sick animal and you wonder how you find the courage to fly away – this is your anthem.” When the band ends with a euphoric cover of Jackie Wilson’s ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher’, it appears that everyone here has danced off their worries.
Bat For Lashes is the new Adele
Thought marriage proposals only happened at Adele shows? Bat For Lashes’ latest record ‘The Bride’ is a concept album about a wedding (she performs in a wedding dress at End of the Road) and a bloke brings his girlfriend onstage to propose. Readers, she says “Yes.” In fact, she shouts it into the mic.
Kevin Drew is a manic street preacher
Performing in the UK for the first time in five years, Broken Social Scene look delighted be on the main stage, and to have drawn such a massive crowd. The sprawling collective herald the arrival of a five-piece bass section – surely the first time a brass section has been met with raucous applause at a rock show – and fill Larmer Tree Gardens with the gloriously messy noise pop of ‘Cause = Time’ and ‘Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl’. Singer Kevin Drew is a charismatic preacher, insisting that “we’ve gotta believe in ourselves” and let go of “that thing that’s making you stuck, that thing that makes you drink 17 beers instead of four.” Hallelujah!
Broken Social Scene have beef with Goldie Lookin Chain
You know, the comedy rappers from the mid-noughties. Drew explains that the End of the Road crowd has given the band a better reception than the audience at Reading & Leeds Festival in 2006. “This is nothing like Reading & Leeds,” he says. “We went on after Goldie Lookin’ Chain; it was like going on after Elvis.” Given that End of the Road has a thing for brilliantly mad bookings – like the ferocious oi! band Hard Skin being given a Sunday afternoon slot in the genteel Tipi Tent – it wouldn’t be that surprising if GLC announced a secret set here.
All festivals should have peacocks
Larmer Tree Gardens is home to peacocks who must wonder where all these bearded wankers come from every year. Since the festival is generally filled with muddy, bedraggled people, the colourful birds bring a much-welcome touch of glamour the proceedings. Shortly after the Boomerang above was made, that peacock was befriended by a hipster toddler who looked and dressed like a tiny Greta Gerwig, which might be the most End of the Road thing to ever happen.
You don’t have to compromise to be popular
Despite being up against the stiff competition of well, precisely no-one, harpist Joanna Newsom’s sprawling crowd were muted to catch each note of her eccentric chamber folk. The most telling moment of this bewitching performance occurs during ‘Have One On Me’, taken from the 2010 album of the same name. It’s an eleven-minute song about a daddy long legs, and sometimes the only things happening is a tinkle of harp accompanied by Newsom’s eerily beautiful voice. Thousands of people are happy to stand in the rain for this. Aspiring artists of any discipline, take note: you can remain as weird as you like and still be popular.
End of the Road goes the distance
In the end, it’s the little things that make this festival so special. The festival postal service provided by posties zipping about on bikes and wearing red bow ties. The fact that you can for a stroll through the woods and around the picturesque, rain-dappled sunken pond between bands. The weird little photo booth in the woods where, instead of a snapshot, someone draws a quick sketch of you. The attention-to-detail is impeccable. If the best festivals are about escapism, End of the Road just went the extra mile.