The sounds and magic of yesterday sustain us on a Sunday morning of overcast skies and bracing winds, and we shelter a while for breakfast in the Swedish lounge before sharpening up a little and heading off to sample more pleasures… Today’s line-up on paper shimmers with diversity, a smattering of American folk here, a sprinkling of underground indie there, and a whole bag of alternate thrills waiting around the corner. It’s the final day of End of the Road, and the weather can go to hell.
There’s some Pop pillaging due at the Big Top, and that’ll soon provide our first stop of the day. It’s Pete and the Pirates, and “lunar guitar play” is a term that fits them like a glove. The Pirates have been a fixture on my stereo since their Stop, Wait, Begin EP a few months back, and I join the various people scattered around quietly seated on the grass. What I know, and most of them don’t, is that we’re soon to be subtly transported to the stars.
Pete And The Pirates are an absolute breath of fresh air, and as they shoot their intricate vocal and guitar melodies out into the tent, any remnants of a Sunday hangover are totally slayed. The Pirates have a conventional line-up of bassist, guitarists, drummer and dual vocalists, but they wrench out of it original songs of such ebbing grandeur. Come on Feet moves out of subtle electric rhythms into a broad and spectral nugget that’s as uplifting as a truck-load of valium, This Thyme takes my breath away as it builds so subtly into mini-crescendos, gently encouraging vocals about eating your greens and keeping your dreams bringing a tear to the eye, and new track Knots is a sideways cacophony of guitar and vocal melodies to absolutely die for. It’s 45 minutes that flies by like two, a tempered fire, blazing and ebbing at the band’s will, and Pete and the Pirates depart like picaresque heroes.
It’s give, give, give with the Pirates, but with Jeffrey Lewis, up next at the Big Top, I feel we might have to give something back – our total attention, otherwise the songs might pass us by. A huge crowd has gathered for the precociously talented New Yorker, and for the first few numbers I wonder if he’s not diluting his message a little by having a supporting band – a female keyboardist who also takes co-vocal duties, and a bassist.
There’s also a big screen set up in the corner, showing images sent in by his fans over the last few months, but after a while it all begins to settle and Lewis’s hitherto incidental mumbles form patterns that become more and more eloquent. There’s no melodic pretension to Lewis’s band, their minimalist sounds coating his vocal outpourings in dark allure, and his songs are as close a representation of his comic book art as they could be in musical form, rhythmic stream-of-consciousness outpourings with an alternately personal and political edge.
Lewis’s set is claustrophobic in places for sure, his more political torrents a little trying, but the more personal tracks, like his brilliant fairytale ramble on the nature of creativity, The Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror, are absolutely brilliant. He keeps the Oldham Horror, his trademark song, till the end, and is so soulful and spot on in following its labyrinthine vocal track. The place erupts in an elongated applause, and I leave the Big Top both edified by my hard work and uplifted by the contrary magic.
Darren Hayman had mentioned it yesterday, and now there’s a choice to be made. It’s between Herman Dune at the Garden Stage and The Wave Pictures at The Local. Herman Dune are on first, fifteen minutes before The Wave Pictures, and they have their backing girls The Babyskins with them. I’d seen Herman Dune a couple of times this year before, and the girls haven’t been there, so I have to stick around for the start.
1,2,3 Apple Tree sounds just terrific with The Babyskins’ added cooing behind David-Ivar Herman Dune, who himself seems on top form, rambling in his surreal and affectionate manner between songs, as he’s prone to do, and Take Me Back to New York City comes next to form the most wondrous of melodic/poetic double-punches, beautifully played and aching with afternoon romance. I’m satisfied it can’t get too much better than this, so I pop off down the alleyway stage-right and through the trees to The Local.
I’d thought David Tattersall was great alongside Darren Hayman in yesterday’s secret gig, and first impressions of his own band The Wave Pictures are pretty grand. There’s no such elaborate plan as a set-list, and they’re taking requests from a small army of fans that have also bravely forsaken the Dune. The Wave Pictures songs seem to be cut from the same trees as those of Hefner, maybe slightly more theatrical and folky, Tattersall’s voice rasping yet boyish and charming. They’re amorous, outlandish tales sang with humour and earnestness, and the guys play them with poetry and gusto, getting the little tent swaying in appreciation.
The Wave Pictures have been terrific, and nice in every possible way, but now a barrage of noise meets me from the Garden Stage, and I make my way across to find the immaculately-bearded Archie Bronson Oufit absolutely pummelling through their set. The Bronson drums are erupting like thunderstorms in the speakers stage right, and the people standing there are braver I. I stealthily make my way round the back to a more sensible position in the middle, and really, this is some of the most stylish, insanely loud music I’ve ever heard.
The whole Bronson Outfit are really into it, hammering out winding numbers that shimmer in the grey afternoon and threaten to clear the skies for us, and if only we could aim the speakers that little bit higher I’m sure they could. I’m a little overwhelmed, and so are my ears, which cry little yhelps of joy as it squalls to a stop, and it’s out into the trees again for some well-earned recovery time.
Folk Idol is about to take place at The Local, a competition in which some of the young End of the Road luminaries have gathered to be challenged to a performance of an old folk classic, which will then be judged by a panel led by The Broken Family Band’s Steven Adams, but the slightly more outré promise of Misty’s Big Adventure pulls me away, and it’s back up through the familiar peacock trail.
Misty’s are an elaborate contrast of energies, trumpeter/co-vocalist Hannah Baines a bundle of vintage theatricality stage right, a character in a one-hundred-handed rubber suit running amuck, and Grandmaster Gareth calmly orchestrating from the middle space. There’s a whiff of fairground showmanship about the Grandmaster, organising his folk-pop freak show with a mischievous air, and some genuinely good cabaret pop songs and a lot of dancing later, we emerge from the tent like we’ve just rolled out of a tumble dryer.
In the light of Misty’s everything outside now seems quite sober, so I grab a quick snack at the Thai restaurant and head up to The Bimble Inn. Charlie Parr had last year played the Garden Stage, and it seems like the crowd here would do a good job of filling that mass expanse, let alone this humble den. The place is heaving, but we weave our way inside, and are met by some truly magical sounds.
There’s something special about folk music when it’s played with this kind of grace. I can hardly see Parr through the crowd of people, but the sounds are amazing, soothing, profound and really evoking the spirit of the ancients. Parr is up there along as far as I can see, accompanied only by his twelve-string guitar and a banjo, and as we find a comfortable place to stand, time kind of stops still. We only catch the last ten minutes or so of his set, but it does feel like we’ve been standing here all day, and is more than enough to send us back out into the evening a little starstruck.
Twilight has descended on the last day of End of the Road, and Parr was the ideal act to ease us into it. The Broken Family Band now regale us at the Big Top with a set of Americana inspired romanticism, lead singer Steven Adams resplendent in a terrific fishing hat as his band stand around in a leisurely manner. The Family are a self-deprecating bunch, deadpan and disarming, and their songs are fantastic, melodious opuses that take us into their hearts with robust poetic lines. The band whip up a superb intensity with some slow-burning tracks that retain a dusty southern grace, and as guitars fly with gentlemanly abandon for the last track, it feels like it’s all ending far too soon.
There’s been a slight change in the line-up; Josh T Pearson being thrust forward by an hour as Jens Lekman is late. It’s very dark already though, fittingly for Pierson, and as he takes the stage it gets darker and darker, and then strangely lighter… First of all, Pierson’s beard is a wondrous thing, and he’s so laid-back and omniscient behind it that all kinds of images are conjured.
Pierson carries an apocalyptic kind of sadness and an alternately righteous and outlandish charm. He’s like an apostle sent by Apollo, who also has an air of the hell-raiser about him. His acoustic songs are absolutely mesmerising, personal, redemptive things of sacred beauty. At times he sinks so deep into them we can hardly hear him, but it makes me wince to hear people behind chattering and even laughing. Granted, the fact that you can barely see his mouth moving behind the brilliant beard provides a near-comical effect, but laughing is the furthest thing from the minds of 99.9% of the people here, including myself, who are totally transfixed. It’s like a holy man has arrived in our living room with tales of aching beauty and soul, and we fix the jokers with our best threatening eyes.
Pierson plays for an hour or so, and the intensity grows and grows, ironically as he becomes more and more relaxed, finally leaving us with a promise to play a bit more for us later, should anyone wish to lend him a tent-space for the night. I’d have him in my tent no problem, and so would a few hundred others, he won’t be short of offers, and he leaves the stage so humbly, not waiting for any kind of applause, but getting it by the bucket load.
A quick trip to the bar and we realise the time has come for Jens. It’s now twenty minutes until he’s on at the Big Top, and I haven’t felt this curious about a gig for a long time. Lekman’s songs have slowly caught me over the last couple of months, and now I can’t get away from them, but I’d always imagined him as the fierce outsider, serenading empty rooms with his beautiful melancholia, so the fact he’s now about to headline such a big stage seems strange, and wonderful.
People begin to file in, lots and lots of Jens fans that I didn’t know existed, and we huddle at the front as he takes his place behind his huge keyboard. Lekman cuts a fragile, pixie-like figure, a picture of sharpness and creativity, smartly kitted out in a made-to-fit suit and sparkling black shoes. His band follow, numerous backing singers, a horn section, and a violinist with maybe the coolest and most “Lekman-ish” look of the weekend, socks under tights. The music starts with some jazzy orchestration, and then the wonder kicks in…
It’s pretty upbeat, and in contrast to most of the older tracks I’ve been listening to, Lekman’s newer songs have a wonderful, shimmering orchestral melancholy. His lyricism is a thing to behold, running along the seams of his band’s melodies with a golden, sensual touch, romantic, honest and totally enchanting.
Swelling like incoming tides and swishing like the breeze, the concomitant effect of Lekman and his music tonight is one of twinkling euphoria, and I could stand here swaying to it all night. These are songs that seem destined to be cherished and obsessed over by anyone with a penchant for the outsider poetry of Pop, and I don’t expect to ever see a better headliner at any festival, ever.
Jens’ melodies I’m sure will stay with me for the rest of the night, and after a brief walk around the woods to see if Josh Pierson is in fact playing again, it’s back to the Big Top for opening DJ set of the night by The Legend!, Everett True. I’d somehow always thought True was a balding man carrying a bit of weight, and on further examination he is – just the guy I thought he was in fact at The Local yesterday, standing there watching The Young Republic. Who this thin, long-haired chap is then playing sultry slices of 60s and 70s Pop and Motown I don’t know, but I’m still thankful for a great hour of music. And I think everyone is thankful for the cider, bottles of which rain down on us from the Big Top gods in an outlandish manner, dancing towards us with that quintessential allure that free stuff tends to have.
It’s suitably oiled that some of us make our way up to The Bimble Inn afterwards for The Twilight Sad, who suck us to the front with their propulsive, quintessentially Scottish post-rock. It’s a celebratory kind of atmosphere down here, and The Twilight Sad temper it with alternately slinky, slender and visceral guitar play, punctuated by the passionate, searching vocal outpourings of singer James Graham. It’s a thrilling gig that takes us in a gloriously unsentimental manner towards the end of the festival, and yes, it is really all over. It’s been, how can I say, an absolutely kaleidoscopic, musically miraculous blast of a weekend, and I haven’t met one single person who won’t be returning next year with a bulging bag of memories and a million new friends.