Well last night was a blast, so, pulling Foals’ remaining upside-down riffs from my ears, I rise and look forward to the day ahead. The line-up is sprinkled with excitement big and small, Thomas Truax, The Schla La Las, Metrenomy, Idlewild, and an unhinged body-painting exhibition from a theatre group called Youth in Movement that I’d like to catch, if I can stump up the courage, so it’s on with the festival garb and away across the gravel path into the arena hub.
It’s a little colder today and The Lounge is a sea of animal-headed hats from a nearby hat stall as we watch The Pony Collaboration ploughing quaint and pastoral furrows. The Collaboration’s singer is a tall fellow, and has repeated trouble with the bar that crosses the stage at head height. Numerous times it clonks him when he least expects it, but still the set abounds with a relaxed kind of charm, TPC purveying an earnest, emotional and downplayed range of original and stunning folk.
Thomas Truax is next at the Market Stage, tuning up his notorious, self-made instrument the Hornicator, a large horn with inbuilt microphone, reverb and strings, and preparing his elaborate homemade drum machine, Sister Spinster, for action. It croaks into life at what I think is a vocal order, like a aurally-sensitive clock, and it’s off into Truaxs inside-out world of quirky lyricism and genius perception.
Truax is a brilliant performer, naturally ebullient, gregarious, and full of wonder at being able to stand before a couple of hundred people and do his thing. His gadgets are a joy to behold, products of a vivid creative imagination that help him etch a tremendously personal sound. He plays around with the Hornicator a bit, experimenting with the echo of his own voice in a comical manner, before picking up a guitar, unplugging it in the middle of a surreal acoustic number, and doing a tour of the immediate vicinity, walking through the crowd, out through the back of the tent, milling about outside a bit and walking around the back, appearing back on the stage to a huge cheer.
Then out comes a gadget called the Stringaling, a magical and flexible wind instrument from which something resembling a vacuum cleaner pipe falls. Truax plays about for a few minutes, releasing a string from the Stringaling and handing it to a member of the audience, before reeling it in and plucking it a little at various lengths, and then playing a couple of brilliantly humorous numbers called Inside the Internet and Why Dogs Bark at the Moon. For half an hour the people in the packed Market tent don’t stop smiling, and when Truax leaves us with another surreally poignant number, the cheers resound.
Time to sober up a little, and Chris T-T back at the Main Stage is the perfect proposition. A large fellow with a beard and guitar, he populates the stage with a relaxed air, and his acoustic songs are terrifically sharp and funny. He wistfully mourns the lack of decent modern protest songs with Billy Bragg putting down his guitar for the fishing rod, and apologises in advance for one track which “might go on a bit”, a ten minute number about a bear and a bee which is a humble delight. Chris T-T today also throws up the most un-rock’n'roll moment ever, when he throws sweets out into the audience only to have them blown back immediately in his direction by the wind. This comes after another ten-minute song about a hedgehog.
It’s a fascinating, funny and sometimes touching half hour, and now it’s back up to the Trailer Park to catch The Schla La Las, who had jumped out of the programme at me by dint of the line “they match the pop swagger of early Hedcoatees to the fuzzed-out surf sounds of the Girls From The Garage compilations“. Wow.
After ten minutes of hanging around at the Trailer though, I ask the soundman where they are, and apparently they’ve been moved, to where, and to what time he doesn’t know, so I wander out the door and spot them on the Main Stage, four polka-dot dressed ladies and one Manic Cough-shaped drummer hammering away on drums.
The Schla La Las are five smarter than smart girls who’s stage banter is as fantastic and open as their songs, the bassist stage right telling us how she’d been dumped by text message the night before, so we’d better just dance to this song to cheer her up. The Schla La Las are led by country gal Piney Gir with a special sort of Pop-theatre shimmer, their tracks sultry cabaret bullets that explode like glittery atom bombs on the Oxfordshire countryside.
I’d seen a trio of kids in Rock of Travolta T-shirts earlier, and after The Schla La Las had ridden off into the afternoon, I notice the “Rock of T” slogan on the big placard outside The Barn, so trickle in to investigate, the male members of the band emerging soon after in the same black “Rock of T” shirts as the kids, looking pretty menacing, along with a girl in a similarly styled dress, who takes her place behind a cello.
The Rock of Travolta aural assault is profound, and the gentle cello adds subtle flavours to the ear-busting noise of the male trio. It’s the loudest thing I’ve heard since The Archie Bronson Outfit, and similarly stylish, but the highlight of it all is possibly seeing the aforementioned Rock of Travolta kids lingering at the back of the stage behind the band, taking account of every robust ebb. Expect some time in the future to encounter a sprightly troupe of Travolta fledglings, and make sure to cover your ears…
Twilight falls and the first act of the night are Disco Drive at the Trailer Park, three skinny indie kids playing high-pitched post-rock that veers a little too far towards new wave posturing for my liking, so lured out by number of fall-outs from the earlier Youth in Movement body-painting session who float past outside (oh yes, I missed it – it clashed with Thomas Truax) it’s off next door to The Lounge, where Leicestershire youngsters Kyte drip with the kind of ambition that’s just waiting to be turned into gold. Kyte’s kind of psychedelica ranges from the meandering to the sky-scraping and dramatic, and the higher it goes the better it gets, their singer’s voice becoming more pleading, plaintive and soulful as the set goes on, epic backing music edging him on in his lusty pursuit.
I roll out more than impressed to see that the charity arm of the festival is now in full flow, and as well as contributing to the fund that currently sees festival secretary Hamu currently up on the Main Stage having his copious hair and beard shaved off, no-one begrudges giving some spare change towards Truck’s own cause after the costs incurred by the last-minute cancellation of the original festival earlier in the summer.
The Electric Soft Parade play their well-mannered orchestral indie set as the hairdressing goes on on the Main Stage, and possibly the best line of the festival falls to their singer, who, in the between-song hush, asks the sound people for less beard trimmer in his monitor.
Dark has totally fallen and a huge crowd slowly gathers in anticipation of Main Stage headliners Idlewild. I’d become a little disinterested in the band after the most recent album (admittedly more due to an interview I’d seen with the band on its release date, in which one of the members made the faux pas of saying that Roddy Woomble had got the folk stuff “out of his system” with his solo album than anything actually on the LP), and I even make a mental note to shout “play some country” later on, as a kind of limp-wristed protest. Whatever, after a long, long wait, they come on to etch out No Emotion, and all is forgotten as they proceed to put on the best show of literate rock I’ve ever seen.
Woomble himself floats in and out of the limelight, relaxedly appearing centre stage for his vocal parts, and drifting back off to stage left as his band take over with the instrumental dynamics. Woomble’s voice is an underestimated thing, and his delivery of some of the best lyrics in modern rock is eloquent and passionate. The old songs are strewn between the newer stuff with laid-back ease, Roseability, with that brilliant call and response chorus, Actually it’s Darkness, Little Discourage and Satan’s Polaroid, dripping with art-punk nous and twisting guitar soul, American English and Love Steals Us From Loneliness, melodic, pastoral, and absolutely breathtaking, and Mistake Pageant, aching with a million blinding sentiments. The new songs even sound quite good, even if they don’t really match up on all levels with the classics, Ghost in the Arcade particularly evocative of the early spark.The thing with Idlewild is they don’t treat the old songs like classics as such. They don’t play them grudgingly or with any kind of disregard, just bang them out with a healthy kind of respect or even nonchalance that’s somehow spot-on, and we get the full effect. I said recently that I’d be lucky to ever see a better headliner at a big festival than Jens Lekman from this year’s End of the Road, but though it won’t make me too many cool new friends, Idlewild go a long way towards being it. They end with the beautifully elegiac Remote Part, and that blinding poem from Edwin Morgan, and it’s just perfect.
We turn away in a happy daze to embrace the rest of the night, which first takes in a great show with a nice sub-context at The Lounge, The Tambourines’ guitarist/vocalist Henrique and keyboardist Lulu Grave etching out a shimmering set of indie while the inebriated frontman from The Lea Shores bounds around the stage in a rock’n'roll stupor, repeatedly proclaiming them the best band in the world and playing the tambourine like a brick, and then the closing ho-down up at the Market Stage, where Donny and the Champions of the World, all twelve of them, are in grand form, spinning country wonder deep into the night, and welcoming Saturday headliners, the legendary folk duo Garth and Maud, up for a final song that might just still be going on now.
It’s the end for me though, and the festival’s been fantastic. The colourful, the rugged, the humorous, the poetic, and the very, very loud, it’s all been here by the lorry-load, and here’s to next year going off without a hitch or a single thunderstorm.