The independent minded and much loved festival is 15 years young. Ahead of this year’s event and the release of a festival-adjacent compilation called Between The Music, co-founder Simon Taffe takes us back to the beginning…
End Of The Road, one of the UK’s most lauded small festivals, has since its inception come to mark the end of each year’s summer music festival season in England. Founded by Sophia Hagberg and Simon Taffe, the boutique event has stayed true to its independent ethos at its Larmer Tree Gardens base near Salisbury, capping capacity, gaining word of mouth loyalty and selling out in advance every year since 2008.
Now comes Taffe’s compilation album Between The Music Volume One, “a passion-project compilation of deep cuts, rare grooves and new discoveries” started during downtime in the pandemic, which he intends to be the start of a series. It came about from Taffe’s distinct memories of going to festivals that hadn’t given much thought to the music playing between performers; the repetition of it, the sudden jolt of it. When End Of The Road first began, he was determined that his festival would not make the same oversight.
Ahead of the compilation’s release and the 2022 edition of End Of The Road, Taffe explains how all this came to be…
Beginning at the beginning, why – and how – did you start End Of The Road?
I always wanted to be involved in music. I was working in construction at the time, in bands and a massive record collector. I used to DJ a lot and go to six or seven festivals every summer, and then I went to a couple of the smaller ones one year and I thought: this is a pretty simple set up, I could do this. So I just started researching, phoned the NME and said “how much is it to put an ad in here”, emailed a few bands and I was really shocked that I got responses. And then it kinda just snowballed from there, we just worked out a way of contacting these bands by going to shows and catching them in their soundcheck and give them these handwritten envelopes of what kind of festival we want to do and yeah, it kinda snowballed from there!
What from your background led you to be a festival curator?
I mean, to be honest it was do it the hard way, learn as we went along. I had never put one show on before the festival, I was a massive record collector as I say and played in bands and it just felt like something I could do when I went to a festival for a thousand people. I saw that it was like, five portaloos, four security men and a couple of burger vans, I thought “Oh, this feels like it’s doable.” But there was no background or experience.
What specific skills does a curator need to make an event successful?
I’ve said this a million times but don’t ever do a music festival! It’s an insane idea, it’s like going to the races and unless you’ve got something kinda unique to offer, and not just going to put landfill indie bands then there’s no point. We always try to give the audience what they want, and End Of The Road is essentially a collection of all the best ideas from SXSW and ATP to my love for food and beer. We were one of the first boutique festivals to really pay attention to detail and we were lucky to get in there then.
What advice would you give to someone looking to launch a festival?
Don’t do it, every time! Unless you’ve got something unique to offer.
Where did the name End Of The Road arise from?
At the time I was massively into Alt Country kind of music and I wanted it to have that feel. I was obsessed with Bob Dylan, and I actually called it No Direction Home at first, then Martin Scorsese released the film at the same time and I thought, “fuck, I can’t really call it that.” It was a play with those words. I wasn’t that happy with the name at the time but it works now, and really works because it ended up being at the end of the season.
What aspects of this festival make it unique?
We book bands that attract good people and create a community of real music lovers. We go out of our way to make sure we don’t book bands that attract dickheads, but the other thing is the site is incredible and has lots of things you can use to create unique stages and settings. It’s that feel of community, that everyone there is obsessed with music and you can really feel it when there are sets when it’s not just dickheads talking over the bands annoying people. And people aren’t just there to get fucked up – you can have a party, but it’s about music and I think that’s what people love about it.
Which artist are you most excited about seeing at End Of The Road this year and why?
I’m excited about The Magnetic Fields because we’ve been trying to get them to play for 15 years and I don’t think they’ve ever played a festival in England as far as I know. I’m obsessed with Stephin Merritt’s songwriting and also I think the Garden Stage headlining is always one of the special moments for me at the festival.
Do you have any festival ideas that you’d like to try out in another format?
I’ve always loved the idea of doing a film festival crossed with music, playing live scores but how you convince film lover who, I feel that kind of demographic doesn’t want to camp and I don’t want to do a city film festival. So yeah, if anything it would be that but it feels like the budgets and production can’t quite happen.
Tell us about the compilation which is coming out shortly after the festival, Between The Music, how did this come about?
When I was younger I used to always get those compilations made by artists, especially The Trip which was made by Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey from Pulp. I would always buy them because I knew I would discover something new, I was obviously obsessed with the classics like Nuggets, Space Lines… I just always thought I could do this. And then every year at the festival I would create all the playlists between all the bands, and after the festival – because there’s not the greatest wi-fi onsite – they would constantly ask me what tracks were played before this and that and then I thought, “Oh, maybe I can get the rights and put my own compilation together.”
During the covid business it was something I got up to because there wasn’t that much else to do so I started compiling, getting the rights to the tracks. It’s like a dream project, I feel quite privileged to be able to put my favourite songs from my record collection and the songs we share amongst friends on it. But it’s not just songs from my record collection, there’s a lot of tracks on there from going round friends, asking them what their favourites are. It’s all about discovery, when I’ve been travelling, learning, picking up other tracks. There’s tracks on their my kids have picked up I didn’t know. I think it’s that love of sharing music and getting a reaction. I feel like that’s a bit lost now.