A nearby wind instrument soundtracks our emergence from the tent, and it’s brilliant to see, just a few metres away, on the path that leads into the festival site, a bunch of 10-year-olds busking on a selection of violins and guitars.
The Wave Pictures are a band of method and slow beauty. You can draw the most exhilarating lines through pop culture whilst listening to them, lines that run through Ritchie Valens, ’60s pop, Jonathan Richman, The Mountain Goats and Darren Hayman. The Pictures slow it down to accentuate Tattersall’s strange, inspiring and often romantic lyricism, speed it up to let us exult in the music, of which the interplay between bass and Tattersall’s guitar is fantastic. Then they do both together in Love You Like A Madman, a shimmering slab of open-hearted, celebratory pop in high-key which Tattersall dedicates to his mother.
Next stop is the Bimble Inn, where the subtlest Welsh folk is caressing sun-burnt heads in the shade. Gareth Bonello, aka The Gentle Good, is on with his guitar, etching songs that evoke images of pastoral Wales, and where Cate Le Bone yesterday had a beguilingly modern beauty, one that borrowed just its textures from early folk, Bonello is happy to let himself get lost completely in old songs and tales. Bonello’s guitar trickles like a Cenarth waterfall, and old songs run out of him pure as day, including one in particular, about a Welsh outlaw and drinker. It’s a beautiful half-hour set, though alas we don’t have the privilege of hearing his own English language nugget, the sun-kissed and lonesome Waiting For Jane.
There’s a huge crowd for Kimya Dawson back at the Garden Stage, and she has everyone eating out of her hand, affectionately witty lines raining down on the smiling masses, before Bob Log III calls from the Big Top. Seeing him sitting there in a pristine, purpose-built crash helmet with a mic fixed inside is quite something.
The helmet glows under the stage lights, and his guitar playing is a party echo of blues legends. Log is a contemporary of Seasick Steve, in that he plays the blues with devilish old-style abandon, but closer to someone like Jonathan Richman in the way he embraces the party side of things with a certain carefree, tongue-in-cheek charm. He’s a funny guy, stopping for a while after one track to have a meeting with the rest of his band (two bottles of beer that he turns round to speak to). We can’t quite hear what he’s saying sometimes. Maybe the mic in his helmet is not yet refined to its highest point, but the Bob Log III live experience is uplifting, and mad as a box of frogs.
Darren Hayman, Jack Hayter and various members (all three actually) of The Wave Pictures are the next attraction at the Big Top, and for the legions of dyed-in-the-wool Hefner fans that have gathered, it’s welcome to Heaven. Hayman’s current solo stuff is every bit as good if not better than the classic Hefner material he’s about to play, so we can understand when he immediately admits how awkward he feels re-visiting it again, but while he tries to set himself aloof with much goofing about and self-effacement, the excitement etched on faces in the huge crowd is testament to how special Hefner were.
For an hour the jaunty indie magic reverberates around the arena, and at times even Hayman himself can’t help but enjoy it. Lyrical genius seeps through his pores, guitarist Hayter is in his element re-visiting the glory days, and The Wave Pictures revel in making up the Hefner numbers. The low-key hits flow in jerking waves, The Hymn For The Alcohol, The Sad Witch and Painting And Kissing. The nostalgic crowd slowly turn to jelly before, at the end of a euphorically-received rendition of Hefner’s politico party pop marvel The Day That Thatcher Died, the guitars are turned up a notch for an unlikely jamming session. Hayman, Hayter and Dave Tattersall take turns to shoot for the stars.
It’ll take a few deep breaths for any Hefner fan to come back to earth, but most are back at the Big Top an hour later for one of the bands responsible for firing Hayman towards the summit. The Mountain Goats are mellower than Hefner, more presentable, if not in any way fashionable either, and their songs provide more solace and special moments for the legion of indie dreamers who want to save their hearts for art, but just can’t.
It seems to be a day of the most sublime outsider indie royalty at End Of The Road, and Tindersticks provide a more classically tinged thrill down at the Garden Stage. Their music twinkles like a sky full of stars, all warm wonder and tender sentiment. For an hour a huge crowd hypnotically sways, letting all impurities float away; there’s surely never been a better setting for a Tindersticks gig than here. It’s just perfect.
Calexico provide the most apt closing sounds for this year’s Garden Stage, their horn section chiming the sweetest tropical rhythms while the pedal steel resounds like an angel’s call. It’s quite irresistible, festive country magic that has the crowd dancing in the aisles, and the immaculate Crystal Frontier and The Ballad of Cable Hogue can’t help but evoke memories of John Peel, who championed the band so often. Calexico’s set is emotional, and boundlessly beautiful.
Brakes next are on fire in the late slot at the Big Top, flying through their set of pop-punk-country-death metal, providing a party and a musical feast at the same time. Brakes’ leading man Eamon Hamilton is an absolute treasure, so unadorned and talented, informing his songs with the kind of soul you never come across at this tempo. It’s helter-skelter one minute, and slow and beautiful the next.
Hamilton was married today, and undoubtedly the festival’s most moving moment is when his wife comes out beaming in her wedding dress to join him in their trademark rendition of Johnny and June Carter Cash‘s Jackson. It’s teary stuff, the chorus shooting us a million miles in the air, and it’s pretty glorious when the band end with an encore of two stormers that last little more than ten seconds a piece.
Sweden’s Wildbirds & Peacedrums round off End Of The Road ’08 in thrilling style at The Local, where we might have expected a cheesy sing-a-long, bashing it right out with informed avant-garde madness. Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ female singer is a livewire tuned to the stars, of outlandishly long eyelashes and wiry black hair, bashing drums in (or out of) tune with her off-kilter singing and wailing, and the at first unsettling effect for the crowd soon turns to total absorption.
End Of The Road 2008 has come to a crashing end. But it’s been some fairytale journey. All that’s left is a visit to the Somerset Cider Bus, where a warm cider oils the appetite for a long dreamy sleep, and tomorrow it’ll be back into the world so much richer.