sex as a foreign language

awkward aural adventures

End Of The Road Festival – Larmer Tree Gardens, Salisbury 2006

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This article originally appeared on http://www.planbmag.com

This is how we do it in Sweden!” Somewhere in the trees up ahead, illuminated by a hundred radiating fairy lights, Emanuel Lundgren, I’m From Barcelona’s ringmaster extraordinaire, is leading an entranced throng through the secluded walks of Larmer Tree Gardens. Jubilant, the masses follow him on this journey to The Heart Of Gladness, mingling with countless musicians on the garden trail, and assembling at the base of a tree-top perch for an impromptu performance. Not just their own ‘Treehouse’, ‘We’re From Barcelona’ and ‘Chicken Pox’, but also ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer Of 69’. Voices soar, bathed in the glow of a thousand camera phones. Smiles flash, babies play melodicas and for a second you dare not breathe in, in case the spell is broken. Moments like this littered the inaugural End Of The Road Festival, a realised pipe dream eschewing the festival rigmarole in favour of fandom and garden party etiquett

Do you remember the first time?

The End Of The Road festival came into being when two people called Simon and Sophia disregarded the usual lethargy that kicks in following that perennial conversation “…well, why don’t we run a festival of our own?” and, inspired by the Green Man Festival, turned their own dream into a reality. It reminds me of the sort of intimate affair friends of mine threw in back gardens, whereupon the arrival of a burger van sent parents running from the house screaming ‘How many people?!’ It takes a few hours to overcome the hypnotic mystery of the site, surroundings that carve romantic fjords into the surface of your heart. Yet by the close of the weekend, the walkways illuminated by fairy lights, the pianos abandoned in their own garden, the roaming peacocks and the assorted alcoves all seem like a natural accompaniment to the haunting and curious sonics that confront you at every turn.

So it’s no surprise to discover a randomly placed tent named ‘The Living Room’ featuring beat up old couches, intense chess sessions and a deliriously kitsch turntable and assorted records. Nor is it a surprise to observe heated debate between artists and ticket holders in the cue for the delectable organic pies stand. So blurred are the lines between performers and audience that it seems that to have to actually interrupt conversations, get up on stage and perform is a matter of vague embarrassment. In the tent on Saturday afternoon and The Boy Least Likely To are handing out balloons and generally ploughing through their shouty, clappy dance-like-the-floor-is-on-fire bombast resembling kids high on Slush Puppies ram-raiding the local school music rooms. It’s harmonised alt-nursery cocooned in frosting and blown clean out the doors, and as the chimes of ‘Be Gentle With Me’ snake up your spine, it’s like the best party ever is kicking off. And at the more raucous end of the spectrum, Brakes (currently labouring under the extended moniker Brakes, Brakes, Brakes, proving three titles are better than one) provide a perfect catalyst as the night draws in, spitting candid pop politic out into the dusk in double time.

The discovery of the exotic hot cider from Glastonbury’s infamous Somerset Cider bus – not to mention our wise acceptance of the barmaid’s advice to supercharge it with brandy – would have been a perfectly rational explanation for why it appears the undergrowth is animating and walking about in front of me. Another, more in keeping with programmed events would be the arrival onstage of British Sea Power. I’ve never had the pleasure before, but I’ve been captivated by shimmering crescendos and heart driven aural riots on record, and I’ve met a fair few people whose relationship with BSP is near devotional. So, as they appear, skulking through reams of smoke, silhouetted in stark faux-military regalia and swathed in freshly harvested bows they create a theatrical suspense that builds right up until the opening chords and leaves you thinking “thisisgoingtobefuckingfantasticright?”. Which is precisely when it starts going downhill. There is nothing I don’t like about this band and its credentials, but as angular rhythms and Yan’s rasping vocals fly past it all seems a little too glossed and a little too forced. Perhaps it’s the cider. Perhaps it’s the objectionable way the baying crowd have denuded several nearby trees to pay homage. But for all their visual splendour tonight, British Sea Power seem on the decline.

Onward to the Big Top then, which to enter is to step through the looking glass into the alternate reality of Simple Kid’s magic kingdom. Welding whimsical folk to dirty fuzz loops and scattershot beats, Ciaran Mcfeely stands centre-stage, the tip of the iceberg of noise that rises behind him. Like a wily apothecary he blends and mixes, creating a spellbinding tonic that burns like a bonfire inside your ears. After which it’s back to the main garden where Badly Drawn Boy virtually bounds onto stage and, after profusely thanking festival organisers Simon and Sofia (and begging for a repeat booking next year) launches into new track ‘Born in the UK’. Lacking the chest beating bravado of its US counterpart, it sparkles instantly – a mini history of modern Britain, a nostalgic ode laced with all the questioning derision of Springsteen. After that we get a milieu of new material mixed in with ‘the hits’ and it’s the perfect way to mark the end of Saturday night. It often seems that Badly Drawn Boy is passed over as passé, or dismissed as a soundtrack novelty, but on his day, he’s one of the best British songwriters around.

We are blessed to have Tilly and The Wall in front of us as they slink onto stage, all tattoos, taps and shit-eating grins. Lighting up snapshots from the dark side of YouTube youth and covering them in tinsel and neon-bathed filth, Tilly make you want to get drunk and scream at the top of your voice until your throat strips raw. By the time they launch into ‘Nights of the Living Dead’ from 2004’s Wild Like Children everyone is on the brink and just waiting… waiting… and there’s nothing but smiles as we all go over.

Other fragments pass by during the impossible task of trying to capture everything on offer. Stuffy And The Fuses threaten to bring down the intimate Bimble Inn teepee as they flay flesh on fretboard in one gigantic power pop dirty bomb. Jim Noir invites knowing looks and lo-fi dance moves, whilst Richard Hawley warms the assembled throng with his thick, lugubrious tones… and Ryan Adams And The Cardinals? Well they are a funny beast. It should be noted straight away that the first half of this moniker is completely misleading, as anyone seeking renditions of Adam’s pre-Cardinals solo work will be left sorely wanting. It’s also a much more traditional band than anything Adam’s has produced before. Clearly lubricated, and fresh from an visit to Stonehenge, Adams seems to be transforming into Jerry Garcia, leading the Cardinals as they shamble through jam-band workouts and loosely structured songs fresh from sound-check. “We wrote this two days ago”, Adams announces, before his bassist pulls him up, begging to be walked through the chord changes. “Hell, I don’t know half this stuff,” Adams retorts, before they launch into one in a series of new tracks that despite all the frayed ends and false starts are pulled together by the power of the voice that drives them, slicing the night like a diamond drill, rough and forceful.

End Of The Road has been a rampant success, the perfect marriage of music and conscience. The problem now is not whether or not it will be possible to carry on, but just how to maintain the corporate-free enchantment so integral to the experience. Slipping along congested A-roads headlong into Monday morning it’s easy to lose heart. In ten years, this could be just another brand-spattered corporate hoarding. But Lord, I hope not

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Written by Jonathan

June 29, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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