End Of The Road Festival Reviewed

IT'S NOT THE peacocks a-roaming like they own the place that set End Of The Road apart during the festival season, nor even Dorset’s exquisite Larmer Tree Gardens setting, with its follies and illuminated woodland, housing art installations, tree ‘library’ and a giant scary straw bear to test the resolve of more spaced-out attendees. Now in its ninth year, it’s more to do with the pleasant surprises, booking lesser-known performers, staging secret shows (a couple of miniscule stages have an audience capacity of 50; the whole thing holds just 11,000) and inviting indie ethos. Take Saturday night. The Flaming Lips headline the misleadingly named Woods stage (it’s in a field). Court jester Wayne Coyne begins flanked by two inflatable roly-poly giants, enhanced by a light show resembling an expanding rainbow and silver ‘rain’ running down dangling ribbons of rope. Renditions of She Don’t Use Jelly and of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots underline the Lips’ Ultimate Festival Band status, as enjoyable from the back of the crowd as much as the front.

By the time Coyne emerges in his crowd-surfing space-bubble, John Grant is headlining the Garden Stage, surrounded by trees lit in luminous blue and green. Strangely, given he’s made his name with eviscerating ballads, the biggest cheers are for Grant’s disco-thons Pale Green Ghosts and Black Belt, though he climaxes with Glacier and Queen Of Denmark, which did for the gut what the Lips did to the eyes.

“David Thomas Broughton is Jake Thackray and James Yorkston with a Ben Wheatley film script.”

After the crowds disperse, over in the Tipi Tent, to an audience of perhaps 250, David Thomas Broughton and the Juice Vocal Ensemble feel like equal stars. To most onlookers, Broughton’s an unknown quantity, so the voice, delivery and aura is as startling as that straw bear, equal parts Jake Thackray, James Yorkston and a Ben Wheatley film script. Like a 19th century troubadour with 21st century technology (looping his guitar, and occasional drums) and Fluxus tactics, he alternates between song (such as the chilling In Service) and improvised chaos/comedy. Deliciously awkward, he strangles himself with electrical leads, leads a game to spot beards and glasses (easy in this hipster-infested environment) and responds to a heckler like an asylum escapee: “You don’t have to be here: GET OUT!!” The Juice ladies – the only ones at EOTR to be sporting hotpants – remain deadpan throughout.

Friday night’s headliners are St Vincent (clever, entertaining, a touch clinical) and The Gene Clark – No Other Band, the UK debut for the rousing live tribute to the former Byrd’s overlooked ’70s masterpiece, fronted by the likes of Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) and former Fairporter Iain Matthews, but the night equally belonged to Connan Mockasin’s illogically serpentine funk.

If Sunday is brightened by Hookworms’ squalling electronica, Adult Jazz’s jigsaw-puzzle version of esoteric Wild Beasts pop and Celebration’s hormonal psychedelica, but it’s Lonnie Holley who brings the real rapture. Despite an extraordinary life (one of 27 kids, he was traded for a bottle of whiskey at the age of four), the 65-year-old black Alabama ‘outsider’ artist (as in sculptures and paintings) also trades in spine-tingling keyboard mediations, in the cosmic slipstream of Astral Weeks. Holley, as much as Flaming Lips, is why we camp under rainy British skies for days on end. EOTR may be at the end of the English festival road but it’s often its crowning glory.

Photo credit: Andrew Novell