NORTH LONDON SUBURB Crouch End has long drawn musicians to its villagey enclave. Local restaurant Banners has a plaque at one table commemorating the fact that Bob Dylan once sat at it in 1993 and in recent years both U2 and Adele have recorded at Paul Epworth-owned The Church studio and been spotted mooching around the local winding streets. The End Festival (November 12-22), lovingly curated by organiser Howard Monk, underlines the fact that music still makes Crouch End what it is, even if its high street has lately become a more typical parade of coffee chains and fast food joints. Taking over a handful of local venues, recording studios, cafes, even an ice-cream parlour, this year it ran over 10 days, with bills featuring both obscuros and hipster-friendly names.
“Local lad Bernard Butler steps up to augment stirring covers of Neil Young and Fairport Convention.”
Opening with a three-room multi-bill in the ’30s Modernist splendour of Hornsey Town Hall – scene of Queen’s first gig in 1971 – The End fanfared its arrival with the hair-and-guitars, Sonic Youth-ish shapes thrown by the Orielles, while upstairs Tom Dunne turned in a fine set of post-dubstep electro soul. A quick wander around to the tiny The Crypt studio (housed in the same building as The Church) revealed an audience virtually nose-to-nose with thrilling London four-piece Moses – recalling the fizzing energy of very early Blur, except, maybe even better.
Back in the Town Hall, performing in the well of the council chambers, with the audience circled around her in leathery ’70s seating, was Nadine Khouri, whose hushed Mazzy Star/Cowboy Junkies tones proved utterly affecting in such close proximity. As The Wave Pictures thundered away in the main room downstairs, the surprise star of the night was to be found two floors up. Aphty Khea aka Chloe Boleti performed solo behind a bank of keyboards, her sound pitched somewhere between the dislocated electronics of Laurie Anderson and the postmodern trip hop of FKA twigs, with shades of avant-R&B and loops bearing an imprint of Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. She hushed the room to awed silence and even at one point appeared to play a Theremin with her head.
The next night, Emma Pollock (pictured), former Delgado, turned in a superb acoustic show debuting songs from her upcoming third solo album, In Search Of Harperfield, with beautifully reflective and autobiographical songs (sadly inspired by the death of her mother last year) evoking such diverse spirits as Sandy Denny, Dusty Springfield and Kate Bush. Midway, trying to play a drum loop from a cassette, she was thwarted by its unspooling and forced to trigger it from her laptop. “So it might look like I’m sending an email,” she smiled.
“The End Festival underlines the fact that music still makes Crouch End what it is.”
Two evenings on, back in The Crypt, Melbourne’s The Mae Trio’s excellent three-part-harmony folk was equally Appalachian and – given the musical heritage of their homeland – Celtic. Following them with the words, “This is not a performance”, was Howe Gelb, announcing that from here on in he wants to write only piano ballad standards, as in Impossible Things, loosely based on how he remembered the chords to Herman Hupfeld’s As Time Goes By from Casablanca. If he tended to ramble on (and on) in between songs, his charm was in evidence when standing to “gamble on” randomly plucking piano strings and hoping they were in the right key. “Oh, lost my money there,” he noted, with a clanker, before trying again. “Won it back.”
Highlighting the end of the week in the fairy-light-strewn back room of Crouch End’s former British Legion, The Earl Haig, Romeo Stodart from The Magic Numbers hooked up with Salford torch singer Ren Harvieu. Local lad Bernard Butler stepped up to augment stirring covers of Neil Young’s Cowgirl In The Sand and Fairport Convention’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes, before Stodart and Harvieu ended the night in the middle of the crowd: the former on a battered old upright piano, the latter singing sans mic.
It was proof of what makes the multi-venue, urban-located The End festival so special: interesting and surprising music performed in interesting and surprising places.
For more visit www.theendfestival.london.