MOJO’s 5 Favourite Things At End Of The Road Festival 2019

Low set a high bar at the boutique Dorset gathering for fans of alt., folk, psych, etc. Now featuring jazz!


Garden Stage, 9.45pm, Saturday (headliners)

The intense Duluth trio (pictured above) will have left the UK’s shores with swathes of converts thanks to a monumental set, which closed proceedings at EOTR’s charming second stage on Saturday. Whether exploring limpid Velvets pop, sculpting beatific noise sculptures (step forward, Do You Know How To Waltz, from 1996’s The Curtain Hits The Cast), or edging into alt.Rumours territory as the voices of Mormon couple Alan Sparhawk (guitar) and Mimi Parker (drums) mingle above bassist Steve Garrington’s gusty growls, they deliver a masterclass in sustained emotional charge and pitch. Everything difficult about their recent Double Negative album, notably its excessive overlay of sonic gunk, fell away to expose this group’s visceral power (how could such a small drum kit, played so carefully, sound so immense?) augmented by the simplest, most ingenious visuals to equal maximum show. Welcoming material from 2015’s Ones And Sixes (No Comprende), 2013’s The Invisible Way (the ecstatic Parker showcase Holy Ghost) and beyond, it wasn’t quite a Greatest Hits but, still, one of the best Low playlists you could compile.

Best bit: No Comprende

Big Top, 6.45pm, Sunday

Class was a thing at EOTR this year. Late on Saturday night in the Tipi Tent, South London punk coelacanths Hard Skin baited their audience for being superannuated middle-class students overgrown with hipster beards and Radiohead albums. This bit was somewhat more entertaining than their songs, but they had a point – EOTR does not exist to reflect ‘society’, and even Sleaford Mods’ Saturday night set felt a little perfunctory – an end-of-the-album-cycle encore spiced with End Of The Pier high-kicks and parodic twirls by increasingly Max Wall-like grot-rapper Jason Williamson. Cue Dublin’s rapidly rising quintet with one of the weekend’s few blasts of street grit and, come to think of it, genuine rock’n’roll. Everything about Fontaines D.C. screamed ‘arrival’, from singer Grian Chatten’s charismatic love me/help me/fear me meld of Ian Curtis and Liam Gallagher, and sheets of sound from the band that far exceeded in heft and edge the scrappy charms of their debut album, Dogrel. From the punk surge of Liberty Belle and the heart-tugging indie romance of Roy’s Tune, to the Patti Smith ramalama of Boys In The Better Land, these are pointed songs fired by the dualism of entrapment and escape, hovered over by the approving ghosts of The Cure and The Smiths. Did you see Oasis in 1994 or The Strokes in 2001? Yes or no, go and see Fontaines D.C. in 2019.

Best bit: Boys In The Better Land

Woods Stage, 2.15pm, Saturday

Pausing for only an hour or so after starring in a stirring set by 6/7ths female UK jazz septet Nérija, showcasing their new Domino album, Blume, tenor saxophonist Garcia stepped up to main stage to underline why she is the superstar of a super-happening London scene. More focused and less polite than Nérija, who tiptoe perhaps a tad too respectfully around one another’s contributions, Garcia has a full tone and a style that combines mystical lyricism with street-tuff staccato à la Shabaka Hutchings, and her full quiver was emptied in a short set that ushered away some hangovers and some niggling rain. Supported by regulars Sam Jones (drums) and Daniel Casimir (bass) – both effortlessly funky, and spiky-quirky when required – plus Sarah Tandy on keys – a nervier alternative the reverby expressionism of Garcia’s more regular foil, Joe Armon-Jones – Garcia reiterated how far she’s come since much her most recent solo recordings – Nubya’s 5ive (2017) and When We Are EP (2018) – and how much her next solo album, may it come soon, promises to be a game-changer. While jazz often likes to think of itself as just about the notes, Garcia’s playing draws the listener/viewer into a relationship with her and what she has to say.

Best bit: Hold

Piano Stage, 5,15pm, Sunday

Who’d be a rock star? Former multi-instrumental adjunct with The Coral turned latterday Bill Fay, Ryder-Jones’ fragility has been harped on regularly, so a surprise solo set on EOTR’s cherished Piano Stage (basically, half a cardboard box made up like a mid 20th Century parlour and a shonky joanna with the front taken off) with a misbehaving microphone, deafening leakage from the Garden Stage and a group of haw-hawing people who’ve arrived for a picnic oblivious to the fact that one of Britain’s most gifted songwriters is playing, presented obvious problems. Yet Ryder-Jones is made of sterner stuff these days, and the sad quiet voice of recent piano-versions album, Yawny Yawn, held firm while the likes of And Then There’s You tentacled out from the stage. His devastating song about the loss of a child, Daniel, from the landmark West Kirby County Primary album, explored emotional zones few others dare to tread. Hunched over the piano, it was impossible to see Ryder-Jones’ face. Nor could he see ours. Perhaps it was just as well.

Best bit: Daniel

Garden Stage, 4.30pm, Saturday

Sixty-nine years young, American one-off Holley is marinaded in wisdom and a musical approach that prizes serendipity. Before his EOTR set, he sent out his tour manager to recount the singer’s introduction to art – carving headstones for his sister’s two children, who had died in a house fire – before asking us not to expect songs off Holley’s gauzy, beauteous and much-talked-about 2018 album, MITH, or indeed any of his three albums since 2012; he’s played those songs already. Still, existing fans would not have felt short-changed by a set of familiar space-soul vistas, ably co-explored by keyboardist Aaron Embry, drummer Stevie Nistor, and bassist Shahzad Ismaily (also on banjo). Holley’s eco-apocalyptic brain-blare (“The eagles need a gas mask!” he declares, at one point) is delivered as if by Van Morrison, time-warped inside the “youbreatheinyoubreatheout…” fugue-state section of Beside You, and when Holley gets really into it, he grabs the mic, rises from the chair behind his electric piano, and shakes his rump. It’s a magical meld of the other-worldly and the very-much this-worldly. Do humans qualify, asked Holley, to leave Earth and use another planet, given what we’ve done with this one? It’s a good question.

Best bit: Qualified Human

Photograph by Rachel Juarez-Carr