End of the Road Festival 2016 – 4th of September – Day Four

Bill Ryder-Jones - blurred

Final day of the 2016 edition and fourth post on this blog. Still so-so weather on Sunday but a fantastic line-up (again)!

Bill Ryder-Jones - End of the Road 2016

No better way to start a day than attending a good gig on the Garden Stage. Bill Ryder-Jones used to be a founding member of the excellent Liverpudlian band The Coral but left after a couple of records as he wanted to do his own music and was not really made for tour and band life. Despite his health issues, he has kept on doing beautiful orchestral music and his 2015 “West Kirby County Primary” LP was one of the best records of last year (which I discovered a bit too late to put in my best-of list). The show was in line with what he is, i.e. a good-looking young but not really well-dressed man, not at ease on stage but at the same time very communicative. He and his musicians well excellent though and that was a very good gig for a start.

Same stage 45 minutes later with Kevin Morby, the only artist who was already there last year, as part of the Heavenly label day. He told the audience that he would play here again and again so much he likes this festival. Kevin Morby is a key person right now in the musical scene as he can be found in many projects. His progression has been impressive though from one year to another as it went from a really nice to a great gig. Same thing as for the previous artist ; his 2016 LP “Singing Saw” is great and one of the best of the year so far.

Broken Social Scene - End of the Road 2016

The Canadian collective Broken Social Scene were on the main stage today. Although they played with their regular enthusiasm and energy, I am always a bit sceptical about bands who have many players or members on stage, unless your name is Prince… Not unpleasant but a bit annoying sometimes when one does not enter into their world.

Thurston Moore - End of the Road 2016

Talking about annoying…Seeing Thurston Moore and his band (including Deg Googe from My Bloody Valentine on bass or the great Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth on drums) should have been dreamy stuff for a Sonic Youth fan…but that was not the case. Difficult to explain why as the music was very good but maybe I am so used to his usual tricks (distortion, 1-minute 1-note solo, etc…) that I lost a bit the flame. I felt like watching a sub-par Sonic Youth influenced band but maybe I was too harsh.. or influenced by the book “Girl in a Band” wrote by Kim Gordon.

Chris Cohen - End of the Road 2016

I then went for the last time under the Tipi Tent to see Chris Cohen and his band. Quite a miracle by the way as the guys missed a ferry-boat from who knows where and arrived five minutes before the show. It did not prevent them to play one of the most refreshing gigs of the festival, mixing a detached American style with a beautiful sense of melodies.

Green Gartside - End of the Road 2016

I had to choose between Sunflower Bean, a great new band (a mix of Cocteau Twins and Nirvana to make it quick) and the legendary Scritti Politti lead by Green Gartside. I chose the latter, having in mind I may be able to see the former in a few months or years. Not that bad a choice as despite a funny look (hello the Loveboat), Green showed that he was still going forward, mixing his love of pop, reggae and hip-hop. He told us a few funny stories as well about the genesis of a few songs (apparently Kraftwerk and reggae do not mix that well…) and played a refreshing show. …and for once I was not one of the oldest people in the audience!

Joanna Newsom - End of the Road 2016

Joanna Newsom was probably considered as THE headliner of the festival, which reflects quite well what the festival is about as having a young woman in a beautiful dress playing the harp on stage is far from the usual rock clichés… That was a strength and a weakness for me. I really love her music and am the proud owner of all her records but unless being super snobbish and despite the quality of her music, voice and band, you tend to feel a bit bored and tired at one stage when standing up in a field. But once again, her music is beautiful and she is one of the most original artists of our times.

Teenage Fanclub is one of my favourite band ever, ranked #22 in our Top 100 of the best bands of all times. It had been a few months that I was following their website as there were news of a new record and a tour so I was delighted when I learnt that they would play their only festival of the year at End of the Road. If you want revolutionary music, they may not be the band for you. If you like great melodic and punchy bands, they will be your friends for life. That was only the 3rd time I was attending one of their shows and the last one was already 11-year old at the Point Ephémere in Paris… As usual, the three songwriters Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley sang alternately but there is such a Teenage Fanclub sound that it does not look as if the songs were created by different writers. That was a delight as usual and the setlist was very well-balanced between old and new songs taken from their new LP. Probably the best way to finish late the festival and I was not the only one to experience such a feeling, surrounded by enthusiastic Scottish fans! Video I took of the opening song “Start Again” below.

Not sure where I will be in a year in terms of personal life but I already got my pass so I guess I will be spending a few days in a field in Dorset early September!

End of the Road Festival 2016 – 3nd of September – Day Three

Basia Bulat - guitar

Like all good series, important to make the audience wait eagerly for the next episode (not that true anymore with Netflix…) so here is episode 3 of the great End of the Road 2016 edition.

Saturday is traditionally the day where one feels a bit tired but not so much the case this year as I attended 10 gigs…despite the ongoing rain. I unfortunately did not spend one second around the Woods Stage and missed such excellent artists as Local Natives or Bat for Lashes but once again there were a few choices to me made.

Meilyr Jones

My start of the day was as usual at the Garden Stage with Meilyr Jones, a relatively newcomer from Wales who published this year his first album called “2013“. This is one of the records I have been listening the most recently and must say that the concert was as good as the show. This guy is very talented and has a way in making great melodies. Listen to the first song of the album (and of the show) named “How to recognize a work of art” and I can bet you will immediately be seduced by its rhythm and sense of melody. A real talent to follow.

I then adapted and changed my plan and decided to stay dry under the Big Top tent to see The Garden on stage. This band is that of twin brothers Fletcher and Wyatt Shears and is based on the bass and drums-only formula. Quite fascinating and a bit annoying at the same time as songs are very punchy, very short and sung with sounds that a smart monkey could do. I quite enjoyed the show but must admit this is not the kind of band I will follow.

Basia Buliat - piano

Still in my “let’s-not-get-too-wet” mindset, I then attended the gig from Basia Bulat under the Tipi tent. She is a Canadian singer and she and her band probably got one of the unexpected success of the festival. Basia Bulat has a fantastic voice and great songs but also something different in her fresh attitude and choice of instruments (hello,dulcimer?…). I have read that she starts to be very popular in her native Canada and cannot see any reason for this not to happen in the UK and continental Europe.

Sam Beam - End of the Road 2016

But to me the best concert of the week-end was that of Sam Beam (fron Iron & Wine) and Jesca Hoop. Funny how I always have great expectations from Iron & Wine in traditional halls and always feel (slightly) disappointed whereas I found the guy amazing in festivals. Not very intuitive as his music should not work in festivals but this is not the case. The great (and modest) man published a record this year with Jesca Hoop. I had already seen her as opening act for Shearwater and she is a beautiful artist on her own or in all the collaborative stuff she does with others. They were on their own with very often Sam’s acoustic guitar as the only instrument but believe me the emotion was incredible. Excellent stage presence between tracks also as both of them were very funny and a couple of great covers from The Bee Gees…and Eurythmics. Gig of the festival for me!

Jesca Hoop - End of the Road 2016

I continued my marathon and managed to grab a few songs from Cat’s Eyes, the duo formed by The Horrors’ singer Faris Badwan and the classically trained singer Rachel Zaffira. Their music is really interesting in the sense that they mix a gothic attitude with a Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood type of music but with more ambition. I think the Big Top stage was probably not the best one to give back their sense of subtlety but I still enjoyed the few songs I saw. I would just add that not offering them a role in a Tim Burton movie is a real disgrace!

M. Ward is an artist from whom I regularly buy records either solo or with other collaborators (he has been quite popular with Zoe Deschanel as She & Him) but I realised it was the first time I was spotting him on stage. Excellent surprise as I was not expecting him to be as good as on records but he acted live the right way, i.e. with excitement and playing rockers rather than ballads. His band is really on top of their game and he is also an amazingly talented guitarist, which is something I did not know. A bit like for Phosphorescent the previous day, here are two guys who play traditional rock with a 21st century attitude so what’s not to like?

For really traditional music to typical inventive Scottish attitude, there are only a few yards… That was indeed the feeling I had with Steve Mason and his band. The guy started his career very high with the Beta Band, one of the most inventive British bands from the last decade. For those of you “High Fidelity” fans, you will remember the scene where Jack Black proudly announces to his boss John Cusack that he will sell a few records by the Beta Band (“The 3 EP’s” to be precise) after playing them in the store. But success is an ephemeral thing and Steve Mason disbanded the group quite soon and went back to his demons… He just released an album under his own name this year and this is a real return to form. More on record than live to be honest as there was too much a “lad” attitude on stage as far as I am concerned and I was a bit frustrated by a certain lack of subtlety. Pity really as the record is really good.

Steve Mason - End of the Road 2016

Last concert of the day at the Garden Stage with a new important talent: Ezra Furman. This singer/songwriter/guitarist has recently started a very positive buzz amongst critics and fans not only for his music but for what he is as well. Here is a young man who was close to being good for many years but with too heavy a personal burden to achieve what he had in him. But the solution was really obvious : let’s wear stockings, a pearls’ lace and moreover a nice dress on stage. So this is what I experienced ; a guy playing a very fresh version of rock’n’roll, wearing a dress and surrounded by a gang of rockers! Great energy and refreshing attitude indeed although one will really judge Ezra Furman in a few years when/if the sensation is over.

I did not stay until the end as I really wanted to enjoy BC Camplight under the Tipi Tent to end the night. This artist from Philadelphia, PA had released two LP’s which were not really noticed by the general public (me included I must admit) before relocating to Manchester, UK after a few years of doubts and personal trouble. I am just realising by the way that the three gigs in a row were a bit similar in the sense that these artists were far from getting a straight and linear career ; fascinating coincidence… Anyway, back to BC Camplight who to me has released one of the best albums of the year with “How to die in the North“. Do not focus on the title as I guess this is more a joke on Manchester than anything else. This album is not dissimilar to what Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys would have done if he were of the same age nowadays (and having got rid of Mike Love…). Mini-symphonies, punchy melodies, weird solos… Go and listen to that record.

BC Camplight - End of the Road 2016

So here it was for Day Three with a “mission accomplished” feeling…but as I still had a bit of bravery and will, I went on my way out to the Big Top Stage to see who was playing as surprise show and if I had a chance of knowing the band… And indeed, as I had the great surprise with the other thousands of people staying late to watch Wild Beasts on stage! I only managed to watch the four last tracks of the gig but they all were hit songs. For those regular readers, you know this blog is a huge fan of Wild Beasts and that I have been either reviewing concerts and put their records in my best-of-the-year lists. Their last LP is quite different from the last ones (more radio-friendly or more urban? not sure yet…) but it is really impressive to see what they have become on stage, especially in the UK. I just hope they will not become too big and will not lose in subtlety what they gain in energy and popularity (hello Foals…).

Wild Beast - End of the Road 2016

One more review to come with Day 4 so stay tuned!

 

End of the Road Festival 2016 – 2nd of September – Day Two

Episode 2 of our review of the excellent End of the Road festival 2016 edition. As very often at End of the Road, the density of good bands and artists is so high that one has to do choices sometimes. My experience of festivals taught me that attending bits and pieces of concerts is not that great as one never really feels the mood so better to enjoy fewer gigs but the right way. Long justification probably to miss today’s headliners Animal Collective, knowing I found them quite boring the only time I caught them on stage a few years ago at the Pitchfork Festival.

Eleanor Friedberger, in light

But let’s start with no further due with Eleanor Friedberger on the Garden Stage, probably one of my favourite places in the world! Eleanor was one half of sis’ & bro’ band the Fiery Furnaces and she is now in a solo career with already three excellent LP’s. For those Franz Ferdinand fans out there, let me confirm that indeed she was THE Eleanor from “Eleanor, put your boots on” at a time when she and their singer Alex Kapranos were more than musical friends…Anyway, this was a great start of the day for me as she performed songs from different periods of her career. Although this is true that the songs she plays under her own solo name are probably less difficult to deal with in terms of structure than the Fiery Furnaces ones, she still has an air of mystery which makes her one of the leading female artists of her time. That day was her 40th birthday too so no better way to celebrate than being on stage with a cake.

Not a long way to go from the Garden Stage to the Big Top and catch U.S. Girls, the project led by Canadian artist Meghan Remy. I can acknowledge that something was going on here…but not sure what exactly… I did not stay long as did not succeed in feeling anything to be honest.

U.S. Girls

Back to the Garden Stage with the first revelation of the festival for me with Whitney, a band I was not familiar with. The set was beautiful and the way their drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich leads the band with a mix of humility and bravado is probably one of the reasons. If you like the Byrds and R.E.M., this band is for you and their first album “Light upon the Lake” is one of the records of the year so far.

Whitney

I relaxed afterwards in the Tipi Tent with a few songs from the very nice and charming set from Blue House, a band probably to follow in next months.

Blue House

Back to the Garden Stage for the next show from one of my favourite current bands: Field Music. They have been regularly in my end-of-the year lists but do not have the recognition they would deserve. Field Music is based around the nucleus of brothers David and Peter Brewis from Newcastle and all their records (including those from their solo projects) are more than recommended. Their music is difficult to describe so I will give influences such as Steely Dan, Prince, Prefab Sprout or even Danny Wilson for those who remember that band… Despite them arriving literally 1 minute before the supposed start of the show and thanks to the great help of the festival stage guys, they performed as always a very fresh and exciting concert.

Field Music

A quick walk to the Big Top again and here I was attending Jamie Lee’s band MONEY live. Their music is very intense and sometimes a bit embarrassing to watch as too represented by the personality of their leader. Better to listen at home or on headphones than to see live as far as I am concerned but maybe I was not in the mood after the previous shows. Anyway, I still recommend their new album “Suicide Songs” to be listened to…even if the title already tells a bit about the mood of it all…

I finished Day Two with concerts #7 and #8 again on the Garden Stage with two old American friends. The first one was Matthew Houck who has been doing constantly great music in the last decade under the monitor Phosphorescent. His set was probably the best I  have seen of him as I felt he really had a perfect balance between traditional American country-rock music and his very unique voice and sensitivity. As if the Byrds (again) has listened to too much Joy Division. Grab him live if you can.

Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck

On the other side, I was quite disappointed with Catpower‘s concert… Sure, her voice is superb, she has very good musicians…but there is something which to me sounded and looked a bit fake and without too much emotion. I have never been at ease catching her live as well as it feels like this is a real struggle for her. To be fair, maybe I was feeling also the tiredness of the day…so I left before the end of the gig to be ready and full of energy to live and review Day Three. Stay tuned!

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End of the Road Festival 2016 – 1st of September – Day One

Over the years, artists have told me time and time again that people really do listen here, which makes me proud of what we do. I always wanted this to be a music festival for music lovers. I never wanted it to just be about getting wasted whilst swinging by some token beat makers” from Simon Taffe, End of the Road Festival founder, in this year’s excellent program.

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I would not have found better words to describe what makes this festival different from the others. This was my second edition and I realised that my introduction of the 2015 edition is more relevant than ever. I had again a fantastic time despite the fact that the rain decided to be there (despite a beautiful British summer before and after the festival…but I guess one has to deserve their great moments in life). After last year’s review which was done on a stage by stage basis, let’s go with a more traditional approach this year, starting with Day One on Thursday, the 1st of September.

The organisers had the excellent idea of adding one evening of music as a kick-off of the 11th edition this year. There were only a few concerts but it allowed everyone to get in the mood and be ready for the next three days.

Teleman

After listening to my first notes of music with the very good melodic/repetitive UK band Teleman on the Woods Stage and relaxing with the newcomer electric troubadour John Johanna under the Tipi tent, the first thrill of the festival came with The Shins.

That was their first UK show in many years and unless I am wrong they were not here to promote any new records but simply to play tracks from their four excellent LP’s. For those not familiar with their music, this is a mix of guitar-oriented pop music but with a particular sense of melody and melancholy which is their leader James Mercer’s forte. I had seen them in the past at Rock en Seine festival and remember an ok-ish gig whereas this one was great and full of energy… and full of so many great songs.

A cool way to start the festival. Stay tuned for Day Two’s review!

The Shins, in the crowd

End of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree Park, Dorset, 4th, 5th and 6th September 2015

End of the Road 2015, Logo Day

I think I have found what I was looking for… A festival that, despite being sold out, succeeds in :

  • having as a line-up only interesting, good or great bands
  • keeping a human face and making your life enjoyable rather than miserable with great food, not too much walk between the four beautiful music stages, easiness to get access to the camping or parking areas , clean toilets without no queue, plenty of space when one attends a gig,…
  • being really different with lots of great stores, surprise concerts in the forest, other stages (comedy, disco, cinema)…and peacocks in utter freedom
  • making you feel young again compared to other festivals ! I have never seen so many babies (not children or teenagers, I really mean babies!) but people in their 60’s as well

So, yes, English summer time means 18 degrees at best but there was no rain at all during the whole festival and Sunday was sunny and wonderful so I guess we were lucky here too. No question about it : that was my best festival of all times with Austin City Limits and although a few of you might be sceptical in not finding so many big names, the density of good bands is amazing. I attended 31 gigs in three days and did not remember a bad one (ok… maybe I should exclude Sleaford Mods… but these guys remain interesting). I had to do choices so I did not succeed in seeing such big artists as Tame Impala, Django Django, Saint Etienne, Mark Lanegan, Laura Marling or Mac De Marco but I guess I have been rewarded by those I saw. Here is the list of my favourite gigs, stage by stage. Many of these artists will be found again in my best of the year 2015 list and I must say that women are more than ever leading what is interesting in pop and rock today.

 

  • Tipi Tent

Very nice and friendly space, protected from the weather…with carpet on the floor. Temperature on site often reached around 10 degrees at night so the campfire held outside was a brilliant idea too. Three names I would like to comment on in particular. The first one was actually the first gig of the whole festival I went to (Friday 1.30pm) with a new artist named Aero Flynn. He is a friend of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and his music is a beautiful mix of American sensitivity with a electro/Radiohead touch. I finished my first day until midnight with another musician I have been following during these last 3 years : Jacco Gardner. This Dutch artist does a very melodic music with influences I can spot coming from the Byrds or Teenage Fanclub. But the best gig of the Tipi tent I have attended was without any question that of a UK band called This Is The Kit, lead by Kate Stables. Their music is difficult to describe ; it mixes folk and electro with a grunge attitude, whatever it means… The band were really amazed by the crowd packed in such a small area and my feeling is that they should be really successful in the years to come

 

  • Garden Stage

End of the Road 2015, Garden Stage

Without any doubt the most beautiful stage not only of the festival but of all of them. This is the place I spent most of my time and one could feel a real sense of happiness and achievement between the relaxed audience and the bands. Weird to hear regularly the typical sounds of the peacocks but this is one of the charms of the festival. Low, one of my favourite bands were the last band on this stage on the first day and theirs was the usual mix of Velvetian cool melodies and more “in your head” songs. Saturday was only dedicated to the label Heavenly, home of prestigious past names such as Doves, Edwyn Collins or Manic Street Preachers for instance and all the bands I have seen that day were really a pleasure (cf. gigs’ list page for details). But my main enthusiasm of the week-end went to the great retro/soul sounds of Natalie Prass, with whom I had the pleasure in having a 5-minute chat during the Rough Trade signature event.

  • Big Top

A more traditional tent stage as can be found in other festivals, this stage still had a je-ne-sais-quoi that still made it different ; probably the elephant hanging from the ballon under the roof…This stage was made to receive tougher sounds and the two artists I prefer there were really in that mood. Metz is not only the name of a French city but as well of a powerful trio signed on the seminal Sub Pop label. Difficult not to mention Nirvana such their music is powerful and demanding. Let’s stop the comparison here as not a lot of bands would be advantaged by such a thing but let me just write that I spent a hell of a moment with them, in the good meaning of the word. The other gig I would specifically like to mention here is that of the great Beth Jeans Houghton who has been facing this year a complete transformation under the name Du Blonde. Her music is like such a name could mean for me : great melodies with no fat and a close to the bone attitude, whilst still keeping a feminine touch. Without falling into stereotypes, she is one of these artists who achieve something more while on stage.

  • The Woods
End of the Road 2015, The Woods

The Woods, what a nice name rather than calling it main stage… As this is what it is about probably, the outdoor stage with the main space and the bigger names but with something different once again difficult to describe. Due to the choices described above, the only gig I attended on Friday was that of Torres but what a gig that was. Torres is the artist name of the American female songwriter Mackenzie Scott and her music is very intense and beautiful at the same time. Her latest LP is a real treasure and benefits from the presence of Adrian Utley from Portishead. To make it short and lazy, she is the new American PJ Harvey.

The names on Saturday were amazing. I had in mind to watch My Morning Jacket for 45 minutes before leaving to catch Saint Etienne on the Garden Stage but their concert was so great and authentic that I stayed until the end. I may have been too over familiar with this great American band and will dig again in all their records, such their musical evolution is interesting. And they really have an amazing leader with Jim James, who is able to sing like an angel during one song and play a saturated guitar solo five minutes later.

The main star and headliner of the festival was of course Sufjan Stevens, one of the best artists of our times (ranked #89 in my top 100). Although I feel that his music may sound not that warm sometimes on stage, his talent is so immense that he succeeds in making you feel very personal quiet songs, surrounded by thousands of other people. His interaction with the audience was very funny as well and full of wit. That was my third Sufjan Stevens gig and that was probably that where I found the best balance between his acoustic side and his electro one.

Sunday at the Woods was probably as good as the previous day. The festival had the good idea in closing with The War On Drugs, the band lead by Adam Granduciel and in which Kurt Vile used to play as well before going solo. Their LP “Lost in the Dream” was to be found in all best of the year 2014 lists and I must say there are probably even better on stage than on record, with a huge emphasis put in guitar solos. What Bruce Springsteen would be if he were to start today and was slightly less mainstream (and this is a compliment).

But for me the main thrill of the festival was to eventually see Future Islands. I have been a huge fan of their 2014 LP “Singles” and I guess anyone who has seen a TV live performance of the great single “Seasons” and the crazy dance moves of their singer Samuel T. Herring will not forget them in a long time. On stage, the formula is simple but super efficient : no guitar but a never ending groove beautifully orchestrated on keyboards/drums/bass by the band whereas Samuel T. Herring keeps on singing and living his songs as if it were the last day on earth. Not sure I spent a better moment this year than during the hour and fifteen minutes that last their gig.

So this is the way it ended for 2015 and the 10th anniversary of the festival, full of memories and great moments. Thanks to Sofia and Simon for having created this marvellous idea ten years ago and see you next year (already got my ticket…)!

End of the Road 2015, Logo Night