Things We Learned At: End Of The Road

Siobhán Kane returned for the third time to Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset for the three-day End Of The Road Festival - here's what she found

Peacocks are very special birds

Small ones, big ones, at ease with people, flapping their way back to their glass house aviary for sleep, scooting around as Cass McCombs or The Staves play on the Garden Stage, they are, in a sense, a metaphor for what makes this festival very special; colourful, refined and mischievous. They also provide a sense of welcome to proceedings, for if they seem at ease, how could we not be?

At festival time in Dorset, port becomes a breakfast food

Or so it follows around the well-organised Tangerine Fields campsite; I spy a few port breakfasts on the go, and it certainly seems to provide a kind of rocket fuel for the morning festivities, whether for Breakfast With The Inkspots or a wander towards the big red bus for crumpets.

Indie rock has developed snakehips

There is a real sense of joy to be found in dancing. David Byrne and Annie Clark set the bar high with their choreographed dance routines on Friday evening, and their enthusiasm radiates well into the forest disco, deep into the night. They are a real beacon of inspiration, the kinship evident on stage, the community-minded rendering of their musical vision, and their palpable sense of fun. This is joyful and beautiful, their sense of playfulness bound up in the horn section that sways and skips their way around the stage, and at one point the uplifting ‘Road to Nowhere’ inspires a mass conga nearby.

Mark Everett continues to be contrarian

Eels sound heavyweight and rich, and their layered sound is met with equally layered chit-chat by Everett, who seems intent on provoking the crowd, with all his cheeky diatribes delivered from within his black Adidas tracksuit and talk of "double rainbows" (There is an actual double rainbow in the sky). The rest of the band also wear this uniform, but whether this was a reference to Run DMC or the joys of running is anyone’s guess.

Bob Lind is funny

In the Tipi tent on the Friday night, Bob Lind earns himself a whole new generation of fans, some swayed by his off-kilter humour as well as his music. There are many here that perhaps heard songs like ‘Elusive Butterfly’ the first time around, but aside from his evocative songwriting, Lind’s own memories of previous End Of The Roads are touching; buoyed by the interest from musicians like Richard Hawley some years ago, it has provided a regenerative place, and as he plays some songs from his most recent record (41 years after his last studio record) Finding You Again, the past seems like a different country.

Trembling Bells and Mike Heron could write a happier ending to The Wicker Man, going by their set

The past radiantly crashes into the present when Mike Heron plays with the Glasgow-based Trembling Bells on Saturday evening. The Incredible String Band musician is a happy, bobbing presence amid the hugely talented ensemble, complementing Lavinia Blackwall’s spellbinding, haunting voice. Cass McCombs nodded appreciatively at the transporting music, having earlier provided such quality himself with an uncompromising afternoon performance on the Garden Stage.

Stuart Murdoch’s favourite cheese is manchego

A Q&A at a music festival will always throw up a few interesting moments, and since this is the last day of being in a huge field with little sleep, the audience are particularly primed. Stuart Murdoch, Stevie Jackson, Sarah Martin and Chris "Beans" Geddes good-naturedly answer a raft of questions about dairy products, Scottish independence, record-buying and their favourite Belle & Sebastian records. They had earlier done a morning soundcheck on the Woods Stage, which is a wonderful way to wake up, and they amass a huge crowd while running through aspects of their imminent evening set. As they close up rehearsals, Murdoch asks, "Any requests?", and after several people shout songs into a jumble of incoherence, he quips, "Got them!" before bounding off the stage.

Angel Olsen and Julianna Barwick should make a record together

They are programmed at similar times, which means that I catch one half of both of their sets, and both are equally good, for different reasons. Perhaps Barwick would suit the Garden Stage more than the Tipi Tent, because in truth her celestial soundscapes and layered harmonics are somewhat lost in the fray, but her intelligent and emotional compositions are beautiful. Olsen travels similarly creative terrain, though her sound is very different, yet as she commands the audience on the Garden Stage, in the dappled, fading sunlight, I can’t help but think of how singular and tremendous both musicians are. They’re a collaboration waiting to happen, perhaps on the same stage, next year?

The End Of The Road’s postal service is surprisingly efficient

Well certainly, for those that write to The Staves anyway, who find that their missives reach the sisters, who reference them during some of their set. However, I have no idea what happened to my postcard to Canada’s Evening Hymns, who had done a charming set earlier in the weekend. In truth, it probably had too much glitter on it, and the address read, "A tent, potentially with a hammer inside it. Strong beard."

Sometimes wandering into a deserted tent pays off

Often the best things to be found are programmed earlier in the day. For example, the music of Indians is an unexpected delight. Copenhagen’s Søren Løkke Juul’s compositions are delicately-drawn dream-pop, and as he moved elegantly from one piece to another, he made reference to how lovely it was to be out in nature, since he had spent the last while "making music in a basement in London". Similarly, Deptford Goth are drifting and lovely, with Daniel Woolhouse accompanied by a cellist on work from Life After Defo, and Charlie Boyer & The Voyers are fantastic, straight-up garage-rock, which sweeps the early afternoon cobwebs away.

David Byrne has a doppelgänger

While Belle & Sebastian bring on some of the audience to dance with abandon at ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ on Sunday evening, there is a man with a shock of white hair trying to get into the backstage area. From within the crowd, we spy him talking to the suspicious security guard who said: "I thought you were playing on Friday?", to which the double replies "Yes, I was… can I get through? I am David Byrne". "No, you’re not," the guard says. "Oh well, it was worth a try," Byrne Two mumbles, as he wanders off into the shimmying crowd.

It’s all about community

From the comedy programming in the woods, to Ringo Bingo, to the laughter of children having adventures in the elements, to the independent ale-makers, and the Somerset Cider Bus, the four stages that host a multitude of talented, diverse acts; from the fierce creativity of William Tyler, to the raw elegance of Savages’ frontwoman Jehnny Beth, to the emotional gravity of Sigur Rós under a starry sky, to brushing your teeth from taps that spring out of the ground to a Barnaby Sykes pie – the End Of The Road is one of the most heartening festival experiences. And for every artist you get to see, there are those other interesting ones that you miss; Dinosaur Jr, Frightened Rabbit, Polica, Dawes, Matthew E. White, Widowspeak, Golden Suits….

The Walkmen become poetry

And possibly to my personal highlight of the festival – The Walkmen. Their set at the End Of The Road is bound up in a kind of sorrow, because earlier that weekend, the news arrived that Seamus Heaney had unexpectedly passed away. In some ways we feel that we are representing home a little, having travelled over from Ireland for this festival, and since The Walkmen are something of a literary band, we felt it fitting to smuggle a note to them on the Sunday, making reference to Heaney’s poetry.

They provide the most incendiary performance of the weekend, with older classics such as ‘The Rat’ and more recent work such as ‘While I Shovel the Snow’, ‘In the New Year’ and ‘The Love You Love’ making it feel like time has somehow stood still.

The Walkmen have a special bond, and Matt Barrick, Peter Bauer, Paul Maroon, Walter Martin and Hamilton Leithauser radiate a kind of original magic. Their music is created with an old fashioned sensibility, with Leithauser’s intense, yearning vocal as a driving, vital force. So it is as if being woken from a hazy dream, when suddenly that voice says that the band want "to dedicate their next song to the late, great, Seamus Heaney". And it goes out like a little prayer, and does what great music can; provide a deeper understanding. The lyrics from their song ‘138th Street’ come to mind, "Now we’ve been hanging round for quite a while/ so let’s get out of here and take a drive/ on the parkway tonight/ you can hear the engines roar/ the flashing lights will nab you when you’re driving your way home/ and someday when you turn around you’ll see the door is closing".

And some lines from Heaney’s Human Chain come back to me, in that same moment: "That quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,/ A letting go which will not come again./ Or it will, once. And for all."

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today