The End Of The Road is on its way to becoming my favourite festival: Brimming over with interesting music, films, art, literary events, comedy and workshops, all in a wonderful setting. It is a fitting finale to the festival season, that leaves you feeling restored rather than worn out.
The festival site is exceptionally pretty and easy to get around. The absence of wifi and proper phone reception helps to restore the festival vibe of old, when you were cut off from the real world for a few days, just consuming as much of the program as you could fit in. I generally know only ten percent of the EOTR line-up, which is a great basis for new discoveries.
I went as a volunteer, but favourable shifts meant I did not miss that much. Even so, I had a bad case of FOMO on Thursday night. With just over eight hours between shifts I had to try and sleep. The cinema tent were showing ‘The Last Waltz’ at 23:00, which I have never seen. It was a rainy night and as I was lying in my tent I could hear the crowd in the cinema tent singing along to ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. Oh to have been there…
I spent two mornings at the wonderful Talking Heads stage, an amphitheatre in the forest. I attended four book talks, all of them captivating. Patrick Barkham discussed ‘The Swimmer: The Wild Life of Roger Deakin’, about a nature writer, teacher, film maker and wild swimming pioneer, who lead a most interesting life. Simon Williams, founder of indie label Fierce Panda, talked about his life in the context of his book ‘Pandamonium! How Not To Run A Record Label’.
Richard Morton Jack explained why the Nick Drake estate decided it was time for an authorized biography, and how he went about researching and writing ‘Nick Drake: The Life’. Finally Miki Berenyi from Lush talked entertainingly about growing up in a most unconventional family, her time with the band and about being a woman in what was a very male-dominated environment during Britpop. I went home with a copy of her book ‘Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me From Success’.
As for the music, these were my favourites:
JOAN SHELLEY - Garden
There was a burning sun right onto the Garden stage, where Joan Shelley and partner Nathan Salsburg were seated with their acoustic guitars. Joan Shelley is an amazing singer/songwriter from Kentucky who I had long wanted to see. Nathan Salsburg has released some great records under his own name, but he was here as accompanist. Joan’s album ‘The Spur’ was Uncut’s number two album of 2022. Richard Thompson is a fan. With songs that good little else is needed. The lovely Garden stage area was packed and reverently silent. It was a joy to be there.
JOHN FRANCIS FLYNN - Garden
At Glastonbury this summer John’s set had really been too short to do him justice and there were some sound issues. Not so at EOTR. John’s band consisted of Ross Chaney (drums), Brendan Jenkinson (clarinet) and Ultan O’Brien (fiddle). Their varied set included songs from John’s debut album and some from the soon to be ready follow-up. I particularly liked ‘Mole In The Ground’. John said that EOTR is his favourite festival to play. I spotted him later (hard to miss with his height) in the audience for 75 Dollar Bill and Arooj Aftab. His band also played with Cinder Well.
CHARLEY CROCKETT - Woods
Charley Crockett was the kind of surprise that Cambridge Folk Festival used to bring out regularly. Charley has over ten albums to his name, his band the Blue Drifters are superb and yet I had never come across them before. They had a perfect slot on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the audience loved it. Charley is from Texas. He has a deep voice not unlike Johnny Cash. His set encompassed country, blues, tex-mex, bluegrass and swing, yet it did not feel disjointed. This was the one act from this year that I will definitely try to go and see again.
AROOJ AFTAB - Garden
Another artist that has been on my wish list to see is Pakistani Grammy winner Arooj Aftab. She was rightfully given the headline slot on the Garden stage on Saturday night. With Arooj were Petros Klampanis on bass and pregnant Maeve Gilchrist on harp. “There are four of us on stage”, commented Arooj. Her deadpan humour was something I had not expected, but perfect to intersperse the long melancholy songs. Arooj sings in Urdu and does not explain what her songs are about. “Language is not at the forefront of the communication. The music is communicating the sentiment”, Arooj said in an interview in the festival program.
KOKOKO! - The Boat
Kokoko! from Kinshasa have released a great album, ‘Fongola’, as a five-piece, but for their current tour they are a duo - singer/percussionist Makara Bianko and keyboard player/producer Xavier ‘Débruit’ Thomas. This was intense, loud and exhilarating, with total audience participation. The Boat is a small space with a very low stage. I had gotten there early, but was told that the entire area around the venue got packed out. The guys seemed delighted with the audience response; a real feel good moment. Let’s hope they will come back on a bigger stage.
75 DOLLAR BILL - The Boat
When I first heard 75 Dollar Bill on an Uncut CD, I thought they sounded like desert blues. Guitarist Che Chen and percussionist Rick Brown are from New York though. This was another show where it paid off to get there early, as it enabled me to see all the gadgets Rick had lying around the percussion box he was sitting on. The band were on for 45 minutes and played two songs! Again it seemed to be the case that everybody who was there had deliberately picked this act over others and stayed listening intently until the end of the gig. Ideal circumstances.
THE MURDER CAPITAL - Top Hat
The Murder Capital remind me of Joy Division and early Echo & the Bunnymen; bands that are now called post punk, although I do not remember that term being used back in the day. Playing at 23:15 on Sunday, after main stage headliners King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard finished, they had an advantageous slot and the atmosphere in the Top Hat tent was fantastic. It was busy, there was a mosh pit and plenty of crowdsurfing. James McGovern is a good frontman with a distinctive voice and there is something old-fashioned about the band. I mean that as a compliment.
ANGELINE MORRISON - Talking Heads
Angeline was the interviewee at the Uncut Q&A before this gig and she spoke in detail about ‘The Sorrow Songs - Folk Songs of the Black British Experience’, a most interesting project. It was fascinating and at times very moving to hear the stories and thought processes that led to these songs. Angeline performed solo, accompanying herself mostly on autoharp. The absence of a band would not have been an issue at all, if it hadn't been for loud sound overspill from another stage. EOTR is usually good at avoiding this. I would have rated this gig even higher, had I been able to hear it undisturbed.
FATOUMATA DIAWARA - Woods
Fatoumata is a powerhouse. I had seen before so I knew this. The audience number kept increasing as the show progressed. Fatoumata had a great band with her. She played some mean guitar herself and her dance moves are unrivalled. There was a warm rapport with the audience. She is also the most photogenic performer I have ever come across. I often take many photos to get one good one, but Fatoumata looks fabulous in all of them. I just subtract a point for the taped backing vocals. Why not do without backing vocals play entirely live, if circumstances prevent bringing actual backing singers?
CAITLIN ROSE - Garden
I saw Caitlin Rose very early on in her career, and I bought her ‘Dead Flowers’ EP at the time, which I have continued playing since. Caitlin released two full length albums and then disappeared for nine years. She alluded to this during her show, saying “Things got kind of dark”, and that she is only doing a few gigs at the time at the moment, but she did not go into detail about what caused the long hiatus. Despite the long break, Caitlin looked and sounded as I remember her and this is a good thing. A very well attended gig; it seemed everyone was happy that she is back.
DUNGEN - psychedelic rock from Sweden.
CINDER WELL - atmospheric singer/songwriter, based in Co.Clare.
MABE FRATTI - cellist from Guatemala, with a unique sound.
KING GIZZARD & THE WIZARD LIZARD - headlining Australians with great lights and visuals.
FLOODLIGHTS - young Australian band; charismatic singer; nice harmonica.
NINA NASTASIA - liked by John Peel, produced by Steve Albini; impressive solo performance.
LEE FIELDS - excellent old school soul singer; unfortunately I only saw part of his set.