‘END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL’ – BLANDFORD FORUM, DORSET 1-4.9.22
End Of The Road Festival Day Four: Sunday 4th September
Sunday at ‘End Of The Road Festival’ dawns with the threat of rain. Is it going to be a lazy Sunday? Not if The Bug Club have anything to do with it, as they kick-off the action on the main stage at 12.45. I’m going to be a bit partisan here, and announce that The Bug Club are my new favourite band. I saw them at The Brighthelm Centre in Brighton as part of ‘The Great Escape’ festival in May, and I thought that they were astonishingly good. Indeed, their material that I’ve heard since has done nothing to blunt my enthusiasm for them.
The Bug Club comprises Sam Willmett on guitar and vocals, Tilly Harris on bass and vocals, and Dan Matthew on drums. They come from Caldicot in Monmouthshire. They trade in melodic rock’n’roll and are a real retro blast of fresh air. So much so that I would love to know what they grew up listening to. Tilly Harris plays a Hofner bass and there are noticeable early to mid 1960s Paul McCartneyisms in her playing. However, her stage moves appear to owe a quite considerable debt to one Angus Young. Sam Willett is unusual amongst modern guitarists in that he doesn’t appear to use guitar pedals. Nope – not one. Tilly and Sam have fantastic mid-song wig-outs. Dan Matthew is one of the most enthusiastic drummers I’ve seen for a long time. He absolutely beats the crap out of his kit. God knows what it’s done to annoy him.
Tilly makes most of the stage announcements. She says that the stage is “very roomy”. She also apologises for sounding sarcastic when she asks us if we like the songs. Well, what songs they are! Some, such as ‘The Fixer’, ‘All Of The Scariest Monsters Live In London’, ‘My Baby Loves Rock and Roll Music’ and ‘If My Mother Thinks I’m Happy’ are from their first two EPs. There are also new songs from their forthcoming album, ‘Green Dream in F#’, such as ‘Love Is A Painting’, where they sound like a more melodic Velvet Underground; and ‘It’s Art’, which questions the very nature of art, including whether art still exists when the gallery is closed. One song, ‘Intelectuals’ (that’s the Welsh spelling) clocks in at just over ten minutes on record. It’s actually a song suite – Pete Townshend would be proud! It’s darkly witty: “If you have to die, do you have to do it slowly”. One of the terrible things that the song lists is moving to England!
They play their first single, ‘We Don’t Need Room For Lovin’’, and finish with ‘A Love Song’, which is very fast. It repeatedly asks the question “how many times can you say f*ck in a love song?” The song finishes up: “the answer is nine”. So now you know. Their album ‘Green Dream In F#’ comes out next month, and they play Guildford Boileroom on 22nd September, Brighton Komedia on 25th October (Tickets HERE), and Kings Cross Scala on 26th October.
So after the adrenaline rush of The Bug Club, we hotfoot it to the Tipi stage for the Robocobra Quartet. This band had been repeatedly described to me as ‘interesting’, which doesn’t actually tell you a great deal, so I had to find out for myself what the fuss was about. They come from Belfast and essentially are the project of drummer and vocalist Chris W Ryan. There are elements of jazz and electronica in their music, and they have been described as a cross between “Fugazi and Mingus”. I can certainly see the Mingus. I’m not too certain about the Fugazi. Their current, and third album ‘Living Isn’t Easy’ is based upon the words of internet influencers. So some of the lyrics may sound both vacuous and consumerist, but ultimately the band aren’t responsible for them.
They have a song about office work which almost personifies the drudgery of the office drone. During one song Ryan agonisingly asks God for forgiveness. Do I detect the trauma of a Roman Catholic upbringing here? They have a song about the housing crisis in Ireland, the chorus of which goes something along the lines of: “This house is shit. Life is shit.” Both the lyrics and music get pretty intense. They are indeed an interesting band, but I do worry about what happens in their collective imaginations. The subject matter of their lyrics is generally pretty depressing. Should you wish to sample the Robocobra Quartet live experience, they play at Kings Cross Lexington on 22nd September.
There is undoubtedly air to be cleared and cobwebs to be blown away after the Robocobra Quartet, and I can’t think of any band better qualified to do that than Lee Patterson on The Big Top stage. Lee Patterson are a London based noise rock duo made up of Adam Martin on drums and backing vocals and Jack Blenkinsop on guitar and vocals. Jack loses his setlist which he thinks “could make life interesting”. Luckily somebody finds him another copy. This is like a heavy rock guitar and drums masterclass. Jack certainly makes full use of the Gibson crunch! They are joined by their label boss Rob on vocals for one song. He reminds me of Andrew WK, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing. They have a new EP out. We’re not told the title but we are told that it’s on cassette. I know that’s trendy, but it’s not altogether practical is it? Maybe their next release will be on an eight-track cartridge (ask yer grandparents). Great live band though. Unfortunately they have no more dates scheduled at present.
Lee Patterson on Spotify
Time now to get some fresh air at the Garden Stage whilst watching Ryley Walker who is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Rockford, Illinois. Although he’s now in his early thirties and has eleven albums under his belt (including collaborations), he’s still seen as something of a wunderkind. He cites Steve Hackett and Nick Drake as being influences on his playing. I must confess that whilst I can’t see traces of either in his guitar style, his playing is incredibly impressive.
One thing that is certain is that this man is crazy, albeit in a good way. He screams that he’s nervous. He needn’t be. That much is evident as soon as he starts playing. He also tells us that he’s full of four Marks & Spencers egg and cress sandwiches, so he can do anything. Presumably M&S sandwiches have qualities of which I am unaware. However, within a few minutes he proves that as far as playing guitar is concerned, he can do just about anything.
Ryley’s current band are a three piece comprising himself, Andrew Young on bass and Brian Jools on drums. They play a song that Ryley describes as “super psychedelic”. He’s not wrong! His soloing is reminiscent of Jimmy Page in his Yardbirds and early Zeppelin days. It is simply jaw-dropping. Ryley’s between-song announcements are hilarious. He spots a peacock on a roof and shouts “that’s insane!!!” He has a new wah-wah pedal that he bought the day before in Cardiff. He uses it to good effect on some jazz inspired soloing.
Although everything is in Ryley’s name, this is very much a band. They clearly enjoy playing together. There is real joy here. Indeed, their playing approaches telepathy. The drummer uses a lot of percussion: handbells, shakers, even a string of bells hanging out of his mouth. Ryley is a fan of XTC, and they do a very acceptable cover of ‘Knuckle Down’ from XTC’s ‘English Settlement’ album. Ryley has an excellent band and there has been an impressive amount of improvisation throughout. During the last song Ryley sings a line from Genesis’ ‘I Know What I Like’. So there was a slight hint of a Steve Hackett influence after all! This has been an absorbing performance, and I really hope that Ryley Walker gets himself over to the UK again before too long.
We return to the Big Top for Purling Hiss. I tend to avoid bands with ‘amusing’ names, because quite frequently the name tends to be the best thing about the band. This is not the case with Purling Hiss. They are the project of multi-instrumentalist Mike Polizze, and come from Philadelphia. Their music is grungy but tuneful, and reminds me mostly of Dinosaur Jr. They have a very 1990s US college rock feel, which is by no means a bad thing. The occasional riff is reminiscent of Black Sabbath, and makes me miss my long hair! The songs are stretched out nicely too. There’s an element of the jamming band about them. They’re a super entertaining live band, and again, I hope they get over here again soon.
My next port of call is the Tipi stage for Sinead O’Brien. She is another artist that I’ve been trying to get to see for quite some time, but without success. I’ve managed it tonight though! Sinead is a post-punk poet from Dublin. She has a band consisting of a guitarist and drummer. The bass and occasional synth are on the backing track. There are some pre-programmed drums too. The music is dancey ethereal rock with occasional electro and techno overtones. The lyrics are unusual and imaginative, definitely more poetry than song lyrics. Overall it’s pretty gutsy stuff, both musically and intellectually. Sinead has an album called ‘Time Bend And Break The Bower’. She tours in the autumn, playing Kings Cross Lafayette on 17th October and the Green Door Store in Brighton on the 19th – Tickets HERE.
I remain at the Tipi stage for Cola. This is a new project for former Ought members Tim Darcy (vocals and guitar) and Ben Stidworthy (bass), together with Evan Cartwright on drums. The music melds late 1970s New Wave influences with some fluid guitar lines and the odd funky bass riff. They have an album entitled ‘Deep In View’ out at the moment. I must confess they didn’t grab me quite as much as Ought did, but with their pedigree they’ll be worth keeping an eye on.
I head back to the Garden Stage for Aldous Harding, who I’d been told was “very interesting” to photograph. Certainly when she came onstage she seemed very awkward, looking at the audience and her band in a quizzical and confused way. She sings the first song and then sits down on a chair in front of her microphone, completely motionless, not interacting in any way with the roadie who brings her acoustic guitar. I start to wonder what’s going on here. Is she mentally ill? Then I get it! She’s behaving like a marionette. It’s almost as if she’s an automaton. She seems utterly detached from her performance, as if she’s almost glacial. This is her stage act! Well, it’s certainly different, and definitely very interesting indeed! It must be weird for her band, but I suppose they’re used to it. I bet she’s a rip-roaring party girl when she’s off-duty!
She’s certainly an arresting performer. The audience spends most of her show in rapt silence. She takes the concept of having an audience in the palm of her hand to a whole new level. At one point someone in the audience has the temerity to request a song. Aldous simply replies “no!” So what does she play? She plays all of the current ‘Warm Chris’ album with the exception of the song ‘Bubbles’. We get the ‘Old Peel’ single from 2021, and everything else is from the ‘Designer’ album from 2019. So nothing played tonight is more than three years old. Not the slightest sniff of an oldie. However, what we’ve witnessed tonight is probably one of the purest artistic statements I’ve seen for a very long time, indeed, possibly ever. The artist has played the music that is important to her, without pandering to the audience, and the audience has lapped it up. It doesn’t really get much better than that does it?
For something completely different I make my way to the Big Top for Yard Act. As I head into the compound behind the Big Top en route to the stage door and the photo pit I overhear the security guards talking. One of them says “we’re going to have to evacuate big time” as he waves me through. “That’s odd” I thought as I made my way to the stage door. When I got there I was denied entry as the place was being evacuated! The reason being that there was a thunderstorm, and there was a danger that the higher structures could be struck by lightning. Better to be safe than sorry. I headed out again. Just then Biblical rain came down, so what choice did I have but to take shelter in the nearest bar? It seemed that Yard Act and all other live music for the night was going to be cancelled. Just then I saw that people were being let back into the Big Top, so I ran and just made it into the photo pit as the band started.
Yard Act are their usual selves. They’re very aware that it’s the last festival of the season, and are determined to make it an occasion. Vocalist James Smith has been poorly and has brought his sick bucket onstage with him. Thankfully he doesn’t need it again. A girl called Cerys and her friend are invited onstage to read a poem. As the next song starts Cerys allows herself to fall backwards into the crowd to crowd-surf: brave girl. My highlight is when they perform ‘Fixer Upper’, which I don’t think I’ve heard them play before. I’ve seen two great headliners on the trot, but there’s just a little more to look forward to.
I head back to the Tipi stage, where The Bug Club are playing a surprise show. They play a few songs that they didn’t play earlier, including ‘Jonathan’s Gone’. Again I am struck by the depth of their repertoire already, and how organic their music is. What a great way to start and end the day, and what a great way to end the festival. ‘End Of The Road’: See you next year!
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