The summer of 2022 has gone by at the same ferocious pace as the mundane blur that was COVID’s debut in the spring of 2020. Though one key thing is different, despite many political and social causes for unrest and an unrelenting historic heatwave people have been able to truly release the pressure valve in the sun for the first time in three years and as someone who has had the opportunity to make the most of this by applying for free press passes to festivals, I thought it a no brainer to bleed the opportunity dry. Glastonbury was an indescribable experience that I have spent enough time writing about, it served as a perfect kick off to the summer of sunkissed, frivolous debauchery, now all I needed was a symbolic end to it all.
I was drawn to End of the Road by one thing, the line-up. Usually I would warn against this, with past experiences at poorly organized festivals (Reading, Y Not) teaching me that there are more important things than acts in making a festival enjoyable (though of course, it helps). The line-up however only piqued my interest, after doing some digging the festival itself seemed like the perfect host for my end-of-summer shambolisa, and oh how right I was. We arrived, our hopes and curiosities merged. The unknown promised excitement, the forecast promised a week of rain, all we knew was that we were here, the sun was beating down on us, and English Teacher were playing the best I had seen from the Leeds quartet. Despite the early stage time (2:15) and unenthused crowd that comes with that Lily Fontaine and Co. owned the stage for the time that they played, with highlights including Polyawkward and R&B, though, similar to their Glastonbury performance, every song of the set was really worth a mention.
We then wandered the festival, trying to get a sense for the scale and feel of the place. Our walk took us to the far edge of the festival and the Talking Heads stage where Geordie Greep, frontman of black midi, was doing an unannounced interview. We stayed to hear a few minutes of rare candid talk about musical inspirations, the mediatization of the bands Brit School past, and his desires to be on Pointless one day (the host reminded him that Richard Osmond would no longer be on the show, but it turned out he “would be happy to meet that little elf guy”). After a quick smoke break here we ventured back into the belly of the festival, this time heading into Effing Forrest to find the Boat Stage (barely a stage, mostly a boat) and waited to see a band none of us had ever listened to, Fat Dog. The lead singer spent, conservatively, about 10% of the set actually on the stage, instead opting to be amongst the crowd in a full Gi, clearly 12 steps away from sober. The show they put on was absolutely one of the best of the weekends, with their mix of jazz, noise, funk, post-punk and various avenues of dance making for a totally unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have any music out but I cant recommend looking to for this band playing a show near you, they will give you something to laugh about at the very least but personally (perhaps my music taste is too far gone) I will be eagerly awaiting new music to be released as well.
After Fat Dog we decided to increase our efforts in forgoing sobriety and discover more of the festival. All in all, we saw almost all of what there was to see in terms of space in this time. The festival itself is a wonderfully medium-small sized festival that offers so much in what always feels like such a compact, easy to navigate area. If you want to go to a Forrest area and ride Ferris wheels or go to a cinema, they have that. Adversely, in a ten-minute walk you can be surround by dozens of brilliant food trucks in the main arena playing a free round of crazy golf as the band playing in the second biggest stage blasts their music out to you. The final section of the festival is a mix between a woodland and a maze (though as you become more fucked up the latter comes to the foreground). Scattered around are hidden stages and artwork, peacocks, various activity centres and even a library in the middle of it all (if you can find it). As the wandering began to wind down and Porridge Radios set approached the realisation of the wonderful vibe that the festival had begun to really sink in. Watching Porridge Radio this vibe made me question whether this ‘nice vibe’ could potentially be a family one. The crowd seemed relatively reserved and, despite a brilliant set from the band I started to wonder if we were in for a weekend of smiles and restraint. One only one band could come and smash this false perception.
As the sun gave way to dark for good, we waited for the headliner of the woodland stage to arrive, black midi. As mentioned, I was apprehensions as to whether the crowds were going to stand around all weekend but that soon melted away when the bands’ introduction, Nessun Dorma, was replaced by Welcome to Hell, symbolically and musically a perfect battering ram through the walls of people’s inhibitions. Their set was the best I had ever seen the band, in the past I have been disappointed by certain songs not being played but this time each song felt perfect for the moment and despite the absence of Casanova on the saxophone it never felt like the set was missing anything. Slowly and John L just barely stand out in my mind above the rest of the set which sent us off into the night with a buzz that went from our ears to our brains. After meeting some of the people that were camping by us we decided to head into the festival with them to experience undoubtedly the greatest thing about the festival, the bathtub karaoke stage. I don’t understand why every festival doesn’t have this, it made for unlimited good time while it was running and served as a great way to unify everyone in laughing and singing until the early hours of the morning. It should go without saying for the rest of the piece that every night ended here, as it should for anyone at the festival, though I may still talk about it. The staff seemed to be just as buzzed as the audience and the set list of 49 songs had very few duds without having certain songs that would get picked over and over. Whether it was a beaming, gurning man mumbling along to The Middle or a dark horse drunk person who turned out to have better pipes than half of the acts on the main stage, festivals are made in the detail and this was such a fucking brilliant detail.
Saturday had a far more laid-back feel to it, despite my two most anticipated sets of the weekend scheduled for the evening we took the day slowly, further exploring and re-exploring the various nooks and crannies of the beautiful site. After exploring a small art exhibit somewhere in the edges of woods in a pavilion, which included the beautifully childlike works of Porridge Lead Dana Margolin, we found ourselves wanting to really begin our Saturday and took the opportunity to indulge further into our chemical packed lunch’s, which helped quickly turn the afternoon into evening. As sunset approached, we made our way to catch Lynks at the Tipi stage. I was going into this relatively cold, apart from a few kind words from a friend about how amazingly camp and joyous the show would be, I couldn’t have described it better myself. The dance routines that were set to the upbeat queer hyper pop were enough to give any EDL member a brain haemorrhage and the lyrics never ceased to bring a smile to the crowd’s face. The clear highlight for me was a brilliant, if not almost unrecognisable cover of Courtney Barnett’s Pedestrian at Best. Somehow lyrically it felt just as much a Lynks song than any other in the set.
Now was the time for the set I was most looking forward to, Jockstrap. For years now I had been intrigued as to what I live show from the London avant-pop duo would look like, unfortunately for me I didn’t really get to see. The set itself was on the boat stage, which though a great setting, didn’t really offer a stage at all. Because of the lack of elevation only the first couple of rows of people were actually able to catch more than a glimpse of the entire show. Of course, this is no fault of Jockstrap themselves whose set was still a brilliant display of their short but sweet discography. Georgia Ellery’s vocals were proven to be some of the most beautifully impressive and in control I have seen from anyone in many years, at times feeling like pitch shift pedals were being used. The end of the set was truly special, at Concrete Over Water, The City and 50/50 brought an end to a set of a band at the beginning of something very special. Immediately after their set finished, we made our way to catch the biggest act of the weekend, The Pixies. I hadn’t done much research into the state the band was in nowadays so my expectations were as wide as they were long. The set that followed these expectations was absolutely brilliant. Few bands that have been so iconic for so many decades can both play a set filled with banger after banger and also perform to such a level that it felt like the were in their 35th year of their prime. Everything just felt great about the set with obvious highlights being Here Comes Your Man, Hey, Mr. Grieves and of course a perfect rendition of Where Is My Mind.
As the set finished, we went out into the night going forth into what always turned out to be a wonderfully blurry mix of stumbling, dancing, talking and laughing as we reflected on what had been and what was to come. Of course, karaoke played a part in our evening again solidifying it as the true headliner of every night of the festival. The set from the Pixies had also sparked a debate that last into the night and subsequent mornings, not to take away from the brilliance of Black Francis but it occurred to me that societally there seemed to be no cool fat white guys. I am willing to be proved wrong here and though this may seem irrelevant to the weekend, it didn’t seem it as I pondered the thought lying in my tent smiling at how chaotically peaceful this festival had been so far.
Sunday began with more determination than the previous days. After heading into the festival to get some food (all of which that was tried by me was wonderful) ready for the day we decided to push ahead and really make the most of the final chapter of the weekend (and subsequently this piece). We made our way from the Boat stage to the Big Top, watching first the wonderfully ambient Duncan Marquis, followed by almost the polar opposite Slaves adjacent punk duo fronted by Lee Paterson. Both memorable sets in their own right, especially for the early time that they were on, on a Sunday. Unlike the big festivals that I have been to, the mornings/early afternoons do really feel like a time for recovery at a place like this, which was a nice change don’t get me wrong, but just don’t get worried if the crowds seem rather docile when you first arrive at the festival. End of the Road, more than any other festival I have experienced, is the perfect balance of what you get out of it and what they offer up. Whereas Glastonbury seemed almost overwhelming with its bells and whistles and constant great acts everywhere, EotR never tries to sweep you off your feet, instead inviting you to float downstream enjoying what the jungle has to show you on the way.
The Lounge Society were the next act we caught, again at the Big Top. They played a brilliantly commanding set to the biggest crowd I had ever seen them play to (though once again thanks to the time of day the feeling was very much dampened by docility). Though I wasn’t fully sold on their latest album the arrangements of the tracks live made me fall back in love with the band. Tracks like Remains carried way more weight to them live, whilst classics like Generation Game and Burn the Heather of course felt like big set highlights. We then found our way over to the Talking Heads stage to discover Lael Neale playing an incredibly stripped back set. Though I had never heard of her before what we caught of the set didn’t fail to stop me in my tracks. I will forever have the closing song of her set, How Far Is It To The Grave? Etched into my memory of the festival. A beautiful way to carry us into the late afternoon. We then stumbled upon the other surprise act of the weekend, Grace Cummings, who rocked the Tipi stage harder than anyone else could have that weekend. The earthy tones of her voice and unforgiving bluesy instrumentation made for a great set from another act I had never came across up until that point. Though all of her originals were great, she brought the set down as the rest of the band left the stage for her to do a rendition of The White Stripes I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet). Vocally it was one of the most memorable sets I’ve seen in years, she is a true Australian talent that I am looking forward to following in the future.
As we headed out into the festival, catching the second half of an entertaining Kurt Vile and the violators set on the way, it really began to feel like the end was approaching. The final act on our itinerary was Yard Act, a band that, though I love their recorded music, I was still not sold on live. I hadn’t seen them before but I was anxious that it could very well be a stagnant radio 6 crowd. After a half an hour delay due to lightning storms threating the festival the band finally appeared (it seemed even God couldn’t put a dampener on the weekend). What followed was nothing short of one of the sets of the summer. Though frontman James confessed to being sick back stage (a sick bucket was by his side the whole set, just in case) not an ounce of entertainment was lost on the crowd. Tracks like The Overload, Trappers Pelts, 100% Endurance, Fixer Upper… all had a live make over to rile up the crowd, making for a perfect send off to the weekend. Yard Act went from an act I would check out to one I now would make a point of seeing anywhere. Truly it felt like a band who had been at the top of the tree for some time, with their virtuosity and stage presence trumping every other act at the festival. My true surprise set of the summer.
There’s nothing left for me to say except that I am eternally grateful to End of the Road for having me cover the weekend. I hope to be back next year to report on what will be inevitably special once more. Thank you to everyone that worked the festival (especially the patrons of the Vegan Junk Food truck who made our campsite and experience that much more memorable). Thank you to every band that played brilliant sets. Long Live Live Music, here’s to many more.