Words by Sofie Jenkinson
Scrambling across golden fields, through trees aching in the wind, past peacocks stalking through the undergrowth, under a dappled sky. Hurtling towards adventures. Clambering up Zig Zag hill towards a festival emerging from spectacular Dorset surrounds all tent tops and trimmed edges, dense with detail.
The air is thick with laughter and birds, pawed with sticky fingers drenched in sweet Somerset cider. The days filled with you and yours. The nights filled with dancing souls under woodland canopies. Tiny little makeshift lounges in pockets of trees, plastered with chintz. Plenty of places to nest.
It’s in the minutia here. The touches. The simple things. The small. The beautiful. Getting lost on wood-chipped forest paths where trees are picked out from the dark with lashings of lights: a scene from a childhood tale. A programme fit to burst with those you love and will love and those you keep meaning to find. And a line up bristling, quite beautifully and rightly, with a heavy throng female artists in the face of so many festivals gone quiet.
Landshapes (interviewed next issue!) start up the main Woods stage: a fierce little gang bursting with battle cries and melting with subtlety around the edges, as rippling harmonies spread across guts. The sky is washed with a perfect summer blue, the kind you see on swatches for walls. A smattering of clouds, textbook fluffy. There is soft restlessness in the songs: harnessed, building, rolling into a rallying call.
The comedy stage, a burrow nestled deep in the heart of the gardens, encases a half moon stage. Each act cocooned as they amble on to it. Wil Hodgson waits for no one and stops for nothing, not even breath, catching it never. A stream of tickled consciousness grounded in the sort of strange characters life throws up. A relentless zeal capturing the humdrum and hilarity of what it is to be human, sometimes.
Allo Darlin’s recognisable corner of shimmering, heartaching pop tumbles out from the Woods stage across an ocean of sunlit faces, freckling. And when you are who you are it’s so much easier to have fun. The fun of summer frolicking and the plums and pinks of a melancholy left in love, seeping in.
On the other side of the coin, and up to their necks in matching tracksuits, come Eels, with the unitary swagger of an old style boy band. A cutting, plump set of reliance and a life lived in extraordinary ways in dour common or garden terms. Not the sunny, triumphance you get sometimes but a coordinated attack on the best of themselves and the words picked so carefully with all they place between.
David Byrne and St Vincent make a camp all of their own as the band lines up across the stage, swaying from side to side, instruments of many sizes. Blasting from the middle and on it goes, a drizzle dealt with through sheer will and a collaboration so fitting that night feels like day feels like midnight.
Over between the leaves Efterklang feather themselves across on the Garden stage, filling space like a gas in a chemistry beaker. A gentle path into the night, they are a creeping, creaking stroll with tiny explosions in all the right places.
Savages take the baton kicking and wailing into the night for a post-headline post-punk set in the Big Top. Material from the recent album Silence Yourself flies across the tent as the all-female four climb and climb. An unrelenting and altogether furious rip through light hearts, reapplying the edge. And never losing grip.
As the crisp August air bitters, there’s a flocking, a tramping into the woods – towards the edges and the smaller things. Towards the flashing dancefloor with its night fever, punching the air towards the canopy dazzled by the tiny reflections of the majestic mirror ball. Atop the tiny wood panelled boat, the sails entwined with the trees and sounds from the booth, sits Jarvis Cocker, hip to one side, scratching his head above a pile of records. No leaf and no heart left untouched. As Gangsta’s Paradise floats on and bodies sink against bark, the anchor finally drops.
A new day and the sort of timed-to-perfection brew and cheesy crumpet from the Proper Good Tea Co that sends you flying into a bleary Sunday, straight into the path of Evening Hymns. Jonas Bonnetta stands solo, without his band, performing much from his Spectral Dusk album. An album written in the crumbling aftermath of a loved one lost, he stands and looks out across the shapes on the grass, telling stories about his Dad’s illness and dream to buy a saw mill and his brother’s good heart. His Canadian drawl painting pictures and then pushing into the tender, the guttural, the composed on track after track, glazed with the sort of sadness and sort of love you can only describe with sound.
But it’s Julianna Barwick that brings the depth. The Tipi Tent pulses as heart rates drop and blood shifts from atrium to ventricle. Minds quieten and palettes cleanse until there’s nothing left but lost. Lost in it, in her, in yourself now quiet. The sheer weight of the calmness pressing like her soft palm on your chest, feeling your heart thump against it as her voice circles, still. One half singing, as her voice plasters and preens over itself. A sound so much from the guts it shows like a pain spreading across alabaster cheeks. Fingers gently, deliberately placed on keys and lines spread across her forehead, gritted with the deliberate, perfect work of it, lines deep like those with coal dust engrained in skin.
The strength of Daughter grips the garden with a swaggering, a stillness. For some on the edges it brings consuming, shaking tears and for some, at the front, a reason to sing up to the clear night sky. They are borne a true greatness not only from lyrical wiles and vocals as bold and courageous as beautiful but the quiet, unrelenting appreciation of ears to hear it and the sort of surprise Elena Tonra seems to have at herself. The power in the simplicity of Youth running wild and thumping through the trees, screaming: “If you’re in love then you’re the lucky one, because most of us are bitter over someone”. A battle cry of broken hearts cut out of the sort of memory we all have: that universal sort of tragedy and gnawing inevitably. This is a track that has already captured so many, the type that marks them out as the sort of mercury prize winners of the future you know will never be that far away from being the cherry on top.
A chunk of the night is given over to Sigur Ros, who harness hours across a sea of instruments, video visuals flickering across the backdrop. Tiny eruptions are a smattering across the landscape of the set, pulling it back from the driving, padding tones reaching out. A heavy, layered sound that fills the air around and above in a way that their sound never quite can from record to speakers.
The gentle waking, gentle being of Sunday is the perfect place for the hulking shape of Damien Jurado, picked out by the warmth of the afternoon sun. The shimmering light melts into the deep hues preserved in the words that map themselves across his face. It’s that sort of pretty little afternoon that makes everything a bit lovely, and not one that Jurado thinks suits his style: “Hey guys, I’m trying to make people sad here!” he bellows, before a short stint at guessing birthdays and English slang. “Shit! Now I’ve made you laugh. Quick everybody take a deep breath and think of a negative thought.” And he is back under the weight of it as quickly as he emerged, the light and the shade pulled between the pluck and slack. Seattle seeping through in notes and the gravity of living in sounds like that.
Tampa’s Merchandise, heavy and pillow creased from the previous night’s show in Ireland, bask in the deep lights of the Big Top. “We call this a church crowd…” purrs Carson Cox, drenching himself in light as he drinks in the low hum of the small crowd before him. “That’s a good thing!” he shouts as his smashes his hand across strings into the next song. A band not immediately paired with fairy light trimmed forests, but a deliberate, generous gaggle stand before them – the swinging, swingeing sound perfectly permeating an afternoon thick with the night before.
A seduction of sisters from Watford that have voices straight out of middle America, The Staves are easy to like, easy to love. Their tough southern accents talk of home, while their vocals, smooth and gorgeous, give everything and nothing away in the sweetest possible terms. A utter staple of this sort of day and this sort of time.
And at the end of it all, the end of all paths leading this way are Belle and Sebastian. A band that so brilliantly define a certain time, a certain place, for so many that the day is laced with a palpable tension. Second song in and the first three notes of I’m A Cuckoo sound, sending people are running, screaming, dancing across the hills. From the very first moment until the last it’s all an utter joy – a distilled sort of contagious sort of joy that leaves every pair of ears coated in the long promise of this after years of shouting lyrics across sticky floored clubs in basements. And when it’s in front of you it’s just the most glorious party.
This tiny little festival feels like magic. Not the epic sort of smashing, knackering, giddiness of Glastonbury, but a distilled moment from it, captured and held for this small band of adventurers to mould. It has everything and then you look up and there are two parrots, wings across the sky as they race towards the pinking skyline, flying for the evening.
You hear people, pointed fingers over pints in pubs, saying that we’ll never have anyone, anything, anywhere, to pass on to our kids like our parents did with us. And your dad tells you about the first time he heard a Led Zeppelin riff roll through a stereo speaker, or when John Cale told a story in one ear while Lou hid in another. But if the fabric with which End of the Road is put together tells you anything it’s that we need not worry. It’s there. It’s different for everyone. And the best places, the best adventures are the ones that let you find it for yourself. Small, thoughtful details to discover and hold on to. But never pushing, never wanting for anything. Just there. For when you’re ready, or not. And if not why not play ping pong by moonlight and capture a found sound of your own in tiny studio at the foot of a tree.
It’s just right and feels like it’s yours. A kind of beautiful battle for your heart, that we all went through together. Bruises on your knees and glitter in your hair now…and home.