Review: End of the Road Festival 2017

Set in the beautiful South Wiltshire countryside, with peacocks roaming the grounds, End of the Road offers punters a weekend of damn fine music and so much more. We were there to check it out:

Arriving in good time to erect our old, saggy, festival-weary tent before a brief rain shower threatened to put a dampener on things, it was a delight to find that End of the Road cares about its punters far more than many other events. The festival isn’t over-sold, meaning there is plenty of room for everyone, along with a choice of areas to make camp (family camping, quiet camping, etc). There are numerous, clean, flushable, toilets which put the likes of Reading Festival to shame, and a selection of delicious, reasonably-priced food outlets from which to fill hungry bellies.

Thankfully, the Thursday evening rain soon abated, leaving a beautiful orange and pink sky, under which crowds began to gather in the festival village, ready for the first night of music.

Proceedings kicked off with The Surfing Magazines, a supergroup made up of them out of The Wave Pictures and him out of Slow Club. They sounded exactly as you would imagine such a coming-together to sound. Basically, very good. On the main stage, Slowdive brought shoegazey, dreamy vibes while, in the Tipi Tent, Bo Ningen whipped their long hair through riotous noise rock and vocal delays.

As is often the way at festivals though, many of the highlights occurred away from the main stages. Hidden in the woods, the Comedy Stage was definitely a place worth visiting over the weekend, not least for a double appearance from Adam Buxton. On Friday, he recorded two of his podcasts, firstly with comedian Laura Davis (who, like many Aussies in England, expressed her terror and confusion at stinging nettles) and Mac DeMarco (pictured, above with Buxton). The musician would later headline the main stage, but in this small, natural amphitheatre, an enraptured crowd got to see him play a couple of stripped-down, acoustic numbers and it felt like a secret privilege. As for Buxton, he was a disarming, affable, funny, silly, natural and utterly entertaining host, causing many in attendance to return on the Saturday night to see him deliver his BUG: David Bowie Special.

Anyone who heard Buxton’s two-part podcast about Bowie shortly after he died (or indeed, listened to The Adam & Joe Show back in the day) will know what a fan he is of Zavid, and this show was testament to that. It was a fun-yet-touching 90-minute romp through the life of the great man, using the BUG staples of checking Youtube comments and digging out funny old clips. Laughs galore and a couple of hearty sing-alongs sent the large crowd away with smiles on their faces.

Other noteworthy comedy acts over the weekend included Doc Brown, whose jokes about being a Dad were concluded with a hilarious, on-point rap about changing the duvet cover, and the amazing Joe Lycett, who essentially ad-libbed his entire 30-minute show by chatting to an enthusiastic young chap in the front row.

Back to the music and, after Aldous Harding performed a heavy, atmospheric set in the Big Top, Swedish Jens Lekman‘s guitar-based pop got fans at the Garden Stage moving. Later, Aussies Pond would do the same as their woozy, psychedelic tunes whirled around the Big Top. Their atmospheric, epic turn proved to be one of the best of the weekend.

Saturday saw the first ever festival headline appearance of Father John Misty. While Josh Tillman’s onstage natter seemed slightly subdued compared to usual, his songs most certainly were not. Supported by a full band including strings and horns, he ripped through his back catalogue with gusto, as a dramatic light display lasered into the dark, cloudless night. He was, as you would expect, the ultimate showman – all snakehips and knee-drops – and his songs cut through their surreal, at times irreverent, lyrical exterior to drop some real gravitas on the festival.

Earlier, Moses Sumney bathed the Garden Stage in atmosphere. So engaging was his performance that even the peacocks were listening in. At one point they loudly returned some bird calls (this actually happened).

While the festival had thus far been blessed with decent weather (beautifully sunny days, chilly af nights and only one small shower), Sunday brought the real rain. A lot of it. By mid-morning, the village was a mud bath. Still, there was always the Cinema Tent in which to shelter. A double-bill of The Batman Lego Movie and the frankly magnificent My Life as a Courgette was a delightful way to avoid the downpour for three enjoyable hours.

The weather was certainly a bummer, but nothing could stop the feel-good vibes emanating from the best musical act of the weekend. In the Tipi Tent, The Spook School from Edinburgh belted out glorious, catchy-as-hell pop tunes through loud guitars, dealing with issues of gender and sexuality as they did so. Their between-song chat was hilarious and their songs were so infectious that even people who had never heard them before were singing along by the second chorus. It was absolutely glorious. Check them out, because they deserve to be your new favourite band.

On the Garden Stage, Julia Jacklin played her last show for a little while. It’s been a hectic year or so for the singer/songwriter from New South Wales and her display here left no-one in any doubt as to why critics have been hailing her. Her beautiful, intelligent songs were well received, as was her slowed-down cover of The Strokes’ Someday. On the same stage, Bill Callahan would later deliver an similarly understated, mesmeric performance. With lyrics that hit all the right spots and that voice, his show was mesmerising for its entire 90-minute duration. Rain? What rain?

As The Jesus & Mary Chain enveloped the night in a fuzzed-up haze and our Doc Martins sank further into the mud, it was time for the curtain to drop on another hugely successful End of the Road. Rain or shine, it doesn’t matter, this is a festival worth experiencing. We’ll be back next year, and you should be too.

 Keep up to date with End of the Road at their website.

bobby townsend


Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend