This Thursday to Sunday, a dearly beloved staple of the British music festival circuit returns, after a painful year off. End Of The Road comes roaring back with a lineup that has had to be re-jigged multiple times, lost the majority of its non-UK performers, and yet is still stacked from top to bottom.
The top speaks for itself, with sets from genuine music royalty like Damon Albarn and Jonny Greenwood, seasoned party starters like Hot Chip and The Comet is Coming, and art rock demigods like King Krule and Sleaford Mods. Mid-afternoons and evenings on all three days are going to be a wrench as we get torn between the London post-punk hype acts like Squid, Dry Cleaning and Black Country, New Road, alt-pop masterminds like Arlo Parks, Anna Meredith and CMAT, electronic ascenders like Loraine James, PVA and Soccer96 – to name literally just a smattering.
But my eyes keep bulging even as they drift further down the lineup to the earliest sets of the day, where there is a veritable riches of rising talent and intriguing sets to be enjoyed. This is where I have decided to focus my preview; for those early risers, or for those who need a bit of extra encouragement to shake off the fuzziness of the night before and get out to see some music. I know it’s going to be a struggle, especially after Stereloab will undoubtedly set off the party in fine style on Thursday night, but here are a handful of sets that should give you reason to unzip your sleeping bag, skip the shower and go straight into the verdant grounds for a coffee and a musical awakening.
Gwenno and Angharad Davies perform the score from Bait
Friday – Big Top
The weekend’s first performance on the Big Top is undeniably going to be a special one. While the soundtrack to Mark Jenkin’s haunting and magnetic black-and-white film Bait aided in the film’s portrayal of the Cornish Coast as something evolving in unsettling ways, divorced from the imagery the music could be just what the doctor ordered after an overly hefty Thursday night. Cornish-Welsh musician Gwenno created an unusual synth-and-violin-based instrumental score, which one can imagine raining softly down on many fuzzy minds and aiding in bringing some kind of stillness to them with its warm and tactile textures.
Georgia Ellery, who both starred in the film and played violin on the soundtrack, will be performing on Sunday with Black Country, New Road, so it’ll be interesting to see if she turns up a couple of days early to join in here. Multi-instrumentalist Angharad Davies is already on the bill and has performed the score multiple times with Gwenno, but if Ellery were to show up, the sounds of Bait are broad and amorphous enough to surely encompass her alongside these two performers.
Friday – Tipi
London band ME REX are still newcomers, but have quickly built up both a devoted following and an impressively malleable sound. They arrive at End Of The Road fresh off of releasing their debut album Megabear, a 52 (!) track record that has no fixed track list – their wish is that the listener should shuffle it and receive a different experience every time.
It’ll be interesting to see how they approach this in the live setting; have they figured out the best order for a performance or do they have some kind of specially-designed implement that decides the setlist for them? Whatever the truth, their piano-led, sprightly indie pop is just the ticket for that early afternoon moment where you feel like you’re just shaking off the shade of the night before and might just about be ready for a pint of one of End Of The Road’s famously delicious ales.
Saturday – Woods
Being first on the main stage on the Saturday of a festival is something of an uphill battle, but you get the feeling that London trio Pozi will make a fist of it and come out bold and provocative as ever. Having recently seen them play in London, I can attest to the vitality and urgency of their drums-bass-violin attack, and it’s sure to be quite a kick to the temple for those still in a daze (and perhaps those still trying to sleep in their tents, as the Woods stage’s sound does waft over the campsite).
Pozi have a new EP called Typing arriving in late October, and they’ll be taking this opportunity to preview some of their new songs to this unsuspecting audience, no heed given to their mental and physical states. Singles “Sea Song” and “Detainer Man” both have a serious sheen to them, but equally, they’re downright groovy and almost force you to settle into their sway, no matter the time of day.
Saturday – Big Top
If the unusual post-punk of Pozi isn’t quite the ticket for getting your motor started on Saturday, then perhaps the pumping and prismatic sounds of London art-pop group The Ümlauts might well be. The London-based, pan-European-originating group just released their debut EP, Ü, in June, and in doing so presented themselves as the foremost purveyors of unimpressed but decidedly playful industrial pop.
Equal parts Kraftwerk, LCD Soundsystem and their own take on modern musical production, The Ümlauts are an enigma. At this set, I expect to see equal amounts of people who are keeping the party alive from the night before, and those who have come merely to zone out and nod along with the band’s hypnotically detached dance music – and perhaps some people just drawn in by their pied-piper like synth melodies and zombifying drones. All are welcome at this pre-apocalyptic party.
Anna B Savage
Sunday – Garden
By Sunday, rising early and getting out to see some music might be more difficult than ever, but a set by Anna B Savage on the iconic Garden Stage is one that absolutely must not be missed. If you must, you can just lie flat on your back on the grass and let the singer’s unbearably rich and soothing voice wash over you – just don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting wrapt in her stark arrangements and beautiful storytelling, unable to resist sitting up and paying attention.
She released her debut album, A Common Turn, in January, and it still stands as one of our favourites of the year, as there is not a single moment wasted on it. With a new EP called These Dreams arriving later in September, we may even be treated to some new songs – including her stunning but unsettling cover of Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You”. Whatever she performs, she has the raw power to charge you up and through the final day.
End Of The Road takes place this weekend, September 2-5, at Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset. Find out more on the official site.