July 30, 2013 by Robb Powell
For Truck Festival this year, I was tasked with writing a review for Artrocker magazine. Needless to say I jumped at the chance and my review is now online if you want to check it out >>here<<. On this blog you will find a more in-depth extended version of that review. There was so much to pack in that I had to miss a few things out of the Artrocker version. Regular readers will know full well how this is my place to ramble and waffle on and while I’ve tried to keep that to a minimum here, there is undoubtedly my waffling stamp all over it. Ordinarily I like to include my own videos when covering live music on here but I’m afraid for some unknown reason (quite probably my ineptitude), my camera seems to have decided to record the sound quality in a poor way. I simply will not do the bands and artists any injustice by sharing such recordings but I am sad I can’t include them. That’s why any videos or music you see will be embedded/included from other sources. Okay, with all the preliminary waffle done let’s crack on with the review proper.
Truck Festival didn’t just assist in delivering a monster summer – to quote one of its sayings. Like last year’s fifteenth anniversary year, it delivered a gargantuan monster mix of music on its bill. I’m not just talking elephant big here either, more along the lines of the size of those monstrous robots from that new Pacific Rim movie. It’s easy to see why Truck #16 was also a sell-out! The sheer number of acts it packs into its two full days should win awards in itself, even if it does give me an initial feeling of music motion sickness. This being the second year under new management, it feels like the event has swelled into something greater than ever. Music across no less than five stages and yet covering the same modest space on Hill Farm in Steventon, Oxfordshire. For all its growth, it has maintained that homely sense of close-knit community-led independence. Add to this the locally sourced food from the tried and tested Didcot Rotary Club complete with extra mammoth-sized food festival where revellers really were spoilt for choice of the utmost affordable quality and with minimal queuing. It may sound cliché but there really was something there for everyone and this didn’t just extend to the music. I’m reminded of the school project of trying to cram a hundred and one things into a small matchbox. Except many of the acts on the bill were far from tiny, and even those lesser known bands made some pretty huge crater-creating impacts.
The hypnotic amalgamated sounds of Wild Swim kicked things off for me, proving the pre-requisite for greatness need not mean securing a later headline slot. Demonstrating such a high calibre of performance so early on in the day boded incredibly well for what was to come this year, that’s for sure. Fast and furious guitar playing combined with the mammoth power of Richard Sansom’s soaring vocals provide enough oomph to propel you up far beyond the stars without so much as breaking a sweat. Given the heat of the day this is no easy feat. If I’d had the time in my schedule I’d have happily gone to watch them close the Veterans & Virgins stage for BBC Introducing at the end of the night as well. Their set was so mesmerizing I swear I ended up in a rapturous trance by the end of it. This is a very positive thing. Such quality deserves big success and it is coming their way I have no doubt. I’ve already snapped up tickets to a show they are doing in Oxford on 7th September. Details are on their website and Facebook page.
A mosey on over to the main stage saw LA band Milo Greene dazzle the laid back afternoon audience with their infectious dreamy and self-described cinematic pop. There’s less pop here though and more a cerebral art-funk folk kind of tone. Slipping and sliding between various instruments proving their individual dexterity while showing clearly how integral each of them is to this whole shebang. Seductive synths, husky vocals and some kaleidoscopic four-part harmonies conjure up a backdrop of picturesque American landscapes amidst which the gathering crowd find it easy to relax.
With two bands down, a million and two to go I popped my head into The Barn just to take a sneaky peak at what was going down. With keeping on top of all the music between the Main and Second stages last year, I felt I really didn’t want to neglect the offerings from The Barn this time round. It was hot, sweaty and smelled precisely how you’d expect a barn to smell. The only animals in sight were the two-legged head-banging lovers of all things hard and heavy, though. The Max Raptor boys were doing the Midlands proud banging out their punk rock tunes that couldn’t but punch you right in the face. In a good way. Still with my feelers out I checked in on The Saloon bar which presented me with a complete contrast as Stevie Ray Latham was sharing some gentle alternative country ballads. It was the perfect salve to that albeit pleasant thump from the previous band. Closing my eyes and no doubt assisted by the baking heat I was sucked through the space-time vortex, to the Wild West circa the late 1800s. Opening them again to notice a few folk in full cowboy dress I had to pinch myself.
There should have been a warning on the door to that solar-powered barn – protective headgear compulsory. Arcane Roots tried hard to bludgeon me with their intense rapturous rock when I made my second longer visit. Dark and grunge-filled roots run deep down to reveal a smouldering and corrosive core. Andrew Groves astounds with his exceptional ability to switch instantly from full on metal screaming to mild mellow and tuneful harmonies. The ears feel like they are being played with. It tickles, it tantalizes and you just can’t get enough. Resolve was so epic even I was out of breath come the end of it, and it wasn’t because I’d been holding my nose. The natural smells of the barn aren’t all that strong to be honest. Once you’ve been inside a few minutes and the music has invaded your system, what smell? Arcane Roots have drawn some comparisons with Biffy Clyro recently but I think they are in a completely different league and a better one at that. It’s nice they are so good while still at that bedding themselves in kind of stage. Big things to come for these guys!
Unable to leave The Barn for fear of collapsing after such a wild set, Wet Nuns are next to blow out both my ear drums. Quite how so much noise can be generated from a mere duo defies all scientific laws of sound. I felt a sudden fear those expensive solar panels on the roof were about to be blown hundreds of feet high and smashed to smithereens. It was not unlike I imagine a spaceship exploding and crashing to earth in a million pieces might sound. If those pieces converge to produce something monstrously musical it ends up being quite spectacular! Proper big filthy down and dirty raw heavy rock is just what you need at a festival tea-time. It certainly built up my appetite for some of the stunning food available.
With my belly full and another beer in hand something completely different graced me over at the market stage where I was treated to my first Public Service Broadcasting. The tent is packed out for an entirely instrumental duo they know just how to entice and work a crowd without even uttering a single word. The audience lap up every second of this experimental electronic pop rock parade. J Willgoose Esq and his percussive compatriot Wrigglesworth have real character they somehow manage to connect directly with people on a very personal level via this music. With a subtle hint of Aphex Twin, what ensues is half hour of original emergent euphoric wonder and I’m left feeling somewhat rather elated. Judging by the beaming faces all around me I’m far from alone.
The first big timing clash was a tough one to negotiate and I failed miserably. While I don’t regret settling on the enigmatic and slightly eccentric Patrick Wolf, I am inconsolable having to miss the no doubt intoxicating psychedelic trans-dimensional showdown provided by Bo Ningen. Patrick’s towering talents were on full display even with this stripped back set involving strings assistance from just violin and cello (I’ve been advised his full band shows are stunning). He holds an audience firmly in his hand, exchanging banter throughout but isn’t the only act to complain about only having thirty minutes to share. He had a song ready to play on the harp but when it became apparent the tech guys couldn’t get that working he shifted to play it on the piano before resting on a different song altogether. This following a little bit of gay politics regards the terrible situation in Russia at the moment. ‘If you can’t discuss a little gay politics while at a festival on a farm in Oxfordshire then there’s something wrong..’ he jested. Too right!
With so many of the greats of yesteryear reforming to enchant their old fans as well as entice whole generations of new ones, it feels like it won’t be long before they’ll actually start digging up those no longer with us. Thankfully the members of Ash are all alive and kicking and they did a splendid job reeling out a hoard of their classic hits. Proving they are worthy of headlining status they manage to get the gathering evening crowd ready for a boogie.
The most spectacular performance of the whole event though, came from market stage headliners Dry the River. They were off-the-planet amazing! Otherworldly fantastical! Cue an enchanting trip through the fine-art folk rock hits of debut album Shallow Bed with a couple of new stunning tunes dropped into the mix. My feet left the ground from start to finish as did those of others in yet another completely packed out tent. Live, this band is just spell-binding. There is some kind of sorcery at work here as they render magical hidden dimensions before your eyes by way of your ears. More than once I felt like their gradual building orchestral rhythms led to crescendos that blew everyone else around me into a million black holes. There I stood alone surrounded by interlacing swirling beams of divine light, the band up ahead banging out their sensational thunderous tunes. The faultless falsettos and spine tingling harmonies were icing on an already scrumptious cake. I could have watched them just jam together for hours as they bought No Rest to its close.
After a long day I was armed and more than ready for the extended psychedelic symphonies of Spiritualized. These guys use their music almost like a weapon of manipulation and although markedly different in style, they approached but never quite managed to meet Dry the River in terms of awe and scope. They do know how to hold a festival crowd, though and do justice in closing the main stage in style.
The lively reggae undertones of Marvellous Medicine make a superb start to Saturday. This vibrant six-piece juggernaut of talent astound with every change in note and key. From sexy sax to remarkable harmonies and sudden bursts of unexpected hip-hop rap from bassist Rob Yates, there’s so much going on here and every bit of it is extraordinary. Wonderful to see was not only their infectious music enticing people up into a full all out jig but also how big a crowd gathered for so early in the day.
Arrows of Love then tore up the main stage with a unique blend of piercing punk and grunge. If anyone wasn’t fully awake beforehand they certainly were now. These guys energised the early gatherers so much I’m pretty sure they could have sustained them for another festival the following weekend without any need to top up. There was a cheeky attempt to lull us into believing there would be a mellow acoustic number with The Knife but just when you think it is about to end as gently as it starts, it builds into an almighty mental showdown. It was magnificent!
From heavy to light back over at the saloon where The Yarns were playing some infectious acoustic folk pop with added dimensionality coming from their very own solo brass section. The vibrancy this provides should encourage more bands to think outside the box. Given how rammed the saloon bar was, I count myself lucky I caught them playing in the merchandise tent about twenty minutes prior to this set too. A double yarn for me. It was great to see this new addition to the festival so popular and I heard many folk comment positively it should return even bigger next year. It acts as a perfect backdrop to some quality artists and was run by the awesome chaps at Clubhouse Records. Seriously, if I hadn’t have been attending in an overview review capacity I know I would have spent a lot more time enjoying the bands in the saloon. I was gutted to miss The Dreaming Spires close the stage the night before although they did clash with Dry the River who I’d had to miss October last year. I just could not miss them with the opportunity here.
A quick jump up to the Market Stage next door to catch the end of Kimberly-Anne’s set. She sounded great so I was sad to have missed out on more but such is the nature of festival clashes. She was bathing in the crowd-clapping and was pleasantly puzzled by how crazy people were for her percussionist Steve. Prior to the closing song they were demanding he do a drum solo for them. They ended up being contented with the fact there was a lot of drum in the final song.
Shoegaze rockers Toy burst on to the market stage in all their psychedelic splendour with a reputation that clearly precedes them if the gathered masses were any indication. Filling out this second stage tent was becoming the norm this year but these guys did so in true sardines-in-a-can style. It was fast-paced, epic and delivered with a force so furious I was left stumbling in a post hypnotic daze gasping for an oxygen tank. They have a real distinctive punchy alternative punk rock sound that just has that something special. It marks it out from a lot of what’s out there on this scene right now.
While waiting for the next band to play the market stage I popped on over to the Veterans & Virgins tent. With everything I’ve reported so far I hope you can appreciate why I wasn’t able to check out any of the Truck virgins who played this stage on Friday. I really wanted to try and at least see Jordan O’ Shea play but sadly my schedule didn’t allow. It was only because I’d got this spare few minutes I was able to pop my head in to catch the wonderful Katy Rose & The Cavalry Parade on Saturday. I’d been previously wowed by Katy’s marvellous voice and the songs she relays with various supporting band members at Wood Festival a couple of months earlier. This time round she was only joined by one member of the Cavalry Parade, her brother and generally busy bee Joe Bennett (he plays in Co-Pilgrim and The Dreaming Spires – both who appeared at Truck – as well as still being heavily involved with the festival along with fellow brother Robin). It was great to get to see her perform again so soon after Wood and she wowed me all over again.
Staying still for a moment was a luxury but there was no way I was missing Brothers and Bones who turned out to be one of the top highlights. Admittedly I’d only seen a couple of acoustic YouTube videos of lead vocalist Rich Thomas. They were quite moving to say the least and I earmarked this as an act not to miss. What I was welcomed by was something much bigger and totally different but I did love the fuller rock sound of the whole band. Skin-stripping spine tingling exhilaration is the only way to describe the effects of the resulting sounds from this group. With a drummer and additional percussionist they crash their way into the summer sun with dominance and soul-filled vocals that could melt granite. The listeners parked on their backsides were soon lifted up to bop along, helped a little with some prior instruction from Rich, who remarked about only having half hour to play. It really wasn’t enough because after it I wanted hours more. Hours I tell thee. Maybe I won’t get that wish just yet but I have just seen Brothers and Bones are at this year’s Beautiful Days festival so I will at least get to see them do it all again. I cannot wait!
Huck and the Xander Band provided a welcome breather by way of rich poetic story songs but the saloon was still brimming with patrons and that dram of whiskey isn’t any closer to my lips. I soon forget all about the whiskey however, and find myself engrossed by the tunes coming from the saloon stage. It is real raw and rootsy stuff I want more of please. Over on the main stage Sam Duckworth – sans cape – appeared with a million other folks known as The Rumour Cubes, which included a full brass section. He played a set of largely new tunes which the crowd welcomed and showed there’s plenty of miles left on this young man’s musical journey. Naturally there was a little bit of politics, particularly when introducing a song about football, Sam dedicated it to all the arsenal fans who aren’t happy having a racist biter in the squad. His last but one song delighted the more long standing fans of his Get Cape Wear Cape Fly days (myself among them) being the superb Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager part 1.
Headgear was still a necessity in the barn on Saturday as my first visit saw Gunning for Tamar locked and fully loaded. Loud and lavishly raw they weren’t satisfied until they had punched several holes through the barn wall with their explosive brand of dynamic sugar-coated beer-drenched fast-paced artrock. When a band as loud as this ensures you hear every single element clearly combine, they should be proud of displaying such expert musicianship and be honoured as masters of the craft.
A side-step to the main stage where I enjoyed Gaz Coombes’ set of largely solo-inspired indie pop. It was both multi-dimensional and very well received. Interactivity with the gathering evening crowd won him even more points before he satisfied long-time fans with one song he wrote with a bunch of good friends called Supergrass; no one minded that it wasn’t the synonymous Alright. There was another almighty clash up next but I was getting better at handling such situations. Ultimately sad to miss out on some of each set, I rushed on over to see Lewis Watson open up on the market stage. He certainly showed just why this talented young singer-songwriter guitarist is becoming such a big thing. I wanted to stay for the whole lot but I missed this next band last year and simply had to rectify my folly. So, my final trip to the barn caught Tall Ships in their titanic attempt to bring the shed crashing down into rubble with a presence to rival big arena filling rock bands. The fool I can be wasn’t expecting the barn to be quite so rammed but this just shows how popular a band this is. I managed to manoeuvre my way through the tightly packed masses by moshing like a maniac without getting elbowed or cursed. Perfectly placed breakdowns allow you to catch a breath before some frantic fuel-crazed heart thumping finishes.
The Subways didn’t just warm up the crowd, they toasted us all individually like marshmallows on skewers over a field-sized campfire. From beginning to end they delivered their lively indie pop tunes with so much energy everyone seemed to be having a hyperactive fit. Billy and Charlotte were so bouncy if you were to rewind footage, half their time would be spent in mid air. You’d be completely forgiven for thinking they were each secured to a pogo stick. Or perhaps someone had slipped some gummiberry juice into their drinks beforehand? They were like main headliners themselves with the energy spilling out into the audience being so infectious it got them moving about to the beat just like it needed to.
Finally it was time. The clash I was dreading the most turned out to be the one I managed rather well, I think. I made sure I was pitched and ready to bathe in the opening set of The Horrors who did not disappoint. Appearing like nefarious nightwalkers in a yet to be made Tim Burton vampire film noir, their reserved yet flamboyant grandeur was perfection. Encapsulating the brilliance of four decades of music, they pull you through a vortex for a wild time travel adventure that brings you crashing back into the 21st century with their distinct innovative flair. There were even two brand new tunes included in the set which, while they weren’t even introduced proved popular with fans.
I was sincerely sad to cut my Horrors experience short but I’d not seen the next band since September 2011 and just could not miss the opportunity here. Therefore I legged it over to the saloon to catch a few songs from The Epstein, who’s Americana drenched nu-folk instantly hooked on to me and I wish I could’ve experienced the entire set. The band was so on fire it was a good job all the whiskey had been drained because the potential inferno would have been ruinous. As if ending with a stunning rendition of recent single I Held You Once wasn’t enough, they then had to satisfy a demanding audience with a stripped back unplugged acoustic performance of Leave Your Light On. It worked a treat! As was fully expected, the saloon bar was packed so tight it was hard not to become somewhat intimately acquainted with several folk standing around me.
Next year I’ll be crossing my own timestream and sending several regenerations so as to not miss out when it comes to clashes. Either that or donate myself to top-secret banned experiments into live human cloning. All-in-all though, I think I managed to fit in rather a lot of the quality on offer at Truck. You can see what I mean about it being a juggernaut full of the stuff can’t you?