Held in the beautiful surroundings of South Wiltshire’s Larmer Tree Gardens, End Of The Road has rightly become regarded as a genuine jewel in the somewhat diamante heavy crown of the UK summer festival scene.
Launched by Simon Taffe and his team back in 2006, this is a festival designed and run by festival lovers for festival lovers. Every detail from the aesthetic to the catering, to the line-up itself is curated to provide an experience unlike any other. On top of a dizzyingly diverse line up of performers, End Of The Road offers the chance to enjoy a range of soothing treatments in its healing field, workshops to learn anything from woodland crafts to circus skills, and talks from contemporary authors and thinkers.
The variety of treats on offer over the four days means that picking out highlights is somewhat of a fool’s errand but in keeping with my lifetime commitment to foolishness, here are selected a few things that I’m particularly looking forward to.
Brixton five-piece The Last Dinner Party are to some extent an enigma; seemingly appearing from nowhere to become one of the most talked about British bands around. They’ve been derided as the cynical creation of a major label marketing department and hailed as the next big thing in equal measure and all after just two singles. If you managed to miss their debut single Nothing Matters, give it a listen now. Yes now. If their harmony heavy, highly polished mix of post-punk hedonism, indie jangle and Abba-esque baroque pop doesn’t pique your curiosity enough to check them out then fair enough. We can’t be friends obviously, but fair enough; your call.
Chicago alt-country royalty Wilco close out Thursday night’s delights on the Woods stage. If you’re someone who spends all year looking forward to End Of The Road, then it’s unlikely you’ll need us to tell you anything about Wilco. However, if you’re a newbie, have won your ticket in a raffle or just arrived from another planet you should probably know that Jeff Tweedy’s band of battle-hardened troubadours have been straddling the worlds of indie-rock, folk and country for nearly 30 years and have consistently produced some of the most heart wrenching, bitter-sweet, bourbon-soaked tales of love and loss.
Genre blending innovators Unknown Mortal Orchestra have been defying description since their self-titled debut album was released back in 2011. The way they seamlessly blend elements of soul, electronica, jazz and funk into uniquely psyche tinged soundscapes makes these Portland based New Zealanders almost impossible to pigeonhole. Pushing boundaries whilst sounding comfortingly familiar, they turn everything you’ve heard before into something completely new.
Thanks to his own impressive back catalogue and contributions to albums by the likes of Cate Le Bon, Kevin Morby and Aldous Harding, whimsical, Welsh wordsmith H Hawkline has been on the fringes of indie scene darling status for some time now.
During the course of his career, he’s dabbled in guitar driven folk, indie pop and lo-fi but his latest release ‘Milk For Flowers’ is a surrealist journey into loss and grief. It sees him embrace a horn tinged, synth laden sophistopop sound that echoes Roxy Music at their very best. His discography is so genuinely eclectic it’s hard to know what to expect from an H Hawkline live performance, but you shouldn’t miss the chance to witness a rapidly maturing musical talent in the flesh.
If King Cobra’s 2022 collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Infinity Knives & rapper Brian Ennals is anything to go by, Baltimore might soon be famous for something more than drug related murders and densely plotted HBO TV shows about drug related murders. The term innovators is overused (particularly by me as keen-eyed readers will have noticed) but these two are producing something genuinely different. Infinity Knives’ experimental synth laden tunes are melodic, spiky, funky, jarring, and smooth; frequently all at once. Brian Ennals’ charismatic vocals channel every era of rap from Sugar Hill onwards, angrily spitting diss bars one minutes and soulfully crooning the next. What could have very easily been an indulgent mess instead manages to sound like the future of hip hop and if they can translate their studio alchemy into a live performance it could easily be one of the highlights of the weekend.
On Sunday, cinema comes to the Big Top stage with a screening of 2022’s Cornish folk horror Enys Men with a live score performed by Cornish Sound Unit. Comprising of the film’s British writer/director Mark Jenkin and his long-term creative partner Dion Star, Cornish Sound Unit employ vintage analogue synths, feedback loops, field recordings and improvised riffs to “sonically reimagine” the original score.
Whether you’ve seen Enys Men already or not or if creepy and atmospheric is your thing, you owe it to yourself to check out this unique audio-visual experience.
At many festivals the Cinema Stage is little more than an afterthought but Cinephiles amongst you should be salivating this year as The Larmer Tree Garden’s plays host to a festival of film that would make Berlin, Cannes and Toronto blush.
Thursday offers up a selection of contemporary cinema and cult classics handpicked by End Of The Road’s founding father Simon Taffe, culminating in late night screenings of The King Of Comedy and Alien.
On Friday prepare to be taken on a global tour of cinematic styles as arthouse streaming service Mubi serve up a feast of international cinema that takes in as many genres and styles as it does countries of origin. Highlights include the bitingly brilliant satire of The African Desperate, heart-warming animated tale of emotional growth My Life As A Courgette and Norway’s uniquely funny modern romance The Worst Person In the World.
Things take a turn for the deliciously bleak on Saturday with a smorgasbord of classics curated by Irish auteur Martin McDonagh. If you’re familiar with McDonagh’s work it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the themes of betrayal, paranoia, guilt, excess and violence run deeply through Saturday’s offerings. Every one of these selections is a classic but the standouts are 1944’s classic noir Double Indemnity, psychedelic seventies political conspiracy thriller The Parallax View and Terrence Malick’s blood soaked, nihilistic crime epic Badlands.
The weekend of film winds down with an incredibly eclectic mix picked by Enys Men director Mark Jenkin (Yep, him again!) The rising Cornish auteur’s selections will take you on a magical cinematic journey from eighties retro joy Flight Of The Navigatorto David Lynch’s jazz fuelled head-baking mystery Lost Highway, via coming of age classics Stand By Me and Big Wednesday.
The comedy on offer across the weekend is a somewhat richer experience that the haphazard collection of “as seen on Mock The Week” TV faces that grace the line-ups of most festivals and there are three that you should really make some time for:
One of the godfathers of the modern UK alternative comedy scene, Simon Munnery’s inventive performances have been delighting audiences since the early 1990s when his character Alan Parker Urban Warrior became a cult sensation. Despite having occasionally flirted with TV, most notably in the BBC’s criminally short-lived Attention Scum, it’s Munnery’s unique live performances that make him a must see.
Over the last decade Sara Pascoe’s unique comic voice has seen her establish herself as a highly respected writer, director, TV host and actor whilst remaining a star of the stand-up scene. Her high energy, fiercely intelligent and profoundly sharp style allows her to tackle big issues in a hilarious and sometimes profoundly silly way. Her tours and live shows always sell out so the chance to see one of the modern great comics in action should not be missed.
As the man behind an unbelievable seven consecutive 5-star reviewed Edinburgh shows, Rob Auton’s live performances improbably straddle the worlds of stand-up comedy, poetry, spoken word, theatre and improvisation. His one-of-a-kind world view analyses the minutiae of life with a delivery that is equal parts manic and melancholy. It won’t be long until the genius of Rob Auton is recognised far and wide, so don’t pass up the opportunity to smugly tell your friends that you saw him first!