Sunday, 9 September 2012

TRUCK STOP 2: Truck Festival: A Review Part II

After such a great day on the Friday, packed to the hilt with quality music acts - oh and two lots of chips (they were only £1.50 after all) - I was eager to get back down to the festival stage areas for more on Saturday. The sun was shining. The sky was more or less cloudless except for one stray fluffy cloud that hung above the campsite. This has since become known as the Truck cloud. There were probably angels sitting atop it waiting for the acts to play. Seriously!

The food available across the two days was organised by local Rotary Clubs with all proceeds being ploughed into charities. It was fairly priced so far as festivals go but most was still on the expensive side. This is just part and parcel of such events however, so one must expect it. It was much nicer that most of the money was going to charities and that everything was kept so local. At times the queues were a little on the lengthy side so next time organisers could perhaps either have more outlets or have a band or two on standby to entertain people waiting in the queues. That would be a cool idea.

With plenty on offer to keep children occupied, Truck encourages and enables families to enjoy a festival without too much of the worry. There were procedures in place to help with any potential missing kids scenarios and with the event being so relatively small there was little chance of such an occurrence turning into something too distressing. The host of things to keep them entertained included face painting, circus skills at the Ladybird tent and the Oxford Playhouse’s theatre production, Bath Time.

While campfires are always expressly forbidden due to health and safety reasons (the fragile state of drunken youth, primarily I guess), walking back to the tent after the final performance on the main stage there was a festival controlled camp fire near the second stage. This involved a gloriously burning fire in the middle of a circle of hay bales on which many folk sat, drinking, talking, laughing and even signing. It was quite beautiful to witness.

And let’s not forget the merchandise tent sessions. A number of bands on the bill performed little acoustic sessions inside the merch tent itself. I went and watched The Dreaming Spires again but I was also fortunate to catch a little of Emmy The Great although that doesn’t excuse the fact I missed their main set. This was a fabulous extra in my opinion. The tent itself was packed with quality indie music to buy. It was so hard for me not to spend what money I didn’t have and buy the lot. I really was tempted.



The Last Republic
This band were one of my top highlights of the day aside only from the phenomenal set from Frightened Rabbit who closed the same stage. Having not seen this five piece Welsh band live since their early afternoon appearance at Beautiful Days festival in 2010, I was an eager beaver for more. They really didn’t disappoint either and with new song Out of Reach, band lead Jonnie demonstrated the magnificence that is the full capacity of his vocal range. This song goes so far, it is way beyond reach so there’s a subtle irony to that title. With its gentle unassuming start up, it builds gradually to a point where the vocals scale mountainous heights. I had heard a preview of it a few weeks prior but my God are these guys good live. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up; even they were enthralled by the performance. The throttle is opened up too with a little bit of fast and furious guitar playing accompanied by some banging drums. I’m not stating the obvious when I write banging drums either. Those drums were smokin’ hot.

What is good to see from the new material is that while the band retain a core signature sound, it is clear they have a lot more to offer than what came with sensational debut, Parade. They have adopted different styles and made use of some different sounds. The songs are always catchy without verging anywhere near pop, which is important. As performers they make the stage their own when they’re on it and all without too much of a ‘show’ as such. The resulting performance was a strong one leaving a powerful resonance long after the event. My only gripe is that thirty minutes just isn’t enough. I could have watched them for hours to be honest.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the cover of Depeche Mode’s, Enjoy the Silence being included in the set as Jonnie is always discussing his many influences. It was astounding and a welcome number. At the beginning of the set there weren’t that many people in attendance so I felt like rounding them up making sure they were aware how great the band are that they were missing out on. However, there was no need. People could hear for themselves and flocked to the tent to enjoy them. It was near packed out by the closing song.

Not only are these guys The Last Republic, they are The Best Republic. They have recently been recording new songs which were earmarked for release later this year. However, with a change in management it is not certain when the new material will get its release. This fan hopes it is sooner rather than later. As fans of true independent and great music I urge you all to support The Last Republic. Go buy their debut album Parade if you don’t have it because it is a smash. Also feel free to badger any radio station or show demanding they play these guys. Let’s get them more recognition like they deserve.

This Town Needs Guns
Billed as festival regulars, this home-grown Oxford band packed out the 2nd stage in true sardine in a can style. The crowd were visibly bursting with anticipation. I’m sure I even felt electrical discharges prior to the start of the set, the atmosphere was so charged. Pretty much most acts throughout the weekend provided something that good writers are told they need to do in order to construct a good story. By which I mean each moved the weekend along, musically. Nothing was really the same and it was refreshing This Town Needs Guns maintained the trend with their infectious indie rock sound.

It is not as easy a job as it looks to keep such a demanding local crowd satisfied when expectations run so high but these guys managed to do just that. Given there are just three members it is to their credit they sound like a bigger, fuller band up on the stage. Vocals are raw but in the crisp kind of way and with a true quality breaking through. Their musicianship was demonstrated to the fullest and the tent went wild when out stepped former frontman Stu Smith. Smith joined to sing an old song and a new adding a suitable finish to a well received and quality set of live tunes.

65 Days of Static
65 Days of Static proved vocals or lyrics are not always a necessity when it comes to making great music. While I did enjoy their set complete with an ever so slightly restrained ‘smash it up and be as loud as possible’ attitude, I couldn’t help feel like the stage just wasn’t big enough for their egos. Not that there was any negativity with this but it just seemed a bit misplaced. If anything they relished the attention they received from a very pleased and growing audience and in the most positive way possible, by showing their gratitude. They just didn’t really do it for me. I couldn’t fail to be impressed with the drummer however as watching him bash away in so animalistic a manner was like watching the legendary John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. I wouldn’t make such a comparison lightly either. I’m aware I was in the minority in not being more impressed but like I mentioned, it is not that I didn’t enjoy the set. They also definitely win points for having the grandest entrance of the festival with a gradual build up of calamitous sounds before being introduced in true epic style.

Lucy Rose
Outstanding! It wasn’t anywhere near obvious that she and the band had only just arrived back from performing at a festival in Latvia. Oh, and after playing in Norway the day before. Their exhaustion never seeped in to affect the performance one iota. On top form with her pristine vocals we got to sample more of the tunes that will undoubtedly feature on the forthcoming debut album (due out 24th September).

I was a little clueless as to who she was, the first time I saw her play live. Following her input and assistance with Bombay Bicycle Club, she joined them for the majority of their set at Birmingham O2 Academy when I saw them in October 2011. ‘Who is this wench?’ was my initial thought but only because I was genuinely intrigued. An acoustic set in support of Noah and the Whale in Wolverhampton followed in March (at which my patience with the loudly babbling audience wore a bit thin, admittedly – just shush and respect the amazing support act please) before she headed out on her own smaller headline tour. She’s also back on tour from October to support the album. No rest for this English Rose.

Her songs have a subtlety to them. They have an ability to climb inside your head and refuse to disappear. You’ll find yourself humming along to them afterwards while doing just about anything in your daily routine. Lines, for me is the one that I can’t seem to release and as one of her new tunes it was great to hear it live. While the influences of her associations with Bombay Bicycle Club are evident, she nevertheless maintains her own distinct sound. In a recent interview Lucy admitted she finds it hard to describe her music because for her each song is so different. While there are a few in the set that have the same flavour, I’d say this is an accurate summation. From my experience of inadvertently seeing her three times now, there is variety you don’t always get when seeing the same artist so much over so short a time. Each gig has been completely different. Just comparing Lines to say, the more delicately stripped back and pure acoustic Shiver, demonstrates her versatility very well. There’s no doubt I will be seeing Lucy again at some point over the next year.

The Low Anthem
I was saddened this Americana indie-folk band weren’t better received by the crowd. The drunken hecklers wanting interaction really should have gone elsewhere, in my opinion. Not all bands are those kind of ‘in your face’ performers. Why is there this need for such attention when it should surely be focussed on the musical performance and those up on the stage? Perhaps it was a staging issue but even so I don’t think that should be under scrutiny. Admittedly they were a stark contrast to 65 Days of Static but even so I believe such a huge difference in musical styles is what makes festivals so appealing. I saw The Low Anthem for the first time at Beautiful Days last year where they closed the Friday night on the Big Top stage. They provided a really nice intimate live musical experience, continuing in true unplugged style even after the curfew kicked in and the electrics went off.

At Truck, the band delivered an impressive set of their trademark gentle folk tunes. Some were wrapped in so many musical layers there was a risk of having to spend the following few days unwrapping them one by one. Not that I’m complaining about such a thing. Bring on those multiple layers. Throughout This God Damn House, lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ben Knox Miller demonstrated the adroitness of his musicianship by playing a saw. Yes you read that right. An ordinary - DIY B&Q style what your dad would use to cut up planks of wood on a Sunday afternoon - saw. This captivated me last year and mesmerised me further this time around. It is so original and wonderful to watch. The saw as an instrument also makes an appearance throughout the song, Matter of Time. Ben has some stunning if at times very haunting vocals too with a range almost as large as the number of instruments that feature throughout the set.

Jocie Adams on clarinet is always a welcome addition although I find her messing about with the dulcimer at times somewhat distracting. I must add it is worth it for the sounds it brings to the overall tunes, so she is forgiven. Her backing vocals and harmonies were spot on serving to build on the atmosphere created by the various instruments and Ben’s vocals. The sheer range of instruments utilised marks the array of talent involved but the songs tend to remain on the deeply melancholic side. Perhaps another reason 19:30 on the main stage wasn’t the best slot for them. People wanted more bouncy jovial music but that’s nothing against The Low Anthem because I’m already a fan and loved the set. Perhaps they were a bit too low-key but sometimes that’s what is needed in between bigger, heavier bands. It doesn’t mean the quality is anything less. I must admit I thought the set the year before at Beautiful Days had more of an atmosphere but I think this is chiefly due to my annoyance at those drunk hecklers this year. The final two songs upped the bar somewhat with the Tom Waits cover of Down There By The Train leaving its mark long after they’d finished.

More Missed Opportunities
I take full and complete responsibility for perhaps drinking a little too much after the Mystery Jets finale the previous night which means I was not in too pretty a state come Saturday morning. Therefore I missed out on some cracking early acts that I should quite rightly be put on some kind of trial for crimes against music. Amongst those I’d been planning to catch at least a glimpse of were Very Nice Harry, Co-Pilgrim, ToLiesel, Flights of Helios and Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou. The latter two would have been time clashes but seeing at least one of them would have been great. Instead I must extend my thanks to festival organisers for making such a comfortable sofa available outside the bar near the second stage. There I sat nursing my delicate state which helped speed up my recovery so I could get on with enjoying the music. I’m afraid there are no excuses for me missing out on Emmy The Great and for which I should be duly slapped.

While not a huge fan of King Charles, as a dedicated music fan I appreciate the talent he possesses. What I do like is how he manages to mask what his actual sound is. He rarely, if ever nails it down so it always feels so original. This is no doubt how he attracts so wide an audience. His set was less a missed opportunity, more of there just wasn’t enough room at the inn with his having packed out that second stage tent. Although as I’m not particularly a huge fan of the King, I didn’t feel like I missed out too much.

Clash of the Bands – Mark II
I like what I’d read and heard about My First Tooth but as their set clashed with The Last Republic I’m afraid there was no contest. Tall Ships are another outfit I’d have loved to have experienced (and no doubt will at some point) but they overlapped with both Lucy Rose, who’s performance I was enjoying and The Low Anthem, who as a fan I didn’t want to miss.

It must be emphasised that with the way the performance schedule was worked out there was little in the way of clashes like there often is with the bigger festivals. The odd ones occur of course but credit must go to the schedulers for trying to let truckers experience pretty much everything on offer.


British Sea Power
Unfortunately I didn’t get to the main stage in time for the start of their set and so sadly I missed out on Atom and We Are Sound. What I did experience was damn fine tunery, however. With what have become their trademark green trees and bushes adorning the stage, this Brighton-based indie rock band rocked out their numbers with an ear-splitting brilliance.   

With Mongk II, the band exhibit their penchant for vast sweeping sounds that together with that onstage greenery, conjured up a cascade of vivid imagery fused together with the changing colours of the flashing lights. The lyrics advise, ‘You gotta lose yourself, gotta lose yourself to it…Be in mind, don’t be in touch with it..’ and with the mind altering nature of the music it isn’t difficult to follow that instruction.  No Lucifer proves their ability to hold back a little when the song requires it. Starting off with an exquisite guitar and violin intro, it would have been nice to hear a little more of that as a festival jamming special, perhaps. It nevertheless opened up nicely before the rest of the band and the vocals kicked off in traditional British Sea Power style.

In addition to No Lucifer, Waving Flags was another song most likely to be recognised by the masses and it was performed with enough gusto to make me feel out of breath by its end. If we’d have all had flags they’d certainly have been being enthusiastically waved. The precision in terms of how they intersperse the horns and violin amongst the heavy guitar riffs and thunderous drums must be noted because it is faultless. This is the second time I’ve seen the band at a festival and while they never really knock my socks off, I can’t fault the show they put on. It was epic with just the right dose of refinement in the right places. They do get extra points for the lyrical poetry of pretty much all their songs because it is praiseworthy in and of itself.

Frightened Rabbit
Frightened Rabbit were nothing short of phenomenal. In fact they were a planet sized bouncing ball of all the synonyms for the word, in all known languages, including all fictional ones. Playing a number of top songs from their back catalogue as well as one or two from their latest yet to be released album they well and truly lit the sparks inside every single one of the crowd, fuelling the festival fires within. People joined in singing aloud to the likes of The Loneliness and the Scream and Old Old Fashioned. They added their thunderous claps and ‘whoooah ooooaahs’ while dancing in time with the music. The latter concluded with a near chant from the truckers, encouraged by band lead turned conductor Scott Hutchison. The former climbed to such a deafening climax the roof of that tent was not safe by a long shot. Scott worked pure magic on the audience, at one point I was half expecting rabbits to appear out of thin air around the band on stage. With the cacophonous noise of such an excitable crowd these would most definitely have been petrified rabbits. 

The tent was jam-packed for this final performance on the second stage that quite frankly could have sufficiently closed the festival itself. I felt a little sorry for the many people who were unable to get inside. Although it was clear they were able to enjoy the band just as much without, under an open sky full of stars to boot. With people crammed shoulder to shoulder, the hearty Scottish spirit the rabbits exude passed from one to another like heat passing through tightly packed atoms. In a flash the whole tent was alight and little rousing from the band was required as everyone joined in of their own accord. In fact so many people sang along to Modern Leper and Swim Until You Can’t See Land, it’s a good job no band was performing on the main stage at the same time. The decibels would have drowned them out for sure.

They really got into the souls of people, waking them in to life. There was no time for rest. It was on with dancing, on with singing and on with frolicking festival merriment. Scott built up a wonderful camaraderie between himself and the crowd, working in his band members here and there along the way. While The Twist was a chance to calm things down a little after so much rocking and rolling, the emotion injected into the song together with its adorable harmonies required just as much attention. The crowd’s reaction as it ended matched this. Frightened Rabbit was by far THE best performance of the entire weekend and something miraculous would be needed to top it.

The Temper Trap
I thought The Temper Trap closed the festival perfectly in spite of a few misconceptions I’d had about them before I arrived. These were due to other people’s opinions I’d read prior to the festival and I’d like to volley them back given the impressive performance I was faced with. Even so, there are still a couple of reviews of the band at the festival stating how they failed to sparkle. From where I was standing – which thanks to the turn out was pretty far back – those people must have either had earplugs in or were being distracted by something else. Perhaps they were too intoxicated by this time and so unable to recall the actual atmosphere. It was buzzing. Yes I maintain my preference was for Frightened Rabbit and even though Temper Trap did not outperform them, I can in no way take away from them, what was a more than adequate finish.

I’ll admit while I had heard of the band, I’d not listened to them much. Further, I can’t say I was blown away by either of the albums I’d given a passing glance to. This festival set totally got me wanting to hear more from them though. Maybe they are more of a live playing bunch of guys, which is no bad thing. Not everyone can translate perfectly across all mediums. Still, they’re doing pretty well for themselves and from this night it is easy to see why. Why I write contrary to what I’ve read is that the crowd were getting involved and on a much larger scale than for Mystery Jets the night before. The overall sense of community had built up over the two days and these guys seemed to be able to take this in and give it back out in tidal waves. These washed over the crowd infecting everyone with the need to move to their tantalizing tunes.

Trembling Hands was my particular favourite, with Dougy Mandagi proving hands down he has to be one of the best band vocalists out there at the moment. His voice had me engrossed. Mouth open in awe type engrossed, seriously. He was phenomenal. The power behind it makes it feel like it has a life of its own. In fact, when I came back down to earth I was half expecting him to split in two with his vocals taking on their own human form right next to him. Not quite sure how that would work without hallucinogens but the power he displayed was some damn good stuff! Soldier On was a nice gentler addition with the music coming through perfectly in spite of Dougy’s still deafening vocals. Deafening in so the right kind of way, you understand and just wonderful how it is never too much. Even better is when after four minutes in, the song cranks it up several gears after a brief silence to deliver a kick ass final act before ending even more gentle than it started. 

There was no overly showy aspect but given the quality there didn’t need to be. The music and performance spoke for themselves. Personally, I’m not one for these theatrical shows as excuses for gigs because it should be about the musical performance, not the theatre. Ending with easily the biggest crowd pleaser and fan favourite Sweet Disposition got people singing along loudly (alongside the obligatory festival shouting – some drunken, some not so) and there was a great deal of moshing going on too. This was after an inspiring if lengthy but very welcome musical intro. It really felt like an ending but a damn good and worthy one.

Well done Truck! This was my first and I will say it again it most definitely will not be my last. Next year hopefully I can make it as part of my Band of Badgers Presents the Campervan festival extravaganza. Even if not I will be there with my tent ready for some great music once more. I recommend this festival to anyone looking for an easily accessible, smaller event but one which still draws a top class line up.


1 comment:

  1. what a cool post, me myself like parties. thanks for sharing this to us. truck stop in chippenham