Live Review: End Of The Road 2021

As festivals make a triumphant return, Alex Duke reflects on his time at End Of The Road 2021.

When I was offered the chance to cover End Of The Road, I have to confess that I agreed to it before looking at anyone playing, in my festival-starved state.

As far as I knew at that point, ‘Black Country New Road’ was a new avenue in Wolverhampton, and ‘Field Music’ was the act of playing songs in a large green space.

Yet, as soon as it was confirmed that I was going, I made the necessary listening preparations, and when the 3rd September came around I was extremely excited.

Hopping in my car and making the extremely disrupted journey along the M3 to Wiltshire, my weekend at Lamar Tree Gardens began.

End Of The Road is an intimate festival with a focus on off-brand, independent indie and folk music. Admired on the live music circuit and boasting a history of performers that include the likes of Vampire Weekend, Mac Demarco and St Vincent, it is a festival that rightfully receives a lot of praise.

Like many other live events, End Of The Road was littered with adversity prior to its beginning. Numerous acts were forced to withdraw which meant that organisers were constantly forced to alter the line up. American rock outfit Pixies, one of the originally planned headliners, and other American outfits such as Tune-Yards had to be replaced. Yet, this is where End Of The Road deserves heaps of praise. The iconic Damon Albarn was announced as a special guest just a few weeks before the festival, and both Hot Chip and Sleaford Mods came in as replacements.

Parked. Tent constructed. Unpacked. I was finally ready to listen to some music. London three-piece Teleman played an impressive hour long set on the main Woods stage. Their transcending indie-pop style was well-received by the Wiltshire crowd. They were followed by Damon Albarn, the iconic Brit-pop figurehead, whose set comprised mostly of his own work, with hints of his Blur and Gorillaz days – epitomised by an adjusted version of On Melancholy Hill and a rendition of Blur’s Out Of Time.

To say her set was impressive is an understatement

Albarn’s performance, whilst technically proficient and enforced by a talented backing band, was in ways slightly underwhelming. The last two songs, Polaris and Particles began to build momentum for the set, but unfortunately that drive was not present for the entire set. Albarn’s solo work can often be monotonous, and he lacked the on-stage charisma that would perhaps be expected of him.

Albarn’s set clashed slightly with Arlo Parks, so after he finished, I rushed straight over to the Garden Stage to see the Mercury Prize-winning singer. To say her set was impressive is an understatement – her seemingly effortless vocals are even more captivating when heard live, and her brilliant singing was supported by a fantastic backing band.

Then, it was time for the headliner. Whilst disappointed that I missed the renowned singer-songwriter John Grant on the Garden Stage who was playing at the same time, I opted to see Hot Chip.

The alternative pop band did not disappoint. Opening song Huarache Lights laid the groundwork for a pulsating, energy-fuelled set. Hot Chip’s holistic style of performance was evident throughout, with attention paid to both the music and the light show in the set. Closing with a cover of the Beastie Boys’s Sabotage, followed by their iconic 2010 track I Feel Better and Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, Hot Chip incorporated both their own discography and covers with their own distinctive sound. Over And Over, Positive and Ready For The Floor were also outstandingly played.

So, Friday was over and End Of The Road was well and truly underway. Saturday was truly the day of the unconventional: beginning with three-piece Pozi on the Woods Stage, consisting of a violinist, a bassist and a drummer, followed by the exciting Modern Nature – a folk-inspired group that connected intricate guitar work with wider impressive The National-like instrumentation.

I say unconventional as a compliment. Every artist that performed at this festival had some sort of unique selling point, and that’s partly what makes End Of The Road so captivating. As a festival, it can be described as anything but generic.

Whilst this mostly allowed the performers to flourish, there were a few disappointments. Anteloper, a project comprising jazz musicians Jaimie Branch and Jason Nazary, was uncomfortably overbearing. The thrashing electronic-jazz stylings of the pair felt hideously out of character for the usually calming Garden Stage. Hen Ogledd also struggled, but their problem was less about the music and more about the excessive volume, with perhaps a sound or microphone issue being the prevalent dilemma in their set.

However, these minor setbacks did little to dampen the high standards of the festival. Momentum started again with a set from renowned post-punkers Squid, with their unique style being well-received by the Wiltshire crowd.

The hidden gem of the entire festival were almost certainly The Comet Is Coming. The three members, who perform under the pseudonyms Betamax, Danalogue and King Shobaka, unleashed a sintilating 75 minutes of music. I have to admit, I was cynical about how intriguing a band that consisted of just a saxophonist, keyboardist and drummer could be, but I was emphatically and gleefully proven wrong. Their on-stage energy was paralleled by a near-totally invested crowd, and their set was constructed in a way that allowed each band member to flourish individually, whilst also contributing to their fiery, high-energy sound. I’m a fairly seasoned gig-goer, and I may have never been in a more entertained crowd. An absolutely sensational set.

The crowds were lively, the atmosphere fantastic

Given the high-quality of their predecessor, Sleaford Mods had a very difficult act to follow. Yet, the two lads from Nottingham shone in the Lamar Tree Gardens night. Williamson’s natural charisma and lyrical flow is an ever-present in Sleaford Mods’s music, and it helped him command the show with ease. The addition of an energising light show also helped enhance their performance.

The final day. Smoothie in hand, I headed towards the Garden Stage to observe some impeccable acoustic performances. Anna B Savage and Charlie Cunningham probably deserved better slots but they kick-started the last day in style. After them, I headed towards the Woods Stage to see the punk-rock up and comer Billy Nomates, who again deserved a longer set. A cameo from Jason Williamson and the use of everyday noises as interludes were particular highlights in what was a charismatic performance from the young artist. I was then pleasantly surprised by the veteran Shirley Collins and her accompanying Lodestar Band. Her and her band talked the crowd through the background to most of the songs, and the crowd were thoroughly entertained by a talented Irish dancer who joined them for a couple of songs. Black Country, New Road were next, and the recognition that they are beginning to receive as a group is fully deserved. The seven-piece dazzled in the late afternoon with a sophisticated set.

As afternoon turned to eve – it was Little Simz’s turn to take to the Woods Stage. The London rapper dazzled the crowd with a high-energy set, including the well-known hits Venom and Woman. Little Simz and her accompanying band put on a spectacular show, and perhaps outshined their successors – Sunday’s headliner King Krule. Whilst the respected alternative jazz-rock musician put on an entertaining performance, Archy Marshall and co were slightly outshined by the talented rapper.

A fantastic weekend, to conclude – and certainly a festival worth going to if you’re interested in an alternative to the mainstream, larger festivals. The crowds were lively, the atmosphere fantastic. No artist is ever tedious at End Of The Road, it’s almost a guarantee, which is what gives the Lamar Tree Gardens event such an endearing quality.

Written by: Alex Duke

Edited by: Amrit Virdi

Featured image and in-article images courtesy of End Of The Road Festival via Facebook.