Field Trip #8: No Direction Home

Marc Hall reports back from the latest festival to be added to the summer roster, No Direction Home…

Friday 8 June

My car is weighed down with camping gear and I’m struggling to see through the windscreen thanks to the relentless rain. It’s festival season, and I’m heading the inaugural No Direction Home festival.

This new festival, brought to us by the team behind the acclaimed End of the Road, arrives with great expectation, noted not only for their quality programming but also the wonderful site decoration that can leave you opened jawed at the turn of every corner.

With this new sibling festival, the EOTR team have seen the opportunity to bookend festival season; NDH the first of the year and EOTR closing it in September. Line-up aside, the biggest selling point for me was locating the festival in a more Northern location. Utilising North Nottinghamshire’s Welbeck Abbey, the two hour journey was certainly more palatable that the usual four/five hour slog.

This would be even better if the site opened on Thursday. Instead, you find yourself arriving on site, having to set up camp and being faced with tough decisions: take in the first few bands, or explore the site? Of course we do neither and head to the Barnaby Sykes pie stall (move over PieMinister your time is up!), and settle down at the Somerset Cider Bus to take in our surroundings. With the cider bus nestled behind the main Lake Stage mixing desk you could see and hear the bands, but it wasn’t the greatest locale for observing. Whilst taste-testing the different delights of the cider bus, I was already missing one band I’d earmarked for the weekend, Diagrams. Sounding great from a distance, a little guilt sets in for not making more effort to walk the short distance to the stage.

Now fed and watered we feel like we’ve arrived. Lanterns on the Lake pass by, appropriately, on the Lake Stage, before we head forth into our first proper performance from Django Django. With their stomping beats, and sounding like they’ve grown up on a soundtrack of 70s sci-fi, they do enough to get the crowds muddy feet moving. Boy did we need those feet to move – the Lake Stage, though in beautiful surroundings, with the Abbey located behind, separated from the main site by a large, picturesque lake, is a stunning location, but not so great for your body temperature on a cold and rainy night.

As evening becomes dusk, the five layers of clothing we stand in do little to guard against the cold. Dithering, we await the Dirty Three, who give us a typically enigmatic performance. Their set over, we head back to camp to further layer-up. Though something of a hardened veteran, this seemed to me by far the coldest night I’d ever spent at a festival. I made the mistake of crawling into my sleeping bag, and once that happened there was no chance of making it back to site for The Low Anthem’s headline performance. This also meant that I was to miss the much anticipated Austra, but I became preoccupied by the toe that felt like it was succumbing to frost-bite.

“Sounding like they’ve grown up on a soundtrack of 70s sci-fi, they get the crowd’s muddy feet moving”

Saturday 9 June

We awake the next morning to the sound of rain falling on a tent. That oh-so-familiar sound, like somebody was throwing thousands of marbles at you whilst you sleep. Thankfully, despite a few early showers, Mother Nature relented. Besides, after checking Facebook it was clear we got off light, reading status updates from people attending Download Festival made it sound like they had descended to Hell, with the locals turning feral and people fearing for their lives. Remind me why I choose to come to smaller festivals again?

Over at The Lake Stage our day starts with the diminutive Liz Green. With playful but nervous banter between songs, her set is greeted with a mixed reaction, with an interesting mouth trumpet gaining the biggest cheers.

We moved over to the big top Electric Dustbowl stage for the first time that weekend, for The Cornshed Sisters. It’s a technically sound performance with some nice vocal harmonies, but nothing that hasn’t been seen before. That said, the set wasn’t without high points; their take on Prince’s When Doves Cry proving a nice cameo. I stay until the sound of Euros Childs emanating from The Lake Stage drags me back. A 20 year veteran, Euros seems to have access to an anti aging elixir. His sound has barely evolved from Gorkys Zygotic Mynci but a humble crowd lap it up, especially old Gorky’s favourite Poodle Rocking.

Next up we are treated to an unexpected gem, Other Lives, who make for a refreshing change from the folk-orientated bands jostling for position today. Given a bit of luck and momentum, you can easily see these Oklahomans breaking through, with the performance having potential future headliner written all over it.

Thankfully, as the evening arrives the temperature at the Lake Stage is much more habitable than yesterday. When Gruff Rhys comes on we are treated to a marvellous sunset, Mother Nature outshining Gruff with evaporating rain from the trees arising into the clouds like some kind of spiritual happening. Stunning.

With Gruff playing his standard fare we head back to the Electric Dustbowl to check out Moon Duo. We find two figures, husband and wife Erik Johnson and Sanae Yamada, playing their brand of drone and fuzz. Performing in darkness, save for the backlit spotlights projecting their images onto the back of the tent, Moon Duo are a great spectacle and one of the highlights of the weekend so far.

Last up on the Lake Stage tonight is Andrew Bird. I’ll admit to being a bit perplexed at this choice of headliner, not being his biggest fan and unsure of his standing as headlining act. This was a theme through the whole weekend’s headline acts, but as stated previously, the organisers know their stuff. Listening to a pre-festival interview, they stated that they want to see bands in the headline slot that wouldn’t normally be given the chance, so I was happy to go with their choices. Bird handled the probably unfamiliar slot well. Engaging with the crowd, he seemed genuinely touched to be playing the first NDH. “What a fine festival you have, congratulations.” A little twee in parts, I did have a geek out moment every time he whistled, thanks to Bird providing the whistling in the recent Muppets movie. His set was well received, with sections of the crowd perhaps overly appreciative to an artist they obviously idolised.

As we head off into the festival night we catch the closing half of The Pyramids. Featuring two of Archie Bronson Outfit, punching their way through a collection of raw, dirty, foot stomping, rock’n’roll.

The main site opens late, so for those wishing to partake in nocturnal activities there are a few options. Located off the map, behind the comedy and literature tent you find the hidden stage, with varied unknowns plying their trade throughout the weekend. We also find our communal Camp Fire here, providing a nice setting if a little on the small side. You could see the frustration felt by some who couldn’t get a seat nearby due to the ever presence of the usual festival night owls. We chose to spend the early hours at the Flying Boating Society, a cleverly used space aside the lake, complete with a boat shed bar, and a small stage for some of the lesser known acts of the weekend. We arrived to a typically chaotic festival DJ set with cheesy tunes mixing in with classic rock. It was all a bit too wacky, but the drunken denizens on the dance floor seemed to revel in it. Daylight starting to break, I decided this was the time to head back to base.

“Mother Nature outshines Gruff with evaporating rain from the trees arising into the clouds”

Sunday 10 June

Thanks to this being the quietest festival camp site I’ve ever slept in, subject to no late night shout out battles, nobody playing god awful trance at 4am, and no bongo’s, a good nights sleep was had. This place is good. I’m awoken though, by a typical festival moment. At 9am, in conjunction with the Sun, my tent decided that it was bored of fulfilling its task, and now wanted to be a microwave. A situation intensified by the ever present layers from the past few days, I consider opening an impromptu Turkish bath, but instead I head for breakfast. After treating myself to some local cheese, bread and ham from the superb Welbeck Abbey farm shop, I was ready to face the final day.

First port of call was The Wave Pictures. Playing a brand of poppy prog rock, their sunshine music was greeted by actual rays of sunshine. Singer David Tattersall was pumped up for next act, folk legend Martin Carthy, sentiments I couldn’t share. Whilst I understand Carthy’s place in music it’s just not for me. Festivals like NDH, whose musical spine is inarguably folk influenced often have a roots musicians like Carthy on the bill. Great for the die-hards and purists, but myself and the majority of the crowd were perplexed and saw an opportunity to head to the food stalls.

One artist with a buzz about him in recent months was former Fleet Foxes drummer Father John Misty. Despite perfect delivery, and a 100% (folk) rock star stage presence, he managed to come across as a little contrived resulting in us leaving halfway through to check out Slow Club. The perfect antidote to Father John Misty, they breathe life back into our bones, at times sounding like a bubblegum version of Arcade Fire.

Subtly avoiding The Unthanks, our final act of the weekend was local(ish) troubadour Richard Hawley. With a seated performance thanks to a recent leg break, Hawley worked his way through classic songs and takes from his recently released album Standing at the Skys Edge. Taking a while to warm into his set (punctuated by his request for a delivery from the cider bus – which was granted), I’d just accepted that the weekend was to close in a non-spectacular manner. But Hawley upped the ante, with the last third of his set clicking into gear, his anthemic songs providing the perfect closing.

Overall a wonderful festival, if at times inevitably perhaps suffering from End of the Road comparisons. When Richard Hawley said, “I’ve heard this one is even better than End of the Road”, the crowd groaned in an embarrassed ‘not quite’ kind of way. You can see plenty of opportunity for growth, and hopefully after successfully running year one, they’ll be in a better place to experiment with those niceties that separate EOTR from the rest.

Marc Hall

End of the Road 2012 runs 31st August – 2nd September

Images courtesy Chris Pennington

Posted on 19/06/2012 by thedoublenegative