Tucked away in a field outside a sleepy village near Oxford, Truck Festival, now in its 14th edition, may have grown in scale a little, and gained a day in length this year, but still retains its local, friendly atmosphere and charm. Buzz Stas send us this festival diary from sleepy Oxfordshire….
On arrival, the family run Truck feels more like a slightly hippy village fête than anything else. Complete with ‘holistic healing’ tents, stalls selling jewellery made from old spoons (mostly stolen from posh restaurants, we’re reliably informed), and the occasional tent full of children doing arts and crafts, it’s hardly a place you’d expect to be finding the best new music.However, Oxford’s pretty well known for producing musical talent (Radiohead, anyone?) and the presence of BBC Oxford Introducing at the Last FM Stage brings with it a host of exciting up-and-coming bands to the occasion.
On top of this, the new Clash stage, curated by the Bella Union, Transgressive Records and Heavenly Recordings, provides this year’s festival with some of the most interesting acts we’ve seen for a while, along side some of the more established folk acts on the main stage (and the family fun). The festival’s also got the added bonus of being still so endearingly small that it avoids the general festival filth which, although easy to get used to, makes the festival experience noticeably more pleasant for its absence. Clean toilets and the best festival showers you are ever likely to encounter are only small things, but, aside from the music and the general atmosphere, they help make Truck festival such a great little place to while away a weekend.
Having set up, our first musical endeavor is to happily veg in the (slightly unexpected) sunshine, to soak up the sounds of Marcus Foster. His soulful, folksy tunes are nothing we’ve not heard from many other man-with-guitar acts over the summer festivals so far, but it’s still pretty lovely in the sunshine. ‘We’re going to go a bit crazy at the end of this one’ he proclaims near the end of the set, insisting that the lethargic crowd stand, but he’s largely ignored, and the band are left to strum their guitars double time to a slightly bopping mass of very, very relaxed people.
Moving to the Clash stage, the audience are now shaded by a circus-style tent, and starting to be driven out of our sun-induced inertia by the haunting vocals of Mechanical Bride’s Lauren Doss. Eerie, but surrounding and lovely, the violins and glockenspiels blur even the children in the audience into silence, and before we know it, the set’s done, leaving them only to wander off to beg their parents for chips at the Oxford Rotary Club’s charity burger stall.
Next up is Peggy Sue, whose ukuleles and lovely First Aid Kit-like harmonies bring the mood up slightly, their enthusiasm giving ‘I Read It In The Paper’ a more upbeat feel than it has on record. The rhythm here is much more prominent and driving too, making the indie-folk performance exactly what we need to entertain us in the continuing sunshine.
And on to Liam Finn, who thrashes on to the stage like a bearded Robin Williams let loose on Rock Band for xbox. Jumping from mic to prime-positioned drum kit to duo with the band’s drummer. He’s throughly entertaining, and so enthusiastically charming that we barely notice what it all actually sounds like. He may be a little whinier than we might have hoped, but he’s clearly made an impression on the hippy girl behind us, who breathlessly asks ‘Do you know who that was?’ as he finishes, like she’s just discovered Bob Dylan.
Johnny Flynn takes us into more mainstream, chilled-out territory, with his pop/nu-folk offerings, while early teen girls with ‘I ♥ JF’ carefully face-painted on their cheeks clamour to get to the front. Close up though, he’s different from what the press photos would have us believe, with mucky blonde hair making him look almost Kurt Cobain-esque, and his voice husky above the melodic guitar.
Now for the night’s headliners then, and it’s on to the main stage for Bellowhead. None of your nu-folk silliness here, this is proper folk, with the band filling the stage with violins accordions and mandolins for an energetic set of timeworn songs about drinking whiskey and young love. It’s perfectly entertaining, but not quite enough to keep us from running off to the Last FM stage to catch some Oxford locals, Dead Jerichos, before bedtime, who fill the small tent with satisfying, beat driven post-rock indie.
Colorama hit the Clash stage for the early afternoon to begin Saturday’s music. As we enter, front man Carwyn Ellis is singing something sincere sounding in Welsh, and continues (although for the main in the English language) to be pretty much as Welsh as it’s possible to be, (take from that what you will.) Ernest but naive lyrics detailing “dancing to the sugar beat” in ‘Candy Street’, over soft, slightly psychedelic guitar bring a nostalgic ambience to the tent and get us ready for the rest of the afternoon.
Over in the Last FM tent, more local boys Sealings, take us away from the calm atmosphere into harsh experimental guitar noise and fuzzed-out vocals. The duo play amidst old TV sets flickering with unnerving, repetitive images to a much different, much less wholesome looking audience that have appeared from somewhere. Pretty good stuff here, really, but it’s a little jarring, and seems a little out of place in the otherwise chilled atmosphere.
Next comes more Oxford talent, with Wild Swim. Encapsulating, electronic indie from the five-piece fills the tent and has the audience swaying to the beat and ready for more. It’s at this point however, that we discover from two guys standing behind us, about the death of Amy Winehouse – the news apparently coming from a text message from one of their mothers. A quick google search confirms at least that this ins’t something they (or the mother) have made up, and before long the news is spreading through the tent, and the festival as a whole, making for something of a distraction.
We forget about this for the moment, though, and run off to the Truck Store – a tent usually dedicated to selling festival merchandise, but for now hosting an intimate set with Benjamin Francis Leftwich. The silenced crowd sit calmly on the grass and listen intently to his soft renditions of ‘Atlas Hands’ and ‘Pictures’. His mellifluous singer-songwriter voice making for something sweet and lovely in the fading sunshine, and the crowd leave smiling. Only one complaint heard as we leave: ‘it was a bit short.’.
Back to the Last FM stage then, for Jonquil. Former band mates of Trophy Wife and headed up by Hugo Manuel who’s solo project takes the form of Chad Valley. Jonquil are the first of the three, all part of the Oxford based Blessing Force collective, that we’ll see on this stage tonight. Their upbeat floating synth lines and propulsive drumming along side Manuel’s voice is nothing short, really, of brilliant, and the songs power wonderfully through the early evening. The four-piece own the small stage with confidence and enthusiasm and make for an instant highlight so far.
Up next on the Clash stage comes Sea of Bees, the musical moniker of California’s Julie Ann Baenziger. Her tomboyish appearance makes her beautiful, child-like voice somewhat unexpected, despite it’s familiarity, but as the music builds into dark, powerful movements, the strange sounds fill the tent with something very different to much of what we’ve heard this weekend, but something pretty wonderful.
Onwards to more Oxford boys on the Last FM stage. The three ex-Jonquil-ers Trophy Wife propel their unremitting indie-pop into the audience, driving the crowd into motion. Not least, the current Jonquil boys, who are visible bouncing round the tent together. It’s the first time the two bands have shared a stage, or so we’re informed by Jody Prewett, lead singer of the trio, and there’s clearly a strong relationship between the two bands. But whatever’s going on there, musically, there’s no doubt this is a great performance from a band who deserve to, and may well, hit some more mainstream success in the not too distant future.
On to Young Knives on the main stage who provide their pop-rock offerings for the next slice of musical entertainment, causing the only real ‘mosh’ we’ll see this weekend, before a complete change of scene takes us into the far off (not really, it’s a pretty small site) Wood Stage for the Irish offerings of Heidi Talbot. Venturing into the hushed tent, filled mostly with those of an older generation sat crossed legged on the floor, we find ourselves a bit of space and follow suit, without much of an idea what this is going to be like. As it turns out, what it’s like is a little bit wow. Talbot’s voice is sweet and soaring, the violin floats around the tent beautifully and the male harmonies from either side of her on the low stage create a wonderfully chilled out half hour of folk-loveliness.
Next, Gruff Rhys, as the headliner for tonight, takes us back into reality a little on the main stage, for his maverick, funk-pop balladry. Jumping between instruments, he puts on a charming and engaging performance, laden with hooks from his keys, harmonica and guitar, fitting perfectly into the ambience of this enchanting, quirky festival.
This isn’t the night over, though, and we’re soon running back to the Last FM stage to catch the last of the Blessing Force lot in the form of Chad Valley. Looking much the same as he did in front of Jonquil a few hours earlier, his electronic ramblings begin the night shift perfectly, the danceable beats from the drum machine and pulsing synths, along side his still beautiful, but now much more electronically changed voice, making the rest of the Jonquil boys jump around even more than they did to the Trophy Wife set. The man himself is as charismatic as ever, and we couldn’t really ask much more from an electronic act like this.
A quick stop off for a bit of St Etienne’s familiar, flowing synth lines gives us time to join all the people who’ve had a little too much of the official Truck lager in having a bit of a boogie, before we disappear into the Boxford text for some late night dubstep from the DJs.
Sunday morning comes with the hot sun through the tent, a quick (and very posh, for a festival) shower, and we’re back on the bands. We begin with the lovely Lanterns on the Lake, who are nothing short of the perfect festival hangover cure. Swelling choruses of violins and bowed guitar topped by powerful female vocals fill our ears and dispel any thoughts we might have had of just going back to bed.
Moving on, Caitlin Rose’s soulful voice over the funky folk fills the main stage with songs about rabbits and clouds. A little naive? Perhaps, but it’s very endearing to see her trying to get a little more reaction out of the crowd, who, like for Marcus Foster’s performance on Friday, are just way too chilled out to stand up and dance. We just want to sit back and listen.
More sweet-voiced, pop-folk on the Clash stage then comes from the wonderful Alessi’s Ark. The project of Hammersmith’s Alessi Laurent-Marke, the band play through much of her recent album Time Travel, and just as it comes across on record, the set is a heartfelt and absorbing detour into her mind.
Tribes then take to the Last FM stage, powering through ‘We Were Children’, with an endearing enthusiasm which is matched by the crowd. As the set progresses, we’re given a choice of songs we want next, and although the crowd is split, ‘Coming of Age’ wins out, and benefits from the full band’s instrumentation which it misses on record, and comes out wonderfully.
From here it all seems to be slowing down a bit. There’s still a few acts on our lists but things are packing up relatively early this evening, assumedly in order to allow the grown up truckers to get to work on Monday morning, and get the less grown up to school.
Nevertheless, Tunng take on the main stage with their danceable brand of ‘folktronica’ which is usually very engaging. It’s a little disappointing, however, that, since seeing them at a few festivals a whole year ago, they haven’t changed their performance or set much at all, and it somehow feels a bit lacklustre – a shame for a band who have produced much interesting stuff in the past. We swing by Radiohead guitarist Philip Selway performing some of his solo material on the Clash stage, backed by two angelic female voices, it’s all very relaxing, if not as enthralling as we might have hoped for from such a man.
Onwards and upwards, to The Go! Team on the main stage. Characteristically full of energy and verve, front woman ‘Ninja’ prances about the stage to exuberant indie, hollering out her rapped lyrics, and convincing the bouncing mass of people in front of her to do the same through receptive chanting of ‘Huddle Formation’.
And it’s all nearly over, but for the final, closing headliners of the festival. There’s nothing that quite displays Truck’s local, family run ideals than the fact that the two brothers who began and run the festival, are in the Sunday headlining band: Dreaming Spires. The band endlessly thank the crowd for their attendance at the festival and display their clear, deserved pride at having put on such a great event. After an hour’s set of rock and roll, the band leave the stage, promising a ‘secret’ performance of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors album, in it’s entirety, on the near by Clash stage soon after. It’s a rather strange idea, but why the hell not? Somehow it’s a rather fitting end to the perfect eccentricity that has been Truck 14.