End of the Road Christmas Shindig – Cargo, London 08/12/11

The End of the Road Festival is now in its sixth year and recently won the accolade of Best Small Festival at this year’s Festival Awards. This past summer, plans were announced for a new boutique sister event, No Direction Home, which will be set against the backdrop of Welbeck Abbey, nestled into the Sherwood forest foliage.

The enterprise’s Christmas stints at East London’s Cargo have quickly become a tradition of their own with past years seeing David Thomas Broughton, Josh T Pearson and the Broken Family Band feature in the railway-arches space. Much like their summer gathering which attracts a humbled collective of regular punters and musicians, it prides itself on being the prime place to discover the lesser-knowns on the bill and this year boasts artists from the summer’s foray into (primarily) folk and alt-country.

Eoin O’Ruainigh’s Oh Ruin kicks off festivities, adorned in a tinsel scarf and peddling some maudlin electro-acoustic balladry accompanied by Jeff Buckley-esque soaring vocals with a gruff, unpolished finish. Something of a jovial entertainer, his banter neatly bookends a one man show and is far louder than most bluesy-folk singer-songwriters with an amplified acoustic. He’s a man to look out for, with a Morrissey-support slot under his belt and a fall-back career as a luthier.

Canada’s Dan Mangan could very well be the star of the show, having garnered something of a cult-following judging by the surging crowd at his feet. He too proves himself a devout End of the Road convert, commenting that it’s “one of the best festivals in the world – it’s scientifically proven!”  His band excels in variety, subject and tempo, providing  deft support from upright bass, drums and an exceptional lead electric guitar.

Highlights of the set include ‘Post War Blues’, ‘Leaves, Trees, Forest’ and the Stand By Me-inspired ’Rows of Houses’. It’s easy to draw comparisons to the likes of Drive By Truckers circa Jason Isbell but there’s a classic songwriter at the heart of Mangan’s music and one that isn’t served well by current single ‘Robots’, which fails to do justice to current album Oh Fortune. With three albums behind him I’m sure plenty in the crowd had the End of the Road team alone to thank for bringing him to their ears.

Finally, Lauren Laverne‘s ‘it’ girl of the moment, fellow Northerner Beth Jeans Houghton headlines with her playful band, The Hooves of Destiny, complete in eye catching attire.

Houghton’s voice manages to transcend some sound issues and hit a near range that transforms songs like current single ‘Lilliput’. She moves from understated coos to pitch perfect falsetto without breaking a sweat and while it’s the voice that ultimately makes this band, there’s good support from Ed Blazey offering pomp and jubiliance through the trumpet. With only a handful of EPs behind her, tonight’s set runs the length of Houghton’s back catalogue – from the vocal prowess of ‘Dodecahedron’ to the galloping melody of ‘I Will Return I Promise’. It’s with great and much deserved anticipation that we await her debut long player – to be titled Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, released early next year!