Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Simon Taffe
Nine Songs
Simon Taffe

From the peerless lyricism of Leonard Cohen to the transformative power of Nina Simone, End of the Road founder Simon Taffe takes Ed Nash through the pivotal songs in his life.

“Actually, I’m going delay my next meeting.”

My conversation with Simon Taffe about the pivotal songs in his life is overrunning somewhat, and such is his love of music, we could have spent a day talking through which songs and artists would make his final cut.

A few days before we meet, I receive a longlist for his Nine Songs selections, which features sixteen songs. As I walk through Stoke Newington to our meeting place at 13th Floor Coffee, a coffee stop founded in 2020 when End of the Road was on hiatus during the pandemic, I see Taffe staring at his phone. He’s still deciding which songs he’ll omit from his final list. “It’s a fuck, fuck situation,” he explains, “but this a fun thing. I love these kinds of things.”

To call Taffe a music obsessive would be a huge understatement. Having immersed himself in the world of music whilst Djing at clubs in Soho in his teens, sixteen years ago he went all in and co-founded End of the Road festival. The first year in 2006, headlined by Badly Drawn Boy, Richard Hawley and British Sea Power, was a critical success, but the inaugural edition of the festival didn’t return a profit and Taffe lost his house in the process.

But as with many of the artists who feature in his Nine Songs choices, a determination to realise his vision for End of the Road resulted in putting artistic considerations over financial ones, a gamble that paid off, with End of the Road – this year headlined by Pixies, Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes and Khruangbin – long since a guaranteed sell out on the UK festival circuit.

In between planning this year’s edition of End of the Road, Taffe also found time to release an album Between the Music, a compilation of some of the songs he plays between live sets End of the Road, but today he’s got something else on his mind, namely how narrow the songs that soundtracked his life to our magic number nine. As he works on whittling down his longlist, Taffe adds another two songs to the mix and changes the original song choice of two artists that are especially close to his heart.

“I could have gone on forever, but we’ll just cut some songs off” he tells me. “Pulp’s “Babies” has to go on there. The Magnetic Fields has to go on there because it’s got an amazing story. “In The Morning” has got to go on their because it’s Nina Simone and she’s cool as fuck. Shit, there’s a lot. Sam Cooke is literally my favourite voice of all time. And that's got quite a good story. Oh, for fuck sakes, it's painful, isn't it?”

Whilst Sam Cooke doesn’t make the cut, Taffe’s final selections reveal an ongoing fascination with music and artists – taking in the beauty of lyrics, artists who didn’t get the recognition they deserved to established masters of their craft – and ladder up to a remarkable story of a lifelong love affair with music and the role it played in soundtracking his life. As our conversation comes to a close, Taffe finds himself thinking about even more songs, but sticks with his finished nine.

“There’s more songs coming into my head right now. You could easily change your mind with this, but you’ve just got to be done with it.”

“Babies” by Pulp

TAFFE: “I wasn't into Britpop initially, I got into it later, but at the time all my friends would say, ‘You only listen to ‘60s and ‘70s music’. I ignored them obsessing over it at that really early point. I was into American stuff like Nirvana or Pavement. I was obsessed with The Band, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen and I hated Oasis, so I couldn't accept it. There were a few songs I loved, but I hated the word Britpop. For me, nothing's Britpop. I loved Screamadelica. I loved The Stone Roses, but that's not even Britpop. But later, when I was about 17, 18, when Blur came out and the Radiohead stuff, I got completely obsessed with it.

“I was Djing at the early indie clubs. I was 17, but I told everyone I was 19 so I could get in. I DJ’d at Le Scandale in Berwick Street until 1am and then I’d go down and DJ at The Wag Club until four in the morning, which was strictly Northern Soul. I was into the whole scene in the clubs and I loved the mix of it. It brought everyone together - you’d get lads turning up dancing like Shaun Ryder and people into Suede and Pulp, wearing makeup and eyeliner, the cross dressing and bisexuality and everything that was going on in the bathrooms.

“I was trying to work out where I fitted in. I liked Blur’s clothes sense but the music I really liked was more Pulp and Suede, the weirder, slightly campier stuff. I always thought Jarvis's songwriting was very interesting and then Pulp got me with songs like “Underwear” and the other big hitters. The lyrics meant a lot to me, I could relate to them; it was everyday life stuff and no one was doing that at that time.

“Then I dug deeper. I got His and Hers and it was that song, “Babies.” As a kid, it was the how sexual the song is. And sort of naughty, where he’s hidden inside the closest - filthy is the word. And that really appealed to me at that age, I felt like the kid in the closet in the song. It means so much to me, it's the song that I can dance to at any point, that I can DJ at any point, and it gets people going. It’s hypnotic, addictive.

“I remember watching the music video and I basically used to imitate Jarvis. I remember going to indie clubs and dancing whenever that song came on, and I play still play it now. I don’t dance like Jarvis now, but hearing it makes me want to imitate him. I don’t say this to him because we’re kind of friends, so hopefully he doesn't see this!

BEST FIT: Pulp’s drummer Nick Banks wrote the chords for “Babies”. I saw them play at small clubs at the time and they were amazing live, but they seemed to be the band who were never going to crossover and then all of a sudden, their songs were in the mainstream.

“I love what you said about the music for “Babies” and that’s what I love about Pulp, because Jarvis writes all the lyrics after the music's done. When I was Djing I remember saying to an older friend, ‘I’d love to see Pulp, what are they like?’ And he said, ‘Well, Jarvis’s holds the whole thing in a way,’ and that’s not to take anything away from the band, the band was incredible.”

“Papa Was a Rodeo” by The Magnetic Fields

“I think “Papa Was a Rodeo” is one of the best songs on 69 Love Songs. It's lyrical perfection. Stephin Merritt is such a wonder with words, he’s got the driest sense of humour. I think it's about gay love, about a male gigolo. I don't exactly know, but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s ‘Love was a trucker's hand’, which is such a good line. I'm really into lyrics and it’s an otherworldly song. It’s got a country feel to it and a folk feel to it, but it's not at all either of those. It's so unique.

“With that song I was in Austin at South By Southwest, it was 2007 or 2008. I was at this backyard party, and everyone was singing songs… now you've made me think of another song by The Magnolia Electric Co.! There were quite a few good musicians there who at the time were playing End of the Road. Micah P. Hinson was there doing songs, it was a very two in the morning party at someone's house. And then someone started doing “Papa Was a Rodeo.” And I was like, ‘Fucking hell, that's incredible, it sounds just like the original.’ Which was very embarrassing, because it was Stephin Merritt, and I didn't realise it.

Did you speak to him?

“I got embarrassed and I didn’t say anything, luckily someone nudged me and said, “It’s him.” We’ve been trying to get them to play End of The Road since 2005, and this year will be his first ever outdoor festival in the UK. I’ve got them on at the same time as Pixies, but you can't have everything.

Who will you watch at End of the Road, The Pixies or Magnetic Fields?

“I'll probably watch Magnetic Fields, it's at The Garden Stage, which is my favourite stage at the festival.”

“In the Morning” by Nina Simone

“It was a classic thing that your parents would have a Nina Simone’s Greatest Hits in your house. “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and all those songs were played in shit adverts in the ‘90s, and I loved them, but I didn't pay attention to it much.

“Then I went into a record shop in Edinburgh in 2001 and I picked up 'Nuff Said! I remember putting on the vinyl, “In the Morning” came on and it was pure joy. It makes you feel so alive, it makes you feel like when you wake up in the morning and you feel fucking great - you're like, ‘This is going to be the day.’ You don't have like a hangover or anything like that, you get a good feeling. I get a lot of inspiration in the morning and that song feels like the morning, but then saying that, if it’s played by wedding DJs, or anywhere, it lifts everything and gives you that feeling of emotion.

“I was always a surface level Nina Simone fan, but when I got that record, I was just so happy. You know when you buy vinyl and then you put it on? It was a complete surprise how incredible that whole album was. After that I went deep diving and I had to buy everything Nina Simone ever did, and you go down this road of discovery every time. I think Nina Simone is one of the greatest artists that ever existed in the world. When you go deep with her music, you keep on discovering more and more music and then you want to carry on going deeper and deeper.

“There's so many of her records because they've reissued stuff, there’s endless Nina Simone songs. It’s not even soul music - that’s the thing, it’s kind of jazz and soul, but not jazz and not soul. She's almost punk rock, there’s a rawness to her and she really doesn't give a fuck. I'd say Nina Simone is more punk rock than anyone.

I read that you were gifted thousands of records on vinyl when you were a teenager, where there any Nina Simone records in there?

“That'll tie into some of these other songs as well, and it ties into the next one, which is a Leonard Cohen song.”

“Tonight Will Be Fine” by Leonard Cohen

“When I was 14, a family friend wanted to minimise his space and live quite zen-like. He replaced his vinyl collection for CDs and said I could look after them. He was a massive collector, he was connected to the people who put on the original Isle of Wight Festival and he's got so many stories – like dancing with Tina Turner on stage - he was a proper soul boy, but he was into every kind of music.

“You could get anything in that collection, from Leonard Cohen to Fleetwood Mac, John Cale to Kate Bush, everything, even cheesy shit. He was someone who went to the shop every week to buy all the new releases of anything that was quite good quality. As a kid, at first I was ‘I've got all these albums I've got on CD’, but then I'd discover stuff, like MC5 and Iggy Pop albums that I didn’t know.

“I loved Leonard Cohen and I'd heard the famous ones. There’s something cool, dark and romantic about Leonard Cohen. I was so into lyrics and I remember getting into his later stuff with the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, and “The Future”, with “Give me crack and anal sex.” Hearing lines like that when I was 14, I was ‘Yes! Right on!’ And lines like “And everybody knows that you live forever / When you've done a line or two”, these classic lines that no one's doing - well, no one does it like Leonard Cohen full stop. And he's inspired everyone since.

“I pulled out a Leonard Cohen album out from the collection and “Tonight Will Be Fine” came on. I always zoom in on the lyrics and it was “She's the soft naked lady love meant her to be / And she's moving her body so brave and so free / If I've got to remember, that's a fine memory.” That’s possibly my favourite verse of all time. It resonates with me because it draws a whole painting in your mind. It’s another salacious song, but it’s about lying on the bed, having the freeness of the body and being free.

“It gets me every time, and anyone I play it to is like, “Fucking yes.” Even the opening verse of the song - “Sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past / We swore to each other then that our love would surely last / You kept right on loving. I went on a fast / Now I'm too thin and your love is too vast.” It’s those two verses, both of them. I don’t like favourites, but it's one of my favourite songs of all time.

“Leonard Cohen is more of a poet than Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, but he’s better at songwriting, whereas Leonard Cohen was a poet for 10 years before he decided to put music to them. He’d take forever to write some his songs, picking the words so carefully, like a poem. But not all of them, sometimes they could take a year, sometimes they could take a day. And I feel like this one did take a while. Or maybe it took a day and it just flowed to him.”

“I Won’t Back Down” by Johnny Cash

“This song really means a lot to me. I often look for the answers for life in songs. When you're younger you look for things you can relate to, when you're going through a breakup or whatever, where you listen to Elliot Smith and you connect to it. It helps you through things, but I also use songs like “In The Morning”; I can put that on anytime and I can change my mood to a point where I'm ‘Right, I'm going get on with the day now.’

“I often forget to do that, I used to do it a lot more when I was younger but I actually prefer silence these days. I like to listen to my music in a certain way now. I've always hated background music; I don't mind it if I’m doing the cleaning, but I hate it at dinner because it feels like incense. I think it's because I hone in on lyrics, so I find it a distraction and want to get into the conversation. If I'm at a party that's different, then music is for dancing.

“When started doing the festival, I was losing all this money. I sold the house, re-mortgaged my friend’s house. And I used to play that song, in a way that ‘I'm not going to give up.’ I was into “Ring of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues”, but when Rick Rubin did The American Series I got re-obsessed with him. We had this thing of funny things to do at the festival, we'd get quotes from musicians to put on the back of the toilet doors. There was a line from Johnny Cash, “I don’t give up because I don’t give up. I don’t believe in it.’” So it was that and this song.

“The first End of the Road lost a lot of money, the second one lost a lot less. We knew we were on a trajectory, but after the first one it was touch and go. Everyone was saying to cancel, and I was close to doing it, but I was too embarrassed to, I'd made all these connections with these bands. There was Gruff Rhys and the Super Furries in the second year, Lambchop and British Sea Power, but a lot of them were smaller bands like Magnolia Electric Co. and Brakes. I felt really privileged to be in this music world that I'd been in a bit, but not really, and it really excited me.

“Rough Trade helped out. I used to shop there all the time and Nigel at Rough Trade used to give me contacts to people in the music industry, because I didn’t have a clue. I didn't know what booking agents were until I pissed one off and they phoned me and said, ‘What are you doing, contacting my bands directly’? I was like, ‘Oh, that's how you're supposed to do it?’ Sofia (Hagberg) and I would go to gigs and during soundcheck we’d give them cards with this playlist, saying, ‘This is the type of festival we're trying to create’.

“A part of me was I didn't want to let these people down. Anyone else would have said ‘Pull the plug, the tickets aren’t selling’, but we got by with just the right amount of people to create an atmosphere. If the weather had been shit, I don't think End of The Road would have existed, but the rain held off, the reviews were good and it kept us going. But it was that song and Johnny Cash, his whole attitude, his persistence to carry on doing music. He got knocked back so many times, but he never gave up on following a dream.”

“True Love Will Find You In The End” by Daniel Johnston

“I got into him through the Beck cover. It was on a compilation The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered. I got it because it had Beck, Mercury Rev and all these bands that I was listening to at the time. I didn't know who Daniel Johnston was and because the title was ‘The late, great, Daniel Johnstone’, I thought he’d died. But I looked into it and found out that Kurt Cobain was a fan when I saw the picture of him wearing a Daniel Johnstone t-shirt and it all connected. And then I thought ‘Okay, I'm going give this guy a listen.’

“I’d gotten one of his most recent albums and I thought ‘Do I like this?’ Then I started listening to the lyrics and they were so earnest, innocent, truthful and straight from the heart. He’s not like Leonard Cohen, where he was thinking about everything, it’s this absolute feel that he's got, where his heart is on his sleeve and it just makes you cry. That song is one of the sweetest, most beautiful songs ever made. It’s the way it sounds, the crackle and the lo-fidelity. It’s so pure, and being a hopeless romantic myself, that song resonated.

“He died a few years ago. I saw him a few times back in the day, and it was always good, but it always felt a bit bad, because towards the end it was like he was pushed on stage by his management and family and it didn't feel like he knew what was going on. I tried to get him for End of the Road and then I thought, ‘Actually, I don't really want to do it’. I didn't want to tick a box, because even though when I saw him with Yo La Tango it was amazing and when I'd seen him play when he was in a good space, it was incredible, but it was hard to watch. It was heart-breaking, but also beautiful.

“I used to work with a band called The Low Anthem and he wanted a backing band for this festival show. We met Daniel at 1pm and I remember him storming through, saying ‘Hi, guys’, then he grabbed the microphone and said ‘Okay, let's go.’ The band said, ‘What song?’ and he said ‘Oh, try and work it out.’ He’d sing the lyrics for about a minute and then he’d go ‘I need a tuna sandwich.’ His brother got him a tuna sandwich and whole thing stopped for 30 minutes so he could eat the tuna sandwich. And they did it again and then he needed another tuna sandwich.

“It was so hard for the band to work it out, they were rehearsing for seven hours and it was literally another hour before they were walking onstage because we rehearsed on site. It was an experience to say the least. In the end it worked it out in this ramshackle way. Nothing was quite in tune, but you had Daniel Johnston, and his voice.”

“Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel” by Townes Van Zandt

“I’m going to change this one from “Poncho and Lefty” to “Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel.” I got into Townes Van Zandt in 2001, someone played me “Waiting Around to Die” and it was an amazing song, it was dark, but funny as well. I didn't know anything about him, then I picked up another song, “Poncho and Lefty” and I thought, ‘Who is this guy? How have I missed him?’ His songwriting is as good as Dylan or any of the greatest songwriters, but the production was never quite there, and I guess that’s why a lot of people missed him.

Then a few years later Heartworn Highways came out and I thought ‘Oh yes, Townes…’ so I went back to him again. Then I got the album Townes Van Zandt with the song “Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel” and it’s a story, it’s like a little novella. I’ll get the lyrics up on my phone.

We’ll end up having lots of lyrics in this feature!

“That's what this is all about. He manages to tell this whole story in a song.

“The drunken clown's still hanging round / But it’s plain the laughter's all died down / The tears you tried so hard to hide are flowin' / A blind man with his knife in hand / Has convinced himself that he understands / I wish him well, Miss Carousel but I gotta be a-goin'

Won't you come and get me when / You're sure that you don't need me then / I stand outside your window and proudly call your name.”

"You have to listen to get it, it's like someone standing by a bedroom window, pouring his love out and but then it's such a singalong song as well. I remember putting it on, on a drunken night in a cab in New York. I used to carry CDR’s and the cabbie had a CD player. We'd been to a concert and there was a few of us in the car and a person I didn't know, she started singing it and the whole car started singing. It was one of those weird moments, like Wayne's World. We sang our hearts out for five minutes going through New York at two in the morning. That was such a special night and that's why I'll remember that song forever.”

“Wild Feeling” by Ezra Furman & The Harpoons

“I’ve just sacrificed a Velvet Underground song for Ezra, that’s a killer isn’t it? Obviously I'm biased. I manage Ezra. I managed bands eight years before Ezra, and it was okay, but I decided it wasn't quite for me. Then about five years later, I realised I actually really enjoyed parts of it but I'm only going to manage someone that I’m completely obsessed with. I kept an eye out for a year or two and then Ezra Furman came up. A friend of mine played me a song, I realised I'd seen her at South by Southwest five years before, but I didn't pay that much attention, even though I liked it.

“I went down to a show at The Sebright Arms and introduced myself. I’d already booked her for End of The Road, because the album Day of the Dog was insane, with the songwriting and the Rock and Roll; it made me feel there hadn’t been a proper Rock and Roll record in a long time. I was wearing a leather jacket in this club and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is a mixture of White Stripes, Jonathan Richman and Bruce Springsteen, they've got it, this is the best live band I’ve seen in years.’

"During the show she said, ‘Has anyone got a place to stay tonight?’ and afterwards I said, ‘You can stay at mine' She politely refused. I asked if she needed any help in England and the next day we met. I took her to a concert where she was opening for some band, she did a cover of “Heroin” and I was gobsmacked.

"We stayed in touch, we built a friendship over time and I became her manager. I started really listening to the back catalogue and I found “Wild Feeling” and it was so accomplished. I thought ‘This reminds me of the best Bob Dylan song or the best Townes Van Zandt song, how the hell did this slip under the radar?’

I'd say she’s one of the most underrated songwriters of the last decade.

“That’s without a doubt. She's so clever about the way she chooses the words and also how she can just pump out a song. We were talking about the dynamics of writing, where sometimes it comes straight out and sometimes it takes more time. It’s a privilege for me, as someone who is obsessed with lyrics and songs, that I got to work with Ezra Furman and I still think she’s so underrated. On the new record there’s a song, “Temple Of Broken Dreams” that’s up there with Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. That's the thing with Ezra, every time we get to the end of a record she says, ‘This is my best record, but I still haven't written my best record yet’, she keeps on pushing it.

It comes back to that Johnny Cash line you were talking about earlier, the idea of persistence?

“Exactly. Persistence, but also she’s always trying to be the best version, and it's such a good standard to have. You don't see someone doing that so much in music, but that's what really makes the greats stand out.”

“John the Revelator” by Son House

“I was always into Indie and Rock music, and when The White Stripes came along - and I guess The Strokes as well - everything was a bit boring in music, there was no Rock and Roll umph. When De Stijl came out it was like somebody had hit me over the head with a hammer.

“I went to see them live and they introduced me to so much music. I was into the blues a little bit, but I got bored of it, then he started covering Captain Beefheart and introduced me to Loretta Lynn and artists I hadn't listened to. I always like to look into my heroes and see what they're listening to, and it meant so much to me at that point, because it was exactly what I needed at that time. I’m quite an obsessive person and when something really kicks with me - which doesn’t happen very often - I get really into it.

“The White Stripes covered “Death Letter Blues” by Son House, but the song I want to do is “John the Revelator.” When I heard their cover I thought ‘Who's this?’ I’d heard some Son House but I'd never really dug into it. If we’re talking about punk, Son House is pure punk. It's so raw and gritty and so rock and roll. It's like the beginning of rock and roll, more so than Little Richard or anyone, and I love Little Richard.

“When I was playing in a few little bands, “John the Revelator” was the song we’d always cover, it was a song that me and my mates would always shout and sing really loudly when we were drunk. I remember walking in Edinburgh in 1999, where I was living at the time and singing it at top of my voice.

“I've covered it at the festival. We did a show with Alabama Shakes, The Low Anthem and a bunch of friends. There’s secret sets at night at End of the Road, they were playing at two in the morning and said ‘Come on stage.’ I said ‘I'll do Son House’ and that’s the one song that I can belt it out. I'm really into The Sonics, The White Stripes, really loud, impactful singing. I’m quite visceral when I perform and I’ve not performed in ages, but it’s a song I love covering at any time. It would be my number one karaoke song, it’s kind of scary, it gets higher and higher and louder and louder.

“That song means so much to me, when I think of the lyrics and when I’m having a good time. There’s a load of mates of mine, we’re into garage music and when we grew up we all loved that song. It’s one that gets cracked out in a very masculine way, like the film The Lighthouse, it’s drunk men just singing.”

Between The Music Volume One is released via End of the Road Records on 16 September. A clear vinyl edition will be available exclusively at this year's festival from 1-4 September.
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