Photograph by Carina Jirsch.
With glorious sunshine and aching heads, we welcome the final day of No Direction Home. Perhaps most importantly, it is the day that promises us Richard Hawley but before the scorching sun begins to set in preparation for his show, we’ve a whole day’s worth of movies, ice creams and workshops to get through, not to mention some truly spectacular performances from the get go.
The more time I spend with Cold Specks’ I Predict A Graceful Expulsion the more I am convinced that it is one of my favourite records of the year, and the good people at the Polaris Prize would seem to agree, having just included Al Spx debut full length effort in their long-list. And her live performance here today, stripped of the albums’ (at times) overly elegant production, is further evidence that she possesses one of the most intriguing voices around. Deeply soulful with hints of that Southern gospel sound, the Canadian songstress’ gravelly tones pierce straight to the heart of her songs – imbued with sadness and a striking defiance, almost violent at times as ‘Holland’s soft strings give way to the rasps of “Rotterdam, god damn.” She is not a serious character though, there is a light hearted wit to her performative persona despite the sombre harmonies, and besides any one who can lend weight to the Fresh Prince theme tune is more than ok in my books. LD
Sheltering from the sunlight which has at long last decided to beat down on the festival goers, we’re treated to a loop extravaganza as London based Spaniard Hyperpotamus rolls up to play his “fourth gig in 48 hours”. And a very impressive display it is indeed. Using nothing but his voice and a loop pedal, one man band Jorge Ramirez-Escudero creates epic constructions, immensely rich textures using no tool other than his wholly impressive vocal range. Piece by piece, his tracks are built and slotted together and once complete, Hyperpotamous allows himself to revel in the creation he’s just produced, flinging himself around the stage, energy seeping from his every breath and movement. An intricate and impressive display from a highly accomplished performer. FG
Even without his band and without his previously epic beard Joshua Tillman, or Father John Misty as he is going by these days, delivers an utterly beguiling set brimming with the bucolic, sombre lyrics and adventurous timbres that inhabit Fear Fun, his eighth solo album to date. The man himself holds no resemblance to his often austere back catalogue and is instead full of wit and an effortless charm, particularly when he tries out his british accent. ‘Nancy From Now On’ is an absolute highlight, Tillman’s voice crooning in that smooth familiar tone over the completely stripped backed strums of his guitar, a playful air swelling beneath every move he makes. Even if the end of his set is drowned out by Slow Club…LD
It’s back to the main stage now, as locals Slow Club take to the sun bathed stage to perform an irresistibly high energy set to a very accepting crowd. “That’s the politest heckle I’ve ever heard!” front lass Rebecca Taylor quips in response to a shout of “Well done!” from the audience, before launching back into the band’s high voltage brand of pop-tinged rock, and powerful vocal melodies. Musically, the show is engaging and lively. And very loud. Tracks from latest album Paradise are unleashed on a crowd who are very much enjoying having the occasion to dance in the sunshine, an event to which Slow Club provide an immaculate soundtrack. “I want to see everyone up dancing to this one. Especially you, Mother!” yells Rebecca as the set draws to a close, an injection of colour and energy to an already beautiful afternoon. FG
Having released their debut album in 2005, Rachel Unthank and co’s timid folk offerings are beautifully delicate on record but today, with the biggest brass band I have ever seen squeezed in behind them, their lilting melodies are transformed into weighty, bold affairs whilst retaining their bruised nature. Heaped in flourishing strings, cautious keys and bellowing horns they sound as much like a traditional band weaving classic folk tales as they do a fresh faced modern collective. If you were looking for a performance that kind of summed up the festival, I think this would be it – or at least it would come pretty close; they’re genuinely talented, and rather magical to watch. LD
“The last thing the wife said to me before I went to Barcelona was ‘break a leg’.” Richard Hawley quips, having been pushed on stage in a newly acquired wheelchair. “She who must be obeyed…” Having reportedly slipped on a marble staircase on a recent trip to Spain’s Primavera festival, Hawley has been left with a broken leg, an ailment which does nothing to dampen his spirits as he closes the main stage of the festival with a perfectly selected set of Hawley hits. ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’, ‘Hotel Room’ and new tracks ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’ and ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’ all find a place in tonight’s show, before romantic classic ‘The Ocean’ is unveiled for the encore.
Having played at the first ever End of the Road festival, there’s a special relationship between Richard Hawley and the EOTR/NDH team – one that’s further highlighted when the “cider girls” from the celebrated Somerset Cider Bus arrive mid set to deliver Hawley’s staple festival order of apple brandy cider to the stage. It’s a perfectly selected main-stage end to a festival which has felt comfortable and homely, with Hawley’s gentle croon providing a very fitting finale. FG
Although, inevitably, a fair few people are heading home after the Richard Hawley concert, those who stick around are in for a deafeningly brilliant treat from Orange County’s Mikal Cronin, who, along with his troupe of tie-dye sporting band mates unleash their supercharged brand of 90s tinged surf rock upon the crowd. Showcasing tracks from his debut self titled record, Mikal and his 12 string electric guitar lead the way through chugging riffs and hazy harmonies, an energy drenched spectacle of West Coast rock ‘n’ roll and blissed out fuzz. The high power set charges up the crowd to continue the night’s festivities, be that dancing to Northern Soul at the Electric Dust Bowl, or shimmying to 80s classics and indie power pop down by the lake.
One last brandy cider before we hit the hay, and the first ever No Direction Home festival draws to a close. A stunning setting, an original and eclectic line up and a hundred special little touches have made this festival especially memorable, and an extremely enjoyable weekend for all involved. Roll on No Direction Home #2, as we’ll most certainly be there. FG
Words by Lauren Down and Francine Gorman.