No Direction Home Festival || Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire || 8-10 June 2012
The omens were not good for the inaugural No Direction Home music festival, setting out in heavy rain that only got heavier as the traffic got slower the further north I went. However, despite the slate grey skies and constant brake lights of the M1, a journey of over 5 hours was rewarded on arrival by a break in the weather than unbelievably lasted for the whole three days.
No Direction Home is a new “little brother” venture from those behind the End of the Road Festival (those who read MM even semi-regularly will know what a fantastic event that is) and so felt very familiar from the moment we set foot in the main arena. Familiar food stalls, the Rough Trade tent, the book tent, the cinema tent and more had all been transplanted wholesale to just south of Sheffield. Likewise the music line-up was the same mix as the End of the Road – predominantly Americana, folk (both freak and traditional), country, indie and a smattering of some ultra-heavy psychedelic rock over two main stages and a small, intimate café stage by the lake.
Indeed many of the performers (perhaps slightly too many) were equally familiar as End of the Road veterans: The Low Anthem, Gruff Rhys, Richard Hawley, Django Django, Other Lives, Dirty Three, The Unthanks.
In fact our opening set came from another EotR alumni, Lanterns on the Lake, their heavy, ethereal, ambient tinged folk a perfect atmospheric companion to the sullen, overcast skies and heavy clouds, whilst in the somewhat optimistically named Electric Dust Bowl Big Top, Wet Nuns flailed away with a punishing set of hardcore riffing and gravelly vocals – furiously competing with the elements outside.
It took Django Django to brighten the mood; their good-natured approach and twangy electro-krautrock pop lifting collective spirits. A huge improvement on when we saw them at EotR in 2010, now they ooze confidence and are happy to let the songs from their excellent debut album stand up for themselves; Life’s A Beach, Waveforms, Skies Over Cairo, Wor and standout single Default all being highlights.
Finally as the night set in fully, The Low Anthem took the stage as the night’s main attraction. As they did at the EotR, they soon captured and then captivated the audience with their haunting and melancholic brand of folk holding everyone rapt as they performed one stunning song after another. There was just time to catch a set from Canadian electro-rockers Austra to finish the night – and a perfect illustration of the eclectic reach of the festival. Not something we are likely to listen to at home, but live an astonishingly powerful and captivating spectacle with three front women dynamically weaving repetitive musical patterns in a manner akin to Siouxsie Sioux fronting Can.
Having gone to bed chanting the Woodstock refrain of “No rain, no rain” to myself I was rewarded on Saturday both with a dry start and a sweetly enchanting set of pastoral folk from Tiny Ruins, fresh from their recent tour support with the Handsome Family. Highlight being the surreal, but true tale of the Brazilian priest Fr. Carli who tried to fly using 1,000 helium balloons…some pieces of him were never recovered. Next up was quirky singer-songwriter Liz Green who sadly failed to sparkle as we’d hoped, and seemed a little daunted by the gravitas of the main stage, so it was back to the big top for Tyne & Wear’s Cornshed Sisters whose traditional finger-in-the-ear choral folk songs were much appreciated and provided a calming, bewitching effect over the audience.
Emerging, blinking and slightly dazed for Euros Childs it took a few songs for me to realise what an thoroughly excellent songwriter he is (for that genuinely is his real name), and for the last twenty years or or so he has been performing his own brand of slightly unhinged psych-pop laced with black humour and waspish wit. With Cavendish Hall he provided one of the songs of the weekend and one of those lovely ‘discovery’ moments of a new artist you know you’re going to enjoy for a long, long time to come.
Next up was Mrs Mackerel’s fave and one of the most individual performers of the weekend in anti-pop, anti-folk, anti-conventionalist Beth Jeans Houghton with her Hooves of Destiny. Opening with the galloping, infectious Atlas and running through many of the highlights of their excellent debut Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (Dodecahedron, The Barely Skinny Tree, Lilliput, Harlequin and Sweet Tooth Bird) as well as non-album cuts like the barber-shop drenched harmonies of Honeycomb, the irreverent Shampoo (“looks like cum, smells like flowers, I use shampoo in the shower“) and Your Holes, it was the most delightfully unique set of the weekend and demonstrates that the independent spirit of indie pop is alive and well in BJH’s hands.
Other Lives followed with a set of wonderfully melodramatic orchestral folk rock that somehow reminded me of The Waterboys crossed with Radiohead and was every bit as good as that combination sounds ridiculous. Gruff Rhys was exactly as you would have expected – unconventional and predictably unpredictable, expertly mixing the glam rock stomp of In A House With No Mirrors with the gently psych-whimsy of Candylion and the melancholic pop of Lonesome Words. There was no such variety with the swirling headfuck of Moon Duo’s powerfully propulsive heavy-psych that suffered slightly from a muddy sound and their seeming insistence for playing in complete darkness on stage. They were followed by the equally pulverising Pyramids whose crunchy guitar riffs, slashing rhythms and howled vocals played out like an adrenalin fuelled Hawkwind on speed. Headlining the main stage was arch whistler Andrew Bird and despite his over-fussiness (no pictures, no family members, constant irritated gesturing to the soundman) he pleased the crowd with a set of winsome folk and some quite impressive violin manoeuvres.
The sun shone. Some of the thick mud dried up, a bit, and the wonderfully uncompromising Trembling Bells kicked off the day with a set of traditional British folk underpinned with the occasional ferocious onslaught of psychedelic pyrotechnics that was as bruising as it was soothing. The much-admired Cold Specks brought authentically sorrowful tales of the delta flavoured with a soulful taste of the Mississippi to the main stage, so authentic in fact you almost expected to see a paddle steamer on the adjacent lake. They were followed by a fabulously entertaining set of quirky and surreal indie rock from The Wave Pictures and back inside the big top local boys The Crookes charged up the crowd with a fizzing, high energy set of guitar pop. By now the crowd was gathering to pay homage to folk legend Martin Carthy who introduced each song with a conversational air and as though he had all the time in the world. Exuding bonhomie, he ran through a selection of traditional and classic folk songs and demonstrated why he is universally revered by fellow musicians as one of the best acoustic guitarists around. A pleasure to watch.
And on the back of that came the unexpected highlight of the weekend. While ex-Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman, aka Father John Misty’s album Fear Fun has gradually been growing on me over the past few weeks, to hear him play it live made it obvious what an outstanding set of songs they are. Just one man and his guitar, it was dark night of the soul stuff, visceral, bawdy, and confrontational. In between he was ironic, self-deprecating and slightly sarcastic and it quickly became one of those rare occasions where the audience become transfixed by what is being placed before them. Fun Times In Babylon, Only Son Of The Ladies’ Man, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, Nancy From Now On, Writing A Novel – each song greeted with more rapture than the last and as he finished with the stunning Now I’m Learning To Love The War and Every Man Needs A Companion the entire tent breathed a collective sigh and then erupted. It was worth the ticket price on its own.
Back outside Slow Club entertained with their jolly mix of folk and indie pop, and the sweet voices of The Unthanks accompanied by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band provided the perfect accompaniment to the setting sun over the lake. And finally, despite a broken leg (which precipitated a much appreciated parody of the famed Nirvana-at-Reading style entrance in a wheelchair), local hero Richard Hawley delivered a festival closing set perfectly in keeping with the mood. His velveteen vocals cloaking the bitter sting and melancholy of his lyrics while the 60s tinged psychedelic guitar of his latest album Standing At The Sky’s Edge weaved intricate patterns in the cool night air.
And so it was time to fight the pop-up tent and go home, one amongst 3,000 satisfied punters. No Direction Home succeeded in keeping the intimacy that makes The End of the Road so special and had many memorable performances that will linger long in the memory. Tickets are already on sale for next year (click here) and we’re hoping with a year under their belt, they will go with a slightly more original and bolder line-up. If so, we will be there again!
Download Euros Childs – Cavendish Hall mp3 (from Ends)
Download Cold Specks – Holland mp3 (from I Predict A Graceful Expulsion)
Download Father John Misty & Phosphorescent – I Would Love You mp3
Download The Wave Pictures – I Love You Like A Madman mp3 (from Instant Coffee Baby)
Download Andrew Bird – If I Needed You mp3 (Townes Van Zandt cover)
Download The Crookes – Backstreet Lovers mp3 (from Dreams Of Another Day)
Download our full Festival mixtape here.Follow @madmackerel
As you read this I will probably still be speeding northwards through the torrential rain on the M1 heading for Sherwood Forest and the inaugural No Direction Home music festival. Having spent the last two years happily enjoying the fantastic End of the Road festival, my plans were scuppered for a hat-trick by a sneaky move in dates making it clash with our first overseas family holiday in years to the beaches of Spain.
Thankfully, the same folk are behind this one so despite the rotten weather forecast, hopes are high for another fantastic event and judging by the line-up, we should be in for a treat. Friday night will be headlined by The Low Anthem, Saturday by Andrew Bird and Sunday by Richard Hawley. In between times we will have the pleasure of sets from Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny, Other Lives, Moon Duo, Lanterns On The Lake, The Wave Pictures, Wet Nuns, Father John Misty, Mikal Cronin and Spectrals. Best of all though will be discovering those artists and bands that we’ve not come across before and who turn out to be jaw-droppingly good.
Here is a free mix just to give you a taste of what we’ll be enjoying over the weekend, or if you fancy snapping up one of the last few tickets you can get one here.
Look out for a full review next week.
Download Father John Misty – Nancy From Now On mp3 (from Fear Fun)
Download Mikal Cronin – Apathy mp3 (from Mikal Cronin)
Download Mikal Cronin – Get Along mp3 (from Mikal Cronin)
Download Other Lives – For 12 mp3 (from Tamer Animals)
Download Spectrals – Chip A Tooth (Spoil A Smile) mp3 (from A Spectrals Extended Play EP)
Download Moon Duo – Mazes mp3 (from Mazes)
Download The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin mp3 (from O My God, Charlie Darwin)
Download The Low Anthem – This God Damn House mp3 (from What The Crow Brings)
Download David Thomas Broughton – Nature mp3 (from Outbreeding)
Download David Thomas Broughton – Walking Over You mp3 (from The Complete Guide To Insufficiency)
Download Lanterns On The Lake – You’re Almost There mp3 (from Gracious Tide, Take Me Home)
Download Slow Club – Beginners mp3 (from Paradise)
Download Django Django – Love’s Dart mp3 (from Storm / Love’s Dart 7″)
Download The Cornshed Sisters – Nowhere Man mp3 (from Mojo Presents – Yellow Submarine Resurfaces)
Download Peter Wolf Crier – Crutch & Cane mp3 (from Inter-Be)
Download Zulu Winter – Lets Move Back To Front mp3 (from Language)
Download Woodpigeon – I Live A Lot of Places mp3 (from Treasury Library Canada)
Download Wet Nuns – Heavens Below mp3 (from Heavens Below 7″)
Download Tiny Ruins – The Death Of A Russian mp3 (from Some Were Meant For Sea)
Download The Wave Pictures -Stay Here And Take Care Of The Chickens mp3 (from Long Black Cars)
Download Veronica Falls – Bad Feeling mp3 (from Veronica Falls)
Download Austra – Lose it mp3 (from Feel It Break)
Download Joe Gideon & The Shark – True Nature mp3 (from Harum Scarum)Follow @madmackerel
Scottish Kate is a great friend of this blog and has often offered her (sometimes pithy) opinions on the world of music – and very good taste she has too.
She also runs the always excellent (sometimes pithy), and often provocative blog A Burdz Eye View for all things Scottish (of course), political and musical. Here are her aural selections for 2011.
The Burd’s Best Songs of 2011
Well it doesn’t get any easier. Though given that all my old schticks are in here aplenty – drums, noise, shoegaze, jingly jangly guitars, quirkiness, blues and reverb – it really should be a doddle. This girl is forever stuck in her groove and that’s just the way I like it.
10. Cashier No9 - When Jackie Shone
Gosh, why do I like this? It’s just got that whole throbbing bass line thing I like. Layers of sound. Odd vocals. And drums. Of course. Like it? Love it. The louder the better.
9. Other Lives – For 12
Nearly my choon of the year. Deceptively simple, soaring, swooping and positively swoonsome.
Download Other Lives – For 12 mp3 (from Tamer Animals)
8. Josh Schroeder and Meredith Adelaide - Where Are You
It could so easily have been So it Goes, for both choons have been on a near constant loop at various times this year. But seeing as I have to choose – and I must, I cannot have the ignominy of a twelve instead of a ten two years in a row – then this one wins out. Not for nothing my Twitter bio suggests I’m not nearly as scary as I pretend to be.
7. Secret Colours – Faust
A late contender but a worthy one. This choon is the musical equivalent of a three course meal and therefore ticks all my bluesy-rock boxes. So long as you like your meat and potatoes with no veg.
Download Secret Colours – Faust mp3 (from EP3)
6. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Barnes’ Yard
See? Stomping, strummy, just a little shoogly and I’m sold.
5. We were promised Jetpacks – Medicine
Ye cannae beat a wee jangly Scottish band, especially one that throws everything but the kitchen sink into their music. It should be a mess but it so isn’t. After a difficult year out, with this track they exploded back onto the music scene and it was like they’d never been away.
4. Slow Club – Beginners
A knickerbocker glory offering of shoegaze. With a big dollop of retro on the side and some reverb sprinklings up top for good measure. Dreamy.
Download Slow Club – Beginners mp3 (from Paradise)
3. Team Genius – Home
Boy Wonder’s favourite moshing/air guitar choon of the year. We have pogo-ed round the sitting room to this. Oh yes. For those who don’t know, he’s the eight year old, supposedly I’m the responsible adult.
2. William Elliott Whitmore – Field Song
The man with the voice that sends shivers down my spine is at the peak of his powers. Occasionally I have to lie in a darkened room to listen to this album – all the better to wallow y’see. The title track is truly a thing of beauty.
1. The Low Anthem – Matter of Time
They made it into 2009 and 2010’s list and here they are again. The grandmasters of less is more, of making a symphony out of a three minute track.
Favourite cover of the year
Barry-Sean and I share some bizarre commonalities. There are Killie fans in his family too, and it would appear, the influence of Buddy Holly on our musical heritage. The standout cover version for me this year? Patti Smith doing Words of Love and making it all her own.
Favourite discoveries of the year
Actually, this was a rediscovery. In reprising the career of the late, great Jackie Leven, I found myself falling in love with Doll by Doll all over again. Gypsy Blood is a great album, and only recently recognised as a modern rock masterpiece. Aye but it’s the punkish tendencies that make it so.
Diddy – Dirty Money Coming Home
Yes really. The year I discovered what makes the young folk tick. This far though and no further.
Close but no Cigar
O’Death – Bugs
This is a beautifully meaningful song on so many levels. Especially when you know the back story.
Download O’Death – Bugs mp3 (from Outside)
FOUND – Anti Climb Paint
Just about my favourite track off one of my favourite albums of the year.
The Barettas – Touche
This is the kind of band I always wanted to be in. Still do.
Download The Barettas – Touche mp3 (from Touche 7″)
Peggy Sue – Dumbo
Two albums in two years, both of them corkers. Quirky and winsome.
A Classic Education – Forever Boy
It’s the drums innit?
Download A Classic Education – Forever Boy mp3 (from Call It Blazing)
Coke Weed – Not My Old Man
Or maybe it’s just the all-round oddness…
Download Coke Weed – Not My Old Man mp3 (from Volume 1)
The Kills – Future Starts Slow
Did I mention I like a bit of down and dirty? And no one does like it Jamie and Alison. Should have married her, mate.
Lykke Li – Sadness is a Blessing
More shoegaze, quirkiness and downright pop genius. Oh, and the best video of the year.
Butcher Boy – Helping Hands
The line that sold it to me was “on yellow grass and dirty pebble dash”. Seemingly whimsical, masking a dark heart.
The Shivers – Kisses
There’s an acoustic and a blues version of this song. Sometimes I play them one after the other.
Download The Shivers – Kisses mp3 (from Rob Da Bank Session)Follow @madmackerel
Our third top ten contributions come from Starbar and JaMS who job share in the office. This is JaMS first entry in to the guest top ten spots, but first up is Starbie…
10. Laura Marling – I Was Just A Card
9. Slow Club – If we’re Still Alive
8. The Decemberists – This Is Why we Fight
7. Lana Del Ray – Video Games
6. Black Keys – Lonely Boy
5. Deer Tick – Miss K
Download Deer Tick – Miss K. mp3 (from Divine Providence)
4. Henry’s Funeral Shoe – Dog Scratched Ear
Download Henry’s Funeral Shoe – Dog Scratched Ear mp3 (from Donkey Jacket)
3. Big Pink – Stay Gold
2. Noah & The Whale – L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N
1. Death Cab For Cutie – Stay Young Go Dancing
Funeral For a Friend – Broken Foundation
Florence & the Machine – Shake it Out
Fleet Foxes – Lorelai
Download Fleet Foxes – Lorelai mp3 (from Helplessness Blues)
Ed Sheeran – Lego House
10. Sharon Van Etten – Serpents
Download Sharon Van Etten – Serpents mp3 (from Tramp)
9. Adele – Set Fire To The Rain
8. The Decemberists – January Hymn
7. The Black Keys – Lonely Boy
6. Charlene Soraia – Wherever You Will Go
5. Friends – I’m His girl
4. Lykke Li – Sadness Is A Blessing
Download Lykke Li – Sadness Is A Blessing mp3 (from Wounded Rhymes)
3. Florence and the Machine – What The Water Gave Me
2. Lana Del Rey – Video Games
1. Laura Marling – Sophia