Friday, December 03, 2010

Unlucky for none: Truck 13 2010

My fourth summer in Oxfordshire: high time this festival fun-seeker paid a visit to the one right underneath his nose. Truck is held in one of the two villages my bus passes through on the way to work in the morning, so my previous non-attendance is shameful. Even now, the 1-2-3-4 means I'm only set to experience the second and final day of the bash, though will in the process be setting a new first: two festivals in one weekend...

The day begins in fine fashion: blue skies (again), a lift to the site from my neighbour, no queue whatsoever, a cheerful and welcoming security guy, coffee for a mere quid courtesy of the Didcot Rotary Club, a hook-up and catch-up with a couple of work colleagues, a refreshing (after yesterday) absence of ridiculous and punchworthy outfits and haircuts... How very genteel, becalming and civilised.

So one of the first outfits pressed into Sunday service, Oxford's own PHANTOM THEORY (Barn), are the equivalent of Brian Blessed bellowing "Morning, campers!" through a loudspeaker directly into your lughole. The pair have applied to play twice before, so it's third time lucky - and they're grateful for the company: "Thanks for coming - you could be sleeping. You're missing out". Us early risers are treated to a new song called 'Gary' - "If you can think of a better name for it, come and tell us" - as well as vicious opener 'Trancedog' and a closing track which sounds pleasingly like the Smashing Pumpkins' 'Silverfuck' given a meaty metal makeover. The duo's impact is magnified by being within the concrete confines of the Barn, which may stink of shit but which permits an effective light show at midday and actually makes for a tremendous venue.

Certainly it is compared to the legendary Truck Stage itself - still a flat-bed trailer underneath it all, for old times' sake, but curiously positioned so it's uphill of the audience and coming up a bit short in the amplification stakes. The thankless task of entertaining a listless crowd sunning their way through hangovers falls to BORDERVILLE, who more than compensate for Phantom Theory's lack of pretension with a pronounced theatricality borne out as much by their dress shirts as by their string section and musical eccentricities. It's as if Tim Burton was one of Mumford's sons (actually, he lives in a neighbouring village...). As laudable as it is to be raggamuffins dreaming of being royalty, I'm more interested in procuring a pint of Truck's very own lager, from the Cotswold Brewing Company - at £3.50 a pint a marked improvement on yesterday's £3.80 for a San Miguel.

From dress shirts to no shirt. Having also busied himself drumming with La Roux, I Was A Cub Scout and Young Legionnaire, it's little wonder that William Bowerman should have precious little time for upper body clothing. He's here with BRONTIDE (Barn), whom I glimpsed all too briefly at last year's Southsea Fest and whose taut and muscular (if occasionally self-indulgent) math-metal is a bruising joy. Frontman Tim Hancock, wearing a snapped string round his neck, announces "I've lost my voice - if anyone finds it, can they give it back" - good job they're instrumental, then - as assorted Nightshift scribes look on. What's the collective noun - a hackle?

To the "food hall", which turns out to be a less-grand-than-anticipated tent staffed by an army of Rotary Club members of varying ages and degrees of senility. The construction of my burger leaves a lot to be desired (the cheese is more out than in, for a start), but you can help yourself to as much salad as you want, it's good value and it's all for the benefit of local charidees.

I've read plenty about DEAD JERICHOS (Market Stage) and now finally come face to face with Drayton's answer to Arctic Monkeys indulging in a bit of fisticuffs with Foals. They've certainly got the cocky spoiling-for-a-scrap attitude, a dynamic (if vocally limited) frontman in Craig Evans and a handful of decent enough songs ('She Says The Word', for instance) but they've got some serious tightening up to do if they want to fulfil any potential. Not that the crowd seems to care, a combustible congregation of teens buzzing on youth and booze.

Speaking of which, nearby there's a chap selling Butts beer out the back of a white Transit van. I get a pint of the rather lovely Barbus barbus for £3 and smile at the fact that although he sells proper cider (none of your mass-marketed pear nonsense), he confesses to gritting his teeth when serving it in preference of real ale.

Time to venture a hypothesis: when it comes to band names, "Wild" is the new "Black", "Blood" or "Dead". Wild Beasts, Wild Palms and now WILD NOTHING (Village Pub). Jack Tatum's influences - The Smiths, New Order, C86 - are transparent in the basslines and the gentle jangle of the guitars. Pleasant enough, but not much to stir me - though it does rouse a couple of toddlers with ear defenders to dance around the ubiquitous loon at the front (Big Jeff from Bristol, apparently) like he's some kind of poodle-haired maypole.

Strange and wonderful things have clearly been afoot in Cardiff since I left. It might be stretching the term a bit far to describe ISLET (Barn) as a "supergroup", but they do feature former members of The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, Attack + Defend, Fredrick Stanley Starr and Sweet Baboo. Cardiff indie royalty are also represented in the audience by Harriet Los Campesinos! and Carl of Forecast. Trying to make sense of Islet and piece together what happens is impossible, so I won't even try. Here's a list: one naff brown jumper, one supremely ridiculous moustache, a lot of tambourine abuse and wandering around the crowd, fluid and frequent movement between instruments like some kind of circuit training for musicians, the odd sample, some songs that are almost purely percussive, one song that starts off as reggae and ends up like Rolo Tomassi. They leave us with an exhortation to stick around for Future Of The Left "despite their new members" and me with a curiosity as to whether I really enjoyed them but also a certainty that I want to experience them again.

Poseur cocks in aviator shades and "I Heart NY" T-shirts who worship the ground Kasabian's Serge Pizzorno drags his knuckles along and who declare of the Village Pub: "This is the main stage and we're headlining". Yes, SOUND OF GUNS need shooting. Sadly, a glittering career probably awaits. Locals are just as guilty of Big Rock Bluster, though - as A SILENT FILM (Truck Stage) prove. Once upon a time they were a metal band, Shouting Myke, but listening to this blandly epic epically bland guff it's hard to imagine it.

Oh how clever I thought I was yesterday, deliberately missing Veronica Falls (aka The Pains Of Being C86 Revivalists With Morbid Fixations At Heart) at the 1-2-3-4 in favour of other things as I'd be seeing them today. Not so - they're running late due to traffic and might not make it at all. Worse still, does that not also spell trouble for Fucked Up, who'll be making the same journey? It doesn't bear thinking about, I decide, trying to avoid eye contact with the scary checkout girl from Waitrose.

Nottingham's DOG IS DEAD (Village Pub) are a welcome distraction: a rather unlikely but intriguing concoction of vogueish Afrobeat guitars, hollered harmonies borrowed from the Futureheads (particularly on set-closer 'The Zoo'), a generous dash of pop classicism, some Dexys sax (the latter supplied by a chap sporting the most extraordinary ginger Tory Boy bouffant) and - on 'Glockenspiel Song', at least - the irrepressible youthful vigour and barely contained chaos of early Los Campesinos!.

Sandwiched inbetween Foals and Stornaway - who were by all accounts surprisingly upstaged by Bellowhead last night - LITTLE FISH (Barn) were the local scene's darlings. Through signing to hitmaker Linda Perry's Custard Records and decamping across the Atlantic to record a debut LP (Baffled And Beat) which is at long, long last on the verge of release, the duo have become somewhat detached from their original Oxford fanbase, and so this is a chance to reconnect. How will stints on the road with Blondie, Alice In Chains, Supergrass, Eagles Of Death Metal and Juliette Lewis (amongst others) have honed their garage rock craft? Not having witnessed them before, perhaps I'm not the best to judge - but my report card reads contrived, derivative and flat. Julia "Juju" Heslop is a naturally talented frontwoman but her affected accent immediately grates, any edge they may have had has been sanded off and their gurning waistcoat-clad keyboard player looks to have been parachuted in from a limp cabaret act. In short, not worth the wait.

In need of a drink and with the main bar temporarily sold out of Truck Lager, I toddle off to the Butts van and find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with Whispering Bob Harris, Market Stage curator for the day. Could have guessed he'd be an aficionado of foaming ales.

Back in the main arena, I'm confronted by the frankly terrifying sight of Pulled Apart By Horses' pitbull of a drummer Lee Vincent heading directly for me - it always pays to be wary of a man with a big tattoo on the front of his neck, I find. Meanwhile, fellow sticksman Jack Egglestone of Future Of The Left is engaged in conversation with a couple of small children - schooling them in the art of the paradiddle, perhaps, or explaining the lyrics to 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues'...

But before Vincent and Egglestone's bands set out to raze the Barn, draw the curtains and light the candles for it's Indie Noir Hour courtesy of CHAPEL CLUB. It's not clear what burden these youngsters are laden with - other than hundreds of single of the week awards and the pressure that comes with significant record label outlay - but burdened they appear to be. That the quintet spend an eternity setting up is symptomatic of a band who take themselves far too seriously and yet never really get beyond moping around in Editors' shadow. At least they have the good grace to endorse Islet, though.

And now there's a tough decision: Los Campesinos! and Blood Red Shoes vs Pulled Apart By Horses and Future Of The Left. The growing queues for the Barn mean it's effectively an either/or situation, not both, and the indoor venue's merits sway me towards the latter pair. Filing back into the Barn after a snatch of fresh air, someone else who's made the same decision observes to his companion: "I've got loads of scars. I'm basically just scar tissue". Well, you've come to the right place for more, my friend...

"So, we're Kula Shaker from Leeds". Enough of the taking yourself too seriously, then. "It stinks in here. You Oxford types..." Pay close attention, Little Fish - PULLED APART BY HORSES (Barn) are dishing out a free lesson in what the result of incessant gigging should be: an eyeball-popping intensity. Showing admirable disrespect for his own wellbeing, guitarist James Brown plunges off the speaker stack, and the crowd bump and jostle as an inflatable cow is batted back and forth over our heads. Steven Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter emerge to add extra clout to the climax of penultimate song 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat', and we're left nursing bruises and bangs with hardly enough time to get patched up before the next wave of attacks.

An ill-advised toilet visit means I'm stuck queuing to get back into the Barn - like cattle in a holding pen, appropriately enough - when FUTURE OF THE LEFT bust out Mclusky's 'To Hell With Good Intentions'. Damn it. Founder bassist Kelson Mathias recently defected to join former FOTL and Jarcrew bandmate Hywel Evans in Truckers Of Husk, but if Andy "Falco" Falkous and aforementioned drummer Egglestone have found his departure difficult, destabilising or traumatic, then it certainly doesn't show. Stepping into the breach (temporarily) is Oceansize bassist Steven Hodson, while they've also added a second guitarist, Jimmy Watkins, to their attack: "I'm not even on Wikipedia as being in the band, so do change that". That Falco's outfits remain a British riposte to Shellac is evident both in the juddering riffs and savage bite of the material - which includes a new track about destroying Whitchurch and another pair of Mclusky's songs mischievously advertised as being by Suede - and in the quality of his banter, whether conducting a conversation with Cardiff legend Jon Rostron in the crowd, describing mixing new material with old as "like letting your kids battle it out with swords" or, when someone answers a question with a smug "The latter", responding "That's what your dad told you to say"... The disassembling of Egglestone's kit as he plays would be an even more marvellous spectacle if it wasn't for the fact that it indicates their time's up.

So, where exactly do you go from there? Well hello there FUCKED UP, for the second time in two nights... The Torontonians may indeed have arrived late from the Big Smoke, as anticipated, but they definitely mean business. The way the guitarist carefully removes his glasses just before they kick off suggests he's either about to get smoochy or instigate a fight - thankfully, it turns out to be the latter (cheers Dad...). Drinks can meets cranium by force, and as the blood cascades down Pink Eyes' face, later wiped on those at the front, I suddenly realise the origin of his nickname. Kids have been drawn from far and wide (probably after sniggering at the band's moniker) and immediately I'm on the fringes of a good-naturedly violent circle pit, giving the youth of today a gentle nudge in the right direction now and again. This venue's probably used to containing charging bulls, and Pink Eyes is soon out meeting and greeting his sweaty public. As people clamour to touch him like he's some kind of lucky charm, he finds the time to pause and pose for photos mid-rampage. Among those caught up in the mayhem (or flattening themselves against the walls) are Islet, Wild Nothing and a fresh-from-the-Truck-Stage Blood Red Shoes. 'Crooked Head', 'Police' and 'Son The Father' form a devastating final trio and we're left to reflect favourably on the carnage wreaked at a generally well-mannered festival thanks to liberal security - and on the fact that tonight's performance in a cowshed in rural Oxfordshire was light years better than yesterday in the cooler-than-thou heart of the capital.

All of which means that TEENAGE FANCLUB (Truck Stage) are the musical equivalent of St John's Ambulance staff, brushing off the broken glass and applying some soothing balm to the lacerations. The age divide is obvious, Fannies fanatics being Radio2ophiles content to snuggle into a nice pair of slippers while Fucked Up ironically attracted the festival's teenage fanclub. But as children gambol about chasing bubbles and the sun slowly sinks, it's hard to imagine a better way for the festival to finish than with their bright harmonies and gentle, graceful Byrdsian guitar pop. 'Ain't That Enough'? Yes, it is.

Comparisons and contrasts with yesterday's 1-2-3-4 Festival have been hard to avoid, and I head for home mentally chalking up a knockout victory for Steventon over Shoreditch.


Anonymous said...

Did you make it this year?

Ben said...

I didn't, no - was down in London for the weekend, though the seriously cut-price ticket offer in the week or so running up to the festival nearly had us changing our plans. To be honest, the line-up looked really samey and uninteresting compared to last year's (something corroborated by most friends who actually went) - too many singer-songwriters performing without their bands and too little variety. Personally I was surprised at the lack of anyone remotely heavy/loud - last year's Sunday bill was blessed with a clutch of noisemakers as well as the likes of Teenage Fanclub. I suspect that the slowness of ticket sales was largely down to the line-up - something the organisers will need to address next year.