A new kid on the block this, but one with heritage. End of the Road has established itself as one of the best small festivals around, and this year the organisers inaugurated a young sibling known as No Direction Home, set within the exensive and picturesque estate of Welbeck Abbey on the fringes of Worksop. Having arrived in the driving rain, much of Friday was spent drying out and sizing up the main arena, so while the likes of Django Django and the Low Anthem were sounding good on the main stage, they weren’t holding our full attention.
Saturday began with a touch of Laish on the main stage. Brightonian, with lashings of the Miserable Rich and Divine Comedy, they provided a suitable overture to the jazz-blues inflexions of Liz Green. Accompanied by an oddly-attired band including a turbanned saxophonist and double bassist in misguided silken shorts, Green’s easy charm and rapport was an instant winner.
First revelation of the weekend was Martin Simpson. As a newcomer to his work, I was entranced by his exquisite, intricate bluesy picking and inventive re-tuning, not to mention heart-rending songs and delightful chat. I enjoyed it so much I was happy to watch him give a half-hour guitar techniques demonstration later in the day.
The Cornshed Sisters have become one of my favourite live acts of this year, though they seemed a little ill at ease on this occasion, displaying less of their customary wit and bonhomie and harmonies not always hitting the spot. Shame, because on their day they can be utterly beguiling. Menwhile Andrew Bird delivered great showmanship, brilliant musicality and some superb tunes. The weather wasn’t ideal, which took some of the sheen off, but I have the Roundhouse gig to look forward to, which should be a more intimate affair.
So on to Sunday, and a noontime encounter with Ned The Kids Dylan at the Rough Trade stall. This junior singer/guitarist was a revelation at last year’s End Of The Road with his self-penned tunes, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops. From there it was a short hop to the main stage for Trembling Bells. Their recent Union Chapel show with Bonnie Prince Billy suffered from a lack of punch, but with a sound system better suited to them, they came alive with bristling guitar and creative drumming that didn’t overpower the rest of the sound. A truly stunning set.
Cold Specks provided a slab of Sunday gospel. For a little lady, Al Spx has an amazingly powerful voice, almost overpowering at times, but perfect for kicking back on a blanket to. Then the Wave Pictures come along to wake us up, to bop around to their beaty tunes full of cheeky and intricate guitar licks.
The Flying Boating Club is a small boathouse at the edge of the beautiful lake, which has the feel of a pub beer garden. Here we saw Dog Ears, an acoustic three-piece combining the vocal harmonies of the Leisure Society with the guitar stylings of Nick Drake, and with an endearing and warm stage presence. Also here, Laura J. Martin was displaying her impressive multi-instrumentalism, especially some gutsy flute playing, reminiscent of Ian Anderson.
Back to the main stage for Slow Club, sounding crisp and clear thanks to the excellent mainstage sound. There’s nothing particularly original about them, but they have boundless energy and a sense of fun, and in Rebecca they have one of the finest vocalists around. The main stage was rounded off by Richard Hawley, who was debilitated by a leg injury and wheeled onto stage where he conducted his set from a seated position. He delivered a varied set with good humour and not a little rockabilly style.
So, how does the festival shape up? While it will, at least in the early days, live in the shadow of EOTR, distinctive features like the Flying Boating Club and many of the unique craft tents bring something different to the feast. There is plenty of room to move and indeed for the festival to expand. The sound quality is excellent, especially on the main stage, and there is a good range of stalls offering quality local food and ales. All in all, a good start.