review archive

Truck Festival - Hillside Farm, Steventon 24th July 2004

Hmm…Reading Festival. It’s gone a bit crap lately hasn’t it? We can’t be bothered with it all anymore. If only there was a festival packed full of musical goodness that wasn’t associated with the Mean Meany MEAN Fiddler and didn’t bombard you with adverts for rubbish lager* and wasn’t sponsored by tedious magazines** and crappy over-priced record shops***. And if only this festival was located in a beautiful corner of the English countryside and had a small (say about 3,000 people) friendly audience that didn’t spend their evenings building fires that belch out carcinogenic fumes. What if the general ethos behind this festival was ‘There is no cut throat capitalism, no huge entry fees, and no inappropriate huge advertising boards It's a nice day out in the countryside with a few beers and a plethora of bands.’? Aah, the stuff of fantasy, no? No! For here we are on a bright sunny morn tripping along an ancient, tree-lined cobbled path (no we ARE!) to be welcomed into the cheery arms of the Truck Festival folk. We get a groovy free programme and it’s all a million miles from the grim trudge along that stinky road in Reading. (*Carling **NME ***HMV - credit where credit’s due, eh?)

The Glory of Truck
When the festival is declared open, we happily scurry along the edge of a large crop of maize (possibly) to the main field where most of the top pop action is, like ready to rock field-mice.
We decide to take stock and flop down on the grass (which will remain unsullied by noodles for the whole weekend) in front of the main stage, this consists of two large flat-bed trucks (can you see what they’ve done there?). Time to crack open the vodka and peruse the programme as the pleasant enough chiming poppety-rock of Toulouse helps us to acclimatise. As I stretch out in the sun, Danny from the September Girls joins Toulouse and they belt out their last song, sounding summery joyful, but I’m distracted. Is that really a minute Tigger pottering about in front of me? Yes it is, for this is the sort of place that people bring their small children (dressed as Disney characters) to. It’s fun for all the family, behind me is an elderly woman (kids! I’m talking granny-stylee here, not someone in their forties) carefully scanning her programme for Electric Eel Shock (probably).
Vera Cruise As Tigger unearths and spills a packet of bourbons from mother’s bag, Glaswegian strummers Vera Cruise step up. I’m thinking Thirteen Wheeler, I’m thinking Urusei Yatsura without the raygun fizz, I’m thinking this kind of band was ten-a-penny circa 1991, it was all check-shirted melodic-rockin’ with Dinosaur tinges in them days. I’m thinking there’s a spider climbing up my cup. Do spiders get drunk?As the tunes amble by, I survey the field. In the corner there’s a hastily erected screen of plastic sheeting. Men go and wee behind this. I avert my gaze.
The September Girls are on. They seem to consist of Danny from the September Girls and a Goldrush bloke on woobling keyboards. You can’t help but notice Danny ‘cos he keeps striding about the place in a white cowboy shirt and floppy black hair. His songs are less noticeable, gently pleasing country-rock acoustic thingies. The programme tells us he’s ‘an LA hipster’. Far out. I get amused when I think he sings, ‘You’re a shit-bomb’, but then realise it’s ‘You’re a ship on the ocean.’ Oh well. The rest of Goldrush come on and show us what The September Girls are meant to be about as a whole band, i.e. The Thrills.
The sun shines, the same cd that will be played between bands for the entire two days completes its first cycle – you’ve got to love a festival that plays Thomas Truax as incidental music. The Colour of Fire appear on stage. Aah bless, they’re wee skinny boyz playing the kind of big old rock guitars that work in wide open spaces. A bit Ash, a bit emo. The music means nothing to me, but it’s impossibly cute watching them do rock licks ‘n’ everything. I’m sure the kidz’ll love this stuff. ‘This one’s called ‘Second Class Citizen’ shouts the tin-ribs singer. Aww, someone in sixth form’s pissed him off.
We try to mix vodka with Panda Pops orange squash. It tastes foul, but there’s vodka in it so we force it down.
The Colour Of Fire - bless
To take our minds off the taste, we wander over to the Barn That Cannot Be Named. It’s a cowshed. It smells of cows. But there’s a glitterball hanging from the ceiling. And a band playing on a stage at the far end. This is weird. It’s my childhood reality meets my childhood daydreams. Can you guess which bit is which? My Awesome Compilation are playing melodic, harmonic poppunk. It’s all very tight and well done you kids for making this shiny tricksy popstuff, but it’s all a bit sound-by-numbers. Nonstop XFM playlisting here they come.
Wandering blinking into the sunshine, we find The Upper Room doing stand up straight pop on the main stage. ‘All Over this Town’ has driving bass, tumbling guitar and Smithsy phrasing. The singer looks very eighties indie in his leather jacket and look! he’s doing the Tony Hadley polite microphone hold and ooh! there! a Rickenbaker. That’ll be where the jangle is emanating from, coating the small-town, cul-de-sac ennui of the lyrics with a sugary ache. ‘This is a sharp end of a knife’ warbles the singer. It isn’t really though is it? They sound like the kind of also-rans Janice Long played. Like The Submarines or The Corn Dollies. The ones you used to end up taping anyway and sort of loving eventually. Meanwhile, a hippy with an enorm beard and a lovely ribbon holding up his ponytail dances enthusiastically at the front. On his own. Equally charmed and alarmed, we trundle over to the Acoustic stage which has been housed outside of the main (cough) ‘arena’ in the market field, presumably to enable the acoustic performers a fighting chance of being heard.
Mark Gardener - blimey! We snuggle ourselves in a corner of the bijou Acoustic Tent ready for Mark Gardener to whisk us back through the mists of time via the medium of old Ride songs. My favourite Ride rekkid was always ‘Carnival Of Light’ - when it all started going horribly wrong and they weren’t talking to each other and they wore stripy blazers and sat in olden chairs in a lake looking mental. So I swoon merrily to ‘From Time To Time’ its dippy wistfulness chiming perfectly in this pastoral setting. Mark’s rocking a ‘30-something does festival casual’ look in a jacket, jeans ‘n’ flip-flops (yikes!) combo. Hair razed in a severe crop, he isn’t the floppy indie moppet of 1990, but then, who is?
Joining him as he spangles on his twelve-string is Nick Moorbath, owner of the Zodiac, plus That Goldrush Bloke again, how very Oxford. There are fiddle bits and trumpety bits and new stuff gets mixed amongst the olden tunes. ‘Beautiful Ghosts’ breezes along with that familiar melancholy yearning, ‘Magdalen Sky’ has a bombastic loveliness. The indie kids squirm joyfully to ‘Dreams Burn Down’ and ‘Leave Them All Behind’ which sound strummily sprightly denuded of their effects pedal layers.
Outside again we see one of the Action Men, ‘You’re an Action Man!’ I tell him eruditely, pointing rudely. He does a brief dance move to confirm that I am correct and tells us we should see The Brakes. So we do. In the Lounge Tent (so called ‘cos there’s a settee in one corner). Cor! It’s a bit sweaty in here, everyone’s squished in to marvel at the little moustachey bloke from Electric Soft Parade passing a joint to his fellow band members who include Eamon from British Sea Power being scary on vocals. They play lots of stumpy stunted alarming songs that are not so much quirky as demented – this is an ace thing. One goes, ‘Won’t you shut the fuck up, I’m just trying to watch the band’ a sentiment close to my own heart on many an occasion, it lasts for half a minute (ish, I didn’t time it). Another one goes ‘Stop Being Such A Dick!’ That’s it. End of song. Concise and to the point, none of that messing about with choruses and middle eights and taking it to the bridge nonsense. The Brakes

We hear ‘Quite a negative song about a band’, it goes, ‘I heard about your band/And now you’re in the fucking NME!’ There are ripsnorting riffs and Eamon looks rather angry about things, but then they cover The Jesus And Mary Chain’s ‘Sometimes Always’ lobbing a loopy guitar solo into its midst as Eamon plays the parts of both Jim Reid and Hope Sandoval. This is the best fun so far.

Intrigued by the name Tiger Club, we pace the ten metres across the field to the Trailer Park Tent only to find two nondescript geezers singing meaningful harmonies against lush keyboards and guitars. It’s kind of ‘Carnival of Light’-lite, wist-pop stuff. Without the sitting in a lake bit. A girl who looks like you could copy your homework off her sits behind her keyboard, hands folded in her lap, grinning at her mates in the audience. Oh the unattainable glamour.

We stagger out to grab ourselves chairs (wow! civilised sitting down on real furniture) in the Acoustic Tent. Everyone is happily sitting ensconced until a gaggle of folks stride in and stand slap bang at the front. The formerly mellow floor-dwelling crowd becomes disgruntled, muttering occurs, shouting starts, stuff is thrown. Joe Sgt Buzfuz (for ‘tis he!) politely asks the view-blocking offenders to sit down and is snapped at nastily. Amidst this simmering, Thomas Truax trundles onstage, bright blue eyes under a mat of black hair. Complaining happens, Thomas bemusedly asks The Standing People to sit down so the rest of the audience can maybe see him perform. The Standing People take offence and storm out. We all cheer, ‘Hurrah!’ Festival justice is done. Later The Standing People corner Thomas to tell him how distraught they are by this treatment and that they paid £35 just to come here and see him. So why didn’t they just sit down and like, you know, watch along with everyone else? Drama queens.

Thomas Truax After this excitement, we’re ready for a trip to Wowtown with Mr Truax, a place where songs like ‘Prove It To My Daughter’ swoop like happy bats out of the twilight. ‘Shooting Stars’ marches, gulps and yodels as Thomas jumps about the incredibly bouncy stage, inadvertently turning it into a trampoline. The Truax touring contingent of The Hornicator and Sister Spinster (oddball genius home-made instruments) are joined by the Spinster’s new baby brother, the Backbeater. He’s worn on Thomas’ back like a rucksack and ticks out a monster purring heartbeat to accompany an eerie version of ‘Summertime’. Thomas takes the Hornicator for its traditional stroll around the audience, gathering samples of people’s voices for ‘The Fish’ before playing back our looped applause. We all sound very impressed.
It’s 7pm, the sun’s low and the wind’s rising. We can’t get into the crammed Trailer Park tent to see Piney Gir, the vodka’s long gone, we’ve sampled the veggie burgers served up by an efficient production line of local Rotary Club jolly old uncle types. Time to get out whilst the going’s good. So we get the bus back to Oxford to drink cups of tea and watch ‘Big Brother’. Victor’s been evicted you know.
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