July 22-24, 2011
Friday 22nd July
Quietly, unassumingly, Truck Festival has become an annual celebration of all that is so very right about music. When the Bennett brothers witnessed the exploitative attitude of industrial sized events they didn’t just get mad they got even. Truck Festival was their baby and now in its fourteenth year it has blossomed into a rather lovely adolescent. The rotary club banana smoothie stall was in full flow by the time Mechanical Bride played the Transgressive Records curated Clash stage early on Friday evening. Fresh from her serene album launch in a central London church Lauren Doss now embraced the Truck religion of niceness and projected her angelic purity – pitched somewhere between Bat For Lashes and Feist – at the early arrivals. Wandering between the stages is a pleasure rather than the usual obstacle course of inebriates, broken flags and noodle strewn mud which it often becomes at other festivals. Courteous crowds and smiling faces is the norm.
Transgressive choices Peggy Sue wore their hearts on their sleeves with their battered and bruised raw pop tales and Johnny Flynn provided pretty boy folk but the Friday fling was over on the main stage. Bellowhead lit the folk fusion fuse and the phoney war was over. Truck exploded to the charisma of Jon Boden and his rather large band of merrymakers. Folk songs and shanties from Norfolk and Hampshire really do rock. Who knew?! Graham Coxon over on the other stage was more of a slow burner. He seemed to be just going through the motions and keeping his guitar techie busy. Then he lost his jacket and took off his specs and started to really enjoy himself. His version of “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” was happily reminiscent of The Jam and “Freakin’ Out” was his tent-shifting finale.
Saturday 23rd July
As befitting of such a polite festival the torrential rain kindly fell overnight and didn’t spoil the fun. So come Saturday, the Truck fairies (aka village volunteers) had cleared away the debris of the first night and Hill Farm was ready for more organic ale, bacon rolls and the sweet indie pop of Alphabet Backwards. Their boy-girl vocal exchanges provided the perfect start to a sunny day. Then Bleeding Heart Narrative offered something a little more intense in the vein of Arcade Fire. ‘Kooky’ doesn’t begin to describe Sea of Bees Julie Baenziger adequately enough. Collaborations with the whole band like “Gnomes” gave off a brilliant alt-rock vibe with more than a nod to Belly. Yet on her own Baenziger had hints of Joanna Newsom but with bags more confidence. So much that she cheekily played an encore!
As news broke of the final demise of a former Brit School pupil a true survivor was gracing Truck – Edwyn Collins. This remarkable man chose life. Considering his back catalogue with Orange Juice and his string of solo albums he could easily be forgiven if he just basked in past glories and continued his recuperation but Edwyn is a fighter. He hobbled on to the Clash stage with the aid of a stick and sat before the mic. A hushed reverence enveloped the arena which was only broken by regular outbreaks of rapturous applause as he sang songs from his Losing Sleep album. He threw in a few Orange Juice tracks – “What Presence”, “Falling And Laughing” and “Rip It Up” – to keep the forty-somethings happy. The final standing ovation was overwhelming both for the audience and Edwyn himself.
A different kind of icon followed. Sarah Cracknell glammed up the chilly night with the sublime dance pop vibe of Saint Etienne and more than a little of her Mum-dancing. Armed with a David Cassidy annual she headed straight into her spoken word delivery on “Girl VII” and then added in some new songs, before a grand, glittering finale of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “Nothing Can Stop Us” inspired some air-punching euphoria.
In spite of all the organic ale and curry being consumed, by Sunday lunchtime the toilets remained relatively reek-free. No-one had romped in the mud for a clichéd tabloid snap. The festival remained flag free and the red kites soaring over the thermals up above the Oxfordshire countryside provided the natural high. Niceness reigned once again. An egg and bacon butty and a dose of Cashier No 9 (pictured) seemed a good, calm way to start the day. Having paid only passing attention to their debut album the hypnotic, jangly, psychedelia came as a pleasant and mesmerising surprise. Then Geordie six piece Lanterns On The Lake conjured up the archetypal Bella Union sound – ethereal, sonic soundscapes all tied together by Hazel Wilde’s soothing vocal.
It was odd that at such a cosy shindig most acts had offered little interaction with the festival folk. Caitlin Rose wanted to change that. The sassy country rocker tried her best with the post-prandial posse lounging before her. “I’m not trying to be smart but all my songs are about nature…” she drawled…”last one was about clouds. This one is about rabbits. Saw one today. Winked at me…” No reaction! Clearly beaten she said “Okay to suit the mood we’re going to play something a little slower. And sad”. Festival founders Joe and Robin Bennett saved the final slot on the main stage for themselves. Who could blame them? In their latest incarnation as The Dreaming Spires they beamed their way through their set of alt-country rock dropping hints of what was still to come at the Clash stage later. Their enthusiasm and charm is infectious and has made Truck such a special event over the years.
The grand finale was really the worst kept secret of the festival. The news of the Truck All-Stars playing the Fleetwood Mac album Rumours in its entirety had been leaked prior to the festival opening. So when The Magic Numbers, Sarah Cracknell, Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou and others joined the Bennetts on stage few were surprised. Yet nobody could have predicted such an electrifying performance. Song after song was executed with surprising precision in spite of, or maybe because of the whisky-bribes of Joe Bennett on keyboards! Sarah Cracknell made a brave attempt at Songbird but it was Michele Stodart and Angela Gannon who stole the show with a ballsy delivery of the Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks tracks. It only remained for the cross-dressing barman and festival mascot the Truck monster to join the All-Stars and the evening and Truck Festival 2011 was complete.
Photos: Sally Saveall/Don Blandford