One of the UK’s finest small festivals, Truck, has just had its twentieth birthday – and the site at Hill Farm, near the Oxfordshire village of Steventon celebrated in style with a guest list that belied the ‘small’ festival moniker. Boasting headliners Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines and The Vaccines on the main Truck Stage, plus a significant undercard and some of the brightest new talent around on the other six live music stages, there surely was something for everyone – and if you preferred your music to be DJ led, the Palm City arena with another two stages pumped music into the early hours.
Last year, Truck Festival basked under clear skies. The tinder dry grass turned to straw and the site echoed to the sound of suntan lotion being slapped on backs. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the weekend of Truck 2017 (rain, and plenty of it) might have made the hydrangeas happy, if not necessarily the average festivalgoer. Still, they often get it wrong, don’t they? Anyone remember Michael Fish and that storm? Anyone remember Michael Fish?
At least when I arrived on Friday it was dry and I must say the farm looked splendid. With only one outdoor stage and sensible placement of the others, every stage is sonically isolated and offers a great experience – no mean feat for a such a compact site. You can walk from one end of Truck to the other in five minutes – at least you could at four o’ clock on Friday.
My first landing site was at the Truck Stage to catch London four-piece The Big Moon banging out some guitar enthused crunch. An all-female lineup, this was to become a common theme as the weekend progressed. Truck are nothing if not an equal opportunities employer. My time on Friday and Saturday was primarily spent bouncing between the Truck Stage, the second Market Stage and The Nest – a tent that delivered punk and underground sounds and that generally didn’t believe in lighting the talent. The schedule in there was running behind too – the pit security manager telling me that the big top had been subject to a late health and safety check. I hope they had it tied down properly, it was getting mighty windy outside.
Friday highlights on the Market Stage included Dream Wife, Jaws and British Sea Power a band so eclectic they’re practically impossible to pigeonhole. They drew a big crowd too. I quickly fell in love with The Nest though, where some of my favourite performances of the whole weekend were to be found. On Friday, Roam, Arcane Roots, Pulled Apart By Horses and Bury Tomorrow practically blew the tent apart. For my personal health and safety check, earplugs were a necessity.
Earplugs were also necessary for my next appointment where Spanish all female (see, told you) four-piece Hinds, surely the least talented band to have ever made it out of sixth-form, were inexplicably playing a set on the main Truck Stage. Watching guitarists (loose term) Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote struggling to play barre chords whilst drummer (equally loose term) Amber Grimbergen struggled to keep time was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Please, when will this peculiar bubble burst?
By now, it was clear that Michael Fish and his mates had got it right. It had started to rain, hard. I took a nostalgic look at the lush green grass for it was starting to disappear. My personal Friday highlight, Slaves, played through lashing rain but were no less enjoyable for that. Laurie Vincent (guitar) and Isaac Holman (drums) are either geniuses or completely mad, or quite possibly both. Whatever they are, they are certainly entertaining. Friday closed with Glasgow rockers Franz Ferdinand, another band the excitement for which I’ve never entirely understood. Still, they did put in a very energetic performance and sent the by now bedraggled festivalgoers off to the dance tents with smiles on their faces.
Saturday started life bright and sunny, but by lunchtime, the heavens had opened. I went for cover in the Market Stage tent with The Shimmer Band – an Oasis/Stone Roses crossover with a chunk of psychedelia thrown in, of which I’ve only heard good things. They didn’t disappoint – a really enjoyable performance. Vant, on the main stage drew a big crowd. They did the ‘crouch on the floor, jump in the air’ routine – a manoeuvre made harder when you’re practically skating on ice.
By mid-afternoon, Friday’s grass was but a distant memory though nobody seemed to mind. The ‘TRUCK’ sign, which yesterday had seen a little pen drawn graffiti, now bore signatures hand written in mud. Whilst slithering between stages, one Truck Festival ritual I missed was the Saturday Afternoon Paint Fight. I had considered the combination of the rain and the powdered paint and concluded that I liked owning cameras that worked. Having seen the aftermath, I think I probably made the right decision.
Instead, I headed back to The Nest for Superfood. When I arrived, there seemed to be something of a sound check crises going down with everything appearing to be plugged into the wrong boxes. The clock ticked. I was in danger of missing Sundara Karma, next up on the Truck Stage. Shame as Superfood were a band I really wanted to see. But so were Sundara Karma – I guess it’s a nice problem to have. The ‘Ooh Jeremy Corbyn’ chant started up. Again. Do people only do that when they’re bored? Then out of nowhere, Superfood appeared and were brilliant. Phew… Off to see Sundara Karma, another great performance and another box ticked. Truck was certainly serving up the music if not the weather.
Following Sundara Karma I tried to get back into The Nest for another on the hit list, The Magic Gang. The tent was rammed, I suspect partly because of the weather but primarily because there’s a lot of buzz about this band too. It was a lost cause so I went for Pumarosa on the Market Stage instead. It seemed a smaller crowd or maybe it just looked it in the comparatively cavernous environment. Good performance though.
Nothing But Thieves were next on the main stage – and are another band I’ve been wanting to see. Vocalist and front man Conor Mason doesn’t really look like a rock star, but my God he sounds like one – with a vocal range that puts him in Matt Bellamy territory – esteemed company indeed. Another really enjoyable performance; Mason actively encouraged crowd surfing, which security liked a lot less than the audience. The Wombats followed, a band that don’t really light my fire – but you can’t ignore the energy on tap, especially from bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen. You can’t ignore the volume of several thousand-people screaming the words to Moving To New York directly behind your lugholes either.
The Moonlandingz were next in The Nest, a band who look as weird as they sound, though they were strangely compelling – front man Lias Kaci Saoudi coming out smoking a fag and clasping a couple of bottles of IPA. It was an entertaining precursor to arguably the highlight of the whole weekend, The Libertines. They came out a few minutes late, though I’m pleased to say this was as unpredictable as it got for Carl Barât and Pete Doherty. These days, Doherty nearly always turns up and the band sound more cohesive than they ever have. The set list was littered with tunes from the comeback Anthems For Doomed Youth, though not surprisingly, it’s the bangers of old that got the most riotous reception. They closed with Don’t Look Back Into The Sun and drunken strains of it could be heard in the campsite and beyond for some time to come.
Sunday dawned with more bright sunshine, though once again by lunchtime the clouds rolled in and rain fell. The precipitation was mercifully short-lived however and slowly through the afternoon, the site started to dry out. You no longer slid through the mud, you stuck to it. The place would have made a good Royal Marines training ground. I tried the smaller stages today – notably The Barn, which is actually a barn, was rumoured to smell of cow shit and did. My first appointment there was with young Swedish four-piece Junodef – who according to their Facebook page occupy a slot in the Post-Death genre. It seemed to involve a certain amount of angst though they were another compelling discovery.
Voodoo And The Crypts, another band in The Barn didn’t sound like their name at all. Poppy jangles with occasional psychedelic twangs, imagine Palace (who themselves played a great set on the Market Stage) after a session on a weight trainer. Guitarist Jordan Woolnough broke a string towards the end of the set. His mates jammed, whilst he disappeared for what I assumed to be a spare guitar. Jordan returned with a single string and whilst the others continued to play, he did the fastest on-stage string change I’ve ever seen. Respect.
Meanwhile, on the main stage, Cabbage did what they do (seen them live twice now and whilst I like them, I’m still not quite sure what that is) and Deaf Havana blew away any remaining cobwebs warming the crowd for Maximo Park, who delivered another stand-out performance from the weekend. Front man Paul Smith was hugely entertaining with his staccato moves and engagement with the crowd. This only left Twin Atlantic, who drew by far the biggest audience I saw all weekend at the Market Stage (I suspect on Saturday Loyle Carner at least matched it, though he didn’t entice me) and The Vaccines to close out the live music from Truck 2017.
I beat a slightly premature exit. I wasn’t planning on staying Sunday night and having seen the state of the car park feared I might have been had I left with everyone else.
Truck has picked up some heat for becoming too big – for losing a little of the small festival charm that made it what it was. I guess it’s a victim of its own success. For me, it was the perfect combination of compact and bijou, whilst now having enough clout to attract the names it did. Sure, it would have been great had the grass remained beyond Friday, but you can’t have it all. The smiles on the faces of the people in the bog told you they didn’t mind a bit.
Review & Photography by Simon Reed. Truck Festival at Hill Farm, Steventon: 21st to 23rd July 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk