I have great expectations for No Direction Home, the new festival from the people behind End of the Road. Set in the beautiful grounds of Welbeck Abbey on the edge of Sherwood Forest.
It rains for much of Friday, but that fails to dampen the mood of the festival crowd. The first highlight of the day comes in the shape of Diagrams, the latest project from Sam Genders. The former Tunng frontman’s new project was an instant hit with the crowd, and seemed to coincide with the main stage beginning to fill up. They invested their £15 special effects budget on Poundland balloons, which fill the sky at the finale of their set. The festival has well and truly begun. On the second stage, Best Friends and Wet Nuns play back-to-back. Two great performances, with the former in particular impressing me; they really seem at home on a festival stage.
Meanwhile, on the main stage, Lanterns on the Lake provide a perfect soundtrack to the beautiful surroundings. One of the most anticipated bands of the weekend, Django Django, are up next. Whilst their set goes down well with the crowd, they leave me pretty cold; I was expecting a lot more from them. The joint headliners for the evening are Dirty Three and The Low Anthem. Many people seem to be at the festival just to see Warren Ellis, Mick Turner and Jim White work their magic, and they do not disappoint. Eliis cavorts around the stage like an escapee from a mental institution; a born showman. They are followed by The Low Anthem, who take it down a notch, guaranteeing a perfect end to the first day’s proceedings on the main stage. Over at The Flying Boat Society there is a slight concern that the river will take over, but thankfully the rain relents. Rachael Dadd captivates the crowd with her beautiful musicianship and unassuming stage presence. The night is not over yet as it seems everyone is crammed into the Electric Dustbowl to watch Austra create a real party atmosphere, leaving everyone wanting more. Despite Mother Nature’s best attempts, day 1 is a huge success.
Day 2, and the weather seems to be beginning to pick up. The main stage has a run of impressive musicians. The first band I catch today is Liz Green. It is a change for me to see her with a full band, but it certainly works in this environment. Next up is guitar legend Martin Simpson, who gives a virtuoso performance in guitar skills. Euros Child are missing a member and call for a volunteer from the crowd. Their request is answered by a suspiciously familiar face (who may have been studying the Cider Bus too intently!) and they proceed to play an impressive set; dedicating Cavendish Hall to the stately surroundings. Over in the Electric Dustbowl, Leeds born David Thomas Broughton exudes a strong presence on stage; holding the audience in his thrall throughout, if there is any justice in music, he will become a household name.
Despite being distracted by a passing bird, Beth Jeans Houghton and her bunch of ragtag (and temporarily moustached) Hooves of Destiny are one of the best bands of the weekend. Their eclectic musical style and use of a menagerie of instruments prove a huge hit with the revellers. They are followed by Other Lives, but it would seem that today’s real draw is Gruff Rhys. The Super Furry Frontman appears in an orange mac, prompts the audience with a set of handy boards, and makes a huge impression; the Welsh maverick is a true showman and everyone laps it up. The camera-shy Andrew Bird finishes off on the main stage, but I’ve already found a campfire and a pop-up acoustic stage by then.
Trembling Bells start proceedings and coax the sun out of her hiding place, providing a sparkling start on what turns out to be a beautiful day. The Wave Pictures are a band I’ve somehow managed never to see live, which turns out to be my loss as they are pretty damn good. They are followed by a true folk legend. We are quickly mesmerised by the masterful command and aura that surrounds Martin Carthy. Oor Hamlet in particular is a huge hit with the basking Sunday crowd. It’s a pleasure to witness someone of his stature performing live. The Crookes impress in the Electric Dustbowl; producing a typically energetic show. I’ve seen Slow Club on countless occasions, but never with a full band. It really works, especially with the newer material, and it’s great to see them having so much fun.
Former Mercury Award-nominees, The Unthanks, are joined by the award-winning Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, and it proves to be a winning combination; a perfect fusion for a hazy Sunday evening. One thing that stands out strongly about No Direction Home is the friendly, family orientated, atmosphere; their collaboration is a big hit with all ages. I just have time to catch the beguilingly quirky and captivating Laura J Martin wrap up proceedings on the Flying Boat Society; there are smiles all round. Many people seem to have made the short trip today to see headliner Richard Hawley, and despite having recently broken his leg in Barcelona, he gives a great performance (even finding time for a cider pit-stop), providing a fitting climax to a wonderful weekend of music. His latest album really seems be capturing the imagination.
A recurring theme throughout the weekend is the wonderful atmosphere, friendly staff and responsible pricing. As I head home, I vow to be in attendance next year.