Truck 2018: Livewire's Review
I finally did it.
Those of you who read my preview for this year’s Truck Festival will know that I had never been to a music festival before. Well, I am now happy to report that that is no longer true. I was among the many tired, sweaty, glitter-covered people who descended upon a field in Oxfordshire this past weekend to bask in the glory of the UK’s biggest small festival and I am delighted to say that it was well worth the 4am start time on Friday. I’m not kidding, I travelled from Plymouth to review this festival. The things I do for Livewire.
After arriving in Oxfordshire already exhausted from the long journey (4am, remember), me and my festival companion, Georgia, pitched the tent (which resulted in a small amount of arguing, but nothing was thrown) and then headed down into the arena, home to the seven music stages and various vendors of food, drink and other essential festival items – one of them sold bongs, because of course it did. Fairly uncultured in the world of indie music, I let Georgia lead the way to our first act, GIRLI, who played the second biggest stage of the weekend, the Market Stage. A fun, energetic rapper/singer/SJW (but in a good way), GIRLI’s set was characterised by her empowering lyrics, catchy beats, and statements against sexual harassment at festivals. She clearly knew her audience well, ending with the song they chanted for and Georgia picked up on the fact that she played a lot of new songs, clearly eager to show her fans what they can expect from her first album. All in all, a solid performance.
We stayed in the Market Stage tent for our next act, Goat Girl, an all-female rock band who, unlike GIRLI, made no reference to their gender during the act. It was curious to see two different approaches to being a woman in the music industry – GIRLI’s loud and proud statement of “I’m a woman in music, so what?” and Goat Girl’s decision to let their music do the talking. Both are very valid options and it was great to see that the women of this festival didn’t feel pressured into acting in one certain way. Goat Girl put on a great show, proving that they are one of the best smaller rock bands in the UK at the moment. Georgia summed up the performance in one word – “delicious”.
Our first trip to the main Truck Stage, which held a huge crowd compared to the Market Stage, was to see Circa Waves, whom I had heard of, but never really given much time to. Neither Georgia or I were blown away by them, but they brought some big rock tunes to the stage and played all the big songs, including a rousing version of ‘T-Shirt Weather’ that had everyone jumping. Then came the act I was most looking forward to seeing and, despite playing right at the start of the festival, the best act of the weekend for me – Fickle Friends. Despite having just one album to their name, Fickle Friends’ set never lagged or dragged, as they entertained a packed Market Stage with tunes like ‘Swim’, ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Glue’. Lead singer, Natassje Shiner, had a great rapport with the crowd and a fantastic stage presence, dancing along to the songs before belting out the lyrics with her fantastic voice. If it sounds like I’m fanboying, it’s because I am. The only downside to this performance was that Nat felt the need to point out that it had rained during the set and boy, had it rained. Georgia and I got drenched by this phantom storm, taking refuge in the Rockin’ Chair Stage, the newest stage at the festival. Home to the some of the less conventional acts of Truck, here was where we saw Old Dirty Brasstards, a brass band that played covers of pop records and they were a lot of fun. Maybe it was because the alternative was drowning in a muddy field outside, but Georgia and I spent a lot of time listening to the Brasstards and danced ourselves dry to covers of songs by Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, and Amy Winehouse. On our way back to our slightly-sodden tent (I had to use a pair of my pants to mop up a puddle), we caught a bit of the headline act for that day, Friendly Fires. Georgia and I had never heard of this band, but we were captivated by their funky, disco-infused pop that did well to hold a decent-sized crowd despite the rain. Also, the singer had the snakiest hips I have ever seen. Damn, that boy could move. I wish I’d done my research on these guys.
Our first full day at Truck opened with the revelation that my pants’ sacrifice had been in vain, as there were still puddles in our tent. Ah well, at least it was hot. Saturday opened for us with a performance from Ulysses Wells, a small band who have fewer Twitter followers than I do. Despite this, they were very good, bringing a raw, grizzly sound to the usually indie-dominated main stage. After witnessing a bizarre roaming brass band named Horns of Plenty – I was convinced they were a cult – we sat down in the Market Stage and heard some roadies sound-checking. Well, that’s what I thought; as it turns those “roadies” were actually the band Her’s (with an apostrophe, as they kept reminding us). My bad. Despite me not knowing who they were at first, Her’s were very good, filling out the stage with just the two of them, bringing a unique and bizarre presence to the stage. By this, I mean that they made a load of weird noises throughout their set and danced around whilst playing their instruments. If you see this act on a festival bill, go and see them, you won’t be disappointed. Also in the Market Stage that day were Dream Wife, another all-female band, only this time with a punkier sound. They were loud, shouty and unapologetically themselves. A brilliant live act. The Sherlocks were the soundtrack to our dinner that night – a set I felt lacked any real oomph from a band with a full sound in the studio – and this was followed by a set from Black Honey, who brilliantly fused sultry pop with heavy rock. It was then main stage for the rest of the day, as we were treated to a fantastic set from Everything Everything, a band I were critical of in my preview. Serve me up a big ol’ slice of humble pie, because I loved their fun, catchy set, which had everyone singing along. The penultimate act of the Saturday was the boy every mother dreads their daughter bringing home – Jake Bugg. His rough character vanished in this set, however, as he came across as an extremely mature performer, cycling through his biggest hits to please the huge crowd. In my opinion, his unique blend of folk, country and blues could have easily headlined this festival on another night. Then came the day’s final act, by far and away the most well-known and popular performer at Truck 2018 – George Ezra. The Hertfordshire-born singer held the biggest crowd of the entire weekend for over an hour, playing hits from his two smash hit albums, including ‘Paradise’, ‘Listen To The Man’ and ‘Shotgun’. Whilst everyone there was happy to see him and hear his brand of inoffensive, polite pop music, Georgia and I were less impressed. It was nice, yes, even fun at some points, but hardly the big, exciting finish to the day that a festival should have. At least he played ‘Budapest’, which I knew the words to.
The final day of Truck was by far the weakest, with bands like The Amazons and The Magic Gang delivering very uninspired sets. Or maybe we were both just sick of all-white, all male indie bands by this point. Who knows. There were some stand outs, though: We Are Scientists brought some American pop punk to The Nest stage, which was a welcome change from the English indie outfits that we had seen throughout the rest of the day, Turbowolf, a four-piece hard rock band, were chaotic fun, especially the lead singer, who performed some of the final song with a towel wrapped around his head, Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer, a comedy act who played hip-hop inspired songs on a banjo whilst rapping in a posh English accent, entertained the Rockin’ Chair tent and perhaps the best act of the day was the first act on the main stage – The Oxford Symphony Orchestra. Yes, you did just read that. The full symphony orchestra, lead by brilliantly entertaining conductor, Robert Max, played a mixture of classical and contemporary pieces, weaving music by Johann Strauss in between songs by Meat Loaf and Paul McCartney. It was so much fun and an extremely cultured way to spend a Sunday morning, especially following my evening of watching people do shots out of each other’s belly buttons the previous night. We didn’t bother with much of the final headline act, Courteeners, who did little to inspire us to stay in the arena. We were tired, we were hot and we were ready to sleep. So we did.
All in all, Truck was a wonderful introduction to the world of festivals. The acts were great, the venue was fantastic and the food was superb – I particularly enjoyed that the largest food tent on the site was managed by several local charities, with all the proceeds going to them. I can recommend the Hillingdon Rotary Club’s pizza for any future attendees of Truck, it was bangin’. My only real complaint about the festival was its lack of variety, not just in the 2018 line-up, but in its line-ups from the past few years; glances at the back of previous Truck t-shirts showed that most of the acts on the 2018 bill had been at the festival in 2017, 2016 and even 2015. But, I suppose if you’re into that sort music, then you don’t really mind that much. Truck was a wonderful little festival and a great place to get your first taste of how British music fans spend their summers. My thanks go out to all the people at Truck who made our stay so pleasant and arranged for us to be there, all the production staff who were flawless all weekend and to my festival buddy, Georgia, who had to suffer through watching me, the least practical man in all of human history, put up a tent. You are a saint.
Truck 2018 got a big thumbs up from me and I doubt you’d find many people there who’d disagree. May they keep on Truckin’ for many years to come.