Last weekend the first ever No Direction Festival took place at the serene Welbeck Abbey. The three-day extravaganza, which is the latest creation from The End Of The Road Festival, played host to acts such as the wonderfully wacky Beth Jeans Houghton, the festivals first ever headliner Richard Hawley, and an exciting and eclectic mix of more underground bands.
The festival is small, around 5,000 capacity for its first year. We arrived in the English summer drizzle via a long wooded lane. Despite the rain once you get a feel for the site you can see why Simon, one of the founders, thinks it is perfect. The layout is exceptional – if you’re quick you can run between stages and see plenty of acts. You can escape to the lake and still hear the main stage. Or you can explore a bit further and find your own idyllic spot with truly unspoilt views of the forest and (by day two at least) the setting sun.
Talk of the day was Electro-pop band Django Django, They played a storming set to a field full of soaking wet spectators who were hungry for some live music. The outfit, one of the most talked about bands of 2012, managed to get everyone dancing despite the terrible weather.
Diagrams brought their Electro-funk soul vibes to the festival. The band, which released their infectious debut ‘Black Light’ on the ever-trustworthy Full Time Hobby Records earlier this year, still had a human touch by adding the sweet warm multi-layered vocals of former tunng frontman Sam Genders.
Other acts on the Friday included The Dirty Three, whose frontman proved to be the Jarvis Cocker of Folk-rock; one of my favourites of the weekend, Dark-pop guitar band Veronica Falls, who played an incredible set that got everyone going crazy; Dad Rocks, who charmed the audience with their cheeky witty lyrics and distinctive voices; and last but definitely not least, Orlando Seale and The Swell, who treated us to several sets across the weekend for the perfect festival pick me up – mixing a charismatic and lyrical front man, atop genuinely inspiring arrangements of cello, violin and viola.
On Saturday the children’s entertainment kickstarted. Kids could take to the Wonderlands area to make their own mirrors or photo frames out of records at Groovy Records, learn how to hula-hoop to the best of their abilities (in my case zero), make models out of clay, create their own animation, learn how to drum, and make a kite.
There was also a stunning literature line-up, which featured Richard King talking about the history of independent record companies, Will Hodgkinson and Trembling Bells on folk in the 21st century, and Mick Jackson on his novel The Underground Man (1997), which was set here, at Welbeck Abbey, where the festival took place!
The comedy line-up, which included Josie Long, and Robin Ince.
Folk band The Cornshed sisters played a magical set, which was so good it convinced me to buy their debut album on WHITE VINYL! The band, who blended their voices together to create one of the best tones I’d heard all weekend, brought a tear to my eye when they played their beautiful song ‘Dance At My Wedding’ at their Rough Trade in-tent gig.
Alternatives Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny played a flawless set on Saturday. The charismatic 22-year-old songstress got to sing her lyrics, which represent her sideways take on common situations in life, to a packed audience. She was a definite festival highlight impressing us with one great delivery after another. Get to see her live because you will not be disappointed. After the show she told me that although different to many other songs, they just flow out of her, and that there’s isn’t a template for them at all. She also told me that although she hadn’t been there for long she already loved the atmosphere the festival had to offer.
To calm down, I stepped into the Lost Picture Cinema for a real treat – the place is decked out like a sumptuous cabaret club with low lighting and comfy seats. What a great place if you can tear your self away from the line up.
On Sunday Traditional Folk band The Unthanks brought The Brighouse And Rastrick Brass Band with them so they could “make some noise”. The band, who mix the distinctive voices of Becky and Rachel Unthank to make a very full gorgeous sound and beautiful harmonies, told me over pizza that they were loving the festival so far and looking forward to seeing Folk legend Martin Carthy’s set.
The same audience that had jumped about to Beth Jeans Houghton were held spellbound by The Unthanks and the full brass band they brought along. It is an absolutely perfect marriage of brass arrangements and vocals, moving and thoughtful but fun too.
After The Unthanks headliner Richard Hawley was brought on stage in a wheel chair by his son. The singer-songwriter was welcomed on by the screaming crowds. When sat down he said, “This one was too good to miss”. Then he dedicated his first song, which was the title track off his brand new album ‘Standing At The Sky Edge’ to all the “Idiots in parliament”. This went down a storm. I don’t think the festival could have ended in a better way – it was perfect!
There is so much more I could write about. Low Anthem and Euro Childs all transformed the crowd and were the talk of the campsite for the weekend. But overall No Direction Home 2012, the music lovers’ festival was incredible. In fact it was one of the best festivals I’d ever been to! Sofia, who is one of the co-founder, told me she was overjoyed about how it went and so she should be. I’ll definitely be coming back in 2013.
Published on 15 June 2012 by Ned Mansfield