Truck, the finest of all the festivals

Posted in Music with tags , on July 22, 2008 by James Osborn

We are now in the middle of the music festival season and, having just returned from Truck festival for the first time without receiving an unapologetic drenching, I only wish that all this summer’s events could be so fulfilling.

The rise in popularity of the music festival in the UK during the last few years has been a remarkable business phenomenon.  Judging by Glastonbury ticket sales, this popularity probably peaked last year, when many people’s first festival experience was one of eating raw, overpriced burgers and sleeping in freezing, mud-clad knickers for the best part of a week before journeying home and vowing never again to return.  This year, it seems, many decided to revert to the usual trip to Newquay, or wherever they used to go before the middle of this decade.  (Which is a shame, because most of the girls were pretty and served well to dilute the traditional hippy demographic.) 

Nonetheless, the top commercial festivals – V Festival and Reading & Leeds (or the Carling Weekend, as it’s been branded) – are still experiencing huge popularity with revellers who, ten years ago, would never have even heard of the concept.  But, depending on your motivation, the ‘concept’ is malleable; with 180,000 Reading & Leeds tickets sold out for £130 a go (you do the maths), for some festival organisers the fact that the key attraction is live music instead of, say, naked women or cars, is inconsequential.  It is the absence of this cut throat attitude that makes Truck festival so gloriously refreshing. 

There is no denying, of course, that the music ‘industry’ is a business and it is too convenient to adopt a mundane left-wing argument constructed solely around the absence of corporate sponsorship at music events because it goes no way to truly explain why a festival experience at this Oxfordshire farm is so much more worthwhile.  Perhaps it’s simply down to the £4-a-pint wine but, I think, it has more to do with the absolute spirit of community that is created by the organisers and which filters down to the bands and festival-goers.   

With the food catered by the local Rotary club and the local reverend running the ice cream stand, the festival creates a sense of belonging – of being a part of something – that is almost impossible to come across in London or even a small town in the UK in 2008, let alone at a corporate music festival which, in my experience, encourages no sense of community whatsoever.  There are no barriers at Truck; you’re just as likely to find the singer of your favourite band slurping a pint of local ale in the toilet queue as you’re sure to see a photo in the Daily Mail of Kate Moss sipping champagne in the VIP enclosure at Glastonbury. 

This weekend, the camaraderie between performers added another rare element to the experience and came to a head when Frank Turner responded to Fighting With Wire’s playful ribbing, only to be pelted with cans of lager by the band’s lead singer and bassist – all good jest between friends and fellow musicians, of course.  A similar, down-to-earth ethos was exuded by Eamon Hamilton.  The Brakes’ frontman arrived for his solo set just five minutes before he was due to start, introduced himself to the soundmen with handshakes all round and launched into his half hour set on a battered acoustic guitar.  He was hardly audible over the crowd singing along to every word and was not permitted to leave the stage permanently until he had completed two encores and made a promise to return next year. 

However, with the exception of very few performers at this festival, the bands are, more so than their bigger festival brothers, at the whim of the record industry beast.  It is sobering to look back at 2005’s lineup and consider how many of the bands, three years on, no longer exist.  Some split up for internal reasons but others, like Reuben (and despite the intervention of a handful of key champions within the industry – in this case, the impassioned, live-on-air speech of Radio 1’s Zane Lowe during which he spin-tinglingly declared that Reuben should be the biggest band in the country), had no option but to give up because they could not indefinitely go on working ad hoc shifts in chip shops and supermarkets to support their meagre band income.  It came down to their own lifestyle choice, but it is a sad state of affairs when the musical creativity of some of the country’s most promising bands is snuffed out by the necessity to make a living outside of what they do best.

So the community spirit of Truck is not world changing, but for one weekend a year – when the rain stays away – it certainly feels like it could be.