Down in Oxfordshire, Truck Festival has been taking place for over twenty years. The self-professed God Father of Small Festivals has been gradually growing into the beast it is now, and this year is a veritable feast of bangers, emotion and sunshine.
Kicking off, it’s official - Pale Waves are the best band. Don’t want to take our word for it? Then ask the absolutely rammed Market Stage tent where a mosh pit swiftly breaks out for their glittering indie goth-pop bangers. Heather Baron-Gracie is an incomparable amalgamation of influences that breach outward to form an icon in the making. Every cut gets a rapturous reaction, featuring singalongs and most of all, a cementing that the future is undoubtedly in the palm of Pale Waves' hands.
On a line-up dominated by indie, Black Foxxes bring a welcome dose of raw power to Truck. Competing with Pale Waves in the late afternoon slot on The Nest, the Exeter rockers draw a modest crowd. Given the truncated set time, the trio showcase songs from this year’s fantastic ‘Reidi’. In the short slot allotted to them, the band display both sides of their armoury, with ‘Husk’ and ‘Breathe’ offering up heavy riffs before ‘Saela’ and ‘Manic in Me’ reveal their pop smarts.
Frontman Mark Holley is in fine form, hurling out riffs from his Telecaster and howling down the microphone while taking a moment to acknowledge their slightly left-field placement on the bill. Together with bassist Tristan Jane and indefatigable drummer Ant Thornton, the band conjure a storm of noise. When Black Foxxes fire on all cylinders they’re unstoppable, and the likes of ‘River’ and closer ‘JOY’ find the band at the centre of their own tempest.
Is there currently a better festival band than Fickle Friends? Probably not. No matter what stage, or tent, they occupy, it’s an instant tropical paradise. With palm trees adorning the stage, the band completely encompass any space they inhabit, bringing the crowd firmly with them. Able to take the overwhelmingly packed tent from reasonably static to air bound almost instantaneously, the grooves are sweeter than ever, rooting into the suitably atmospheric tent.
Friendly Fires have been away for a long time, and they’ve been sorely missed. Coming out of hibernation after almost six years for a couple of April shows, Friday night at Truck marks their return to top billing on the festival circuit. They waste no time reminding us just what we’ve been missing, strutting on to a jubilant ‘Lovesick’, with a brass section picking up the synth lines from the studio version. Despite playing through a biblical downpour, Friendly Fires bring a joyous energy that belies the churning mud and sodden surroundings.
Ed Macfarlane whips off his loafers and embraces the deluge, showing the audience just what’s expected of them as he gyrates along the stage, while his voice sounds stronger than it ever has. For a band with only two albums under their belt, the number of solid gold hits is astounding. ‘Skeleton Boy’ and ‘In the Hospital’ provoke frenzied dancing and roaring singalongs, while ‘Pala’ cuts ‘Blue Cassette’ and ‘Hurting’ somehow sound as fresh as they did seven years ago. In terms of the pure ecstasy they can transmit from the stage, there are few bands in Friendly Fires league, and there certainly aren’t many who could turn tonight’s cascade into a fiesta. Rather than scurrying back to their tents, the crowd throw caution to the wind and reward the St Albans trio with as much energy as they can give.
Proving that they aren’t back just to stand still, Fires pepper new songs across the set, with recent single ‘Love Like Waves’ met like an old friend, and ‘Tijuana’s instrumental riff being sung back within the second refrain.
Across an hour, Friendly Fires deliver a tropical paradise fit for the Amazonian downpour, which does nothing to dampen the celebration that marks their return to the place they truly belong: the frenzied festival field. A final one-two of the irrepressible ‘Hawaiian Air’ and the Latin carnival of ‘Kiss of Life’ see the trio off into the night having set a stratospheric bar for the weekend’s other headliners.
Day two gets off to a flying start with Sea Girls on the Truck Stage. Euphoric indie anthems in the making, there’s a self-assuredness to the set that makes neat work of the early-afternoon onlookers. While over on the Market Stage; light and airy, the dreamscape indie pop of Her’s is beautifully acclimatised to the searing heat.
Sports Team bring the Nest tent to life with a performance that proves why they’re so hotly tipped. Vehemently measuring the crowd and providing an energetic example of how to bridge the gap between audience and band, frontman Alex Rice engages every piece of real estate from the stage to the barrier, leaving nothing untouched during their feverish set.
Did we mention it’s bloody hot today? Well, there’s a cool breeze hitting up the Market Stage, and it’s Black Honey. Strutting out to the stage, the Brighton four-piece looking and more importantly, sounding the part, they’re becoming a fast contender for a British rock staple. Daggers of style amalgamate to create a band that knows who they are, and precisely what they want to do, with no prisoners to be taken.
As if The Clash were run through Andy Warhol’s Factory and given a kick up the arse from 2018, HMLTD are *the* band to catch whenever possible. A riotous and fun show with as much life as it has meaning and purpose. They even bring out a new track, ‘Loaded’, which is filled to the brim with tasty riffs and befit of the well-designed chaos they orchestrate.
Initial guitar technical issues aside, Drenge’s comeback (finally!) is continuing to sound greater than ever with a couple of live assistants helping bring the gloomy powerhouse sound to life. Fervent and unstoppable, Drenge are masters at finding that last bit of energy lurking in your body. Causing riots amongst the onlookers, furiously gallant in the endeavour to bring their thick, murky sound out of its swamp, they’re a behemoth that’s reached unstoppable levels.
Even when things go wrong, they manage to stay studiously focused on driving forward. Eoin Loveless ditches the guitar to become a temporary unleashed frontman, making his way forward and greeting the bouncing mass of bodies. Rolling through a blistering set, with the new merging perfectly with the old completing an amalgamation of Drenge’s ability to evolve without sacrificing any coherency.
One of the few names that can unite a diverse crowd of families, first-time festival goers and just general good-time seekers, George Ezra has something for everyone and wraps Truck Festival in a soothing embrace of positivity.
As he and his band bound onto the stage, the twilight sun is sticking around to see what delightful treats George has in store for us. The anticipatory edge of the crowd is soon quashed. The driving ‘Cassy O’’ swiftly kicks in and from here on in it’s a veritable feast of tales and tracks made to make the heart glow.
It’s easy to forget that, at heart, George is a folk singer. His pop sensibilities that caught fire and are what brought the infectious sunshine that leads to the enormous crowd at Truck are always front and centre, but he’s a man of tales and travels. Preluding every song with a little chat about the inspiration, or just life in general, including recalling that mega-hit 'Budapest' came to fruition after skipping his plans to visit said city after getting a bit too drunk on park-purchased rum in Sweden while watching Eurovision.
With the on the trot of ‘Paradise’, ‘Blame It On Me’, ‘Budapest’ and ‘Shotgun’, it’s impossible to have anything but positive feelings. Echoing all around Truck this closing set is a reminder that while the outside world is ‘going through something’, that if we were all a little bit more George, it could get better in no time at all.
Moving and shaking about the stage, Orchards are greeted by a weekend-weary crowd but soon ensure to instigate the last dregs of life from them. Fluttering guitar lines, high kicks and trickling beats are the order of the day as they make quick work of clearing up any cobwebs in the Nest tent.
Bringing the punk energy to Sunday afternoon are Nervus, winning punters over in the course of their half-hour set. The Watford four-piece have hands clapping and people singing by the end of ‘It Follows’. Em Foster is in a playful mood, getting the audience to sit down, before admitting it was a prank, and really we just needed to sing along. As ever, Paul Etienne is head cheerleader, pulling away from his keyboard to gesticulate and dance his ass off, while the rhythm section keeps things tight at the bottom end.
Nervus have grown into a confident live band who perform music with important messages about diversity, inclusion and acceptance. That they are beginning to make an impact outside of festivals focused purely on rock and punk hints at a bright future, and although Sunday’s crowd isn’t the biggest of the weekend, it’s easy to spot a number of diehards screaming every word.
No band are as alluring as Blaenavon. Giving as much as they take away, the eager and dedicated crowd in front of the Truck Stage find their moment beneath the glaring sun. The unhinged nature of bassist Frank Wright quickly becomes a massive guiding point for all in front of the stage. Another airing of new cut ‘Catatonic Skinbag’, a barrelling rager that takes no prisoners; when all hell breaks loose, you know Blaenavon are giving it their all.
Back at Truck to tie up their debut album campaign, The Amazons bring their meaty riffs and shout-along choruses to the Main Stage. For a band with only one album under their belt, the four-piece received a great reception, with ‘Ultraviolet’ and ‘Nightdriving’ met by hands in the air, a modest mosh and a few flares. Their punked up indie rock is a good fit for a late afternoon slot, even if a few tracks veer into Stereophonics territory. A cover of T-Rex’s ‘20th Century Boy’ goes down a storm, the band interpolating into their own track ‘Little Something’ and wrapping the hook in some ferocious guitar work. The future looks bright for The Amazons, having cracked the festival formula and with new songs on the go.
Although The Spook School’s crowd in the Nest tent is bare, that doesn’t stop them from relishing in every moment they’re on stage. Drummer Niall McCamley wastes no time in showing what The Spook School are all about; jokes about the festival being a transformer, referencing the crowd size, and just not giving a fuck and having a good time - the sincerity of their tracks is a glowing light throughout the dark tent.
The shimmering and dutifully pleasing ditties of The Magic Gang bring one of the most massive crowds of the weekend to the Market Stage. Rife with singalongs and swaying bodies spilling about each other to get involved in the action, it’s wholly undeniable that The Magic Gang are indeed a bit magic.
Sloping onto the Main Stage to a modest crowd as the sun begins to set on Truck 2018, Editors bring fifteen years of experience and six albums worth of tunes with them, including a powerful early rendition of ‘Smokers Outside Hospital Doors’. The Birmingham alt-rockers have all the right tools, with motoric drumming, throbbing bass and shrill guitar lines, but whether it’s the lacklustre audience or the lack of a more recent hit, their set doesn’t quite hit the heights it should do. All the pieces are there, but they don’t quite fit together.
That’s not to say the band don’t give it their all, and the performance is note-perfect, but given the strength of the individual components there’s a curious case of wondering what might have been had Editors built on their 2000s success. Still, as the likes of ‘Munich’’s stop-start guitar and ‘The Racing Rats’ tumbling drums ring out across the field, Editors’ set is a perfectly nice way to close the curtain on this year’s edition of the Oxfordshire bash.
It would appear as if someone has told Rat Boy to take it down a notch; he's a little more subdued than we're used to. That’s not to see the vying crowd aren’t into it - in fact, it feels like they’ve been waiting to unleash themselves in this moment all weekend. A thousand young bodies convalesce under the idea of Rat Boy and letting the carefree nature of life take hold.
While the Main Stage area fills with fans waiting for the Courteeners, those at the Nest are treated to a weekend highlight by New York indie veterans We Are Scientists. Although they’re yet to hit the MTV2 heights of 2008 album ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’, they’ve amassed an armoury of indie dancefloor bangers over the past decade, and they bring the best of them out to play.
‘Chick Lit’ is as powerful as it’s ever been and ‘After Hours’ is a true festival moment, scores of 00s indie kids hollering out harmonies as Murray flits around the chiming guitar riff. The hour-long set is a timely reminder of Scientists’ songwriting chops, as closers ‘Rules Don’t Stop Me’ and ‘Nobody Moves, Nobody Gets Hurt’ prompt pogoing and raucous applause.