Growing Old Gracefully: veterans shine at Truck Festival

On the last morning of the festival, everyone gathered around the campsite to pour a libation over the heap of crumpled beer cans and crisp packets that formed the centre of our community. The scene would have made for a good skin cancer awareness advert, as we sat there rubbing Tp onto our red knees. It was a contrast to my first experience of Truck Festival, located in Steventon, a small village in Oxfordshire. Seven years earlier, I came with my mum and brother – and we had nice chairs and homemade sandwiches. At one point my mum offered sun cream to a group sitting in a circle, suggesting they apply some to their friend who had passed out naked in the middle of their, completely oblivious, campsite.

Truck Festival has undergone some changes in the time I’ve been attending. This year marked the first time the festival ran over three days since 2011, when the experiment with a new format led to disastrous ticket sales forcing the festival’s founders – brothers Joe and Robin Bennett – to hand over control to the organisers of Derbyshire festival, Y Not? Despite this change of hands, the festival has kept its distinctive local atmosphere – the vicar has a stall selling sweets to red-eyed teenagers – and the Bennett brothers continue to perform each year in the guise of the Dreaming Spires. Playing to a small crowd on the Sunday afternoon at the Market Stage, they succeed where many of the younger bands on the bill fail. Their mix allows for the crisp harmonies of fan-favourites like ‘Everything All the Time’ and ‘Dusty in Memphis’ to be heard clearly over the rest of the band.

For a festival that, in 2007, invited Foals to perform…this year’s headliners seemed conservative by comparison.

Admittedly, I arrived prejudiced against Friday night headliners, Catfish and the Bottlemen; by grotty stories from female fans at their gigs and the amount of coverage NME has afforded them in recent years. But as they took to the main stage on the first night, their patter was simply dull and the vocals largely unintelligible due to the aimless, reverb-driven guitar tone and lead singer Van McCann’s repeated movement away from the microphone. For a festival that, in 2007, invited Foals to perform a now legendary set in a corrugated-iron barn known, would you believe it, as the Barn Stage, this year’s headliners seemed conservative by comparison. Whilst Sunday’s bill toppers Kodaline managed to avoid the sound problems that troubled CATB, their anodyne brand of anthemic softrock rarely stirred the crowd into action. A rowdy toddler kicked over his dad’s pint and one particularly cheeky fan tried to start a chant of Will Grigg’s on Fire. But that was about it.

Saturday’s headliners saved the day. Following up ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ with ‘Everything Must Go’ – the title track from an album whose 20th anniversary was celebrated this year – the Manic Street Preachers launched into a set that drew heavily on the record. Such a performance was always going to be bittersweet, since the album was the first to be produced after the disappearance of lead guitarist Richey Edwards, and includes his lyrics on tracks such as ‘Kevin Carter,’ introduced on the night by bassist Nicky Wire.

Perhaps I was just feeling all of my 21 years of age, watching the GCSE students flock to the front of the crowds, but the standout performances mostly seemed to come from groups who had been round the barn a few times. LA rap crew Jurassic 5 (4 emcees and two DJs) prompted the very valid question from a man with a winesack near me: “Why are yer called Jurassic FIVE then?! Either it’s Jurassic FOUR or it’s Jurassic SIX. MAKE YOUR FUCKIN’ MIND UP!!!”. They also delivered a faultless set in which they directed the audience like a glove-puppet, encouraging field-wide motorbike revving and fist pumping. Meanwhile Truck Veterans Johnny Foreigner played the sweatiest gig of the weekend, shredding through several new tracks from their latest album, Mono No Aware, to a disappointingly small crowd at the Nest stage.

There were a few faint glimmers of hope for future generations. On the same stage, The Outside quickly quietened anyone shouting, “they look about 12 lol!”, as they whipped up the largest moshpit of the weekend. Later on, once again playing to the Nest, one of the highlights of the weekend came from Spector, whose blend of literate lyrics and chantable melody bounced around the confines of the crowded tent. Lead singer Fred Macpherson must have been surprised, though, when he looked out to see, what looked like, a group of Neo-Nazi infiltrators; with acrimonious faces, they held fingers beneath their nose with one hand, and held another outstretched for balance. In fact, this was the only option for the audience trying to block out the stench after somebody chose this moment to empty the nearby block of portaloos, a task which the lorry-driver conducted with a slowness that seemed to say: “Look, kids, it’ll take as long as it takes, alright?! Have yourself a little dance and a jolly, but remember that some of us have got JOBS!”