LIVE REVIEW: Truck Festival, Oxfordshire (20-22 July)

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Hey Charlie, Truck Festival 2018 (photo © Martin Allen for Sync)

Sometimes in life it’s wise to take a moment to appreciate your good fortune. Last year’s Truck Festival was beset with difficulties, mostly caused by rain of biblical proportions which served to turn the whole site into a mudbath for pretty much the duration. Add to that, massive traffic issues – again largely weather-related – and you have the recipe for a pretty miserable weekend.

But it was 2018 and not 2017 that Sync chose to descend on this Oxfordshire festival for the first time and this year’s event could not be any more different. The sun blazed (well, apart from a downpour on Friday evening but things very quickly dried out), and the general organisation, atmosphere – and behaviour of the crowd – was frankly next level.

Of course, above all this comes the music, and Truck didn’t disappoint here either. Things kicked off at a decent pace with Peace and Jaws making an appearance for the early arrivals on the Thursday, while the first full day of music included a double FF of Fickle Friends and Friendly Fires.

Across the weekend there was a strong mix of newcomers and high profile artists. Among the highlghts of the smaller stages were Sheffield all-girl indie-pop outfit The Seamonsters who brought sass and tunes in equal measure. Garage punk-rock trio The Cosmics made a suitably loud impression, as did Liverpool band Red Rum Club whose distinctive Americana-influenced material is well-matched with the always-watchable performance of frontman Francis Doran.


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Saturday’s line-up in particular kept us busy darting between stages as various Sync favourites made appearances. It was great to catch the brilliant Sea Girls on the main stage, who looked like they more than belonged by filling the space with their collection of instant earworms that no relatively new band could be expected to have amassed already.


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Brilliantly quirky duo Her’s were entertaining as ever. Their energy and musicianship make them a great live proposition and they’re always a joy to see and hear.


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London four-piece Anteros made a big impression, fronted by the mesmerising Laura Hayden who owned the stage in a way few others achieved over the weekend. The band’s bittersweet dream-pop songs sounded great and given their progress so far, their debut album – rumoured for later this year – will be one to prioritise.


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Anteros, Truck Festival 2018 (photo © Martin Allen for Sync)


Of a similar ilk, the festival’s second stage then saw a run of three bands that we’ve been obessing over for a little while now. Irish trio Whenyoung have been making waves with a string of cracking tunes and some high-profile touring support slots of late. Seeing them up close, it’s very easy to see what the fuss is all about. Vocalist and bassist Aoife Power leads the line well and tracks such as Heaven On Earth and Pretty Pure sound even better live.


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High octane punk-rock fun is something we’ve come to expect from Dream Wife and they brought plenty of that to Truck. They played much of their self-titled debut album which was released at the start of the year and proved why they’ve earned such critical acclaim over recent months.


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An absolutely show-stopping performance from Black Honey was one of the day’s real highlights. Izzy Baxter is the band’s iconic frontwoman but if there is a lot of hype surrounding this band, let’s be clear about one thing – it’s totally justified. Performance-wise, they are as tight and spot-on as it’s possible to be. Clearly perfectionists, the band from Brighton (BTW, what the hell are they putting in the water down there to be breeding so many top bands?!) release their debut album on 21 September and it will simply be a must-have. They closed their set with indie-pop perfection Hello Today which set the bar high for any other band to try to top over the rest of the weekend.


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Black Honey, Truck Festival 2018 (photo © Martin Allen for Sync)


Over on the main stage, we were happy to finally catch the brilliant Tom Walker live at last. We featured Tom in our Discover section a little while back and it has been gratifying to see how far things have progressed for him since those early days. His voice is unique, flawless, and what’s more, he has Grade A material to go with it – his performance of Leave A Light On was one of those festival ‘moments’ for us.


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There were big sets for The Sherlocks and Everything Everything too. The former, consisting of two sets of brothers from South Yorkshire, have grown in stature to become a slick, confident and very high calibre live band who look like they belong on main stages, which is perhaps why they’ve become festival regulars pretty much everywhere.


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EE continue to do their thing, arguably still continuing to get better as a live band with each album. Certainly the material from latest album A Fever Dream sounds particularly strong, but this quirky indie-math band has by now amassed a considerable back-catalogue of tracks that have become familiar even to those who don’t particular consider themselves big fans of the band. The band, led by Jonathan Higgs on vocals, seemed in a particular good place, putting on a memorable and seemingly effortless show.


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Everything Everything, Truck Festival 2018 (photo © Martin Allen for Sync)


Speaking of effortless, Saturday headliner George Ezra really does make things look easy. His gravelly, deep and rousing voice just seems to flow as he holds the audience in the palm of his hand. His rise is a remarkable one. We saw him first around 10 years ago supporting Athlete in Bristol and back then his voice immediately grabbed the attention. In the intervening period, he’s co-written much of the material that has propelled him to stardom with Athlete’s Joel Pott and it’s made for a truly winning formula.


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Sunday’s top-end acts included a few special ones too. The Amazons grabbed the main stage by the proverbials, before our own festival highlight Editors raised things again. It’s 13 years since the Birmingham band released their debut album The Back Room and they’ve become festival favourites ever since. It’s intriguing that they work so well in this environment given the often darker tone of their music, but what they have in their favour is the ability to really pack a punch with some of their most successful tracks, and they played fair by trotting out some of their true anthems including Racing Rats, Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors, Munich, Blood, and Hallelujah (So Low). Frontman Tom Smith was also on particularly fine form, reinforcing what a quality act these guys have become over the years.


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Editors, Truck Festival 2018 (photo © Martin Allen for Sync)


London grunge-pop trio Hey Charlie played a fizzing set on Truck’s second stage on the Sunday afternoon, packing out the tent to an extent that seemed to even take them by surprise.


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Space was also at a premium for The Big Moon whose raucous singalong indie-pop sounded great as ever. This is another band whose live performances have steadily sharpened since their early days as they reap the rewards of hard touring and growing confidence. Sucker and Cupid remain the favourites judging by the crowd.

Ever since Dot To Dot Festival earlier this summer, we’ve been following newcomers No Hot Ashes so we made a beeline for their set. It turned out to be an excellent decision. The four-piece band from Stockport really twist the genres with their style of rock crossed with 70s/80s meets disco twinned with funk… can you tell we’re struggling to describe their sound by any chance?! They kicked off with their anthemic track Bellyaches which set the tone for the 25 minutes or so that followed. Definitely ones to keep a very close eye on.


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It was also a treat to catch Low Island live too. Their early-ish slot on the main stage coincided with perhaps the hottest moment of a very hot day but somehow vocalist Carlos Posada managed to brave it out wearing a jacket in the full sun and still somehow looked cool as ice. It was pretty much a home fixture for the Oxford-based band, but catch them if you’re heading to Kendall Calling, 110 Above or Boardmasters over the coming weeks.


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Closing the main stage on the final night was Manchester outfit Courteeners. Liam Fray is one of the great lead singers, with a style and swagger that has been a major part of the band’s considerably longevity. The finest moment of their set came towards the end with Not Nineteen Forever, which seemed to flick the switch among the crowd and get everyone – not just those at the front who had been going crazy for most of the set to be fair – to pile in and give Truck 2018 a good send-off.


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We always reckon you can judge just how good a festival was by the severity of that ‘back to reality comedown’ afterwards. Post-Truck… well, let’s just say we’ve been pining all week.

All photos © Martin Allen for Sync. Not to be reproduced without permission.


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