Laid back, cool and refined
The Pyramids - No Direction Home 2012

The organisers of the No Direction Home festival selected a beautiful British landscape for their inaugural event. Nestled amongst ancient forests and lakes in the grounds of Welbeck Estate, the setting was once Robin Hood’s neck of the woods. With the lashings of frothing ale, bountiful rustic grub and much musical merriment made – we’re sure Robin, Little John and Friar Tuck would have loved it!

Friday began bleakly as the rain did indeed pelt down for a bit, but it eased off and The Dirty Three rallied up a storm of their own. Frontman Warren Ellis whirled like a wizened dervish and the wild and flailing violin-led instrumentals made people forget the inclemency of the elements. The Low Anthem followed with their subdued and ponderous brand of Americana. Not an obvious choice to close the night as they rarely let rip, but in a sense this set the tone for the weekend. No Direction Home is laid back and chilled out – it’s not over-the top, addled madness and multi-million selling acts smashing it out to a corporate mud bath. It’s more considerate – the cooler elder brother with broad and refined taste, as opposed to the brash gobshite who wants to charge around with other half-wits and lob piss on people.

That’s not to say people don’t get give it some. The Electric Dustbowl stage saw Austra whip the crowd into a frenzy that first night. On encountering Austra you’d be forgiven for presuming they were Scandinavian, given their gloom tinged synth leanings. But this Canadian five-piece proved that the Nordics don’t have the monopoly on dark and alluring analogue pop. Eminently danceable, their Pagan electro beats closed the night on a high.

Saturday saw the sun emerge for a while and proceedings got into full swing. One-man show Martin Simpson strummed heartstrings as well as his guitar when he introduced his biggest hit, ‘Never Any Good’. “So this is about my dad. He was born in 1899, fought in both World Wars, had me when he was 54, after getting married for the once and only time at 52. And I loved him”. After this poignant rendition Simpson played some lively folk and blues numbers and coaxed some cheery participation from the audience.

As well as the diverse musical line up, around eighty workshops and a wealth of performers and personalities from the worlds of literature and comedy meant there was always something to do or see. Alternative comic Simon Munnery filled a massive yurt and had the whole congregation in tears. Excitable and animated, his performance was a topical hoot that covered everything from Greek Philosophy and boxing to drug use.

Saturday evening saw Other Lives deliver a brooding and ominous set as the sky overhead bruised with rain-laden clouds. Thankfully it held off for multi instrumentalist Andrew Bird’s inventive and catchy end set on the main stage. Closing the night in the Electric Dustbowl tent, The Pyramids unleashed a primal din. Featuring two erstwhile members of the criminally under-rated Archie Bronson Outfit, the trio’s elemental rhythm section and Sam Windet’s tremulous howl rattled the crowd’s skullcaps.

Sunday graced the tiring thousands with glorious sunshine and music that ranged from secular gospel and folk melancholia through to charity-shop pop. Cold Specks played what front woman Al Spx calls ‘doom-soul’ and even made the theme from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bell Air’ sound haunted. In contrast Slow Club regaled a full cheering field to their ecstatic, uplifting folk-garage rock.

Bringing the whole three-day beano to an epic close was the man from just down the road in Sheffield, Richard Hawley. Despite having broken his leg in Barcelona a few days earlier, the indomitable Hawley was wheeled on stage by his young son and announced: “There’s no way I was missing this.” The charismatic singer, whose star is finally in the ascendant, opened with the title track from his blisteringly brilliant new album, ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ dedicating it to the “bastards in the Houses of Parliament.” Adding to his concoction of painkillers with red wine and hot cider, Hawley charmed one and all with his warm Northern banter. In spite of the heady cocktail, Hawley’s talents were undiminished and he fittingly crowned the last night of the festival in stirring fashion.

Words and photo by Nick Rice

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