As special as special can get...

End Of The Road is nearing festival perfection. It’s small, picturesque, has the best line-up of any small to medium festival in the land and has it’s own micro-climate, which means it’s always sunny. The peacocks prefer it when it’s sunny.

This year was the tenth End of the Road. It seems strange that a decade ago, the fledgling fest had a crowd of just 1,500. It’s much bigger now, but still intimate and friendly. It’s always been the best and isn’t about to lose its crown anytime soon.

So, to celebrate ten years, here are the ten best things about End of the Road 2015.

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1. Sufjan did funny things to us
When a brass band picked up from another band is brought on stage and led by a man called Zargon on the trombone, covered in gold glitter, you know it’s all going to be OK! The almighty Sufjan was invited to play the festival nine years ago in a personal letter from organisers Simon and Sofia. He kept the letter, posted it on his website last week and finally made it to the stage to headline Saturday night.

You could hear a pin drop. Only Joanna Newsom in 2011 had brought that intensity to the Woods stage before. Saying that, Sufjan left the darker side of his 'Carrie & Lowell' set behind (his last record was about the death of his mother). Instead, there was the best from his more accessible albums and some new arrangements to bring a whole new tone to his newer, more solemn songs.

‘Should Have Known Better’ was spell-binding, but it was when ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ from 'Illinois' came in at song number five that we knew this was going to be an incredible show. Singing along to a brass section has never been so fun. ‘Fourth Of July’, a pretty heavy song normally, became some kind of funked up awesome version to keep the mood light and ‘Concerning the UFOs…’ made most people burst into tears of joy with its simple beauty.

We can thank God, apparently, for this Sufjan blessing – he came to him one morning, riding on a cloud of flames, to say he should play the show. And all before his morning coffee. Hooray! He celebrated this story with a synthy version of Star Wars. LOVE HIM!

2. The opening act
What better way to draw a crowd to your festival for the very beginning than putting someone as incredible as Ryley Walker on first. The Illinois musician brought his blend of jazz, blues, indie, rock, Americana to the Garden stage at the ridiculous hour of midday. Tents were left in a heap so people could catch him, and it was worth it. "What clever cunts" someone shouted as the full band ended an unbelievable version of ‘Summer Dress’. The band looked broken. Ryley was covered in glitter and reclining so far in his seat he occasionally looked like he nodded off. They were note perfect. What a way to start.

3. Secret night cider-fuelled music mayhem
One of the gems of End Of The Road is the second wind you get when you sup two pints of Cider Bus cider and head into the Tipi tent for the night’s secret shows. This year was packed with beauties, like the Tropicalia craziness of Fumaça Preta featuring capes, gold hot pants and cloud-covered cat suits, and the winding Welsh melodies of former Race Horses frontman Meilyr Jones, swaggering on stage all beautiful voice, Jarvis shoulders and Morrissey intrigue. But Top Tipi must go to Hinds, not because of their girl-in-your-face attitude, not because they’re about 15 and having the best fun ever and not because of amazing hair, but because their jangly Spanish girl punk encouraged Mac De Marco, who had just closed the Garden, to stage dive. When the guard wouldn’t let him back on stage, he surfed (was carried) all the way back to the cider bus.

4. The Garden
The Woods stage was introduced at End of the Road around four years ago when capacity grew, but for those who’ve been at the festival from the start, our hearts will always lie at the garden. It’s where the peacocks watch on, where the macaws squawk at us from the surrounding trees and where you can sit in front of sweet, new music for a whole day. The sun was scorching and blankets were laid. A solo Marika Hackman, showing her very impressive guitar skills, stole the lying-in-the-sun-on-a-Sunday show with beautiful versions of ‘Before I sleep’ and ‘Cinnamon’, as well as a cover of Joanna Newsom’s ‘81’. There are times at End Of The Road when so much is going on, so much to see, but the bliss of the Garden will always be your highlight. This year, the Garden also hosted the night time silent disco. It’s so fun! There is no greater sound than one half of hundreds of dancers singing Sufjan’s ‘Chicago’ while the other sings ‘Highway to Hell’.

5. The organisers
It’s the little details that make End Of The Road such a special experience and they’ve never forgotten that, so much so that when Friday-headliners Tame Impala put boxer shorts on their rider, they had some band and festival branded ones specially made. This is obviously the reason why the Aussie band triumphed their Friday headline slot with their psych fuzz.

6. The quietest shows ever Turn a random corner at End Of The Road and you’ll probably bump into a secret gig. The Piano stage is a hot bed of incredibly folky shows with bare amplification. Sit down, be quiet, and listen. Marika brought Sunday Garden headliner Laura Marling to her secret show. Uncut brought Nick Drake’s incredibly stylish sister and his guitar for a Q&A, accompanied by some delightful renditions of his songs. And the Disco stage was treated to a lovely duo of This Is The Kit and Rozi Plain, where the rubbing of palms proved an effective percussive instrument. They shared songs and shared harmonies, showing off their fragile naked voices with minimal intervention.

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7. Air jumps and swearing
End Of The Road isn’t all about Corbyn-looking jumpers and banjos. The festival prides itself on a diverse selection, which includes loads of psych, post-punk and synthy space noises. Du Blonde – the new alter-ego of Beth Jeans Houghton - gave one of the sets of the weekend with her Polly Jean-depth of voice swirling around vintage melodies and producer and guitarist Mike Lindsey of Tunng aiming to do the biggest guitar jump the Big Top tent had ever seen. On the same stage, closing Saturday night, Sleaford Mods turned the normally placid End Of The Road-er into a bunch of mentalists. Piss may have been thrown. While the Midland’s-duo divided some (with one friend saying ‘it’s just different ways to swear to music’), others loved the rawness and aggression of songs about jobs, politics and how annoying people can be. If anything, it’s great to have something completely different on the bill.

8. Your inner avian
In the woods, there’s a bird hide. You are the bird. Sit there and let real humans draw you as a bird.

It’s one of loads of folky, cute art installations nestled in the fairy-lit woods. Sit in a box and get serenaded by a musician, pass hundreds of origami birds flying into a gramophone and a bear on a bike, then play giant jenga with a man in braces. Heaven.

9. Cake fight
Festivals shouldn’t take themselves too seriously, so when the 80s-tinged indie of the hilarious Mac DeMarco ended, it was time for a rendition of happy birthday and a massive birthday cake. It was not sliced neatly and handed round. It was thrown into the crowd. It was then thrown back. Hearing a stage guard sternly shout ‘do not throw cake on the stage’ had us all giggling. It was a feel good moment to one of the most up beat, up lifting and smile-inducing sets of the weekend, featuring guitar acrobatics and the best line ever: ‘I’m inside all of you, so shit me out’.

10. The future
The best thing about End Of The Road? That it’s back next year. This gem of a festival hidden in a Victorian pleasure garden on the Dorset Wiltshire border just gets better and better. It has a feeling like no other – a perfect blend of music lovers and kids and art and bands you’ve never heard of and your favourite bands ever. It makes an effort to please you. It loves you just as much as you love it. It’s as special as special can get. Happy birthday you lovely lot.

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Words: Gemma Hampson
Photo Credit: Michael Parker

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