Encircled by rococo Victorian temples and a dutifully tended laurel hedge, The Garden Stage at The End Of The Road festival is well suited to acts of a pastoral stripe. And so it is, on a muggy Saturday lunchtime, that Rough Trade’s Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, ensnare passers-by with delicate, woozy acoustic folk, Clarke’s classically folkish voice drifting like smoke over the trees. The duo are a rare find; reinforced by a spare, sensual cover of Nick Drake’s “Time Had Told Me”. This is dedicated to Joe Boyd, who apparently passed the act over for a Drake celebration night. “Here’s what you could have won, Joe,” Clarke tells the punters, her pristine phrasing intimately recalling Sandy Denny.
Then rain. The weather has broken by the time the suspiciously talented Meilyr Jones take the same stage. If you like your harpsichord staccato, your melodies intricate, and your chamber pop a little twisted, the he former Race Horses frontman will interest you deeply. The set is culled largely from this spring’s elegant solo debut, 2013, which references a range of baroque-pop touch points from Scott Walker to Plush to Beirut. Backed by a crack band, he runs straight into the indie soul revue of opener “How To Recognise A Work Of Art”. He croons that biting refrain (“It’s a fake! It’s fake!”) with intensity and glee, all teeth and charisma. “Passionate Friend” is similarly driven, somehow blending straightahead indie pop with a Gregorian lilt, and the kinky wit of The Super Furries.
An Aberystwyth man, Jones is unimpeachably Welsh, and when introducing the well-crafted “Olivia”, he muses on the fact that it is the nation’s most popular girls’ name. “I don’t think that’s true,” he coos. “Maybe in England…”
He’s music may be intense, but Meilyr Jones is a funny, apparently hyper-confident stage presence, introducing the band six times over while prone on the floor. His articulate, ambitious songs are framed alternately with crunching guitar, keening violin, Bacharach piano movements and parping trumpet.
That his trumpeter is sporting a Frank Zappa t-shirt is relevant: Jones’ music displays a compositional eclecticism that only falters during an extended jazz jam, whose labyrinthine twists include a quick stab at the riff from Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”. B-side “Equal In Love” is a hushed, particular highlight, arch yet aching. Despite the rain, the crowd thickens steadily, led by a vanguard of fans who can mouth lyrics referencing Byron, Rome and birds singing Bach. “Fucking beautiful” calls a bloke from the audience. “Thank you,” comes the genuinely touched response.