"Make dragons here," read a gaudy sign outside the kids' tent. OK, so inside it was more Blue Peter than Harry Potter, but something magical does take place at Hill Farm, near the village of Steventon in Oxfordshire - the annual Truck Festival.
It's not cool, and it's not trendy. There's no helipad, no swanky backstage bar. The barmen's beauty-pageant (in drag) is as glam as it gets. But Truck, celebrating its fifth birthday this year, is the conquering David to the overblown Goliath of the sponsored, Coldplay-headlined über-event. Radiohead live near by, but that band have never staged, or played at, anything as pure as this.
Founded by the brothers Robin and Joe Bennett (of the band Goldrush), who live in Steventon, Truck was born of necessity. As cash-strapped teens, festival-going was out of the question for the Bennetts. The ones they had been to were little more than over-priced gigs swamped with advertising and lacking a community feel. So they decided to stage their own. But what started as a handful of local bands playing off the back of a truck (hence the name) in a farmer's field has become a summer mainstay to rival Virgin-sponsored V and Carling's Reading and Leeds festivals in spirit, if not in size.
The Truck site is so small it would struggle to host a village fair. But, like a countryside Tardis, it makes space for 3,000 revellers, a vicar selling ice cream and a gaggle of A&R men overwhelmed by the young talent among the 100 or so up-and-coming acts crammed on to the three stages over its two days.
Truck is a haven for unsigned bands, but it's not just for young hopefuls. Most acts perform for free or a nominal fee, but these days bands are queuing up to play. And the excellent British Sea Power - whose album The Decline of British Sea Power is a contender for debut of the year - are the best of this year's fine bunch. Having decked out the main stage (still the back of a truck) with their customary twigs and branches, they fit right in to the quirky ethos of things. Dressed in vintage sailor suits, British Sea Power kick off their thrilling set with a long mourning chord that draws punters to the stage. The band rip through their intense Joy Division-tinged pop, the frontman, Yan, breaking off from singing only to invite the crowd to watch the golden sunset across the field.
The surprise headliners, last year's Mercury-nominated Electric Soft Parade, (billed as Brotherhood of Fish) flood the tiny field with a psychedelic squall. They open with a mock-opera version of The Beatles' "Help", sung by a guest vocalist who unleashes a voice so gloriously full-bodied that it penetrates even the bass of the Scratch Perverts DJing in the barn-cum-hip-hop club.
Also among the highlights are the hosts Goldrush. Feeding off the vibe of their festival, their gorgeousmelodies are matched by the beauty of Saturday night's starry sky. The band later join the ex-Ride supremo Mark Gardener in a set so warming and smooth, it's like a shot of single malt.
On Sunday, the hotly-tipped one-man-band, the Canadian rapper Buck 65, told enchanting tales of beautiful outcasts and shoe-shine men, his gruff voice set to throbbing breaks and crackling beats. The festival's curtain call was, suitably, a family affair as KTB - aka Katy Bennett, Robin and Joe's sister - played a set as lush and windswept as the neighbouring cornfield, accompanied by her brothers and a 17-piece band.
But the main reason Truck sells out every year is because it is seemingly based on a church fundraiser. It's a community-run charity event (last year's £12,000 profits were split between local charities and Amnesty International), but the stalls offer henna tattoos and cigarette papers. At no other festival will a plummy-voiced woman come on the PA at regular intervals to announce storytelling in the children's tent, or embarrass stray Kevins and Perrys with messages from their parents. The Rotary Club does the catering, blue rinsers chatting avidly to pink-haired punks waiting for their burgers. The Scouts oversee the car park. There's that moonlighting vicar on hand to offer ice cream along with spiritual guidance.
Truck works because its heart is in the right place. Obsessed with getting the details right, it's the sort of festival that would vacuum under the bed. For example, providing the bare minimum,such as drinking-water taps, is not enough: Truck throw in bottles of anti-bacterial handwash, just because it's a nice thing to do. It's not out to make a quick buck (bottled water costs just 60p) and punters are welcomed with a smile and treated with respect, not herded around like cattle, rudely asked to show their passes and empty their bags at every crossroad. Half of Truck's stewards had their faces painted like animals; they couldn't be threatening if they growled.
The festival may not be able to compete with the sheer scale of Glastonbury - after the 2am curfew, partygoers must content themselves with the trance-spinning tea tent, the one exception to their raving playlist being a touching "Here Comes the Sun" at dawn - but at £25, even 15-year-olds can afford it (Michael Eavis take note). Still, despite its small scale, Truck has a big heart, and the friendliness of those who run the festival is contagious. So what if the frazzled bass from the metal barn wafts into the acoustic tent. That's kind of the point. At Truck, everything mingles; it's part of the magic. Small, yes - but perfectly formed.Reuse content