The first Truck Festival took place in 1998 when the Bennett family decided that mainstream festivals were too commercial and predictable, and anyway they couldn’t afford the train fares, so they decided to get their own off the ground.
This required a farm – Hill Farm in Steventon, near Abingdon, Oxfordshire, which happened to be owned by a friend (and all round comedian) of theirs, Alan. The next job was to enlist a dodgy rave geezer to run a dance stage in the barn, and a thatcher with some scaffolding to put up the main stage. As the main stage was constructed from two large trucks, it was decided, only logically, that the festival would take place under the moniker “Truck”.
To everyone’s surprise, loads of people turned up, the sun shone even though it was autumn and lots of money was raised for Amnesty International and local children’s hospice Helen House. By 1999, the festival was already a firm fixture on most people’s calendar, the audience doubled as did the length of the festival and everyone camped for the weekend. Bands including Murry The Hump, King Prawn and Dustball played and £5000 was made for charity. Truck was bigger and better, without losing the unique atmosphere, naturally.
In 2000 the hoardes tuned up, had a few drinks in the sun, watched some bands, and then went and slept in their smelly tents. As before, the event went off without incident, and a mint was made for deserving causes. 2000 was graced by such luminaries as The Unbelievable Truth, The Pecadilloes, The Arlenes, Seafood, The Blue Aeroplanes and acts from the now established Truck Records label roster. In 2001 it seemed our luck had run out with the weather. However the rain did not come, and Hill Farm again played host to a few thousand people. 2001 highlights included Six By Seven, Kenny Ken, Electrelane, Mo-Ho-Bish-Opi, John Otway, Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia and Medal.
In 2002 it all kicked off all over again. Drum’n’bass A-listers Kenny Ken, DJ Zinc and Bryan Gee invaded the barn for some junglist tomfoolery. For the first time in the Trailerpark tent we had full scale vjing from Memetix and the usual slide-show from Richard The Projectionist. Away from the dancier side of things, more guitar (ish) orientated highlights were: The Handsome Family, The Folk Orchestra, Lightyear, Caught on Tape, The Young Knives and the first appearance of Oxford’s reggae legends – Makating. We had our first thirty minutes of rain – ever, but as the day wore on the weather improved and by closing time on Sunday SSCP were playing to a blissed out crowd in front of a stunning sunset.
Truck 2003 was yet another success, with some rather welcome broadsheet press attention, some of which understood, some of which missed the point entirely (stay at V eh?)! A slightly messy Electric Soft Parade headlined the main stage on Saturday, with KTB and a 16 piece backing band doing the honours on Sunday. The Scratch Perverts took to the decks in a controversial non-d&b Saturday night in the barn, and won over the nay-sayers in rather convincing fashion. Other highlights included VIC-20, one of whom was subsequently signed to Truck on the back of the performance, and similarly, Trademark – filling in at the last minute on the main stage – made quite an impression. Captive State were also a highlight, playing their very first ever proper gig to an absolutely rammed Trailer Park tent.
After months of soul searching and a bit of a change in personnel, Truck 2004, or Truck Seven as it was known, got up and running. The festival expanded in capacity, added a fifth stage, and a proper market area. The whole operation had become as professional as any other event, but still maintained the Truck vibe, and somewhat to our surprise, the event sold out with a little over two weeks to go. On the music front The Soft Parade came back to atone for their sins, Robin Goldrush shocked (and entertained!) onlookers with a garage (as in UKG) rendition of Counting Song as part of A Scholar & A Physician in the Lounge tent and new Warp signing Maximo Park rounded off an excellent weekend on Sunday.
Truckeight, just as we say every year, was the biggest yet. We cleared a field, and filled it with an acoustic tent, a theatre tent and lots of market stalls. Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly opened up the Truck stage on Saturday, in the new demo slot, and the festival on was rounded off with The Magic Numbers on Sunday night. In the barn, Editors pulled in such a crowd that Truckers were standing near the barn just to hear them play. That night DJ Marky arrived just in time to performing a storming (if a little short) set in the same room.
Over the years at the festival, we’ve featured bands and acts that have gone on to further success, and Trucknine was when they all came back to say hi. The Futureheads (played Truck stage, 2003) headlined on Saturday, while Mystery Jets (Truck stage, 2005) rounded things off on Sunday night. Many former headline acts came back to play too: Babar Luck (King Prawn, 1999), Seafood (2000), The Rock of Travolta (2001), Jetplane Landing (2002), Lightyear (2002), as well as other Truck veterans such as Buck 65, MC Lars, Ralfe Band and Thomas Truax in addition to all the usual suspects.
We’re proud of Truck and justified, we think, to be so. There are few other events of a similar size (or any size) that can put on national and international acts next to the smallest of local bands. The fact that they are all appreciated by the paying public to an equal degree is of fundamental importance to us. The bar is still run by the same cross-dressing wackos as it was in 1998. Whilst the menu has evolved a little to accommodate such modern inventions as vegetarianism and “foreign food”, it is still served by volunteers from the local Rotary Club. The ice-cream is still served by the local vicar and the ale is from the same local micro brewery as it has always been.
The event has grown, evolved, and become (almost!) a professional operation. A village fete it is not, but it is still small enough to find your mates at 2am, and fiercely independent.