Back in the lazy summer of 1998, a group of spirited musicians got together and decided to hold a festival to celebrate the birthday of one of their bandmates.

The birthday boy was Steventon lad Robin Bennett and the band were called Whispering Bob – in tribute to legendary Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris, who lived nearby.

Robin and his brother Joe roped in mates in bands, planned a bar and camping, got a flat bed truck for a stage and launched their own festival – calling it Truck.

Then the police heard about it, told them to apply for a license and do it properly.

Truck festival finally took off at Hill Farm, Steventon, that September, pulling in 600 punters. It came back the following year in July and has remained ever since.

The festival has been through myriad changes – now pulling in 12,000 revellers and boasting a bill featuring some of the biggest names in rock, pop, indie and dance.

Robin and Joe no longer run it, but are still involved in booking bands for their own stages and, of course, performing. The brothers have played every event, firstly with Whispering Bob – who shortly after changed their name to Goldrush – and latterly, successor The Dreaming Spires.

Tomorrow, as the festival cranks up for its 21st installment, Robin turns 40. And what better way to celebrate than with a Goldrush reunion.

The historic event will see Robin and Joe joining forces with guitarist Garo Nahoulakian, bassist Nick ‘Growler’ Fowler and drummer Graham ‘G’ Roby, for a trip through such classic albums as Ozona, The Heart is the Place and Don’t Bring Me Down.

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“I’m really excited!” says Robin, who now lives in Dorchester. “I can’t believe it was 20 years ago that we decided to start this thing. When we got together in that field all those years ago we never imagined it would go on this long nor grow into such a big thing.

“It is unrecognisable. It is certainly not as young as it used to be – but then neither am I!”

It has certainly come a long way since that first year, when Whispering Bob were joined by Nought, ATL, Nebula, Fan Modine, Tumbleweed, Mecca, Holy Roman Empire, Black Candy (featuring Joe Hill, landlord of Oxford’s Fir Tree pub), Swiss, Merlin and Joe Bennett’s old punk band Blinder.

Tickets for that first event were just £3, compared to £120 (with an extra £27 for tonight’s early entry set headlined by Peace).

Back then flyers encouraged punters to “bring a tent, poncho, peace, love, Bob Harris and sunshine” and to leave behind “the chainsaw, brown acid, rain and Sunny Delight”.

“It was totally different then,” says Robin. “We had a burger van but no site lighting, so it was pitch black after dark, and on the flyer it had my parents’ phone number – there was no website because there was no internet. There weren’t so many festivals around then, but it was a great time to start one. We had been inspired by Sound City in Oxford 96, which galvanised the local music scene.

“I suppose we were a response to big commercial events like V Festival. We were far more like the free festivals we admired – like Woodstock.”

With a name inspired by Neil Young and songs dripping in lush West Coast harmonies and sun-kissed soul, Goldrush fitted that vibe perfectly and the band’s traditional Sunday night headline slots were always a highlight – frequently ending with Robin being carried into the crowd.

And ‘Whispering’ Bob himself occasionally turned up too.

“I’m not sure what he thought of our band using his name,” laughs Robin. “But he must have liked us as he played one of our songs on his Radio 2 show. I think he was quite pleased when we changed the name though.”

The reunion, says Robin, is timely but the result of a series of happy accidents – Garo and Growler being on site to play in Gaz Coombes’s live band and Graham back from his home in California. Also back in the county from his new home on America’s West Coast is former Dreaming Spires drummer Jamie Dawson, who performs with the band Speedbuggy USA, and could well join the lads.

The band will headline the Veterans & Virgins stage, a platform for new acts and Truck favourites curated by Joe.

“The audience profile is pretty youthful these days – as it was when we started it,” says Robin. “But it’s nice to have stuff for the old timers, as it has been a big part of people’s lives over the years.

“People have met their husbands and wives here, children have been conceived here and all sorts of important things have gone on over the past 20 years.”

This year’s festival is headlined by Friendly Fires, George Ezra and Courteeners – continuing the event’s track record of attracting impressive names, which has included Gaz Coombes previous band Supergrass, Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys, Edwyn Collins, Graham Coxon, Biffy Clyro, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Radiohead’s Philip Selway, The Magic Numbers, The Mystery Jets, The Lemonheads, Bellowhead, Garth Hudson of The Band, Frank Turner, Ash and Teenage Fanclub, Mercury Rev, Saint Etienne, British Sea Power, The Low Anthem and Guillemots.

Robin insists the Goldrush reunion is more than just an exercise in nostalgia and has plans to re-release old material – some of which has been ‘lost’.

The band, who initially signed to Virgin Records after being spotted by Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq, clocked up some formidable successes, not least touring the USA with Mark Gardener of Ride.

Live favourites include Same Picture, Love Is Here and Wide Open Sky.

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“We all had a lot of fun in Goldrush – especially touring America and spending time in LA,” says Robin.

“After all, we were heavily influenced by the music that came out of Laurel Canyon. We were a mix of shoegaze and American roots music – which there wasn’t much of at the time. We were like Mumford & Sons 10 years early and helped to bring that Americana sound to Oxford.”

And he is determined to enjoy the festival. “I do love Truck,” he says. “And for the first time my birthday actually falls on the right day.

“Everyone gets apprehensive about turning 40, but this is a great way to do it.”

  • Truck festival runs from tonight to Sunday at Hill Farm, Steventon. Go to for tickets
  • Goldrush play tomorrow (Fri)