A music festival nestled in the Cumbrian hills, sounds idyllic and it certainly is, although you’d struggle to actually see the hills and mountains other than the moment you park your car at the edge of the site. Then there’s that nice trek up a hill armed with all your camping provisions for a 3 day (or 4 for some lucky folks) event of fun, food, drink and most importantly the music.
Yes there was a little rain and plenty of mud this year, but that didn’t dampen the spirits or the impeccable organisation of this festival, the preparedness for the weather and ensuring a safe environment for all revellers.
Unlike another festival over this weekend in Derbyshire that sadly didn’t provide that insurance, so the message is clear for you next year – YNOT go to Kendal Calling in 2018!
On to the music, and for the early birds there was a stunning opening main stage set on a sunny afternoon by The Shimmer Band.
This Bristol outfit are making some significant waves out there in gig land and vocalist Tom Newman is a striking rock star figure with his long hair, mirrored shades and all black outfit. Shame there weren’t more punters to see them, I’m guessing they were all still pitching tents and checking out the surroundings, but What is Mine, Shoot Me (Baby) and Freedom all sounded pretty amazing to me.
We will be seeing more of them over the next few years and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are not headliners one day.
Thursday is pretty much a taster of things to come, with only the main stage and a chilled out bar and tent called Chai Wallah properly open. The line up on the main stage though was enough to justify the extra £ for the Thursday ticket and the anticipation of the return of Happy Mondays keeps the buzz going around the tree lined arena.
The band finally emerge on to the stage and Rowetta is trying to keep herself inside her tight black dress whilst giving all her soul, dancing and waiving a small whip around.
Bez is in fine form too, dressed like a spaced out sheep farmer in shorts and flat cap, maracas in one hand and the other beckoning all the crowd to join in his monkey dance – everyone obliging of course, and the nostalgia circles around the whole place with smiles on everyone’s faces when the likes of Step On and Kinky Afro are given the full treatment.
Shaun Ryder who is straddling performances in this band and Black Grape keeps checking the setlist and then pauses to throw a few mars bars out to the audience to keep energy levels up.
A great festival band with all of them probably well over 50 years now, they are 24hr Party People and just perfect for Kendal.
Headliners tonight though are Franz Ferdinand and Alex Kapranos is sporting a new look, which seems to be channelling Jim Morrison.
Wearing wellies he struggles to lift his legs to do the high kick splits but the band are sounding very tight and they please the crowd with a hit laden set – Matinee, No You Girls and Do You Want To coming out very early in the proceedings and then later Take Me Out has the Cumbrian hills shaking.
There is so much more to see at Kendal, the woodlands area is a highlight and comes alive at night as Lost Eden, a place where anything can happen as you walk through Dr Who’s Tardis into a magical world. Great for the kids who get to stay up late to experience it all.
Late nights are buzzing with the Glow Tent playing all the latest DJ sets, a silent disco which is always oversubscribed and plenty of other performances after the main stage has finished. That’s without even touching the jam sessions, comedy soapbox tent, poetry and spoken word, and the interactive discussions and secret sets at the Tim Peaks diner (anyone for a 2/3rds Verve reunion!).
Friday starts around midday but really only gets going when Kate Nash and her superb all female band are playing in the sunshine on the main stage. She brings colour and energy, a psychedelic experience with her fluffy jacket, yellow shades and bright two piece lycra outfit. Exchanging bass guitar for bouncing around the stage, Foundations is the eagerly awaited track and she doesn’t disappoint.
I’ve quickly rushed over to the Calling Out stage to catch another great vocalist Abi Woodman.
Yes I know you’ve never heard of her – but that will change as MarthaGunn are about to reinvent dreamy 70’s folk rock tunes in the style of Fleetwood Mac, with Abi’s vocal range sitting somewhere between All About Eve’s Julianne Regan and London Grammar’s Hannah Reid, recently signed it’s going to be interesting to see how they develop.
Aussie band the DMA’s are greeted like a long lost Brit Pop band of the 90’s with more than a few chapters nicked out of the Oasis handbook, except they are a much younger group of lads in tracksuit bottoms and baseball caps (worn the right way round).
They have an infectious live sound with songs you feel you already know. Not ones to run around the stage, it’s more of a gentle plod, but with slow build anthemic tunes like Delete that’s enough to get plenty of enthusiastic lads on shoulders near the front “letting it all out”.
Circa Waves have discovered that they like a heavier rock base to their previous pop exports and they show this right from the off with aptly named Wake Up, it’s from their latest more mature album called Different Creatures.
It’s the newer tunes that seem to go down well with the crowd apart from closer T-Shirt Weather when we get a few trying to crowd surf.
As expected Jake Bugg has all the young ladies goo goo eyed near the front, but for me he has all the charisma of a wet fish – and whilst I like some tunes, there is little else going on. If he moves away from a six-foot area of the mic stand, then he’s probably walking off.
Time for a well-earned break and a trip to the Jägermeister Pop up Stage to see Anteros.
This is a band I know and love, and if you like your indiepop music fronted by a gorgeous sweet but snarling blonde haired girl in tight jeans and platforms – Anteros are definitely for you! Think Blondie but with a little more sugar, or a blonde Chrissie Hynde in her early 20’s, – they really should be playing on much bigger stages, but whilst they are still treading the smaller boards you do get the chance to be a little closer (as my photos will show!!).
After that hot stuff we are away to Ghandis Flip Flop for a curry before The Stereophonics are on.
Kelly Jones steps out to massive cheers and a packed crowd. This is the first of two Welsh headliners at Kendal and they deliver a huge setlist of greatest hits calibre. They do play something new – Caught by the Wind is track 3, and they run through a fun medley of rock covers halfway through the set including Gimme All Your Lovin, Paranoid and Highway to Hell. But the crowning glory is a run of five songs at the end from Local Boy In The Photograph to Dakota, a career spanning 25 years and tonight they showed immense talent, great festival entertainment and quite clearly a major draw to the fields this year, nearly all the other venues did suffer low attendance at this time.
However, another busy set was seen at Calling Out tonight – Loyle Carner, announced as a Mercury Music Prize contender in the morning and he showed this younger crowd exactly why. Still only just into his twenties himself this hip hop artist is going places, with Rebel Kleff by his side, his stage set looks like a country house record library with a high backed leather chair, table lamps and shelves stacked with vinyl.
There is a huge red No 7 football shirt hung at the back on the wall bearing the name Carner and Loyle is pacing side to side on the carpet with a scarf in one hand, exhibiting boundless energy. It’s fantastic to watch and to think the UK have a great young rapper with the potential to take on any US counterparts.
Last year Catfish and the Bottlemen played the main stage but early Saturday morning this year Billy Bibby & The Wry Smiles took to the Calling Out Stage slightly earlier than advertised.
Billy Bibby co-wrote Catfish’s debut album The Balcony, but it’s his own songs this morning that are standing the test of a live audience. Slowly filling the tent with more and more punters as they drift in from the surrounding bars. Some great hard indie music played by a competent live band, Are You Ready and Substitute were standout tracks as they motored through a very quick set.
Leeds band Post War Glamour Girls were piercing through the mud with their dark art pop sound, it’s a difficult audience at this time of day for that sort of band, and they would have suited a later slot on the Calling Out stage.
They made way for White who have an arsenal of much more danceable tracks like Living Fiction, and a great frontman in Leo Condie who seems to be part Billy MacKenzie, part Jim Kerr (80’s period).
In need of a wake up I strolled to the Calling Out stage and witnessed Moses, for the first 30 seconds I thought it was going to be a shoe gazing boring droney effort. Lead singer looked like an outcast from the Ramones and he was clinging on to the mic stand for life, but then BOOM!!
They explode with such a ferocity that it takes everyone by surprise. Youthful upstarts playing post punk noises worthy of an early Blur record, and Victor the lead singer spends more time in mid-air than actually on the stage. Definitely worthy of another viewing later this year.
Main Stage antics from Reverend and the Makers – split the audience for a singalong and then tell one side they were sh*t but are getting better, he has a way with words but also the band got the mud dancing back in the fields with Heavyweight Champion of the World blasting out. Always great value and a perfect festival band.
Similarly Feeder kept things warm nicely and it’s surprising how many of their tunes you know- Buck Rogers, Lost & Found and Just a Day are just three from an hours set with Grant Nicholas in great form if a little less mobile around the stage than he used to be.
A rare visit to the House Party stage for a band I’ve been wanting to see for some months, The Blinders strangely have only 15 minutes in the schedule, we think it’s a typo and they pack more in to that time than most bands fit in an hour.
Slightly on edge, but musically tight, and only being a 3 piece, their antics on and off the stage are worth the festival ticket alone. It’s sometimes power punk, sometimes indie poetry, but always very raw and fresh and they are from Doncaster of all places (now relocated to Manchester). Lead vocals and guitar from someone that looks like Marc Bolan wearing enough eyeliner to make him look like he’s been boxing very badly. This was one of the performances of the weekend and in the same way that I witnessed Cabbage last year at Kendal, you just know that The Blinders are offering something different and will be big news over the next 18 months.
Over on Calling Out another 3-piece indie pop band were doing a fine set – Freak – However, they were no match for what I witnessed with the Blinders earlier so we moved on through the woodlands and back to main stage to catch part of Editors.
Surprisingly animated and sounding vocally unblemished, it was quite brilliant, a massive improvement on the boring festival appearances I had seen them perform previously and made me wish I had been there for more.
This year the Calling Out stage has surpassed itself with new up and coming acts, one I hadn’t heard of before were Shame and by the time I got there the lead singer seemed to be half on stage and half in the audience with mic leads all over the place and… shock.. horror – he was smoking!!
How very dare he, the rebel! Loads of raw punk energy from five 19 yr olds, which primed me up perfectly to watch a 75yr old rooted to a keyboard.
Brian Wilson is a legend, it has to be said – the writer and creator of a genre in my opinion, the soothing surf sounds of the Beach Boys have been with me since I was very young, I had several cassettes of Beach Boys classics including Pet Sounds which he will play in full today with his excellent band.
However, I think there comes a point in a long distinguished career where basically we are all looking at the artist and admiring talents that are now sadly well past a sell by date. Brian Wilson could have just been sat at the side listening to the band, and as much as we wanted to hear those familiar songs, you found yourself thinking and worrying over his general health and wellbeing, was he really having Fun Fun Fun ?
Headliners for Saturday were the Manic Street Preachers, having seen them numerous times over the years it always still saddens me that they keep that left side of the stage still vacant in the hope that Richie Edwards may one day reappear. A simple introduction from James Dean Bradfield “We are the Manic Street Preachers and this is Motorcycle Emptiness”
BANG! Straight into one of their iconic hits and the mud under our feet is all forgotten. Similarly to the previous night a Welsh band with significant pedigree and an impressive standard of musicianship.
The hits just rolled out from Everything Must Go, You Love Us , Kevin Carter and finally A Design For Life. Even an acoustic Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. There is no substitute for a class act and they are clear headliners at this festival.
Friday has been beaten by Saturday, and we hadn’t even seen The Hunna yet. They took to a packed Calling Out stage and straight away blew the cobwebs from that space with a blistering set of songs.
You and Me, Piece by Piece, Never Enough and We Could Be meant sweat was already flying from the locks of Ryan Potter five minutes in. The amount of energy those guys bring to the stage in an instant was impressive, it didn’t relent throughout the show and it may as well have been raining inside as we left drenched.
The activities at Kendal go on till the early hours and there was another act I wanted to see in the Riot Jazz tent, a beautifully lit place with fairy lights strewn upwards to meet a massive tree trunk in the middle. Jeramiah Ferrari was here to bring his North West reggae show to Kendal, and with quite a few locals knowing his stuff it was a superb show, even throwing in a Toots and the Maytalls track in the mix. After an hour of silent disco and then some cheesy tunes in the Chai Wallah it’s back to the tent for a few hours sleep before we do it all again one more time!
Saturday opened on the main stage and the party band of the day was The Lancashire Hotpots, who managed to get everyone in fancy dress doing a conga, bobbing up and down to their version of ‘Heads and Shoulders’ which I think was ‘Egg, Sausage, Chips and Beans’ and laughing out loud at Shopmobility Scooter.
It’s very British, completely infectious, and perfect for a sunny afternoon at a festival for families with kids to join in.
We are looking at a day of mud, grime and rock today and a predicted thunderstorm potentially drove quite a few people away, it does feel that there were less bodies walking around on the Sunday than earlier in the weekend.
Rock comes in the shape of Nothing But Thieves and the Muse like vocals of Conor Mason. This band seem to be appearing everywhere at the moment and are now getting some serious airplay on US radio and TV stations.
Trip Switch and Wake Up Call don’t disappoint but they are not going to be crowned kings of the main stage today.
That award goes to Slaves who brought the sunshine and shouting to the fields. Isaac isn’t so much a drummer, he’s more like a very angry octopus fighting two large oil drums, occasionally hitting the crash and ride cymbals but “F*ck the Hi Hat” is the catchphrase of the day.
Heavily tattooed guitarist Laurie is on stage in a blue suit and scowl, Isaac prefers to lose his suit jacket after half a song, who wouldn’t if they had a chest like that. It’s angry, but the most fun you will have today is shouting “Where’s Your Car Debbie” as Debbie’s car is being towed out of a boggy field at the YNOT Festival in Derbyshire.
Each morning, unbeknown to the punters, a team of people reshape the area at the front of the main stage, a JCB with a ton of woodchips lifts the soggy mud and spreads the chips around the site to ensure that the front area is relatively free from becoming a swamp.
Still no sign of the thunderstorm here, so we grab a beer and sit back in the sun and enjoy everyone’s favourite session musician turned professional hobo – Seasick Steve, he plays some blues tunes, mainly sat down – just like us!
Over in the Calling Out stage there is another great 3 piece band – Blaenavon.
Tonight they paint shapes and colour all over that tent, expression in music and with an occasional dancing bassman on one leg. Their debut album That’s Your Lot is superb and they play most of it to perfection to an eager crowd, one of whom has painted a banner and hung it over the monitor speakers.
Back to the main stage one last time to see Frank Turner who has entered into the spirit of things with glitter all over his face, we do get a bit of rain but that won’t stop Recovery and Long Live the Queen singalongs.
The punk turned alt folk guitarist and singer plays as many festivals as he can during the season, so it isn’t a surprise that he draws a big crowd at these events.
We are so close to the end of the weekend that we can smell Mondays washing already, Palace are dark and brooding and by the time The Coral get on stage there is barely enough light to see them, a few twinkling stars and a projection at the back, we only know it’s them because we can hear Thinking of You.
As we walk back to our car (which doesn’t need towing out) Tinie Tempah has finished and the fireworks are lighting up the sky, fields and mountains around (and scaring a few sheep).
Kendal Calling is a mighty fine festival, probably the best of it’s size in the UK. Impeccably organised and maintained. It feels very safe and friendly, there is great food & drink, increasingly varied entertainment and really shows what a regional independent festival can become after years of continuous improvement.
That’s why it’s a sell out each year, and that’s why you need to be buying your ticket NOW for 2018. Check their website, you will be able to pay monthly and then will be certain to be in the fields in 2018 – I’ll see you there !