This year was the 14th Kendal Calling and my 10th, I’ve always been a genuine fan of the festival, I’ve been as a punter, performer, runner, photographer and several times as a writer, and it never fails to disappoint.
The atmosphere is less frenetic than other festivals, a more family friendly laid back affair with places for kids to play and enjoy music. There is still no shortage of places to let off steam but without the abundance of Parklife-esque teenagers whose pin hole eyes look haunted with the many horrors they have seen but you rarely worry about as you get the impression they are too far gone to remember… While my festival experience may have changed over the years, now I add in provision for a large air bed, a much bigger tent and an insistence of several showers… my eclectic taste in music has not, which is undoubtedly what has always appealed to me about Kendal. The carefully curated line up weaved together the Welsh wonder and ultimate crooner Tom Jones, welcomed back the anthemic Doves alongside breakthrough act of the year fresh from their Mercury nod, Idles, a band that many were very excited about seeing. Alongside a sea of commercial names there is always ample opportunities for new kids on the block like Dirty Laces, Scuttlers, and Peaness, as well as local offerings to fill tents throughout Deerpark. The festival always has a theme and this year was no different with all things Jurassic being celebrated. From a pile of dinosaur dung echoing the 1993 Steven Spielberg blockbuster, a mock dinosaur enclosure and festival-goers dressed as Fred Flintstone, a lavish mechanical T-Rex and… Barney the Dinosaur, both big kids and the younger ravers embraced their love of dinosaurs.
Now onto the music… The first act we managed to catch on the main stage was Kendal veteran troubadour Badly Drawn Boy, despite him reeling off his more well known hits the crowd felt flat and barely interested, but the next band on, Leeds indie rockers The Pigeon Detectives, had the main stage arena filling up and were welcomed like old friends as they belted out hits from their Platinum-Selling album ‘Wait for Me’ and Gold-Selling album ‘Emergency’ and had the crowd in fine sing-a-long form. The general jovial atmosphere continued throughout the Reverend & The Makers Set and admittedly this all could have been a line up from ten years ago, Kendal is a family friendly music festival that is aimed at mainstream popular choice rather than cutting edge new music.
Away from the main stage, The Woodlands has always been one of my most beloved places at Kendal due to its well placed artwork and beautifully built stage within the trees which creates a unique atmosphere hidden away from the madness of the main arena. It also has a great selection of artists covering all genres of music and Friday’s offering had everything for punk to poets, indie pop and the finale of the evening, a silent disco.
The first band I headed for in the scenic woods were Our Fold. Having previously played enviable slots at Glastonbury, Leeds/Reading, Isle of White Festival and supporting the mighty Kasabian, the band have a carefully crafted festival set littered with indie anthems. They start as they mean to go on with strong percussion, splintered with piercing vocals stronger than many an indie band would dare to aim at. While their sound is built for stadium stages, the woods gave it an intimate feel where their full bodied sound could envelop the avid listeners.
Next up I caught the ever funny Thom from The Lottery Winners conducting his woodlands audience through each chorus. This isn’t the first year I’ve seen this act on the same stage and has been vaguely the same time slot; it’s as if they are now part of the Woodlands furniture and there wouldn’t be a Woodlands stage without them.
Moving on from the crowd friendly indie pop, a new wave of watchers trooped the woods for a blisteringly raw set from Mancunian Bubblegum punk rockers Calva Louise. Their fusing of surly riffs changed the pace of the previously calm woods into a mini mud-filled mosh pit. I believe we have even better to come from this band and predict big things. Along with the late addition to the festival were Hands off Gretel, who were celebrating the recent successful release of the album ‘I Want the World’, women in punk were finely represented and showed with ease why the music industry needs a more gender equal line up. There is no denying Lauren Tate’s outstanding talent – she wears her influences very much on her sleeve (Courtney, Brody, Kat…) but as opposed to being a grunge revivalist, Lauren’s song writing brings an infusion of hooks and melody that embellish the huge and dirty riffage that has an even greater energy when seen on the live stage. The impressive pallet of punks was topped off with the godfather of the North West punk scene Job Robb with The Membranes, who still sounded as fresh as the day they formed back in 77.
Other notable sets included the stormer of a House Party performance as part of the ‘Bands FC’ takeover by one of the most hotly-tipped bands to come out of Manchester, Dirty Laces. Complete with a beach ball mosh pit. I caught up with the lads while hiding from Saturday’s rain in a backstage men’s portaloo and they had this to say about the set:
“It’s been fantastic, we had a packed out set last night and even got a shout from Reverand & The Makers on the main stage to come and watch our set. It was also great to see our friends The Scuttlers smashing their set just after us.” When asked about their plans for the weekend two bands stood out for them, Slowthai and Idles; both were being hotly talked about throughout the weekend.
A personal Friday favourite of mine was Saytr Plays Woodlands set, named after a genre of ancient Greek drama that preserves the structure and characters of tragedy while adopting an insatiable happy atmosphere the band do exactly that. Sandwiched in between a sea a guitar heavy punk they were bottled sunshine on an over cast day turning a muddy Friday afternoon into dance floor deserving of a Saturday night. This isn’t their Kendal and they have definitely earned a higher slot on next year’s billing. Next plans for the bands include a new release, “We’ve not announced anything yet but it’s set to be September, as people as getting impatient with us for new music, there’s a lot of thing going on behind the scenes that we need to get sorted out, but its gonna be a banger so be ready for it.”
The easy high point of the day was Chic featuring Nial Rodgers strummed their way through the perfect festival disco set and the welly dancing arena lapped it up. Rogers has truly earned his title of legend. With a set list packed with hits from four decades of music, from Chic, Sister Sledge, David Bowie, Daft Punk to Madonna unless you live in a world devoid of all music, in which case why would you be at a festival……. it was impossible not to know every track by heart. So the Friday night came to a glorious close and happy faces filtered off the various after hours DJs, bars and food stalls scattered throughout the site before heading back to camp for Saturdays adventures.
The rain came down early Saturday morning bouncing from tent to tent, waking hung over residents from the fields from their alcohol filled slumber. Every inch of the site was sinking admit brown filled puddles and thick mud and it just didn’t stop. The previously joyous crowd that danced to the Friday festivities barely acknowledged the early main stage acts with just a few dozed hooded faces there to greet Paddy Rogan, The Rifles and Nina Nesbitt, instead preferring to hide under the cover of surrounding bars leaving a depressingly brown view of a mud filled arena. The rain did dampen general spirits but hey, when you go a festival in the Lake District what can you really expect, the place has lakes filled with water and beautiful rolling green hills for a reason and that reason is year round rain.
The focus of the day for many was to attempt to remain dry although it became quickly obvious that was not an option. So while the main stage may have lacked some lustre the atmosphere in the tents was electric. The Soap Box stage was standing room only and provided the perfect place for family and lovers of everything from wrestling to cabaret to escape the continued down pour.
But for those on the hunt for more music, kicking off the takeover of the House Party Tent, Trashed TV had started the day with enough to bite to battle through the sluggish mud. Swearly punk poet Argh Kid and his band gave a notable performance that celebrated friends, the continued joys of drinking and took various comedic pops at the ever popular government. With an opening line of “Does anyone vote Tory? If you do, you might want to fuck off now” Argh Kid, real name Dave Scott instantly gained fans and brightens the spirit of the packed tent.
Next up was Manchester’s brooding synth rockers Ist Ist, whose melancholic hints mirrored the rain beating down outside adding to the atmosphere of their intense set. Instead of dampening the crowds mood their Lyrical, honesty and the intimacy of the tent hooked the audience and reminded them why they came in the first place, purely for the music. The band had this to stay to say about their set “It was nightmare getting here and there was an issue with a pedal on stage in sound check but as soon we went on stage everything was fine. Despite the weather the pay off has been phenomenal! It was amazing to recognise regular fans down at the front that’s always amazing to see especially at these massive festivals” Then chat moved onto the hot top of the day, the old v new clash of the titans as Doves and Idles were going head to head as headliners. The band were split down the middle but were currently voting with Doves. “It’s just the epicness of it all isn’t it, few bands can do that, plus Idles are angry we’re not feeling that angry, we’re already cold and wet so want something to lighten us up a bit.”
The main stage finally got to be the focus of attention again as fans of Gerry Cinnamon had no intention of being deterred by the impending flood. The Glaswegian peaked capped singer song writing phenomenon known equally for his accent as for his brutally honest lyrics made his triumphantly return to the festival and had the audience eating out of this hands. From relative commercial obscurity to now heading up every radio playlist, with relative ease Cinnamon strummed through his set just him and his guitar with hits including “Sometimes”, “Belter” and recent release “Canter”. This isn’t his first Kendal and I have no doubt it will not be his last, with his free flowing between song chat it’s hard to see this seemingly unassuming natural talent on anywhere else other than main festival stages.
Next it was back to The Woodlands to see the newly reformed and slightly changed line up of Twisted Wheel. First formed in 2007 in Saddleworth, Greater Manchester they were instantly embraced for their strong melodies, psychedelic themes and Brown’s irreverent poignant lyrics. The seemingly bright future was not mean to be as Browns issues with addiction meant the band ended before their time in the sun. But based on their Kendal set Twisted Wheel are most definitely back and stronger than ever. There was just something inherently right about Twisted Wheel, the guitars were loud, to the point where even in the endless woods ears were left ringing, the drums were pounding and shock the sold Earth, and the bass felt like it was about to cut through you like a cheese wire. The stage is tiny but that just added to the effect it felt like Brown was so close to you he was literally screaming the lyrics in your face.
Brown had this to say about his triumphant return, “It’s good to be back, we played a few festivals last year, and it allowed to craft a perfect set, but we were on early slots before a lot of people were up so it’s great to be back at better times. Kendal is one of our favourite festivals so we’ve been looking forward to it. The set was a mix of old and new which is what people want a festival, you want them singing along, but also we got to play more new stuff in the set this year which is really positive as we want to get this new album out.”
By this point the rain had beaten me and drying off was my only option, having seen both the live perfection that is Doves and Idles earlier in the year instead of choosing between the incomparable I settled for an escape to the backstage bar with a hot veggie pizza and contemplated my options for if my tent hadn’t survived the down pour.
My tent alas wasn’t the only casualty of the weather, in the early hours the House Party tent despite being covered had to be closed due to flooding leaving a nervous start for opening band The 99 Degree but due to a thankfully dry morning and the ground teams diligence and determination the show did go on and the tent yet again was bouncing. The bands unique mix of surfer punk and mariachi madness woke up the crowd still suffering from the previous nights excesses and difficult soggy tented sleep.
The main stage was also looking decidedly more healthy due to the brief interlude of sunshine. Kendal favourites and ‘Kings of the Northern knees-up’ The Lancashire Hotpots were back in the fields and on fine form delivering a riotous set filled with comedic tales of chips and mushy peas.
The Calling out tent was also alive and kicking after the down pour, three piece Chester formed Peaness seem to be finally getting the recognition they deserve with second stage slots. With a sound referencing the likes of Drenge, Courtney Barnett, Death From Above 1979 their slow-punk, fuzz-pop, is packed with melody and social commentary. It was clear they had a hard core following over taking the front of the crowd and with such ear worm worthy choruses they have undoubtedly gained a larger following this festival season.
Despite the rain Kendal’s usual feel good factor had truely returned and shone through as The Fratellis put in a strong performance of singalong hits to get the crowd bouncing. But he biggest name on the line-up this year was certainly Tom Jones, who was the penultimate act on the main stage. As definitely one of the older performers present at the festival, the Welsh legend clearly knew how to work a crowd and produced one of the best vocal performances of the four days. Classics like Sexbomb, What’s New Pussy Cat and It’s Not Unusual were passionately sung by Jones and the crowd, both young and old with an added littering of granny pants being thrown throughout.
After the karaoke fun times set of the Fratellis and Jones we were back on the hunt for more new music so we trudged back through the mud and back to House Party, with the added bonus of it being an in indoor tent. Next up was Manchester alt pop act Y.O.U.N.G, who have been gaining momentum and crowds through their no hold bars energetic live shows infusing rock riffs and rap bars like a Lethal Bizzle fronted Royal Blood. Their set weaved their own stamp on the alt pop genre and they somehow looked as if they had out grown the smaller intimate festival stage, I predict next year they will be filling larger stages and my main hope is that they do not lose their unique crowd interaction and connection.
This year’s Kendal Calling may have ended with another shower and rain drops fell a plenty but Courteeners ensured that didn’t matter as they put in a huge set to finish. Front man Frey could do no wrong, every lyric was shouted a long to with ear ringing deafness and each chord was lapped up with love. The Courtneers were a definitely pull to Kendal’s audience, with the maddening crowd seeming both younger and wilder to the usual family heavy followers.
The fireworks display followed, the floods continued and that ended the 14th Kendal Calling in Deerpark. Leaving us with 3 questions on our minds…. Where can we get some chips? Sort that one pretty quick. Will we be returning next year? Damn right we will…. And when will we finally be free of glitter? Well it’s been 4 days and I’m still finding it so your guess is as good as mine.
Kendal Calling 15, 2020, See you in the fields!
Photos: trust a fox photography