REVIEW festival Kendal Calling

Kendal Calling: Get In The Fields

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. There is a small lake though, hidden away in the chilled out VIP zone and at sunset it’s one of the most picturesque views you can get here. The added bonus this year is that the normally wet lake district weather is put on hold for some perfect festival sunshine.

So on to the music, and for the early birds there was a stunning set by the Charlatans and Ash to be had on the Thursday night. Tim Burgess is here all week as he curates a little café at the top of the site near the woodlands called ‘Tim Peaks’ and this is the place to be for those secret sets. This year was no exception with ‘Blossoms’, ‘Dodgy’, ‘Too many T’s’ and topping them all ‘Pete Doherty’ performing a one off topless set (due to the heat and bodies in the room). If you managed to get there early then you had a fine intimate view of these artists, however, if you did get there early - then the chances are you missed some other delights on the several stages dotted around the site.

This festival music line up truly caters for all tastes over the weekend and spreads that variety on all stages. For Friday the openers on the main stage ‘The Jacques’ looked a little lost and bewildered with the size of the place and as it was early on the first day a lack of a decent audience probably affected their performance. Not so for ‘Too Many T’s’ whose pop/rap confident way with the crowd got all the kids from the area down to the front for some arm waving and beastie boys type singalong.

I decided to change stage for a while and visited one of the indoor places ‘House Party’, and a packed crowd in there witnessed the Sex Pissed Dolls. Not many cover bands make it to festivals at this level, but their versions of classic punk anthems by the Pistols, Undertones etc. were raw and loud, and their outfits of thigh length boots, short skirts and big hair with Halloween make up, certainly kept the Dad 50+ punks in the audience very happy.

Meanwhile on the main stage ‘Molotov Jukebox’ were in full flow with some gypsy brass getting the crowd on the hill at the back on their feet dancing. Having enjoyed the Dolls so much I decided to check out a band that had been recommended to me ‘Cabbage’ and I’m so glad I did. Turned out to be one of the sets of the weekend, completely blew me away and I’ll even say that this lot will be the band to shake Manchester out of its Oasis/Stone Roses panto haze - which has gone on for far too long!. It’s such an erratic mess of fuzzy punk pop from Manchester. The eccentric lead singer has a confidence and glint in his eye where you really do not know what to expect next, climbing all over the crowd, barriers and stage. The music from the band is an innovative glorious shambles, and yet still retaining the semblance of a quality noisy racket. Then the lyrics kick in and ‘Dinner Lady’ is a story of one of the bands experiences working at a private school, so get this "to calm my distaste, I had a wank in the quiche, and I watched the headmaster get it stuck in his teeth". They are touring with ‘Blossoms’ this autumn which will be THE ticket to brag to your mates that you saw them first – get it now!!!

Calming down I move to the Calling Out stage and ‘The Big Moon’ are close to just finishing their set but the smiles from these girls tell everything, another great performance and it won’t be long before they are on much bigger stages as well.

Milburn are reformed and back and providing a slice of indie rock on the main stage and then followed by ‘We are Scientists’ with some high energy from the 3 piece. I decide to check out who the special guests are at Tim Peaks and am rewarded with an intimate rap performance from ‘Too Many T’s’ whilst having a much needed break and a cup of tea (my old bones need daily tea).

Then out into an area yet to be explored – ‘The Woodlands’, it literally comes alive at night with all sorts of pop up performances, sculptures, art and poets, and some very clever glow art – even huge bees hovering over you as you walk by. I end up getting chased through the woods by 2 girls dressed in space outfits carrying guns! Here I visit the Woodlands stage to see ‘The Lottery Winners’, having recently signed a record deal, this band from Leigh are so much fun with lead singer Thomas Rylance in-between song banter worthy of a comedy tent slot. But sadly I can’t stay there for the whole set as Catfish and the Bottlemen are about to take the main stage by storm, gaining the biggest crowd of the day so far. They have smartened up their image, gone are the scraggy t shirts and in their place are smart black shirts and a hair cut for Van McCann, the music though is top notch and they rattle through the hits from their debut.

I ran back to the Woodlands avoiding the space girls, for a quick glimpse of ‘VanGoffey’ the project of former Supergrass drummer and backing vocalist Danny Goffey. It’s a tad trite and predictable, reasonable enough for the small woodlands audience but when you’ve been rocked by Catfish there really is no comparison.

Headliners for the Friday night are UK drum and bass kings ‘Rudimental’ and they know how to put on a show. I guess it helps to have so many performers on stage, but from the very front to the back of the crowd they got the whole field dancing, particularly with closer ‘Waiting all Night’ and it didn’t matter that Ella Eyre wasn’t there, as the backing singers in the band seemed to cope with anything.

The activities at this festival 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 Cha Wallah it’s back to the tent for a few hours sleep before we do it all again!

Saturday opened with a new local band called ‘The Chadelics’ bringing a few friends with them they had no problems with entertaining the early risers, great tunes and a freshness worthy of their main stage slot.

Saturday for me was all about 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.

Funky guitarist and songwriter JJ Rosa was next, bringing some much needed glamour to the main stage with her sweet soulful vocals combined with sterling guitar work, memories of Prince come to mind and then she dedicates a song to Amy Winehouse as it’s been 5 years since her passing. Shame there weren’t more there to see her set.

The Calling Out stage was only really visited twice today, and the first time was for ‘Actor’. This is the second time in 2 weeks I’ve seen them, and stunning vocalist Louisa Osborn is the reason. Combining the vocal prowess of Siouxsie Soux and Kate Bush she powers through some catchy art pop with ease. Clever guitar and synth, building crescendos of melody mean that they are not just a pop act, so much more than that, a presence here and they cut through everything else performed on that stage during the day.

So to the main stage for 3 acts that would build with intensity, hour by hour and encapsulate exactly how to play a festival. First off ‘Maximo Park’, they are late due to a plane delay, so – open with ‘Graffiti’ and vocalist Paul Smith bounces like tigger all over the stage getting the party started quickly, hit after hit follow and after the shortened set the audience are left in tatters to recover with a beer.

Then ‘The Darkness’ follow, Justin Hawkins dressed in a purple PVC suit that Freddie Mercury would turn down as too garish. He manages to combine a self-ridiculing attitude with some ball crushingly high vocals and some inspired guitar work. All that whilst entertaining the crowd with such classic lines as “Here’s a song for everyone, Mums..Dads…Kids, it’s called “Get your hands off of my ring piece, you louse”.

Anyone that has ‘Lowestoft’ tattooed in massive letters above his belly button cannot take himself too seriously and he manages to flick plectrums to anyone in the first 20 rows with impressive accuracy and can do a neat bit of keepy uppy with them too.

Whilst they are hardly a family orientated band you can’t help but laugh with them, and predictably ‘I believe in a thing called love’ ended with a massive clapalong and Hawkins in a headstand position clapping his legs in time to the audience hands, brilliant festival stuff.

The final act of the killer 3 were ‘The Hives’, and if ever there was a showbiz rock frontman ready to claim the trophy still held by David Lee Roth of Van Halen, then it’s Pelle Almqvist. The last time I saw The Hives was around 10 years ago, and they were crazy then. All power-eyed stares, short hair, sharp monochrome suits and short punky shouty tunes. The suits and eyes are still there, but Pelle has grown his hair longer whilst still holding that charismatic Swedish charm. He dives off the extraordinary high stage into the pit (where I am stood taking photos) and grabs the audience – (see the picture!). Then continues to high kick his way through classic Hives tunes like ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’, ‘Main Offender’, ‘Tick Tick Boom’ and ‘Walk Idiot Walk’. This for me was the set of the festival, without compromise every band member gives 100% and how do you follow that?

Well unfortunately, you don’t really, and the winner of the bizarre artist placement of the day award goes to soulful diva ‘Kelis’, who all this audience really know her for is the “My milkshakes bring all the boys from the yard” song. So, turning up and expecting something similar perhaps, we are all very much mistaken. The Milkshakes are off and it all turned a bit sour, to be honest I think she was as surprised to be here as we were, but on the bright side at least there was time to grab a nice bit of food from the traders around the side of the arena.

Eagulls were playing their moody psychedelic rock in the calling out tent but the evening was all about the return of Suggs and Co at the main stage and Madness really did play hit after hit, they have so many. Kicking off with ‘Embarrassment’ they proceed through ‘House of Fun, ‘Baggy Trousers’, ‘Madness’, ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ amongst many others, and ending with a simple message to everyone ‘It Must Be Love’. Amen to that, this world needs a bit more right now.

Meanwhile on the Calling Out stage ‘Pete Doherty’ is playing a selection of solo, Babyshambles and Libertines songs to a packed crowd and the hippy 60’s crooner ‘Donovan’ is singing ‘Jennifer Juniper’ and ‘Universal Soldier’ in the woodlands. You are really spoilt for choice at this time of night.

All in all, Kendal Calling is a very fine festival, impeccably organised, clean toilets, great food, great varied entertainment and really shows what a good regional independent festival can become after years of continuous improvement. That’s why it’s a sell out again, and that’s why I’ll be back next year along with several thousand other people. See you in the fields in 2017.