This article was first published on Louder Than War on 31 July 2013.
Kendal Calling is one of Louder Than War’s favourite fixtures in the festival calendar and 2013 more than lived up to our expectations.
Not only did we get to soak up the sun (and a fair amount of Cumbrian rain) in the fields but editor John Robb passed on his music journalism wisdom and was in coversation with Duglas T. Stewart from BMX Bandits in Tim Peaks Diner.
The line up was chocker with great bands; headliners The Charlatans, Primal Scream and Basement Jaxx, special guests Public Enemy and across the other stages a whole load of bands we love – The Tea Street Band, Twisted Wheel, The Gramotones, John Ainsworth, Calling All Astronauts, Hatcham Social, Slowgun…
Sarah Lay gives us her view. Images by Elspeth Moore.
The sun rises across Kendal Calling 2013 and it quickly becomes a blisteringly hot summer Friday to kick the festival off. Across the site people are arriving in droves and even the labours of dragging your belongings through a field and trying to pitch a tent in the heat can’t shake the happiness from faces, the cares of everyday life falling away for a few days respite.
Already there are fake sunflowers clipped into carefully disheveled hair dos, pinned onto bucket hats and straw Trilbys. The odd flash of yellow will become a profusion of flowers across the weekend. The marker of a local charity that becomes a symbol for the weekend, an almost accidental symbol that is fitting of both the hipsters and the hippies out to play in the Cumbrian fields.
And Kendal Calling does have a hippy sensibility wafting around. Not the sandalwood-scented aura-cleansing yogurt-knitting hippy vibe but the more fundamental hippiness of peace, love, community.
From the beauty of the setting and determination to work with the landscape to form the site, rather than ride roughshod over it for commercial convenience to the ‘Peace Unity Power’ chants bounced around in front of the main stage later that night. Yes, Kendal Calling is a chilled out playground for those still clinging to some ideals.
The arena itself is quite small – spread out enough that sound leaks between stages is minimised but that you can trot between them all in a matter of minutes. Stalls are tucked away beneath spreading trees offering needed shade while little details have been added to surprise and delight revellers as they amble about – whether it’s the hobbit hole entrance to the woodland stage or the Back to the Future style signs by the main stage. It’s thoughtfully put together and seems to try a lot harder to go beyond the expectations of the punters than the larger more commercial festivals around on the circuit.
The line up fits with the ethic. Many of the bands play more than one set, on more than one stage, across the weekend. The Gramotones are amongst them; they open the main stage on the Friday but also fit in sets at Tim Peaks Diner and the Calling Out Stage. I catch a full set between their numerous appearances and it’s great to see this band gather a decent crowd, singing along and getting behind them.
There’s atmosphere aplenty at all the performances with people genuinely seeming to hold the acts in high regard and not as a mere afterthought to getting pissed in a field. Waylayers and Misty Miller both put in great mid-afternoon slots that stop people as they meander by and hold their attention as they take in the shade of the stage tent or luxuriate on the grass surrounding it.
But you can feel anticipation growing across the site as evening draws in and Public Enemy take to the main stage. The crowd packs the flat area in front of the stage and rolls far back up the hill that forms a slight amphitheatre for the setting. People seem up for it and as the set gets going the mosh is spreading much further back than it’s usual stage front semi-circle.
Most people know what to expect from a PE set even if they haven’t seen them before but the between song preaching seems to send a ripple of disconnect through some parts of the crowd. Many are here to dance and have a good time, they don’t want to be reminded about building a better society, they’re here just to forget the stresses of that everyday life.
But this is music with a message and these legends of hip hop put on a greater display of true rock n roll attitude than many of the all surface, no substance bands claiming that mantle in music today.
Chuck D and Flavor Flav preach to us about one love, one race. They make us repeat peace, unity and finding the collective power. They talk of fighting the corruption of power and indirectly they extol rejecting the consumerist individualism that we’ve been taught is the norm and awaken the humanity inside us all. And they do it all with crisp beats and bristling rhymes.
But fighting the power will have to wait for another day because as the sun sets and casts a golden glow through the trees it’s time for active nostalgia to take hold with headliners Basement Jaxx.
It’s a frantic performance that shows the depth and variety of sound it’s possible to achieve when electronic music is done well live. And this is quite a show; undoubtedly there is some longing for a forgotton youth where dancing all night didn’t involve organising a babysitter and making sure you’ve got Deep Heat prepared to sooth your raver’s hip. But it’s a show that can turn fresh minds with sparkling costumes, dramatic lights and yes, the variations of club classics.
They don’t do exactly what’s expected of them but they do what works and it makes the big numbers flow nicely with the less sought after but appreciated tracks. And it leaves the crowd pumped enough that the other stages, which go on into the night, probably gain more punters than after a subdued headliner.
The sun continues to shine away through the early part of Saturday and The Tea Street Band (one of LTW’s ones to watch in 2013) open up a main stage to a few people scattered across the field but gather quite a crowd as their set goes on. Their blend of electro and jangling guitars is enough to wake up the bleary eyed and there is soon a group of enthusiastic dancers, some in fancy dress, in front of the stage.
The Tea Street Band are doing an ace line in Pet Shop Boys’ crack and bleep rolls, the synth and bass of ’90s dance mixed with the swagger of guitar-led rock n roll. They’re a band hungry to play and they set a good scene for festival Saturday.
By the afternoon House Party is the place to be. A run of ace bands begins with LTW favourite’s Calling All Astronauts. They stand out a little on the billing as they’re out of kilter with the mainstream indie, the hipster psych. It’s no bad thing though and after last night’s music with a message from PE this is a good accompanying set.
Their industrial dance and churning guitars get feet tapping while lyrical spit and cynicism about the modern age get the conscience going too.
They’re followed up by Hatcham Social; a band whose sound has evolved significantly since I last heard them play at this festival last year. They’ve gone from jangly indiepop to a rounded, fuller sound ripe with warm ’50s reverb and delicious country twang. With a set made up of these newer songs it’s a pleasant surprise to hear them head in this direction and we’re certainly looking forward to getting to know these new tracks better.
I head back out into the fields to catch some of perennial festival favourite’s Ash as they churn out massive hit after massive hit with little let up or time for fillers. They go straight in with the crowd-pleasers with Girl From Mars second on the setlist today.
It says much of the back catalogue of this band that they can stick it in so early in the set and still manage to gather pace from their. And it says much of this song also that despite being released 18 years ago it sounds fresher than many of its contemporaries
I Am Kloot provide the perfect foil to the madness within the House Party tent but it’s only respite as soon the sun is setting behind those ancient trees again and it’s time for The Charlatans to take to the stage for a big Saturday night.
The band are sounding great; tunes are spun and stretched to their psych best and it’s all kept fluid and loose. This is a relaxed and up for it sound from the band, they’re enjoying this moment and there’s an iconic look to it all as periodically the stage disappears completely into dry ice and misting rain, only for it to clear seconds later with Burgess arms aloft, owning the field.
It’s a set full of crowd pleasers but also some less expected tracks – Blackened Blue Eyes gives a moment to reflect on the the lyrical dexterity in these songs, sometimes easily overlooked in the rush of riffs. Up At The Lake gets an outing too – Burgess telling the crowd it seems fitting due to the location – and you’re reminded that it’s not just indie disco classics but often the songs they keep on the subs bench that make The Charlatans such an enduring band.
It’s a comforting set of tunes to spin endlessly through my head during a long night of heavy Cumbrian rain battering my flimsy tent. The warmth of the set didn’t help keep my belongings dry but without out music my spirits may have faltered; isn’t that always the way?
It seems like the rain will go on forever as Sunday morning stretches grey, cold and sodden across the campsite. As the mood changes to one of grim determination to get through the day without falling face first into a puddle Tim Peaks Diner looks even more welcoming than usual. The sun does shine again though and Sunday turns into another blaze of summer. You can read about my Sunday in the diner on this page by the way.
The end is drawing nigh though and soon we’ll have to leave the fields for another year. The misery of rain dripping into your tent at 3am and spending the day in damp socks will become that funny anecdote between friends and a small price to pay for the wonderful escape that is Kendal.
The main stage bats out a big three to close with; Johnny Marr, Seasick Steve and Primal Scream.
It’s a perfect triple combination for a Sunday evening with just enough legendary status between them and (for at least two of those acts) the balance of nostalgic familiarity, ingrained emotional attachment to songs of a fading youth and new material that holds its own.
There is such a profusion of festivals now happening around the UK, and affordable tempting options across Europe, that over the next few years they’re all going to have to pull out the stops to attract the crowd and survive.
It seems that Kendal Calling is well on the way to winning the hearts, as well as the wallets, of the audience.
There’s a genuine feeling of community around the festival from organisers, punters and artists that for one weekend a year makes us all want to wear flowers in our hair and believe the hippy dream of peace, love and amazing tunes.
We’re already looking forward to seeing you in the fields in 2014.
All words by Sarah Lay.
Images by Elspeth Moore.