This review was first published on Louder Than War on 31 July 2013.
We love Kendal Calling. We’ve told you how much we love it and why here but there’s something else we needed to tell you about.
A special place, in this special festival. A little log cabin that once a year hosts magical musical moments.
It’s the Tim Peaks Diner and here Sarah Lay shares what went on within its walls over a coffee and damn fine slice of cherry pie.
The fields of Kendal Calling have been basking in sunshine up until now.
It’s late afternoon on Saturday and I’m stood on the porch of a diner born out of a Twitter fiction, Yorkshire tea in a cartoon-covered cup warming my hands.
In front of me people dart across the grass now slick after the first of the heavy rain, the lights of the Ferris Wheel glowing through the mist left after the downpour. Behind me my friends are sat on a pew dressed as Hit Girl, a dinosaur and Ted, collapsing in fits of giggles over nothing as only close friends can.
The festival had been flirting with me all weekend after our brief affair last year but it’s at this moment – head filled with laughter and Northern Soul from inside the diner, my view full of the freshness of a drenched summer evening, a heady mix of petrichor, tea and temporary settlements on the air – that I fall utterly in love with Kendal Calling all over again.
I’m a sucker for magic you see and this festival is bursting with it. Not your slight of hand card trick magic, although there is probably a sideshow of that sort happening somewhere, but the magic you dream of and look for and that makes your heart miss a beat with delight when it happens.
And it’s everywhere at Kendal Calling, but it emanates most strongly for me at Tim Peaks Diner. Walking across that field and seeing the log cabin adorned with bunting makes my soul lift because I know that good things lie in wait.
It might just be a great coffee and a chance meeting with a total stranger on the picnic benches outside. Or it might be getting to listen to your editor impart his wisdom while outing you as a Take That fan. Or it might be the dreamt of magic of the music that is performed here.
Hosted by Tim Burgess and kept on track by a crack team of baristas and sound engineers it is the perfect physical embodiment of the diner imagined in a thousand tweets.
It starts, for me, with a performance by John Ainsworth as I grab a coffee. It’s before the rain at this point and the air is thick with heat, pushing down on everyone, a sheen of sweat on every smiling face. You don’t have to be doing anything to feel the humidity but Ainsworth is putting his all into his set. He looks as if he will melt before your very eyes but selfishly you don’t want him to stop, once you’ve heard his folk-tinged tracks you want to hear more and more and more.
As people enter the diner their attention is immediately captured by the Jeff Buckley-inspired songs, the Davey Graham-style picking; these gentle songs played with such passionate ferocity. Having recently supported The Charlatans at Delemere Forest John Ainsworth is certainly one to seek out.
In between acts, competing with the hiss and gurgle of the coffee machine and the exuberance of the queue we get a reading of St Anthony – A Poem for Tony Wilson by former festival poet laureate Mike Garry. As my heart soars, my breath catches at the evocation of an idol I never met.
I wonder though, as I often do, at the inter-linking of people, of thoughts, of work. And although he was gone before the idea of Tim Peaks was born the spirit of Tony Wilson is in the place, and it strikes me that Tim Burgess is a pretty good impresario in the vein of Manchester’s St Anthony – following his own interests and passions to delight us all with releases on his label, his own music, his writing, and here, now, the curation at the cafe.
Sunday in the diner felt like a Manchester day trip. Louder Than War editor John Robb was in conversation with Sarah Walters of the Manchester Evening News for a masterclass on music journalism. As well as candid insights into how to make a career out of being a culture critic there was also interesting discussion on the future of print and the different agenda between traditional and online music journalism.
And we get more laughter and learning as John later chats with Duglas T Stewart of BMX Bandits. They chat about the creative process of writing music and Duglas’s career. It’s a great insight, sometimes difficult to hear above the noise of the cafe but it feels like ambiance not an inconvenient distraction. This is a living space, full of energy and a sprinkling chaos – a microcosm of the festival as a whole.
Later, it’s back to the music with an acoustic set by Twisted Wheel.
The diner’s seams are stretched to bursting as the familiar chant of ‘whe-el, whe-el, whe-el’ occasionally flicker through the gathered crowd. Yesterday the band played an astonishing set on the House Party stage – crowd-surfers on mattresses, steam rising from and dripping back down onto the soaked revellers crammed into the tent.
In the diner it’s less packed, significantly less steamy but no less electrifying. Even acoustically these songs and the attitude of Jonny Brown and his fans is pure rock n roll. This might be swagger toned down for a Sunday afternoon of a big weekend but it’s still vital and swathed in visceral romance.
And then the purveyor of Twitter’s finest virtual coffees brings together the Anytime Minutes (Mark Collins of The Charlatans and members of Hatcham Social) for a set of his recent solo material.
There are people stacked into the cabin; sat on the floor, on chairs, standing, climbing onto the backs of the booths. They’re looking in the windows too and yet when Tim Burgess opens his lyric book and gives us the spoken word version of A case for Vinyl you could hear a pin drop. It seemed everyone packed into that small space was holding their collective breath, taking their oxygen from the words themselves.
From there on in it’s a jangling set taken from Tim’s 2012 solo album Oh No I Love You.
Nudged gently into it by Mark we also get a gentle version of Charlatan’s classic The Only One I Know, the chilled out version far more focused on the lyric than the full band banging hit that rocked the main stage the night before.
It’s noticable too the difference in Burgess’s vocal between his two performances. His Charlatan’s vocal is more drawl, growl and full on rock n roll but on his solo material and in the diner today it’s gentler, smoothed around the edges and full of fun.
The divide between performer and audience is nothing but an abstract concept here, a veil so flimsy you can blow it away with a sigh. Tim talks and waves throughout the set but it’s all about the music. These songs that lift the hear and cradle the soul. The informal jangle of the solo sound blending perfectly with the organised chaos of the space.
There were a load of other acts and workshops within those wooden walls over the weekend – BMX Bandits, Velveteen Saints, The Gramotones – not to mention the cabaret turns and DJ sets.
As the lights were turned off and the diner again became just a cabin in a picturesque setting anyone who walked through those doors this weekend has taken a little bit of the magic with them.
It’s proof that from ephemeral silliness comes tangible experiences, that sometimes if you build it they will come and that some of the best festival experiences happen away from the big stages.
Read our full review of the festival here.
All words by Sarah Lay.
Images by Elspeth Moore.