Saturday at Kendal Calling was wet, like really wet. The mud flats that had on Friday, emerged from the grassy fields, turned into a veritable quagmire. As I’ve said before though, no-one cares in festival land; folk that would normally make a mad ten yard dash from the house to the car when there’s a slight shower, happily wallow in foot deep puddles of mud, as they’re soaked to their skin, knowing that the only comfort that awaits them is a damp tent and the impossible task of keeping the mud outside.
Undeterred, we made our way to the House Party Tent, which by this point was Kendal Calling’s equivalent of a sticky floored dive bar venue, to see Lynchs. Trashed TV competition winners, the Wigan four piece took to the stage like they owned it, and for 30 minutes or so they totally did. An eclectic blend of New Wave, Post-Punk and Psychedelia was delivered with a swagger that only young bands can muster; there may have been a slightly less than rapturous reception to lead singer, Breb’s assertion that they were the most ambitious and hard-working band at the festival, but if you don’t believe in yourself, then no-one else will. And that belief in themselves was nowhere better demonstrated than in their ambitious cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘Das Model’; imaginatively yet authentically reproduced in guitar band format, and with impressive results.
On then to the Calling Out stage, to see Red Rum Club, who perhaps deserve the plaudits for the hardest working band at the festival. Having played Y-Not in Derbyshire on the Friday night, they travelled to Kendal Calling for a lunchtime set on the Saturday, before heading down to Oxfordshire for an evening set at Truck Festival on the same day. If there are other bands that have played three festival sets across the country in 24 hours, then I apologise for not giving you your dues, but fucking hell- that is immense. The Liverpool six piece delivered an incredible set, with customary opener ‘Angeline’ setting their stall out, and that stall is filled with massive massive songs. RRC’s sound evokes Tex-Mex Wild West imagery, with a trademark trumpet setting them apart. I have an uneasy feeling about brass and rock and roll (in no small part due to the fact I played trombone when I was younger and I was far from rock and roll whilst doing it) but Joe Corby’s blowing really makes Red Rum Club something special and, in Fran Doran they have a frontman who has honed his stage craft to a tee; by the time the band reached their finale of ‘Would You Rather Be Lonely’, the audience were theirs and would probably have headed down to Oxfordshire to see them again, if we had been asked.
Photo - Jody Hartley
I first started taking KT Tunstall seriously when she performed ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’ at the Mercury Awards, where she live-looped herself (I had to look that up as well, it’s a technique where the musician samples themselves and then plays over that sample) over and over again to build the sound of a full band. Ed Sheeran perhaps gained more plaudits for doing it, but Ms Tunstall was the first I ever saw do it to such great effect, and so I got myself off to the mainstage to see her. I’ve got to admit that she’s maybe not my cup of tea generally, but along with the aforementioned ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’ (which she weirdly and wonderfully mashed up with ‘Seven Nation Army’) she delivered a crowd pleasing set, including a great cover of Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’, before I headed back to the House Party Tent to catch Bis.
Bis are a band from my youth, which probably dates them somewhat, and I was keen to catch them in their current incarnation. The Glaswegian three-piece delivered a great set to a crowd that was perhaps somewhat smaller than they had anticipated, but totally committed to their Rock/Pop/Synth set. Lead singer, Steven Clark did seem a little bitter when some of the audience left after their hit ‘Kandy Pop’, but it didn’t sour the rest of the show which culminated in the excellent ‘Kill Yr Boyfriend’.
Manic Street Preachers are a band that have divided opinion ever since their rise to fame, perhaps due to the band’s (and their fans’) tendency to take themselves a little too seriously. Saturday night on the mainstage at Kendal Calling, the Manics took the penultimate slot, and whilst this might look like a demotion to some, the band took it with incredibly good grace and gave an amazing show. Their live mainstay of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ seemed especially apt as the heavens continued to be open, but that wasn’t the cover that stood out. Let me just take a moment to reassert that the Manic Street Preachers have always been a band that, through their trials and tribulations, seemed to take their credibility incredibly seriously, ever since Richey Edwards carved ‘4 Real’ into his arm. So, could this really be the same band that have taken to covering ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’? To me, this shows that they are a band that have matured, past worrying about what people might think, to a band that are providing what a large crowd wants, and Kendal Calling wanted it. I still find it a little surreal though.
Photo - Scott Salt
And so to the headline slot, which gave me more than a little consternation. Should I go see the relatively recently reformed Doves, or Punk upstarts Idles. I chose the former, as I really didn’t know when I’d get another chance to see them. I’m reliably informed that Idles gave an unforgettable performance, and I still find myself wondering if I made the right choice, but Doves were beautiful. A soaked, yet utterly entranced crowd were treated to an enchanting set from the Manchester trio. There were highlights (‘Kingdom Of Rust’, ‘There Goes The Fear’ and ‘Space Face’) but the whole thing was an awe inspiring, utterly submersive experience from start to finish. I know that I’m going to sound like a total hippy when I say this, but it was beautiful man, every one of us was in that moment and, deep down, I know I made the right choice.
On to the final day and, whilst we were a little weary by this point, Dan Webster’s set in the Chai Wallah tent was enough to blow the cobwebs away. Having started off as a solo artist peddling Folk music in York, Dan has expanded (well, he’s not expanded, but the act has) and evolved into a six piece band, performing a blend of Folk, Americana, out and out Country, Rock ‘n’ Roll and everything in between. The Chai Wallah tent is a chilled out affair, but the early afternoon audience were soon having a good old fashioned hoedown as the band’s energy became infectious. The six piece band boasts Dan on the guitar and lead vocals with a cello, mandolin, fiddle, bass guitar and drums in accompaniment, and there’s a real exuberance to the performance- not least in the bass guitar, which was played within an inch of its life. Dan played an extended set, presumably due to a mix up with stage times and whilst the set’s finale came about 20 minutes early, in the excellent ‘Elvis’, the crowd continued to grow and were enthralled.
Photo - Jody Hartley
I’d never really heard much of RIVAL SONS, prior to Kendal Calling, and I really don’t know why, as they were amazing. With a highly stylised aesthetic (damn, they look cool), the band provide a Bluesy Americana Rock, like someone got The Black Crowes and The Raconteurs, put them in a sack and added a lot of Rock. There were fans in the audience when the show started, but I think there were a whole lot more by the time it finished; front man, Jay Buchanan has an eccentric delivery which captivated his audience, and did I mention how fucking cool this band are? Maybe not quite as cool was the next act, but who wants to be cool all the time?
Photo - Scott Salt
There had been rumours, prior to the festival, that Kendal Calling might be Tom Jones’ final performance. It turned out that they were just unfounded rumours, as Sir Tom used his curtain call to announce that he intended carrying on for many years to come. I’ve said before that Kendal attracts a wide variety of punter, and nowhere was this as evident as in the audience for this set. Now, I’m sure that a lot of the younger crowd were just getting in place for the upcoming headline act, but it didn’t stop them singing along at the top of their voices to classics ‘It’s not Unusual’, ‘Delilah’ and ‘What’s New Pussycat?’. STJ (as I might take to calling him) also played some of his ‘newer’ hits such as ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’ and ‘Sexbomb’, as well as a fantastic cover of Johnny Cash’s (and several others’) ‘Gods Gonna Cut You Down’ and a blistering ‘Kiss’ which was dedicated to the memory of the artist formerly known as but who I think eventually ended up being known as Prince.
Photo - George Harrison
Festivals always have a band whose hit song is sung and played throughout the site for the whole weekend and, whilst there was a lot of Gerry Cinnamon about the place, I think final headliners, The Courteeners’ ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ probably just pipped him to the post. I think there’s a bit of snootiness about The Courteeners amongst some circles; perhaps it’s because they might not have sounded out of place twenty five years ago, perhaps it’s because young rowdy lads like them, or perhaps it’s something else. Whatever it is, the number of detractors must surely be dwindling now. From the fantastic opener of ‘Are You In Love With A Notion’, to lead singer, Liam Fray’s beautiful acoustic delivery of ‘Hanging Off Your Cloud’, The Courteeners showed exactly why it is that people do like them, anthemic songs with sharp lyrics, like an Arctic Monkeys that haven’t disappeared up their own arses.
So that was Kendal Calling, wet and wild; an amazing setting for an incredible lineup. Next year marks the 15thbirthday of the festival and if this year is anything to go by, there will be many many more milestones reached by this jewel in Cumbria’s crown.
Review - Jon Stokes