Set in the very agreeable surroundings of Lowther Deer Park, Kendal Calling is like no other festival I’ve attended. Bucking the trend that has seen many smaller festivals go to the wall, Kendal Calling seems to be going from strength to strength, increasing its capacity rather than throwing in the towel; it’s good to see.
We arrive Friday morning and rapidly pitch our lodgings for the weekend before de-pitching and re-pitching having originally pitched in a no pitching area; phew, now that deserves a beer. Thirst quenched we make our way towards the sounds of “one two, two, check check” to find they’re not quite ready for us. A couple of calls to artists on the other side of the fence put our minds at rest that we’re not missing a note.
|The Lottery Winners|
Once the gates open we hurriedly make our way to the House Party stage to see The Lottery Winners kick off the festival in real style. Their set of guitar and harmony driven indie pop anthems-in-waiting contains songs bristling with hooks and confidence. If you’ve not managed to catch this Leigh-based quartet yet then put it at the top of your to-do list immediately. We will be featuring the band in more depth on Eartwister when the time is right.
A quick skip to the main stage to catch The Minx ply their spikey brand of punk infused mischief sees the band truly delighted to be making the step up. This reflects in their performance which is probably the best I’ve seen them deliver to date, so job done then.
Despite the compact site and actually reading the map the right way up, we still manage to visit every tent before finally stumbling on the Chai Wallahs’ stage (it was where we came in stupid) only to discover we’d missed Jesca Hoop. We decide to stick around to watch Karima Francis, who today is joined by guitar and bass which adds depth of sound to her set. Karima appears to be in a much happier place these days, and whilst older material still has the feel of a tortured soul , songs from her new album ’Remedy’ such as current single ‘Glory Days’ are tinged with more than a little hope, ‘Let's live today like tomorrow is over’
Off to the Calling Out stage for Hatchem Social who if I’m honest were a little lacklustre today. They probably weren’t helped by the fact that people were still making their way on site, but never the less they were missing a certain sparkle. The new material still sounds pretty good though, notwithstanding that every time I hear that guitar line from ‘I Look Like a God When You Dance with Me’ I leave singing The Eels’ ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’.
Back on the main stage The Correspondents are doing what the correspondents do to great effect. Those familiar with frontman Mr Bruce were lapping up every second whilst newcomers must have been thinking fancy dress Saturday had come a day early. There is no denying that the man knows how to play a crowd, and ‘What’s Happened to Soho’ in particular goes down a treat.
Meanwhile The Lake Poets ,aka acoustic singer songwriter Martin Longstaff was entertaining an altogether more relaxed audience on the Woodland Stage, and pleasant enough it was too, if you like that sort of thing.
Back at the Calling Out stage it’s a poet of a very different kind in the shape of London MC Ghostpoet, all tripped out, dubbed up Hip Hop, like Portishead meets Dizzee Rascal for tea and valium. We like it, but it seems at odds with the un-forecast sunny weather and more suited to a 5am meltdown.
Little Comets’ show on the same stage is the polar opposite, with guitar lines that would not seem out of place on an indie reworking of Paul Simon’s Graceland, considered rhythms and memorable backing vocals, all meaning they are not without charm. Despite splitting opinion amongst friends on the night, the Calling Out tent is near full for the first time today with the majority of those gathered inside buying in wholesale.
So to tonight’s headliners and here we find ourselves slightly torn between Maximo Park on the main stage vs Little Barrie on the Calling Out stage. Having missed the opportunity to catch Barrie after the second day of Live at Jodrell Bank fell foul of the weather, we decide that it’s possible to do both. The plan is to take in the start and close of Maximo’s set with a slice of Little Barrie as the filling in the Maximo sandwich, sounds tasty.
As Maximo Park launch into their set it becomes apparent that not all is well in the state of Kendal as the sound is painfully quiet. It seems whatever limiters they have set on the mixing desk have strangled the power of current single ‘Hips & Lips’ and there is little sign of their grip loosening; so we decide to bring forward our schedule and head to the Calling Out stage in the hope the problem is rectified by the time we return.
No such problems here as Little Barrie is already churning out his dirty brand of old school R ’n’ B which is much heavier live than his recordings would suggest, almost Hendixesque in places. There is no doubt that Barrie is a serious player and it’s easy to see why both Primal Scream and Paul Weller have made use of his talents. If he wants to make the step up from cult to a wider audience however, he may just be one or two hooks short.
We arrive back at the main stage just in time to hear the volume go up and Maximo kicking into top gear. As Paul Smith gives his trademark hyperactive Jack-in-the-box performance we have to confess to enjoying the experience a little more than predicted. ‘Our Velocity’ (great song) and set closer ‘Apply the Pressure’ are obvious highlights as day one draws to a close, at least for us anyway.
Despite their relatively young years the Travelling Band are by now festival veterans. They seem to have found their place in the great scheme of things and prove an ideal choice to open proceedings. They do what they do very well and whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, for those who over indulged on Friday night they are an affable introduction to another day in the fields.
We catch a few songs of Jack Martello’s soulful acoustic set which is pleasant enough before heading up the hill for Leeds’s own exponents of the dark indie arts Wind Up Birds. Unless you subscribe to Paul Ackroyd’s somewhat grim view of life there’s not much we can recommend here. It’s straight down the line indie rock delivered with little panache, with Ackroyd’s John Cooper Clarke style delivery stuck on top like a cheap glacé cherry; not for us then.
Back on the main stage Little Roy has young and old alike lifting their legs high to his sound-system Reggae. Rolling out early hits such as ‘Bongo Nyah’ alongside a smattering of Nirvana covers from his ‘Battle for Seattle’ album, only a fool would have bet on his set not being well received. There have been no shortage of Reggae acts riding the coat tails of others in a bid to cash in lately but thankfully Little Roy is not one of them. His covers bring something new to the party (and party it is) with ‘Lithium’ in particular hitting just the right spot.
It’s up to the Calling Out stage once again to see Jake Evans (Bad Lieutenant) whose solo material has punch, melody and strong vocals, making it worthy of closer inspection. His SJM rep seems concerned about the sound for some reason. I’d have been more concerned that the tent was near empty.
Elsewhere Dodgy are mixing up the old hits and new material but predictably it’s the likes of ‘Staying Out for the Summer’ and ‘In a Room’ that the punters crave, although the new material does show they still know their way around a pop song . They also do a cover version of Frank Wilson’s Northern Soul classic ‘Do I Love You’, which makes for Dodgy by name and dodgy by nature. Consider yourselves told boys, don’t mess with perfection. They save the day however, by closing the set with ‘Good Enough’, which it just about is.
Indie popsters Spector are next up and not for the first time we witness some sloppy playing by the London boys, with drummer Danny Blandy in particular seemingly having timing issues. Never the less, the singles are fantastic, as is stalwart and soon-to-be-released set closer ‘Never Fade Away’, but you have to wonder if it’s going to be enough? They play another slow song halfway through the set which on this listening verges on the extremely dull. Do we spy a chink in Spector’s armor?
Actually closer to Penrith than Kendal we are less than 35 miles from Scotland. So perhaps no surprises then, that The View have pulled the biggest crowd of the day thus far and without doubt they are loving it. To the party they bring uncomplicated songs with terrace friendly hooks and the ability to hit a chorus in six seconds flat (‘How Long’), not to mention an air that they couldn’t give a f**k. This, my friends, makes them a natty little festival act. Apparently the boys from Dundee also have a good line in stage banter but I can’t confirm this until I’ve located the appropriate translator. One question though. Why only fill 40 minutes of your hour long slot? I hope the Kendal team paid them appropriately.
It’s been some time since I’ve visited Shed Seven’s back catalogue, and in truth I’d forgotten they’d released so many good songs. ‘Going For Gold’, ‘On Stand By’, ‘Disco Down’, ’Getting Better’, ‘Chasing Rainbows’, ‘She Left Me On Friday’ and ‘Dolphin’ are all present and correct and delivered with a swagger that made for a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour. The band looked like they enjoyed themselves too.
When it came to tonight’s headline slots we’d already made the decision to go with Tribes over Dizzee Rascal on the main stage, not because we have no time for Dizzee but rather because we’ve yet to catch the acclaimed Camden four piece live. However, they’re running a little late on the Calling Out stage which gives us ample time to watch Dizzee crank it up to fever pitch before we leave, and crank it up he does. There’s nothing quite like watching thousands of music fans jumping in unison, and as Dizzee puts new song ‘Bassline Junkie’ through its paces it makes for a wonderful sight.
It’s a shame to leave Dizzee who is clearly firing on all cylinders but our final trip up the muddy slope is not in vain as, Tribes are busying themselves in discharging what will surely turn out be one of the sets of the festival. Familiar songs such as ‘Sappho’ are feeding off a new energy and dispensing a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust to which it seems no one present is immune. The band is off to America in the morning to start work on their second album and tonight has the feel of a final celebration before the work begins. The new songs on show sound pretty strong too, so we can only hope our American cousins don’t suck the soul out of them, polishing to the point of disintegration as is often their want. Back in the now ‘when My Day Comes’ fizzes as if trying to escape the confines of the tent whilst ‘We Were Children’ ignites, stamping giddy grins on all around me.
As we make our way back across the site we decide to take in a late set by one of the hardest working live bands around, and one whose live show has gained them a reputation for always delivering the goods, we’re talking about Dreadzone. The south London exponents of dancehall reggae may have been around for an age but they do little to diminish that reputation tonight, and have the Chai Wallahs’ tent (which is bursting at the seams) skanking into the wee hours.
Sunday begins with no little confusion amongst the healthy crowd gathered in front of the main stage, as it seems lightning has failed to strike twice. Firstly the forecast electric storms have thankfully not materialised but less thankfully, neither have Ian Broudie’s Lightning Seeds. As disappointed punters are still digesting the news, Yorkshire three piece Mexanines shuffle on stage and it soon becomes clear that their riff laden blues- infused indie is found lacking and fails to galvanise. The Arctic Monkeys or Black Keys they are not, and despite Graham Coxon hand-picking the trio to support on his recent Manchester show, we’re less than impressed and move on.
Given an unforeseen gap in our schedule we take in a few songs by Devon singer-songwriter Ryan Keen (not long off supporting Ed Sheeran), his acoustic sway making for pleasant listening whilst his guitar playing on ‘Thank You’ is something to behold. Back up on the Calling Out stage The Hummingbirds’ modern take on skiffle meets Mersey Beat harmonies is being well received, whilst a speculative stroll up to the Woodlands stage to see what Stephen Langstaff has to offer is less than rewarding.
Back on the main stage Twisted Wheel are greeted by their fiercely loyal fans and fire their way through a set that includes a smattering of new material (destined for the new album due in November) and fan favourites alike. They’ve not gigged for a while so I imagine this was just what the doctor ordered. The chants of “Wheeeel, Wheeeel” would suggest so.
The soundtrack for lunch is the comedy folk of The Lancashire Hotpots, who are conducting pantomime proceedings from the main stage to the amusement of all. If I tell you that album titles include ‘Never Mind the Hotpots’, ‘Achtung Gravy’ and ‘Hard Days Pint’ you’ll get the picture.
|We Are Scientists|
We Are Scientists are not quite at their best today, but in truth they don’t have to be. That’s the beauty of Kendal Calling. There is a real willingness for all the artists to succeed, and if you need a lift there are thousands of willing helpers on hand. The noise that greets early single ‘The Great Escape’ and the sing-a-long that follows typifies the festival’s spirit.
The same could be said for Inspiral Carpets’ set which they seem to make very heavy weather of. The Hingley vs Holt debate becomes moot as the overall performance seems clumsy, sluggish, at times even slapdash. To be fair this is not lost on the band and sees Holt tweeting ‘Not our best gig today but a brilliant weekend overall at Kendal’. So perhaps just an off day, we all have them after all.
No such problems for everyone’s second favourite team and our penultimate act Feeder, who not for the first time are right on the money. It occurs to us that we’ve never actually been to stand alone Feeder gig before, but rather just caught the band at numerous festivals over the years. It also occurs to us that ever reliable, we’ve never seen the band turn in a poor performance and nothing changes here today. Flying through what is best described as greatest hits set it all seems so easy for the Newport boys.
|Tim Booth - James|
And so to festival closers James, who bait and tease as they slowly turn up the heat, warm, simmer and finally bring to the boil.
First things first though, James sound great tonight and Booth’s vocal is far from past it as some have suggested. Indeed Booth possesses a skill that eludes so many singers who are content just to hit the right notes, you believe him when he sings. He’s not without support though, as James as a band have mastered dynamics, and use them to their fullest to swell and contract at will.
‘Johnny Yen’ poignant, ‘Sometimes’ joyous, and ‘Laid’ triumphant. If anyone had their doubts that James could pull this off, then they were firmly put in their place tonight. It’s a fitting end to a wonderful festival, in a wonderful setting. Now all we have to do is pin down the organizers for an interview.