Festival Review: Kendal Calling 2016

kendal calling banner 2016Kendal Calling 2016

28th -31st July 2016

Words: Gary Lambert

Photos: Kendal Calling Official

 

kendal calling poster 2016The low-key opening of Kendal Calling’s Thursday is very, very much the antithesis of low key. Despite the occasional wafting of rain through the site, everybody in the fields seemed to be ready to wage war on body, mind and soul, creating a thrilling party atmosphere. I don’t know how many tickets were sold for the Thursday, but it felt like most of the people who were coming to the festival were on site already.

 

By the time we were set up and ready to go, PINS had just come on to the Main Stage. I’m going to admit now I’m falling in love with PINS’ sound. Garage rock with just the right slice of ambition. However I didn’t feel that the sound suited the big stage as well as it would have done in a tent. But there was nothing to criticise in the set. Far from it. I want this band to be successful, but I don’t want to watch them again in a venue without a roof. I’m selfish like that.

 

Photo: Scott Salt

Photo: Scott Salt

With Ash and The Charlatans following them on the bill Thursday was guaranteed to be a splendid start. Regardless of their lack of riotous fame, there are many reasons why these bands in particular are high up festival bills twenty years after the height of their powers. Whilst they are not afraid to play the hits and give everybody the chance to put their arms around each other bellowing out chorus after chorus, both bands take on the responsibility for entertaining and performing rather than it be a trip in nostalgia only. The Charlatans in particular were fantastic, summed up by one festival goer: “I’ve never listened to them before, but I LOVED that”.

 

So in true Kendal Calling style, after that there was only one thing to do. Well two actual… Taste the various libations in the Real Ale Tent and then throw some serious shapes in Chai Wallah to an unknown musical act. Don’t worry readers, I did both to great aplomb in your honour.

 

The first day of the festival proper started with a battle of the festival gods as heavy rain clouds and sunshine battled for superiority. Sunshine was victorious and glorious throughout the day. Not quite a Caribbean island sunshine, but better than a traditional day in the Lake District.

 

First band up was Alias Kid who provided tremendously early nineties sounding music which was neither fresh sounding nor offensively bad. To me, it sounded standard but similarly understandable why Alan McGee is such a fan of the band. The first standout contender for the crown though was shortly up in London’s Haus. Cool, sharp and different they grabbed attention without any affectation to plead for or even need your attention. Hopefully they will grow from this point because they’re a band who would have their qualities enhanced with darkness rather than sunlight.

 

Over at Tim Peaks, the coffee stopping point was packed to the rafters for a DJ set by Thomas Turgoose which was loved by the people inside and out dancing and stomping about, but it was just a ‘Now That’s What I Call Well Known Indie’. The same set is available in any indie club in the country between 1am and 1.30am this and every Friday. The crowd stayed around for a secret set by Blossoms which was so secret there was only about 25% of the festival wandering in the vicinity hoping to sneak in to the tiny hut (!). Even the band were shocked at the intensity of the audience. Joe Donavan exclaimed “I’ve been recognised six times – and I’m the drummer!”.

 

Next up was a bit of P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. pop with Hooton Tennis Club. Now I am slightly confused by HTC. I love their music and they sound excellent live, however watching them live is a bit confusing for the audience from an aesthetic point of view as the band has no leader on stage. Focus for the crowd is on bassist, Callum McFadden, swinging wildly in the middle of the stage, but he has no microphone; whilst Ryan Murphy and James Madden seem to have no desire to take responsibility for linking the band and the audience. The songs they write are wonderful, but the band need a bit of captaining

 

The Lottery Winners are not short of a captain, far from it. And now they are not short of a record label either. With songs like Elizabeth in their armoury, they are a good bet for the label. And their frontman Thom Rylance did a wonderful job of entertaining and showing off his nail varnish that he was wearing for the first time. I wasn’t close enough to confirm if he did actually have it on, but I will trust him.

 

Someone I would not trust is Ratboy. The enfant terrible of British music was on scintillating form at Kendal Calling. The boy is a born entertainer and if he was not making music he would be grabbing attention in another way. When a technical difficulty delayed the set, did he enjoy the extended rest? No chance! Ratboy constantly worked the crowd by popping out on to stage to wave, beckon the crowd to be rowdier and then take a home made flamethrower to his own cardboard cut out. At this point, I was expecting hype to be the victor, but we saw a truly incendiary performance which is the next step on from Jamie T’s acoustic rap. Ratboy is the future of British music. But God help his tour manager!

 

The biggest surprise of the evening for me was the show of Rudimental,which was a brilliant example of team work in music. With at least four members of the squad taking main vocal duties the stage was constantly in flow. There was a touch of the Britain’s Got Talent about the performance though as it almost felt too energetic. But it is a harsh criticism that people seem a bit too high on life when I enjoyed the set so much.

 

The Saturday of Kendal Calling started on a sad note as I had to hand in my membership of the music snobbery club. I went to see The Lancashire Hotpots despite my constant decrying against comedy music. Needless to say I loved it and danced and laughed and sang along throughout the set. It was exactly what every morning of every festival needs. Uplifting, enthusiastic singalong with camouflaged aerobic exercise in the form of The Perfect Pint squat dance. To complete my wake up call I chose the option of loud music. Fizzy Blood provided the magic. Loud, raucous, wild and beautiful. Fizzy Blood are going to be a band to watch for the foreseeable future.

 

Every festival there is a band who you have never seen before that blows your mind. There is no guarantee of success for these acts obviously, but instantly you know that you have seen something special. The set by Actor was one such event. Led by Louisa Osborn, the result of mixing the musical DNA of Kate Bush and PJ Harvey, the three piece were breathtaking. It felt so intense I needed to rest afterwards. Much could be made of Louisa’s aesthetic, but her leadership outshone that. Making sure the audience followed her every action meant that her bandmates could concentrate on creating the controlled cacophony that makes Actor more than just a one-woman solo show.

 

Photo: Paul Whiteley

Photo: Paul Whiteley

Due to problems with their airline, Maximo Park turned up later and had a shortened set, that was typical Maximo Park. Full of wit and energy and lush tunes, it screamed to me “why are this band not bigger” – yet a number of those in the field near me seemed more entertained by a child with a Hula Hoop. Are Maximo Park too clever? Are they not obvious enough? The overall package for some reason does not seem to grab the less than average music fan who creates a large portion of a festival audience. Possibly the time spent on their travels could have been spent sharpening up the set list to give a bit more oomph too as even Paul Smith seemed surprised every time they got to the next song.

 

With a healthy backing from their hometown, Slow Readers Club were on a winner with the audience in the Calling Out tent from the start. But the cheers were not just for partisan purposes, with a doomed vocal reminiscent of Editors and a skyscraper soundscape they are ambitious and sharp. Hats off to their frontman too for spending time afterwards having photographs with the fans at the front of the stage.

 

Without doubt the most disappointing set of the weekend came from Kelis who has morphed from milkshaking to diva aping in the last fifteen years. The set was not suitable for such a high slot at the festival with the only excitement coming in the last ten minutes. It was more akin to a PA at a provincial nightclub by someone made employable due to being sampled on a hit record.

 

Madness were Madness and madness ensued, although the cover of Livin On A Prayer was a bizarre and unwanted bit of karaoke. Then I saw something which to me felt truly earth-shattering. Craig David’s TC5 show at a jam packed Glow Tent. This was not a cheesy nostalgia hit nor relying on audience sing-and-dance-along to other people’s tunes, Craig David did bits of everything from being behind the decks, singing, freestyling and working the crowd to a frenzy, this was a man retaking his career back from the jokes of an old television show. Serious, innovative and powerful, if a few more people follow this path it could see the end of the superstar record spinner waving a 12 inch to the crowd before dropping the needle.

 

There was a different atmosphere on Sunday. With the crowd slightly inflated by local guests having a day out to thank them for their patience, there was excitement and freshness. And it was obvious why. The Chief, Mr Noel Gallagher, was coming to town and people wanted to sing along. But we will get to that later. For Popped Music there was important business of watching the future heroes firstly.

 

False Advertising belied their age and lack of experience by hitting everybody in the Calling Out tent for six with their noise pop. Speaking to the band afterwards, they were worried on stage due to being unable to hear their guitar in the monitors, but that issue had no influence on the enjoyment on the crowd side of the barrier. It was a day for meeting up with bands too as many old friends of Popped were on the same stage on the Sunday.

We even got to re-make old friends in the form of The Bulletproof Bomb who sent this writer absolutely fanboying after their set of raucous, threatening indie music. It was so exciting that stationed almost at the barrier I was punching the air and making random syllables in an attempt to sing along too. For too long too we have seen indie bands following a pleasant image styling, it was a welcome blast from the past to see a band looking like a gang from This Is England.

 

Hats had to be doffed to those in charge of putting the Calling Out stage. The bill throughout the weekend, but particularly on the Sunday, they made the most experienced headliners of Peter Doherty and Ghostpoet to feel almost out of place – and Blossoms bang on trend. Hidden Charms are really in a good run of form at present and even for those who have followed them regularly, this festival season has seen them move up several gears into tight rock n roll unit with the ability to go wild but take the audience with them too. It was so encouraging too to see members of various bands supporting each other from the audience. The music scene can only be improved by this camaraderie as improving bands push on their peers and subsequently themselves.

 

Fresh from singing in the audience, The Amazons showed they are a real rock machine these days. Although the obvious leader of the band, frontman Matt guides them together rather than taking the attention from them and they made a tuneful racket as a result. Along with The Amazons, the Reading music scene was represented by Sundara Karma who have been whispered throughout summer as being on form. Well they were loved for their performance and I was lucky enough to be with them on the way for some food as fans grabbed them to congratulate and beg for photographs. The highlight was one Geordie gentleman come up to hug them and say “I’m an old fella who shouldn’t be into you, but that gig is the kind of thing that legends do”.

 

Pretty Vicious are another band who have moved up a grade or two since the last time I was able to watch them. In fact their wild assault on the senses was almost too much for me to handle so late in a festival weekend and I ended up watching the set from the grass outside the big top. One band I was not staying away from though was Spring King. With Jen from False Advertising accidentally getting trodden on by me, I was propelled towards the end of the night by some of the most driving, energetic punk imaginable coupled with harmonies and pop music that would have made The Beach Boys want to thrash around in competition.

 

Photo: Scott Salt

Photo: Scott Salt

As for Noel, well I ended up in happy tears every time he played an Oasis song, but it really shows how much the British Summer misses The Brothers Gallagher. Noel is a conductor of audiences and a generator of happiness, but a rock n roll show it isn’t. Noel is charming, witty and urbane – but ultimately it is too reminiscent of those last Oasis years of songs designed to be anthems rather than be good enough to become anthems. Songs like D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman and Talk Tonight make me yearn for a Noel Gallagher who writes about life again.

 

As the fireworks disappeared into the sky and one last walk back to my tent beckoned, I realised that in eighteen years of festival life I had rarely had a weekend which had consistently hit the heights of this one. Kendal Calling is always a good event, but everything came together this year to make it special. So very special. It was a collective thing too, everybody seemed to build a wonderful event together.

 

In an aside, the plans to get everybody off site on Monday morning were thrown into chaos by an accident on the motorway and the way it was dealt with by the Kendal Calling team was fantastic. Staff at the pick up point were not just helpful but friendly too, and the agreement achieved with festival sponsors Virgin Trains that cheap rate specified train tickets could be used regardless, saved a good deal of money and hard work.

Listen to the Kendal Calling Playlist powered by Popped here:

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  1. […] together by the people behind 3 of the UK’s most loved independent festivals, Kendal Calling, Sound City and Blue Dot, the new festival will be taking place in the popular Northern Quarter […]

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