Driving up the M6 it was hard to bottle my excitement, it has been 3 years since I last visited what I've previously thought of fondly as one of my favourite festivals on the British circuit, however standing between me and my promised land was the combined might of the wind and the rain, for those of you that have visited the Lake District before will be well aware that when the weather turns on you it really can be punishing! This weekend was to prove no exception, on arriving I was granted with a 25 minute grace period between almighty downpours, which allowed me just enough time to power march my kit into the campsite and get my tent up.
After a few minutes getting sorted I made the short walk into the arena, this took about ten minutes at a relaxed stroll, whilst taking in all the majesty the northern scenery had to offer. After swiftly passing through a very friendly and helpful security point I was inside the beautifully decorated site, within another 3 minutes I had traversed the already thickening mud en route to the main stage, in my eyes one of if not the the most beautiful main stage settings of any festival, the main stage at Kendal Calling is wrapped in a swath of mighty ancient trees and encompassed in a small natural bowl shaped clearing. After grabbing a pint, which took no more than 2 minutes might I add, the Happy Mondays entered the fray, armed with some top class tunes, it was clear to see Manchester was in the house! Every grown man shaking his imaginary maracas along with the ring leader himself Bez, Shaun Ryder however seemed quite subdued and hung further back on the stage happily letting Bez and Rowena take centre stage, it all felt a little flat even sure fire hits such as 'Step On' and 'Kinky Afro', this however was not to be the case for the following act! Franz Ferdinand were the Thursday headliner and they brought Kendal Calling together in a unified bounce, as time slips by and new bands rise it's easy to forget how catchy Franz were and just how many big songs they had in their artillery! With renditions of 'The Dark of the Matinee' 'Take Me Out' and 'This Fire' sending the fresh crowd into a frenzy! With the weather closing in and a long weekend ahead and the site only partially open I decided to take an early night after a long journey up.
After a very relaxing nights sleep I awoke around mid day, with the weather looking quite fine, I rustled up a nice big brunch to see me through the day, after a few drinks with some newly acquired friends we rumbled into the arena, this took closer to twenty minutes on the Friday due to the mud that had been churned up by last nights revelry and Friday's new arrivals, I managed to catch the start of an energetic set delivered by Kate Nash, someone who in the past I will admit I have turned my nose up at, but fair play to the girl she delivered a great set, the next act was one act I'd heard plenty of praise for around the camp site, so naturally I was interested to listen to DMA's. Over from Sydney, Australia they had come a long way, but I have to admit I wasn't overly impressed to be totally honest, they seemed like they had not one ounce in them that wanted to be there performing, either that or they were completely baked! I left about half way through their set to have a Wonder round the woodlands.
All amongst the twists and turns were lots of great installations, mostly all open and many totally interactive, inviting people to paint and express themselves freely, but a few remained closed until after dark, which built anticipation up! with a handful of stages interactive displays and bars sprinkled round the woods it was easy to while away an hour or two, with street performers ranging from magicians to giant Chinese dragons wondering the woods it was full of enchantment, with a few drinks, half an hour spent listening to some top class northern soul djs and just enjoying the atmosphere I had soon lost over an hour and a half in what seemed like a flash.
Resurfacing from the woods via the real ale tent, I arrived back to the main stage just in time to catch the very tail end of Circa Waves performance. Following the Waves, Jake Bugg took to the stage. When he first burst onto the scene a few years ago as the guiding star of the British music scene I had seen Bugg play 3 times, and I'm not ashamed to say I thought he was the most turgid, unimpressive performer I had seen in years. A few years out of the like light and Kendal however must of brought the best out of Bugg, this performance seemed full of vigour and the stagemanship! A thing his performances of the past always seemed to be lacking, rattling through an hour of hits Bugg closed up wishing everyone a great weekend with a huge rendition of 'Lightning Bolt' bringing the crowd to rapture.
The day was rounded of by a triumphant performance from Stereophonics, delving into their rich back catalogue they pummelled the crowd with hit after hit, from 'Just Looking' to 'Traffic' only slowing the pace for a minute or two to air the new single 'All In One Night'. Rounding out the evening with an ear bursting execution of 'Dakota' Friday's main stage offerings were now done. With the skies looking menacing and the mud becoming more treacherous under foot I decided to head back to the tent for a few drinks with the locals back at camp.
After a very late and heavy campsite session and an awesome over night storm I awoke early afternoon, with the sun now out, I took in the glorious Kendal Calling views whilst slaving over the camp fire to cook up a brunch. after a good feed, I traversed the mud towards the arena again, from what would normally be a ten minute walk it had grown into a grueling calf burning 35 minutes of tough endurance training just to reach the arena. I made it to the main stage just in time to be met with Reverend and The Makers taking to the stage, I like to call bands like this a 'bloody hell' band, as I watch the set, each new song starts and I can't help but find my self saying, 'bloody hell I forgot about this one' over and over. The Rev Jon McClure feeds off the ever bouncing audience, and delivers one of the knockout punches of the weekend in 'Heavyweight Champion Of The World'.
That was the first leg of what I would call a contender for the title of strongest afternoon line up of any festival I have attended for years, following up in spot 2 were Welsh rockers Feeder, with an 50 minute long set there was no time to pull any punches, stage chat was kept to a minimum and the hits were packed in ranging from 'Pushing The Senses', to 'Buck Rogers' and finally finishing with the fans favourite 'Just A Day', with a lightning quick set turn around, almost before I'd got time to nip to the toilets and grab a pint, no sooner had I returned then Editors were taking to the stage, I used to be a huge fan of Editors, and it was nice to see them return from seems like a five year self imposed exile almost.
I don't know what happens at Kendal but it just seems to bring out the best in everyone, with Tom and rest of Editors rising to this challenge they were no exception to this rule, 'Munich' 'Papillon' and 'Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors' all serving to warm up the vociferous crowds vocal chords for what seemed to be the must see performance everyone was talking about, Kendal is a glorious site with space always being found in abundance, but the next act certainly filled the main stage amphitheatre like I have never seen before! After a brief delay, which saw an all terrain ambulance crew attend an emergency situation deep in between the dense throngs of the main stage crowd, a true legend was about to grace the stage, Brian Wilson was appearing to perform the seminal piece of work 'Pet Sounds' in full, I can honestly say right now, hand on heart that I've heard passionate sing alongs many times before in my life, being a proud Welshman not many things rival the national anthem on a match day in Cardiff, but the sounds of 20,000 mudlarks singing along through tears of joy to 'God Only Knows' will stay with me until my dying day! playing the 'Pet Sounds' lp in full before rounding off the set with a few hits and crowd pleasers it was a privilege to see a master craftsman at work! even the clouds rolled back to let the sun shine during 'Good Vibrations'.
Rounding off the evenings main stage proceedings, were the imperious Manic Street Preachers. Many bands would fear or shirk the responsibility of following after Wilson, but not the Manics, delivering a set which was equally as pleasing to the casual fan, with all the hits thrown in, from opening number 'Motorcycle Emptiness' through to curtain closer 'Design For Life' it was a set packed full of gems, with a few rarities thrown in for the more devoted fan such as 'All Surface No Feeling' and the under played 'Kevin Carter' it was a triumphant headline slot where many may of stumbled after such a imperial display. Even though they are my favourite band, nobody was going to steal Brian Wilsons crown that day.
After grabbing a pint I decided to wander the woods at night, I bounced through the Kracken rum shack to grab a 4 pint pitcher of cocktails and wondered round the various art installations, eventually finding a tardis through which if you passed led to a path through the pitch black woods arriving at a giant fire pit, entertaining the masses around the fire were traveling bands and samba troupes bringing the party deep into the woods. The cocktails soon took over and after finding a mariachi smiths tribute band, things all started to feel a bit strange, it was at that point I decided to walk back to my tent before my legs tied themselves in knots! Strong real ales and jugs of cocktails were not conducive to shin deep mud! Looking back I think this year, I didn't explore half as much as I would normally due to a few factors, one being the mud, it was so time and energy consuming, and also the main stage line up this year just seemed to fall in line with my tastes, I did catch a few jewels over the weekend as I was passing by various spots, such as Loyle Carner and Solardo, on the Calling Out stage and Wkd lock up respectively!
Unfortunately I awoke to some bad news and was forced to leave Kendal early, but the strength of this years visit even though sodden and ankle deep in mud has not deterred me one bit, as I have already bought early bird tickets for 2018 of the strength of this years visit, personally I think that tells you all you need to know about Kendal Calling.
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