2010 was Kendal Calling's fifth birthday. From the first 900 people event in 2006, through two site changes finally arriving at what feels an ideal venue for a festival in Lowther Deer Park between Kendal and Penrith in The Lake District, the festival has changed beyond recognition.
Arriving on site mid-Friday afternoon to no entry queues, one was at once struck by the stunning surroundings with meadows and woods, fields of cattle and sheep all pictured against a backdrop of the lakeland fells. Entry is on a well maintained track, which would definitely have been a bonus in a muddy year. Car parking was an additional £5 on the ticket price and was well stewarded at the beginning of the weekend, though a security presence at any later point was either minimal or non-existent. There was just one big campsite and it was something of an irony that the quieter area was at the back of the Glow Dance Tent, the more raucous elements further away from the arena, perhaps put off at the idea of camping at the top of a hill.
Campsite facilities were above average with a selection of food stalls, a bar and a music stage that ran late into the night. Toilets were okay and cleaned frequently enough to remain usable (a vast improvement on previous years) and there was a 'posh', flushing, porcelain alternative for a £1 which was popular and solar showers for a charge, again which were in seemingly constant use during the day.
After the usual exuberant performance from Dub Pistols, it was the turn of Stereo MC's to really kick the crowd into dancing mode. Together now for 25 years, the alternative hip hop/acid jazz outfit still know how to get a party dancing. Unsuprisingly, it was 1992's hits 'Connected' and 'Step It Up' that got the biggest reaction. Up on The Glow Stage, dedicated hip hop turntablist DJ Yoda played his standard too many tunes to count in one set er set. Moving across all genres of music from country and western to tv themes, all with a hip hop undertone, Yoda had the crowd dancing and responding throughout.
Singer/songwriter, producer and DJ Calvin Harris played to the biggest crowd of the weekend, closing the mainstage for Friday night. The Scottish 'King of Electropop' worked the crowd into a bouncing, waving frenzy with hit singles 'Acceptable In The 80s', 'The Girls', and 'Ready For The Weekend' massive favourites. Even a brief power glitch did nothing to harm the atmosphere. The guy put on a great show for everyone there to watch him.
There is a choice of late night venues for revellers after the mainstage finishes. The Glow dance stage hosted a variety of genres over the weekend. Friday was closed with electronica/breakbeat sets from Elite Force, and Plump DJs though sadly the techno of northern legend Justin Robertson was a bit too much to attract a huge crowd earlier in the evening.
A further alternative for late night revellery was the House Party tent. Done up to look like, well, a house party, during the day there were people about to do nice things with make up and hair or share a biscuit with in the kitchen, and hosted some classic Manchester DJs over the weekend including Dave Haslam, Luke Unabomber, and 808 State with, fresh from his stint at Glastonbury's Acid House, Bez around to add the stuff only Bez can. (To be very fair to the guy, he'd stop and chat with anyone who asked and have a photo taken as he wandered the site over the weekend). Both The Glow stage and House Party ran until 3am every morning. Also available for late night dancing was the Riot Jazz Cafe, that had many skilled musicians and singers playing funkier, jazzier tunes all weekend.
The site layout has been really well thought out, with seemingly something new round every corner and the organisers had clearly listened to criticisms from the previous year. There were a wide variety of really excellent food stalls throughout the site. The organisers had obviously tried to cater for all tastes with food styles from all over the world all at average festival prices and support for local catering outlets too.
One of the best features of the site is the number of trees, with 200 year old oaks providing shelter from the sun and rain - there was both over the weekend as one might expect in The Lake District - and a stunning backdrop to the mainstage. There were some excellent pieces of art around too that added a sense of amusement to the place and the location of all the stages minimised any sound bleed from one to the other.
There needs to be more bins, especially by food stalls, though this is NOT an excuse for lazy festival goers to just drop whatever is in their hands wherever they are stood. Putting things in a bin is a transferable skill you can bring from home people, even if it does mean a mammoth ten yard trek. It was a thankless task for Viking Jeff's K9 litter crew who made regular sweeps of the arena, and at times the site was nothing short of a disgrace. A plea for more urinals too - they overflowed quicker than they could be emptied resulting in several stinking marshes you wouldn't want to tread in anything less than boots or wellies. When it's sunny, that smell travels guys. And blokes - many of you seemed to mistake any upright structure for a toilet. You dont piss in the corner at home, don't just piss anywhere at a festival.
New and upcoming local bands are programmed on The Calling Out Stage throughout the weekend. Playing an early slot on saturday were Manchester 5-piece Elgazelle. Clearly influenced by 60s Mod and Psychedelia, in both sound and look, they drew a huge appreciative crowd for a lunchtime slot, and kept their attention, interest and enthusiasm throughout. Clearly influenced by The Who and The Faces, songs such as 'Rich Kid' and 'Love On The Dole' had a real authenticity to them. Closing number 'Liar, Liar' had The Doors running through it and this was one of the tightest and most memorable sets of the weekend. And the crowd - not just made up of their mates as often happens - loved them. Their growing reputation on the Manchester scene deserves a much wider audience.
The lovely people at Croissant Neuf brought their excellent, totally solar powered tent and stage to host the Kaylied Stage this year. It runs directly off the sun when it's out and off solar charged batteries when it isn't and must be the greenest outfit on the festival circuit. Making good use of it on Saturday afternoon were Johnny 5th Wheel & The Cowards. A band that are difficult to categorise but would take a stab at 'swingy folksters' started and finished a hugely entertaining set with a very good effort at playing wandering minstrels through the audience inside and outside the tent. This was a really entertaining 40 minutes.
Next to the Kaylied stage was the on site Holy Quail Pub, which was the place to go to sample the locally produced real ales. There was a choice of six ales and a real lager, ranging from a session 3.7% up to a strongest at 5%. All were very well kept, very drinkable and represented the best value for money for drinks at the festival. Other drinks ranged from expensive, through obscenely expensive and finished at biggest rip off I've ever seen at a festival. And the pricing policy was a prime example of how festival organisers can get something catastrophically wrong.
If you put the likes of Chiddy Bang, and Calvin Harris (for example) on a festival bill, you're clearly trying to reach a young audience. Young audiences don't have a lot of disposable cash after they've stumped up for a ticket, a festival hoodie etc etc. If you ban them from taking their own drink into the arena, the outcome is inevitable. Or the outcome is inevitable if you try to charge them £3.20 for a can of Carlsberg ( and it is no saving grace that you could save 80p by buying 4 for £12, especially if you had to have all 4 opened for you at the same time. Call me old fashioned, but I drink them one at once).
Saturday is a prime example. The kids stay in the campsite drinking all day. Five minutes before OkGo! come on stage, a few hundred people all race into the arena. At the end of the set, a few hundred people all go back to the campsite to drink as much as they can in half an hour before they and a couple of hundred more come back to see The Futureheads. When they finish, everyone leaves again to drink as much as they can in half an hour before all coming back to see Wild Beasts. When Wild Beasts finish their set, it's another dash back to the campsite to get topped up ready for Doves. When Doves finish, it's back to the campsite for another top up and whatever else you need for a night in the dance tent.
There is no defence for behaving like a drunken lout. However, young people in drink are young people in drink. Kendal Calling's pricing and none-in-the-arena policy absolutely encourages a drinking pattern that is at best irresponsible, at worst dangerous. When you're drinking with your mates in the campsite, it's anonymous and there is nobody else around to mitigate the worst excesses. If you exacerbate this with a pattern of 'drink as much as you can' 'get really excited watching a band' 'drink as much as you can' etc etc etc, the anti social behaviour that many witnessed is inevitable.
If a festival is going to make a great deal about being 'small and independent', is it too much to expect them not to copy the absolute worst excesses of the big corporates they are so keen to separate themselves from? The festival can't survive without older punters to spend cash and balance out the very cheap £85 ticket. But the festival wont attract older punters if it gets a reputation for having hordes of drunken kids making arses of themselves.
If there was an award for 'Funniest Act of the Weekend', it would have to be split between two performers who could win awards for funniest act of any weekend. First up, comedian, contortionist and escapologist Chris Cross. The multi-talented Geordie brought his act to the middle of a field, literally, on Saturday afternoon and after starting out performing to a handful, had pulled an audience of several hundred by the time he finished. It's difficult to say whether he's primarily a contortionist who uses comedy or a comedian who uses dislocating his shoulders as an act. Cross has a natural, easy style (not to be mistaken for unrehearsed) and builds a rapport with an audience with the ease of someone whose been performing much longer than his age (21) would suggest. He has one liners and put downs a plenty and isn't afraid of challenging anyone within a 50 yard radius of his show - this is real street performing art at its best. He performs several contorting tricks that involve dislocating his shoulders and get increasingly stomach churning as the show progresses. Using your own arms as skipping ropes is both impressive and nauseating at the same time and he finishes with an escape from a straight-jacket just as the audience count down to one. Contortion and escapology might seem a bit like a Saturday evening end of pier show. Until you've seen how well Chris Cross does it, don't be fooled.
Sharing the 'award' is Leeds based poet and musician Micky P Kerr. Kerr's first show of the weekend was to read some of his poems on Saturday evening just before Manchester Punk poet John Cooper Clarke (who wasn't bang on form but entertaining nonetheless) came on the Soapbox stage to read some of his own. This was a natural audience for Kerr's wry bordering occasionally on obscene going way beyond the border of outrageous poetry. His observations on the life and laziness of a weed smoker brought about many a nod around the audience, whilst his observations on love from a man's perspective and female driving instructors just brought about great big belly laughs. Kerr is a hugely confident performer and one senses that confidence isn't just part of his act.
Early on sunday afternoon, he brought his guitar and a band to the Calling Out stage to show off his excellent musical talents. His repartee either makes you leave or draws the audience immediately onto his side. Judging by how full the tent was, everyone was on Kerr's side this weekend. A talented guitarist, his songs pick up where his poetry left off. His song '25 and banned for life (from Morrisons)' was a huge crowd favourite. But he's best summed up by his closing number 'I'm not arrogant, just genuinely better than everyone else'. Im not sure many in the tent would have disagreed.
Closing the Kaylied stage on Saturday evening was Levellers' Mark Chadwick. Though the tent wasn't full, it was full of Levellers fans who were keen to finish with a good old singalong. Chadwick didn't disappoint and played a set full of favourites (apart from 'Hope Street' which would clearly have been a bit of a let down for the bloke who asked for it about 30 times) and whilst occasionally ramshackle, one suspects under the influence of drink, he had a tent full of backing singers to direct him back on to path.
If you needed a voice to soothe away the excesses of a Saturday night, the melancholic tones of Joe Rose, Sunday's opener on the Kaylied stage was just the voice to hear and eased everyone gently into the day.
Over on the mainstage, ska punk folksters The King Blues brought their politically charged tunes to blast away any remaining cobwebs. Revelling in the electoral decimation of the BNP whilst recognising the fight still to be had with the noxious EDL and calling the youth to the streets to fight against the coalition's cuts, lead singer Itch is a natural rabble rouser and could be an inspiration for a whole new wave of music in these coming times of austerity. They covered all the bases with tunes such as 'Headbutt', 'Save the World, Get The Girl', 'I Got Love' and 'Landlord' getting the crowd dancing and singing along.
Next up on the mainstage was Badly Drawn Boy. Playing a set that spanned his first EP from some thirteen years ago right through to material off his forthcoming album and touching on Bewilderbeast, About A Boy and Born In The UK, BDB's beautiful melodies and cleverly crafted lyrics remain as popular as ever, and he was as genuinely appreciative of the crowd as the crowd were of him. Touching moment of the weekend was when he brought out his seven year old daughter Edie to join him on stage, singing and playing piano. This wasn't mawkish and clearly showed the girl has inherited her father's talent. Without doubt, one of the sets of the weekend.
These New Puritans over on the Calling Out stage could well be an age thing. On the one hand, intricately constructed art rock sums them up well. On the other, the overheard comment at the edge of the tent 'With a band like this, when do you clap? How many actual songs was that last bit?' does equally well. I guess you have to be under a certain age to understand just what it is they are all about. But they have a burgeoning reputation and many at thye younger end of the average age in the tent seemed to like them, so they must be doing something right.
Closing the mainstage were Liverpool's The Coral. Workmanlike at best.
There are many reasons to give this festival a try. If you're young, you'll love it. The organisers have thought out its layout well and used the natural contours of the surroundings to good effect. It's a stunning site. But it isn't a cheap weekend, despite the impression an £85 ticket price can give. Security can be overbearing and intrusive (searching down to socks and shoes at the arena entrance is always going to be excessive) and whilst there is stuff for families, there are significantly better atmospheres to take a child to on the festival market.
If you're looking for a more traditional small festival experience, this probably isn't for you for the reasons I've explained above. But if you're young and want to spend time being silly and raucous and getting drunk with a load of other young people, this could well be the festival for you. You'll see some chart acts and a good selection of new and older music too. There's also comedy and poetry and a good selection of food on offer.
review by: Phil Adcroft
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