Kendal Calling founder Andy Smith talks exclusively to eFestivals about Kendal Calling as he celebrates 10 years of the sold event, and the launch of the new Forgotten Feields in Tunbridge Wells this summer.
How did it come about that you founded Kendal Calling?
I was in a band, I was about 15, I wasn’t very good. They promoted me to the role of manager. And because the band wasn’t very good no one wanted to book them for a gig, so I thought I’ll put on my own gig.
We hired out the Village Hall, the maths teacher from school was the responsible adult, although he went straight to the pub. He set the PA System up and left us to it. We had a lot of fun raided the props cupboard, an ambulance turned up, we had a great time. So, I thought let’s do this a bit more often. I did those monthly, then went to Leeds Festival and thought this is a lot of fun. Then went to a few raves and thought this is really fun, but then the police asked if we could stop doing illegal things and make them legal, so we did. When the police said we will help you we thought, “No really? Oh that’s lovely.” They introduced us to Kendal Council, so said, “We have Abbot Hall Park, it would be lovely if you do something here.” So we asked British Sea Power and Pendulum and they both said yes.
Back then did you consider it would become a regular successful event?
We were looking it as one off thing, and thought we’d see how it goes. But, we certainly had absolutely no dream of it ending up anywhere near what it’s become. I’d just never have imagined that.
What do you think is the secret of Kendal Calling’s success?
I would say extremely slow growth. We’ve only increased the numbers of the audience by small amounts. We’ve never taken any great jump. It’s really easy to listen to the feedback and respond accordingly the following year. I’d say the secret has been always responding to the feedback of the customer.
We have a massive loyal following. We’d sold over half the tickets before we’d even announced the artists this year. One of the things that we do really try to do, without sounding clichéd, is to try and appeal to everyone across all age groups. The one thing we have noticed at some family festivals, is that they kind of miss out catering for that age range of 16 to 25, and when we started the festival I was 18 and Ben was about 21 and we wanted it to be something that appealed to them as much as anyone else.
A few years back when we went to the festival my Grandma had a lovely time watching The Lancashire Hotpots, and wouldn’t stop talking about them, so every year since we’ve gone and watched them together. My parents also come to the festival, and now my niece is there as well she’s 2 years old. It’s a bit strange, as it’s one of the few places where all age ranges can have a lot of fun. The Dance Tent is on until 3am, and there’s something for everyone.
We try to make sure that neither the Dance Village or the Children’s Area takes too much ownership of the festival. The kids area is inside the arena and only a two minute walk from the main stage, which is quite important, because feedback told us it was brilliant to go with a child to the festival, and not miss all the bands because they have a child having fun in the children’s area. We had to work hard to make sure that it was still in a nice calm place so not on a public thoroughfare but also easily accessible from the heart of the festival site. We didn’t want parents thinking that their pushed to one side.
How do you go about picking your line-up?
We just have a wish list, and then we speak to agents and then it gets demolished, and then we have to rebuild it from the start.
Are there acts on your wishlist you’re still after after 10 years?
There definitely are, I’ve had an offer in every year for Jamie T. We’ve got this lovely email thread with the agent. Back in 2006 I remember putting an offer in, then came back in 2007, and 2008, every year, sorry not this year maybe next year.
But the requests are slowly being eroded away. We’ve been wanting to get Elbow for a few years and now we’ve finally got them.
You have a strong line-up this year to celebrate the 10thAnniversary will you be able to repeat it next year?
I am getting a bit concerned that it’s going to be very difficult to top next year, and as I do all the bookings I’m very aware of how stressful that is. I’d say it’s half and half, we’ve got the artists to go out with a bang this year to celebrate the 10 years, an achievement that we just never would have seen coming. Next year is someone else’s problem, mine, but future me.
You’ve increased in size this year, are you still intending to keep growing in size?
We did yes from 14,000 up to 18,000, which is the largest percentage jump we’ve done before. But, the answer to that one is it really depends on how this year goes. It would be foolish to say we will always be increasing, because we may do it this year and say it’s now perfect as it is, and stay there. You can only really notice during the festival, once you’ve made a change to it, you have to experience that change to be able to say if a positive change.
We’ve never had a three plan, we’ve never had a two year plan, because you need to experience the change to see if it was positive, and if it wasn’t you need to draw it back, and go back to the drawing board and change it.
You have a new event down south, Forgotten Fields, how long have you been planning it?
We do indeed that’s going to be fun. It started at The Great Escape last year. I just spent a bit of time on the south coast, and really enjoyed it. I started wandering around looking at the fields and venues and came across Eridge Park (in Tunbridge Wells) and it just seemed ideal, and then started considering what we could do there. I thought it would a good place for a little sister to Kendal.
As a sister event will it share the same line-up?
I think it will be somewhat tailored to it’s location, but there will be a lot of crossover I imagine. We’ll be taking what we’ve learnt works, and what audiences enjoy. But, we’re very conscious that down south it , might be a very different gig. We’re doing it the 7th, 8th, and 9th august, the week after Kendal.
That’s going to make it a long week for you.
It will be, we will not touch the ground for a while, I think after that after around three weeks of hanging around in a golf buggy I’ll need to learn how to walk again. I actually wanted to get a horse to replace my golf buggy. I did actually look into it, as I thought no one is going to steal a horse are they? But apparently you’re not allowed to keep horses and public together, it’s probably for the best. I did go to the old charity for retired police horses and ask if I could borrow one!
Perhaps you could get a robot one that breathes fire that you sometimes see at festivals.
I could have done with that last year, I’ve never see so much rain. We’ve always generally been quite lucky with the weather. It has previously just rained at night and during the days it’s been perfect, but last year it started on the Friday and it didn’t finish until the Monday morning, at which point the sunshine came out and it was a lovely day.
Up until then it had always been a fear of mine, something that would actually keep me awake at night, imagine if it rained all weekend how depressing that would be. I’m not worried about that now I think the audience still had a great time.
I don’t understand it this year, I’ve not got that keeping me awake, I’ve not got artists keeping me awake. This time last year we had only confirmed two of our headliners. We were struggling to find a third one until it was April or May.
We’re massively ahead on last year, or course we’ve got the new one still to do.
What has been your favourite act you’ve booked in the last 10 years?
That’s a very difficult one, I may just say The Lancashire Hotpots just to rile people up. They’re definitely marmite, there’s no one on the fence. We did have 2manydjs playing in a garden shed last year in the woodlands, that was utterly brilliant, and Emmy The Great back in 2009 was one of my all time favourites.
It’s been a fantastic, brilliant, brilliant journey over the last 10 years, we’ve found ourselves in some very interesting places, and meeting some very interesting characters.
What’s been your least favourite thing about putting on a festival for the last 10 years?
Seeing the amount of rubbish at the end of it, gazing across those fields, that and finally getting a solution to the toilets.
How have you finally got a solution to the toilets?
We’ve got a nice mixture of portatoilets which a lot of people seem to like, which is strange, and the compost toilets, which are my personal preference. But again, like marmite some people hate the compost toilets and some people absolutely love them, and we’ve finally got a good mixture of both. I think some people think they’re a bit crude and basic, but they’re larger and they don’t smell because they’re open air, and they’re lot more eco friendly, and they don’t need trucks to come along and empty them out. There’s various reasons why I think they’re better. We also have two toilet providers on site, so they compete against each other to keep their toilets the cleanest. We also have a third company who have a team who go around and monitor them, and if they aren’t in a good situation they either close them off until the proper team arrives, or give them a clean down themselves. With those three teams working on it, it seems to do quite well, even with the mud we had last year.
We’ve been through a recession in the last decade did that have an impact on the event?
Surprisingly no, certainly for us and a lot of other smaller festivals, because we all talk quite a lot amongst ourselves, it seems to have worked in the smaller festivals favour. Whether that’s because instead of going on holidays people are going to festivals instead, or maybe because smaller festivals generally have a very competitive ticket price. We started in 2006, the recession hit a couple of years later and yet every year has been our best year, and we’ve sold out quicker each year.
Do you go to many other festivals?
Many. Last year I went to 17 which was good. I don’t really think that SXSW and The Great Escape really count, so me it’s 15. I absolutely love going to festivals, that’s why we decided to start our own. Everyone in the office is pretty much at a festival every week, so we’re just waiting for summer. We all went to the 6Music Festival the other week, that was very nice. So, we’re already on one this year.
What’s been your personal favourite festival appearance?
Hmmmm, but there was band of beat boxing didgeridoo players I saw at Glastonbury the first time I went, and found myself falling into a deck chair, and this beat boxing didgeridoo quartet started up in front of me, I’ve never been able to find out who they are, but they were bloody fantastic. Also last year at the South Bank Festival last year John Grant played, I know that’s not in a field, with an orchestra, it was incredible, it really blew me away.
I see he’s playing at Deer shed this year, which is brilliant because I’ve always wanted to go to Deer shed, so this will be the year. It’s the week before Kendal so I’ll have to be quick.
The first thing I do each morning is check eFestivals and see who has been announced, and so on. It seems only right that I go to these events. I’ve not been to Green Man so that’s also on my hit list for this year. I did quite fancy going to a lot of the European festivals but I’ve not done them yet. I saw Coldplay do an open show in Brussels once, which was interesting, but I’ve never done a festival I’d love to. I think we’re going to go Best Kept Secret. I always want to go and try new experiences, and be inspired by new things, which we can then bring back to England.
If you were running a stall at a festival what would you sell?
Now, the answer to that is quite easy, because I used to have a pie stall, pie and mash. It was only Hollands Pies but they tasted beautiful.
What’s your favourite pie filling?
I know it’s a pudding but it has to be steak and kidney, there’s nothing better than that, and it’s very good festival fare if you’re a bit chilly, it proper fills you up, pie mash, gravy and peas.
Lastly what advice would you give to a festival goer, who has not been to a festival before?
I have got a brilliant photo, I was going through my phone the other day trying to find a photo for a friend, and it’s just a photo of two girls and they’re both wearing high heels. My friend said, “Why did you take a photo of those girls’ feet, that’s a bit creepy.” I replied, I had no idea why I’d taken a photo on 29thh June 2012 I took a photo of those two girls, then, “ahh I remember now it was because we had Elbow that day at Jodrell Bank in a field.” I had got the train there, and got off the train and these two girls were obviously going as well, in their high heels. At the time I thought it was hilarious, because the weather forecast was very grim. And, as soon as Elbow took to the stage it started pouring down, and everything turned into a quagmire within half an hour and it did not stop for about 12 hours. We had to cancel the next day with Paul Weller. It did cross my mind where on earth did those girls get to, in high heels in the middle of a bog. So, my answer is stout footwear.
Are the Jodrell Bank events still likely to happen this summer?
It’s debatable we are still working at securing a few artists. It’s got to be the right line-up there.
Were Hawkwind good there?
Hawkwind were amazing, Hawkwind made the show. My dad is a massive Hawkwind fan so it was kind of a birthday and Christmas present to him. I’ve seen them three times now in the last year, and become quite a fan myself. Interestingly enough ticket sales were going really well, but when we put Hawkwind on tickets more than doubled and didn’t let up. They were as big as Australian Pink Floyd.
I’m still trying to work out a way to get them to Kendal, they’re not our usual fare, but they’ll be worth it. I want to do a special midnight show somewhere, that’s the issue because we can’t have live music on the licence after 12. It needs to be live and starting at midnight, I know in my head what will be perfect but it’s just getting there.
Does the new event at Tunbridge Wells have a late licence?
Sadly not that late no, that’s 2am. We’ll be having a bit of an earlier night, that’s not because we’ll be tired from the weekend before, because we won’t be we’ll be getting our rest inbetween. We’ll definitely be having fruit smoothies and taking our vitamins.
Tickets have SOLD OUT for Kendal Calling's 10th anniversary 'Through The Decades' themed event held over the weekend of Thursday 30th July to Sunday 2nd August 2015 returning to the Lowther Deer Park, Hackthorpe, in the Lake District.
The line-up this year includes Elbow, Snoop Dogg, Kaiser Chiefs, The Vaccines, and James headline. Also confirmed are Kodaline, Levellers, The Horrors, Ella Eyre, Embrace, Nick Mulvey, Billy Bragg, Soul II Soul, Fuse ODG, Lucy Rose, Public Service Broadcasting, British Sea Power, Mr Scruff, Kate Tempest, Emmy the Great, Bipolar Sunshine, Grandmaster Flash, Black Rivers, Plastic Rivers, Young Kato, Marky and Stamina MC, Jasper House, Sugarmen, Francisco The Man, No Hot Ashes, Colt 45, Jake and the Jellyfish, Adam Walsh, The Bohicas, Palace, Turbowolf, Walking on Cars, Port Isla, Less Than Jake, Groove Armada (DJ set), Augustines, Dutch Uncles, Hudson Taylor, Sunset Sons, Boxed In, Flyte, Port Isla, Seafret, Tuff Love, Shy FX, Bondax, Friction, Redlight, Jaguar Skills, My Nu Leng, Krafty vs A Skillz, GotSome, Wookie, DJ Q, Bontan, DJ Marky, Kurupt FM, Alex Adair, Maribou State, Kidnap Kid, Monki, Jax Jones, Prince Fatty ft. The Horseman, Blossoms, Drohne, Hot Vestry, Tim O'Brien, Tony Husband, Riding the Low, Mrs Boons Tea Party, Dave Haslam, Chris Hawkins, Karl Yates, Onra, Melt Yourself Down, Richie Campbell, Fingathing, Syd Arthur, Babyhead, Stuff, Cocos Lovers, Hermigervill, Sheelanagig, Bombs, Count Bobo & The Bullion, and more.
For the line-up details as available, see the Kendal Calling line-up page.
Festival goers can expect eleven stages including the Main Stage, Glow Dance tent, Kaylied World Music Stage, Calling Out New Music Stage, Soapbox Comedy, Village Green, Houseparty, and more to be announced.
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