As a boutique festival virgin I was slightly unsure what to expect when I turned up on Friday afternoon to this 3000 person capacity Standon Calling, set in the grounds of a 16th century Hertfordshire manor house.
The first thing that struck me was actually how intimate everything was; with memories still fresh from Glastonbury I had equipped myself with a trolley to lug our belongings in the dreaded trek from car to campsite. However we were pleasantly surprised to realise that the car park was a mere stones throw from the camping area.
Our first walk around the site revealed just how 'twee' the setting was with a few main landmarks, including a central Tree Bar (which consisted of a fully-stocked bar built around the trunk of a huge tree), the main stage, which was comparable to the smallest stages at a festival such as Glastonbury or Reading, a striking 'golf ball' Apollo stage tent, and the modest Galileo stage tented area, which was located directly in front of the huge manor house and adjacent to the swimming pool. Yes.... this was a festival with a swimming pool!
As my friend and I took a wander around the site, we began to take in the theatrical feel of the festival, such as a sign in one area stating 'One Million Plays Performed Here. (Not all of them though)', where impromptu performances took place throughout the weekend.
We were suddenly approached by a man in a white boiler suit and gas mask, who ominously asked us to follow him and led us to a tent called the 'Heliocentre' where we were instructed to go in separately 30 seconds apart, take off our shoes at the end of the corridor and follow the corridors until we were met by someone else.
Inside we were both treated to different 'immersive' theatre experiences, where I was led to a room and quizzed by an actor as if I was a well-known activist, and I was involved in a very intense but interesting piece of theatre with him the kind that leaves you squirming and giggling embarrassedly but is also so much fun. Unfortunately, as I finally reconnected with my friend on the outside, she said that the earphones she had been asked to put on in her room did not work but the actor had told her to come back a bit later when they had sorted it out.
The first act that I managed to catch was the flamboyant VV Brown in the space themed Apollo tent. The thing that struck me the most about her performance was her backing band. With an exquisite bassist and perfectly concise drummer, the whole of her band gelled together perfectly and made the performance the feel-good 'dance 'til you drop' event that it was.
Brown's 40's/50's style of music was certainly a great crowd mover, as she played tunes such as 'L.O.V.E', which was very comparable to Christina Aguilera's swing-jazz inspired hit 'Candyman'. The tent was transported into the past as young and old clicked their fingers and perfected their swing dance moves.
She also followed the theme that artist's seem to be adopting of late by performing her own version of the Kings of Leon's 'Sex on Fire', which admittedly was not the best cover I have heard, as it didn't quite fuse with her style but it was generally a crowd pleaser nonetheless.
Overall her performance was really uplifting and it was clear that she and the band were very comfortable on that small stage as they moved and jammed all over it she had seemed a bit lost in her Glastonbury performance earlier this year. The low part of the performance was probably when she declared to the crowd "Do you know what guys? I really need a poo!"
Next up I managed to catch a handful of songs from Mumford & Sons in the stylishly decorated Galileo tent. This small tent had the perfect 'boutique festival feel', with a tiny, homely stage adorned with antique pieces, including lamps and chintzy furniture.
As the band took to the stage they demanded that everyone stood up, which I personally think spoiled the atmosphere slightly, as they are not exactly a 'jump about moshing' band. However the songs that I did catch were delightfully folksy with a tinge of an Irish hoedown, which they declared was what we were all going to have in that tent. They must be commended on their harmonies as well, which were an audio dream.
I scarpered over to the Apollo tent to catch The Rumble Strips strong set and walked into a heaving tent of bodies jiving along to their more commercial hit, 'Girls and Boys in Love'.
The trumpet and saxophone were great additions to their tunes and it was clear just how good the boys' new album, 'Welcome to the Walk Alone' actually is. They rounded of their set with a big band finale of great rhythms that had the crowd jumping about all over the place.
The main stage headliner that night was Ladytron and for a small festival they had drawn quite a crowd (well, in comparison to the few people that had been littered in front of the main stage throughout the day).
The performance was not exactly unforgettable but it did the job well in terms of getting the crowd flailing their arms about to the electro pop beats and it fit in well with the 'space theme' of the festival. They appeared to have gathered a very mixed crowd too as ravers, hippies and pop-heads joined together to dance the night away in the electro beats coming from the main stage.
My next stop was the Barbarella dance venue, which was an old-looking stone building from the outside but inside it was clear that a lot of time had been taken to transform the space into a ravers paradise, with a floor scattered with glitter, a psychedelically decorated room with a bar, and a room for chilling with foam seating and comfy cushions.
The main space was for one thing and one thing alone though and that was to dance. I was treated to the end of 65daysofstatic DJ Set, which had the place heaving, and then to the exquisite sounds of Crystal Fighters, which again was a great body-shaking set playing dance and house tunes alike, however we did nickname them 'the king of the long-drop', as they seemed to take an eternity to build up their tunes and drop the beat. However, at 2.30 in the morning and pumped up with adrenalin, this little imperfection seemed irrelevant, as we danced around with the many costumed and eccentrically decorated ravers.
Although the festival evenings never seem to draw to a close, it was time for us to call it a night but that didn't stop the more hardened partyers staying out and busting moves in Barbarella and the Apollo tent until 6 in the morning.
review by: Fiona Madden
photos by: Fiona Madden
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