Where else can you have a heated swimming pool, a dog show and crop circles? Well at Standon Calling they supply all three and more besides. Situated in the grounds of a 16th Century Hertfordshire manor house, Standon Calling is a well-established festival. I last visited this festival in 2012 and since then it has expanded its facilities and stages increased its capacity to 6,500 people.
The signage to the event was clear and getting into the campervan field was a breeze. I understand that it took 2 hours for some general campers to get through the gates, which with such a small festival feels a little excessive. The searches by security helped slow the entry down.The camping was generous although some areas were on the steep side of usable. This left some areas empty although at no stage did any of the general camping feel too tight. The family camping was well away from the busy arena area and had adequate facilities.
Standon ran a cashless festival for the second year running. The wristband had a tag on it which you load with money (and can top up during your stay). Every time you purchase an item, from beer to ice creams, the tablets attached to the system display your current balance. It made buying drinks and everything else easy and kept queues down at the bars. The only problem was the ability to top up using your bank card, which went down during the weekend and so you had to get cash from the cash machine (for which you were charged £2.75) and then go back to load your wristband. At the end of the festival all your balance is refunded – quick and easy.
The programme was well produced and the information it gave was good but apart from the 3 headliners, only 14 of the other bands had any write up. I would have liked to have seen at least one sentence about each band.
There were two main performance areas – the main stage and the Big Top. The cow shed was for DJ’s and there were a smattering of small to very small performance areas around the site. The booking for the main stages was of good quality and variety.
Friday saw strong sets from the likes of Temple Songs, The Leisure Society, NZShapeShifter, and The Heavy, who absolutely nailed it. One of the highlights from Friday was the Beans on Toast set, complete with Big Jeff getting his song sung to him and Frank Turner replacing Banjo Bobby at one stage as Beans’ musical genius. Beans is always good value, and his mum and dad were even there. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls closed the day on the main stage with an excellent set with a shout out for Big Jeff, and Beans appearing for the last number as a guest.The Big Top continued until 0400 with Felix Da Housecat, and Heavy Hz, the cowshed similarly finished at 0400.
Saturday saw the The Cuban Brothers on the main stage, a hilarious and talented show complete with Kenny the Bastard's small penis, the band breakdancing in spandex and quality tunes. It was an absolute pleasure to see them for the first time and on that showing I will look them up again. Also on the main stage were King Charles, Amber Run, and Clean Bandit. Public Enemy closed the day with a typically accomplished set. The Bohicas in the Big Top were impressive; they really should be bigger than they currently are. Team Me from Norway were great, East India Youth similarly and DJ Yoda did his AV show just before Craig Charles' Funk and Soul show to finish off.
Sunday opened with Trinidad via Canada in the form of Kobo Town, just the sort of thing to wake everybody up in the sunshine, ideal Caribbean vibes. Ibibio Sound Machine added a flavour of Nigeria to the proceedings. Their set got the crowd up and dancing with their African melodies and really put the smiles on people’s faces. The Easy Star All Stars did the whole of Dub Side of the Moon, a bit of a coup for the festival if you ask me, and Peace played before Sunday headliners, the ever reliable Maximo Park. The Big Top suffered from a couple of late pull outs, Ella Eyre and the Fat White Family couldn’t perform due to illness. Nothing the organisers could do but it did leave the programme delayed by a couple of hours while everybody moved up. The highlight for me was Young Fathers, fairly extraordinary performance, unique hip hop mashed with lots and lots of noise. Grandmaster Flash closed the tent with a full DJ set, quality from a bit of a legend.
The theme for the weekend was Lost in Latin American and this was picked up by other areas with Chilean singing and percussion workshops, Tango classes and other themed events. The Extreme Garnishing Workshop was even offering to sell me Angostura bitters made from Arthur Conan-Doyle’s sweat, apparently this is really for sale in London. They suck the moisture out of walls to do this, remarkable.
The food vendors had a fantastic range of meals all reasonably priced. The beer was supplied by Meantime brewery with prices from £4.70 a pint, although the only cider on offer was Savannah at £3.70 for a 330 ml can.
As well as a good spread of musical genres, punters could enjoy Mexican wrestling training from Lucha Brittannia and a show daily for their professionals to demonstrate how it is really done. It was good fun without being serious at any stage.
You could also enjoy a dip in the heated swimming pool with a DJ to accompany you in the Groove Garden or maybe you have always fancied a turn on a trapeze. Well you could have a try or have a training session on a full size rig, which was popular all weekend. A regular Standon event is the Sunday dog show. A crazy, chaotic show of numerous classes and rosettes that the crowd really enjoyed. It is odd to be able to bring your dog to a festival but that is what Standon does.The family area had activities and games for the kids, it was well attended all weekend and seemed to be really popular with the parents.
The festival has the best toilets I have encountered, vast majority porcelain flushing just like at home, no real queues even for the ladies, and usually clean with paper. For those with a phobia of the tardis, this may be your festival.
Standon is a good sized, very family friendly event, well organised and still with a party in the garden feel, something that the organisers seem keen to keep doing. It is after all a party in their garden.
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