Over the past decade, Kendal Calling has developed into one of the most exciting small festivals of the UK. With tickets for this year’s instalment selling out in record time, the festival virtually has a cult following, with it being the stand-out weekend in most punter’s calendars. With all of this to bear in mind, the 11th anniversary had a tough standard to live up to.
Despite the heavy showers and mud of Lowther Deer Park, Cumbria, there was a tangible air of excitement amongst everyone who’d arrived early for Thursday’s events. Already gaining a reputation for their energy-filled live performances and infectiously anthemic songs, The Shimmer Band had the privilege of opening the main stage. With songs such as ‘Freedom’ echoing earlier Primal Scream numbers, the flamboyant music and sheer passion of the band was contagious; a stunning example of starting as you mean to go on.
Presented by Amazon Music, the last-minute addition of Happy Mondays to the Thursday line-up was a key cause of excitement amongst the festival-goers. Nobody was disappointed. Bursting onto stage with an extended edition of ‘Hallelujah’, the unique combination of acid house, alternative rock, Rowetta’s soulful vocals, and Bez’s maracas had everyone dancing.
Bringing the first afternoon to a close were Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand, with frontman Alex Kapranos fully embracing the mud and donning a rather fetching pair of wellies. Wowing the crowd with hit after explosive hit, the band proved that they have matured into a world-class live band. From ‘Take Me Out’ to ‘No You Girls’, the first night was brought to a stunning climax.
As dawn broke on Friday morning, it was time for the first full day of the festival. With all the stages now open, including a ‘Lost Eden’ brimming with innovative art installations, the inclusive environment ensured that everyone was catered for. Amongst the maze of fields lay the ‘Calling Out’ stage. Hosting a vast array of new talent, one of the first bands to play the second largest stage was Taffy. The female-fronted rock band’s energy was magnetic, drawing a bustling crowd, keen to hear more of their vibrant indie pop.
Kate Nash was the first big-name act of the day. With debut album ‘Made of Bricks’ celebrating its ten-year anniversary this month, Nash’s musical transformation was blindingly apparent throughout her performance. Starting out as a singer-songwriter armed with a piano and repertoire of witty lyrics, she has developed a vibrant and lively stage presence, complete with an all-female backing band. Ending on the classic ‘Foundations’, the summery vibes provided a juxtaposition for the weather, and perfectly lifted the spirits of the crowd. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, acts such as DMAs, Circa Waves, and even Jake Bugg wowed the audiences, each performance a truly spectacular, all-encompassing musical experience.
Leading the Manchester punk revival scene, Cabbage are one of the most exciting emerging British bands. Their House Party tent slot drew such a crowd that a ‘one in one out’ policy was enforced for entry to the gig before the band even began their set. From ‘Kevin’ to ‘Fickle’, the raucous set was reminiscent of Dead Kennedys, injecting a much-needed dose of rage, humour, and political incorrectness to the weekend.
One of the most eagerly anticipated bands of the weekend was due to close the main stage, and bring the daytime festivities to an end. Stereophonics are one of the biggest British rock bands of the past 20 years, with a seemingly endless list of hits. Even an hour and a half set didn’t seem long enough. From old favourites to new singles including ‘All In One Night’, every song was more incredible than the last. Ending on firm fan favourite ‘Dakota’, the band cemented their status as one of the UK’s most sensational live bands.
However, the closure of the main stage was by no means the end of the night’s events. Example took to the Glow Tent, entertaining hordes of adoring fans with a seemingly endless backlog of dance hits. Simultaneously, the Chai Wallah tent played host to Dutch masters of jazz Broken Brass Ensemble. From original compositions to covers of famous hits, they rocked the fields until the early hours of the morning. Ending by joining the crowd to dance with their instruments, this was a joyous and unique end to a stunning first day.
One of the greatest aspects of a music festival, is being attracted to a stage purely based on a snippet of music overheard from a distance. This is how most of the crowd discovered WHITE. A fusion of jazz, dance, and electro, the Glaswegian five-piece composed themselves with the perfect levels of both professionalism and light-heartedness. Following this discovery, it was time for the annual fancy dress parade. Based around the theme of ‘Into The Wild’, flamingos, penguins, butterflies, and even a T-rex all rallied together for a tour of the site, let by a lively percussion band.
Throughout the rest of the day, newer bands such as The Assist, The Blinders, Larkins, and The Hunna provided people with the pleasure of discovering their new favourite bands. Larger bands such as Feeder and Editors entertained larger crowds at the main stage
Without a shadow of doubt one of the most eagerly anticipated performances of the weekend was Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds. Vibrant, nostalgic, and ridiculously up-beat, the performance was exactly what everyone expected, and more. Every track was played to perfection, with a handful of hits thrown in for good measure. Ending with crowd surfing alongside ‘Surfin’ USA’, it was a once-in-a-lifetime performance for many of the members of the audience, and a moment that no one will forget in a hurry.
Manic Street Preachers brought the main stage to a close. With an extensive backlog of often chart-topping hits, the Welsh rockers went from ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ to ‘Design For Life’ , and everywhere in-between. Despite for a brief interlude that saw James Dean-Bradfield sing an acoustic version of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, every track received an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience.
Kendal Calling has always been a huge supporter of all forms of the arts; both music and visual arts are a key feature of this festival. From 9pm each night the woods surrounding the festival grounds sprang to life. From fire pits that power machinery, to an audio-visual woodland walk experience, to stained glass reliant robins, every installation was imaginative and inspiring, prefect for exploring under the moonlight.
The perfect Sunday morning hangover cure must be watching The Lancashire Hotpots with a cup of tea. From the ‘Dad Dance’ to ‘Chippy Tea’, no other band can make a predominantly Northern audience smile in quite the same way as this comedy folk ensemble. Once everyone’s heads had been sufficiently cleared, London rapper Lethal Bizzle brought the atmosphere up a notch. From starting the largest mosh pit of the weekend, to an elaborate routine of ninja kicks, his performance style made a grime fan out of every festival goer.
Rock then took over for the duration of the day. With a style that is almost impossible to define, Nothing But Thieves supplied audiences with their combination of alt-rock, psychedelia, post-punk, and grunge. Slaves then reminded the crowds of the remaining relevance of punk, especially in the modern day world of repetitive music and repetitive politics. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, a regular feature at Kendal Calling, delivered their signature witty rapport and upbeat indie rock to the main stage, initiating a crowd-surfing race to round off the afternoon.
Over on the House Party stage, recently formed supergroup Rogue Emperor brought their brand of Haçienda-inspired dance music to the lake district. Tinie Tempah then closed the main stage for the final time of 2017. With a seemingly never-ending supply of stellar dance tracks, not even knee-deep mud could stop the crowds from jumping and dancing, chanting every word alongside the world-rebound rapper. A magnificent end to a star-studded line up that brought the festival to a new level of infamy and grandiosity.
Kendal Calling will return on 26th-29th July 2018.