Kendal Calling, in fact, is not as near to Kendal as the name implies. The site is situated just off the M6 North in between the small village hamlet of Arkham and the town of Penrith, where Withnail and I accidentally go on holiday. It's set on the plush green land privately owned by the aristocratic Lowther family and it gets rented out to the indie music-loving organisers of Kendal Calling - gifting the public an annual taste of the decadence the gentry enjoy year-round.
The land is beautiful - filled with ancient woodlands where raspberries are ripe to be picked. There’s a small lake (accessible only to workers and artists) and views out toward some of the highest peaks in the Lake District – England’s proudest stretch of mountainous nature. By comparison, the London park festivals feel plastic-y, even soulless by comparison - like a nature cover band. The views out across the Kendal Calling woodland, meanwhile, reflect the sumptuous amount of rain and produce a beautiful dense green that has more in common with Amazonia than Victoria Park.
With the setting catering for, we could quite happily have spent time camping here without any music. But parading around between stages just simply couldn't be helped because there’s a seriously strong line-up.
On Thursday evening we're setting up camp whilst Ash play 'Shining Light' and 'Burn Baby Burn' – reminding us of a time when we bought CDs from Woolworths, and mobile phones still had aerials. It's a shame to have missed them, but with The Charlatans on next, it’s still more than we would expect to see at a mid-sized festival before the festival proper even begins.
Predictably, it’s full down at the main stage standing area, flares are being ignited and people are climbing on each other’s shoulders, expressing their pure joy at seeing one of the greatest British bands of all time. Material from last year’s Modern Nature album does well to stand tall next to the likes of 'North Country Boy', and 'Weirdo’. It can be tiresome seeing a band that was successful in the ‘90s and then they play new stuff and people switch off. Fortunately, The Charlatans are never in danger of this and continue to be a source of fresh inspiration.
On Friday, it's a Cabbage double bill. The Mancunian five-piece, who have just been picked up by Conrad Murray, who also manages The Stone Roses, Blossoms, and The Courteeners, only started seven months ago and don't even have an EP out yet. Nevertheless, they've built a massive hype following, and their gig at House Party at four in the afternoon is full, with people spilling out the door.
The band, which will appeal to fans of The Fat White Family, The Stooges, and The Clash, are led by topless frontman Lee Broadbent, who drunkenly takes the show by the scruff of the neck. He throws every bit of energy he's got into the performance, and in a chaotic whirlwind of distorted sound and frenetic drumming manages to play through a set that includes some actual good songs - showing the band doesn’t rely solely on the showmanship. ‘Kevin’ in particular is a highlight. Song topics are either shocking (there’s talk of necrophilia and to wanking into a quiche). Or they’re reactionary (there’s a tune that expresses their hate for Donald Trump). The shocking stuff will get them attention, but the political sharpness will be a sustained benefit for youth culture, as it’s impressive to see a band reacting to news stories and turning around songs so quickly that feel relevant and cutting.
During the set, the singer splits the whole length of his trouser leg but is seemingly unbothered. Half an hour later - after Blossoms’ completely packed Tim Peaks Diner secret show - they're up there at the intimate log cabin venue curated by Tim Burgess, doing a secret too. Still in the same broken trousers, and with the word death scribbled on to one arm and scum on another, he storms through the fast, tight, set with the crowd getting with it every step of the way. It's easy to imagine this band becoming as massive as Fat White Family in a matter of months.
Later on, we're over at the Woodlands stage to see Vangoffey, who have former Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey on lead vocals and guitar, and Drew McConnell from Babyshambles on bass and backing vocals. It’s relatively under-attended to start with but anyone who walks past gets drawn in and by the end, there’s a decent crowd who get to see one of the stronger British indie guitar bands of the weekend. 'Sucker' is the biggest stand-out: mixing the classic sound of The Beatles with the swagger of LCD Soundsystem – albeit more acoustic.
We stay on at the attractive Woodlands stage area for London’s Ibibio Sound Machine, who fuse African with electronic music, and we’re greatly rewarded. The crowd’s reaction to this dazzling live band is a fun thing to be a part of as dancing is passionate and far from self-conscious.
On Saturday afternoon at Tim Peaks Blueprint Blue, who have a single produced by James Hoare of Ultimate Painting on its way, ease us into the day with a mellow rock set in the vein of Jackson Browne. Singer/ guitarist Elliot Hayward goes on improvisational tangents on guitar that Neil Young would be proud of, and his vocals aren’t too dissimilar at times either.
Next up are much-loved Glasgow band BMX Bandits. Songwriter Duglas T Stewart formed the band in the 80s with musicians who then went on to form other successful bands, including Teenage Fanclub, and The Vaselines. Duglas is in fine form and holds a stunning musical kinship with co-vocalist Chloe Philip, also of TeenCanteen who did a fantastic set earlier, as the band glide through a career-spanning set which includes material from a yet to be released new album, stuff from their Creation records days in the 90s, and late 80s tracks . The songs, which are Duglus' life set to music, are largely dark lyrically as they explore the deep workings of the human psyche, but any sad observations are offset with sunny melodies and humorous lyrics, making for a playful jangly set that keeps festival spirits high.
Once BMX Bandits finish, Tim Peaks gives us a secret set from Peter Doherty and band. Although set to headline the Calling Out Stage half an hour after completing this, they bravely cram into the log cabin diner to play to the lucky 100 people or so fans who could fit in. Security are called to stop the place getting any more overcrowded than it is. But the drama of being at an event this big in a place so small makes the 40 minute or so set an exciting thing to be a part of.
Their main set over on the Calling Out stage clashes with headliners Madness. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most well-attended sets of the weekend. With more space to play and less time constraints, the band get into the part of the set that includes crowd favourites 'Killamangiro', 'Time For Heroes' and 'Fuck Forever' that they couldn’t do on the first set of the day. Well known solo material 'Last of The English Roses' and 'Arcady' gets a roaring reception too. And of the newer material, the waltz 'Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven' is up there with Peter’s best ever work. We're hoping to hear an official release of that one soon.
Illegally hitching a ride on one of the many golf buggies that are whizzing around the place, we go straight to see Novelist, who is playing in the Jager House. There's more demand to get in than space but we're there just in time. Inside there's a raucous atmosphere with the 19-year-old grime MC, who is signed to XL Recordings, getting people on their feet in a much more effective way than most.
The final day of Kendal Calling is upon us and the best of the afternoon’s music was yet again found in Tim Peaks with London trio Grumbling Fur being quite literally mesmerising. Their off-kilter pop – taken from their 2013 album 'Glynnaestra' and beyond – is neatly crafted and has an aspect of British bands such as The Kinks, thanks to the way the two vocalists lock together so well. But at the same time, there’s is something deeply psychedelic at play as layers of sound that stem from listening to atmospheric electronic music are a prominent aspect of the mix.
Over on the Carvatti stage – the smaller of the two woodland stages – Trampolene led by Jack Jones, play his poems alongside hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll cuts. Things start out more family friendly than usual with a poem about a slug, which is suitable for the natural surrounds. It doesn’t last for long, though. Soon the witty ‘Ketamine’ poem is unleashed and his gnarly lead playing is powerful enough to get old drunk punks pogoing.
Over on the main stage, Noel Gallagher was the biggest headliner of the weekend and the Stone Roses-loving, bucket hat-wearing, crowd are over the moon. Noel is on top form, providing some “top banter”, and playing some great Oasis B-sides, the classics - and the best of his solo material. The highlight is set closer ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, which featured a fireworks display that shot out in time with the melody.
Yak, sneakily, delay the start of their set by half an hour so they could those who wanted to see them but didn’t want to miss the headliner at their show to make up the numbers. They bring to close an impressive weekend of music at the Jager House, and show why they’re one of London’s most talked about guitar bands. The tracks they played from their debut album, Alas Salvation are executed with more energy than a gang of freshers necking rounds of this fine establishment's favourite bomb. It’s a solid way to see out the festival thanks to a more chaotic feral punk rock attitude than anywhere else on site all day.
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Words: Cai Trefor