Kendal Calling takes the festival experience back to its roots

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With an urge to do the whole festival thing this summer but with limited funds, I purchased a ticket to Kendal Calling and set about encouraging a group of friends to join me. Eventually eight of us made the quick trip up the M6 to Lowther Deer Park in Penrith – the festival having been moved from its site outside Kendal to accommodate the increase from 4000 to 6000 festival-goers. Appropriately naming our little group “Rogue Trip to Kendal Calling”, we hit the campsite around 1pm on Friday 31st of July for what would eventually turn out to be the best festival I have ever attended. Yes, that is right: better than Glastonbury, better than Leeds/Reading, better than Monsters of Rock/Download.

An ethical festival

Why, you are clearly thinking to yourself now, would anyone place a small-scale festival set in the back of nowhere above such luminaries as Glastonbury? The answer is quite simple. Glastonbury/Leeds/Reading etc have lost track of what music festivals are all about: like-minded people showing support for their life-style choices whilst enjoying music from artists of a similar ilk. Skip back in time to Woodstock, a festival about “love, not war”, hippies joined by artists for a common goal. Now I am not so naive as to presume Kendal Calling had a similar agenda to Woodstock. However, its ethical and moral choices were clearly on display with its stands of locally-produced, organic food, the insistence on biodegradable packaging, and as much Fairtrade goods as possible. In a similar vein, many of the artists performing had a clear political agenda, whilst the notion of community was obvious throughout the three day event.

Not bad for a Welsh comedy rap band

Of course, this is merely my personal leaning showing through: I like my music politicised; to speak to me; to inspire me. That aside, you are probably wondering “so what about the bands/artists?” Well the line-up was – for £70 including camping- what can only be described as value-for-money.  Friday saw fresh new bands such as Fight Like Apes support Goldie Looking Chain and The Streets. Fight Like Apes are a talented bunch, have had some success recently, and I believe are due some more. Ok, The Streets were what can only be described as crap. Unsuited to festivals, and to some extent live performances per se, Skinner’s performance was dire, which is a shame considering he followed Goldie Looking Chain. Now, personally, I had precious little desire to watch a Welsh comedy rap band, as someone once described them. Well let me assure you if you ever get the chance to see them perform then do it because a performance is what you will get. Their interaction with the crowd never ceased; their energy abounded; and they gave me the biggest surprise of the weekend. They also went some way towards compensating for the lack of enthusiasm Mike Skinner showed and set us up nicely for the main two days to come.

Smaller acts impress

Before the headliners there were some bands I had not heard of, some I had, and some I was looking forward to seeing. Some would impress but none would disappoint. The Whiskey Cats impressed with a performance that was to be repeated and surpassed the following night on another stage. Nine Black Alps, Sunshine Underground, and The Kabeedies put on shows that left me eager for more. Red Light Company – a Bailrigg FM favourite but do not let that put you off – matched my expectations whilst Twisted Wheel put on a performance way beyond what is captured in the recording studio.

Zuton Fever?

Following that line-up was always going to be a tall order but I was confident The Zutons were up to it. How wrong I was. Three songs in and it was obvious to all that it was not going to be their night. Failing to project themselves onto a crowd raring to party was just the beginning of their average performance. They did not interact with the crowd; lacked any musical polish; and, quite frankly, looked jaded. Maybe I am being harsh but I walked away feeling a little deflated.

Super Sunday

Of course, there was still Sunday’s line up to go at. And what a line up: The Yards, Cornershop – yes of “Brimful of Asha” fame – Rumblestrips, Noah and the Whale, Skream, Chase and Status, Shy FX, Idlewild, and the two bands I was most eager to see – The King Blues and Ash! The Yards delivered as did Rumblestrips and Noah and the Whale. Cornershop have precious little in their locker after “Brimful”, however, a Guajarati-sung version of the classic Beatles tune “Norwegian Wood” and a  rendition of Manfred Mann’s 1968 number one “The Mighty Quinn” impressed me no end. Idlewild, although somewhat of a generic rock band, put on yet another polished and professional performance that let no-one down but the best was yet to come. Ash are major players with an impressive back catalogue comprising some all-time classics. Who can stop themselves from singing or whistling to “Girl From Mars”, “Shining Light”, and the inimitable “Burn Baby, Burn”? Back these powerful tracks up with “There’s A Star”, “Envy”, “Jack Names The Planets”, “Goldfinger”, and “A Life Less Ordinary”, a host of other great tunes and it is easy to see why Ash were named by Q magazine as number two in their list of the “50 Bands To See Before You Die”. They were simply amazing.

Ash and The King Blues provide festival highlight

I walked away to watch The King Blues – a band I have been tipping for the top for what seems like an eternity now – dreading being let down as I was by The Zutons. However, after the first song I knew I was about to watch something special.

The King Blues delivered a set that, for me personally, matched Ash. Quite different in genres, The King Blues and Ash are similar in other ways. Yes, bizarrely, I am going to compare a Northern Irish rock band of classic standing with a young upstart of a band from England’s South. And why not? Both have powerful lyrics that entice you to sing along; both have a stage presence that cannot be learnt but that is inherent in a performer; and both excite but in differing ways. Ash excite me because of their guitar-based rock, The King Blues excite me because of their lyrics, attitude and political stance. Musically speaking, The King Blues are a mixture of punk, reggae, and ska which works very well. Lyrically strong and with a predisposition to stop the music and recite interesting poetry commenting on current events, The King Blues are destined for bigger things, make the transition from studio to stage with ease, aplomb, and gusto, and are another band which will come into comparisons with The Jam and punk greats like The Clash.

When the live bands had finished, Kendal Calling did not just shut down but instead turned its attention to the dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass crowd with sets from Chase and Status, Steppa, Skream, and Shy FX. All of which ended a perfect weekend for me that was full of surprises and only a couple of disappointments.