- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
“I lied about being the outdoor type/I’ve never owned a sleeping bag/ let alone a mountain bike”, sang Evan Dando sometime back in the nineties. Now, while I have in fact owned both of those items, it’s a sentiment that’s still very close to my heart. A good festival is the only way I’ll be persuaded to head into a field with a tent. Yes, the time has come for me to visit the much-loved Kendal Calling.
The sun is shining in Cumbria when I head into the arena for the first time, just in time to catch Essex-based songwriter Beans on Toast. A folk singing troubadour and something of a hippie, at one point he has us putting our hands in the air to get in touch with our “inner trees”.
There’s a rap about trying to be the new Robin Hood and a drinking song that namechecks Taylor Swift and Tom Waits. Relaxed, funny and unconventional; it’s great to see something like this happening on the main stage.
I head across the field to the House Party stage, renamed the Raptor House in honour of this year’s Jurassic Park theme. Later in the weekend I’ll get to meet one of the raptors from the film. Nice guy.
Bolton’s Our Fold are on stage when I walk in; a pleasingly rawkus, Britpop-esque, approach to rock ‘n’ roll. “Don't you want a lover” yells vocalist Damien Riley “don't you want a lover tonight?” The party starts early at Kendal Calling.
Heading back towards the main stage I manage to catch London’s The Big Moon. Effortlessly cool indie-rock with some brilliant three way harmonies. The noisy, anthemic ‘Bonfire’ finds vocalist/guitarist Juliette Jackson excitedly dancing around the front of the stage. They finish with ‘Cupid’ and I’m hooked.
Something’s stirring over at the Raptor House. An escaped velociraptor? A rouge T-Rex? Thankfully, it’s the no less fierce (yet potentially less dangerous) forward-thinking rock of Hello Cosmos. A blistering momentum from the moment they start; a loud and unremittingly urgent call-to-action.
The songs feel thrillingly uncompromised, swathed in noise and larger than life. ‘Run for President’ sounds suitably livid while the limber rhythms and lyrical edge of ‘Dream Harder’ are nothing less than inspired.
I have some churros and a nuclear hot coffee before heading over the fields in search of my next act. I can hear Badly Drawn Boy singing something about the Queen and Frank Sinatra in the distance, it’s pretty lovely but it’s also the end of his set so I head to the Chai Wallah stage instead.
Fusing rap, trip-hop, soul and jazz is no mean feat but something that the Leeds-based, 9 piece soul fusion outfit Necktr carry off in style. Chai Wallah will offer up plenty of treats over the next few days and this was certainly one of them.
The mood changes yet again when I head to the Calling Out stage to watch the absorbing, melancholic electropop of Oxford’s Low Island. Vocalist Carlos Posada taking a moment to remind us, "it’s only the beginning of the festival... There's still bog roll in the toilets". Good news all round then.
I head up to the Woodland’s Stage for something completely different; the fuzz-laden garage-rock of Calva Louise. Gleefully energetic and satisfyingly raw; the three-piece play heavy, hair-raising rock ‘n’ roll. Lead singer Jess Allanic possesses one of the best screams I’ve heard in some time. The band looks like they’re having a blast too, a thoroughly cathartic and fun performance.
The list of acts I need to look into when I get back seems to be growing by the hour. I head over to the brilliantly named Tim Peaks stage (well, it’s a full-on wooden cabin actually) just in time to catch the end of Shards. Widescreen slowcore indie, wish I’d caught more of their set.
It starts to rain a bit so I stay in Tim Peaks for the next act. Two Shot Podcast. I wonder who that is? Turns out it’s an award-winning podcast by Craig Parkinson and today he’ll be interviewing none other than Chic funk-pop mastermind, Nile ‘freak out’ Rodgers.
What follows is a funny, illuminating and honest chat with Rodgers about life and music. Turns out Rodgers has survived cancer (twice) and ‘died’ eight times in one night. The man’s virtually indestructible. A real living legend and in case you were wondering his favourite albums are A Love Supreme and The Inner Mounting Flame.
I head back into the Woodlands and unexpectedly discover one of my highlights of the whole weekend, Hands Off Gretel. Grungy punk rock played with buckets of passion and the raw, throaty holler of lead singer Lauren Tate.
‘Milk’ (a song about animal rights) is introduced as the “screamy one”. Like Jess Allanic earlier in the day, Tate possesses one-hell-of-a-scream. She ends the set in the crowd with the band thrashing through the impossibly catchy, Hole-esque punk of ‘Kiss Me Girl’. Powerful, fun and fierce.
From a new discovery to something of a firm favourite. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Blackpool’s post-punk legends, The Membranes, all day. They don’t disappoint (I’m not sure they know how to). The set opens with the urgent, mind-expanding, rush of ‘The Universe Explodes Into A Billion Photons Of Pure White Light’.
The sound and the fury are perfectly complemented by an adaptable and talented 4-piece choir. Drama and yet further depth added to these brutal yet beautiful punk rock odes to snow monkey’s, graveyards and nature itself. All this and I even get to meet singer, bassist and fellow journalist John Robb after the gig.
Today’s been a pretty special start to the festival but it turns out that the party hasn’t even really begun. No, that job is down to RnB, disco, funk and soul icons Nile Rodgers & Chic. I thought I was fairly unfamiliar with Rodgers work. How wrong could I be? Turns out that Chic and Nile are pretty much responsible for every party starting tune known to man.
I push my way into the crowd as the band delivers ‘I’m Coming Out’. Originally sung by Diana Ross of course but written by Chic members. Rodgers had a hand in so many incredible and iconic songs that tonight’s show feels like some kind of live jukebox. ‘We are Family’, ‘Material Girl, ‘Notorious’, ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight)’/’Soup for One’ and ‘Le Freak’. An embarrassment of riches.
Rodgers mentions his cancer diagnosis before telling us triumphantly that he “feels lucky because he's 100% cancer free”. The band then plays an emotional ‘Get Lucky’. The undeniable power of music, everyone in the audience caught up in the euphoria. Everyone dancing their socks off.
Like any good festival headliner Chic know how to bring people together. Drummer Ralph Rolle leads some audience participation during a mind-blowing ‘Let’s Dance’ while ‘Good Times’ seems to sum up the whole Chic philosophy. The set ends with Rodgers and the entire audience repeatedly chanting, “Chic! Chic! Chic!”
A great start to Kendal Calling 2019, I could get used to this camping lark. Now, let’s see what tomorrow brings…