- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
People go to festivals for a number of reasons. Some, as a good friend of mine so eloquently put it, just want to “eat chips and fall over” while others are there to take in as much music as humanly possible. Now, I enjoy chips as much as the next man (I’m not a monster) but I definitely fall into the latter category. Luckily for me, there’s plenty of music to get stuck into at Kendal Calling.
I can hear a brass band in the distance as I make my way through the mud and head straight for the Yam Riot stage. Introduced last year, the stage acts as a local showcase for Cumbrian acts. I strike gold with my first visit and catch a set by Celestial North. The band channelling a wonderfully poetic and dreamy, post-rock influenced indie with the likes of ‘Olympic Skies’.
I head over to the main stage for Kendal-based folk singer Paddy Rogan. A genuinely astonishing local talent, it’s difficult to see how he’ll stay a secret for much longer. There’s a musical kinship with the likes of John Martyn yet Rogan is an authentic and original songwriter. A skilled interpreter too, Rogan treats us to a beautiful rendition of Irish folk tune ‘The Rose of Aranmore’.
The chilled vibes continue over at the Chai Wallah stage with a set from certified YouTube sensation, Brushy One String. As the name would suggest Andrew Chin plays the guitar using just one solitary string. What could so easily be a gimmick turns out to be a soulful, feel-good set of reggae and blues.
I head up to the Woodland’s stage for some hair-swinging, hip-swivelling rock from Reading’s Valeras. “For this next one” begins magnetic vocalist/ bassist Rose Yagmur “I want to pretend it’s all sunny and we can all have a boogie. Do you like to boogie?” The band’s catchy, passionate rock is certainly worth a boogie.
The rain doesn’t look like stopping but that’s not about to dampen the spirits of Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. It’s a real pleasure to see Tunstall deliver one of the weekends most life-affirming and enjoyable sets over at the main stage.
‘Black Horse and a Cherry Tree’ finds Tunstall blending her song with ‘7 Nation Army’ while her band (“professional dancers”) dress up in horses heads and dance around. A cover of Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ sounds particularly defiant in the pouring rain while a joyfully anthemic ‘Suddenly I See’ wraps things up in celebratory style.
It’s time to take some shelter so I head back to the Yam Riot stage. I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to randomly stumbling across something special and Cumbrian folk collective Sallows aren’t about to buck that trend. Fireside folk conjured with harmonium, banjo, violin and acoustic guitar. It’s a comforting, atmospheric and mystical set that seemed to arrive just at the right time.
Next, I make my way to the ever-reliable Chai Wallah stage and warm my bones with some Kadija Kamara. Fully embracing the 60’s/70’s aesthetic, Kamara leads her band through a set of authentic soul and irrepressible funk. The set’s so well received they play one song twice.
When Kamara’s finished I make sure I leave in good time to get a prime position for Manic Street Preachers at the main stage. I confess, I’m a bit of a Manics fanatic and judging from the turnout at Kendal I’m clearly not the only one.
Down at the front (where else would I be?), I spot a guy with a Clash/ Manics style personalised jacket emblazoned with the words, ‘Tom Jones Culture Slut’. Well, what can you say to that? The Manics have a pretty creative fan base.
They kick things off with ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and it’s absolutely glorious. Songs come from across their discography, from a blistering ‘You Love Us’ to a euphoric ‘International Blue’. “Play one we know” jokes the guy stood next to me after nearly every song. Of course, we know them all.
Everyone has periods they’re more or less familiar with though and I’m genuinely pleased to hear cuts from This is My Truth Tell Me Yours. A cassette I played a lot back in the nineties.
“The world is full of refugees” sings James Dean Bradfield on the melancholic sweep of ‘The Everlasting’ “they’re just like you and just like me”. It’s a simple sentiment but one that seems more relevant now than ever.
There’s one of those unforgettable moments when, in the pouring rain, James serenades us with an acoustic ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’. An unexpected cover of Guns N’ Roses ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ goes down pretty well too.
My waterproof coat has given up by this point and I’m thoroughly soaked. It all seems to add to the experience though. Hands aloft and singing along to ‘Everything Must Go’ in near-Biblical rain. Now I know I’m at a festival.
All that and the night isn’t over yet. I head over to the shelter of the Calling Out stage to catch Bristolian punks, IDLES. Joe Talbot and Co feel pretty pertinent to the world we’re living in right now. Along with Sleaford Mods, they’re providing something of a public service.
They’re a band that very clearly wear their hearts on their sleeve. ‘Mother’ is played as a celebration of feminism while an extremely powerful ‘1049 Gotho’ is dedicated to a friend who committed suicide. Another tune is dedicated to NHS workers. It’s no wonder they’re making such a connection.
“Long live immigration” yells Talbot to huge cheers of approval before launching into an urgent and thoroughly essential ‘Danny Nedelko’. The band sweat out every song like it’s their last with guitarist Mark Bowen down to his underwear and clambering over a sea of hands.
“This song is about how much we despise the racist right-wing press in this country,” says Talbot before a rabid ‘Rottweiler’ “don’t read The Sun, it’ll give you cancer”. There’s a real feeling that we’re all pushing in the same direction; a shared anger and some good old fashioned, communal catharsis.
Any illusions that, after two days in a field, I’ve somehow become the Bear Grylls of indie journalism are shattered when I arrive back at the campsite. My tent hasn’t withstood the rain and all my remaining clothes are absolutely sodden. I sleep in the porch of a friend’s tent on a slightly damp airbed. Thing is, I’m having such a great time it hardly seems to matter. Can’t wait until tomorrow…