KENDAL CALLINGLowther Deer Park, Cumbria 30/7/17
After pitching my tent with a Girl Guide’s ease, I navigate the muddy mission through KENDAL CALLING’s mud-caked campsites to the main arena. A week’s worth of Cumbrian rain has spawned the kind of mud that grabs your Docs by the ankles, sucks you in and makes you wonder whether you’ll have to hop for the rest of the weekend, all one-boot Betty. It’s only a little dampener on the festival spirits, though; entering the arena I’m greeted by nomadic festivalgoers who look as though their last wash predates Stonehenge, mingling with fresh-faced grads, fresher-faced children and wrinkled, smiling-eyed grandparents. All set to a sonic background of an always beautiful, sometimes indecipherable blend of Northern accents. Festival bliss.
We catch up with BLOSSOMS, who tell us they “always get mistaken for a Liverpool band” despite hailing from Manchester, and are looking forward to their Friday evening slot at Tim Peaks Diner: “It’ll be nice to play to the smell of ground coffee instead of the smell of piss like other festivals.” Nice. The diner run by Manc legend and Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess is packed to the brim with stragglers watching through windows trying to get a glimpse of the five-piece as they open with Cut Me And I’ll Bleed, all infectious chorus and dreamy synth. Their set is a whirlwind of swirling psychedelic guitars and sneering vocals which wraps up fifteen minutes before time with Blow. Full of tightly packed bodies swaying and singing along, by the end of the searing guitar solo the wood-panelled diner resembles a sauna more than anything else. Sweaty? Yes. Brilliant? Definitely.
Next we trudge to watch JOHN McCULLAGH AND THE ESCORTS play the House Party Stage – yep you guessed it, a tent decked out B&Q style with all your favourite home comforts. New York City has enough mouth organ, cynicism and romance to carry you through the muddy fields, while She’s Calling Me seems a crowd favourite for the teenage troubadour and his band, carried by hard-hitting guitars and desolate vocals. A great warm-up for Friday night headliners THE VACCINES, who race through their hits before we part ways to catch some funk, warm our souls and dance the night away at the Chai Wallah tent.
Saturday dawns and it’s cracking the flags, so we take a wander through the Garden Of Eden – where installations mimic the sounds of birdsong and woodland creatures, a giant birdcage looms, and a mechanical white deer is led through the punters. Liverpool four-piece SUGARMEN disrupt the peaceful and surrealistic nature of Eden to bring us back to reality with a power-charged set at the Jack Rocks the Woodlands stage. A high-octane cover of Lou Reed’s Hangin’ Round draws in passers-by with dynamic delivery and staggering stage presence, while angst-fuelled Time and This is My Life And It’s Alright keep the momentum pounding with heavy drums, biting lyrics and electrifying guitar solos.
We hang around to watch Lake District-locals BRITISH SEA POWER take the headline slot on the woodlands-inspired stage, which sports Jack Daniels bottles as kitsch chandeliers. The bright stage lights and littered lanterns against the darkness of a cool Cumbrian night make for the most picturesque setting for the band to open with largely instrumental track From The Sea To The Land Beyond, a beautiful, anthemic orchestral piece which resonates through the woodlands. Hot chocolates kindly topped up with a dash of Jack on the house, we’re ready for crowd-pleaser Waving Flags, which receives the full sing-a-long treatment before guitarist Martin Noble leaps into the crowd, carried aloft by a melange of fancy dressed-revellers from Scooby Doo to go-go girls and everything in between.
On Sunday, Liverpool electronic duo D R O H N E draw dishevelled revellers to the Tim Peaks Diner, with NATALIE McCOOL supplying mesmerisingly haunting vocals. Over on the main stage, SNOOP DOGG opens with The Next Episode and delivers a self-important set: all the audience participation revolves around singing his name or getting the “ladies” to sing I Wanna Fuck You back to him. No, ta mate. I wanna fuck your heteronormative misogynist bullshit. Still, he’s a crowd-pleaser, churning out hit after hit of his own making, interspersed with a medley of hip hop classics every West Coast-wannabe can rap along to; Hypnotise and Jump Around get the best reception before he finishes up with Bob Marley’s Jammin’.
ALL WE ARE have to compete for punters with Sunday-night headliners KAISER CHIEFS, but their mellowed-out melancholic grooves with a pinch of psychedelia bring plenty of revellers with refined taste to the Jägermeister, hunting cabin-style bar. Last up, we hit the Glow Tent to catch GROOVE ARMADA play out the festival to a kaleidoscopic balloon drop as fireworks explode outside to celebrate Kendal Calling’s tenth birthday. Here’s to many happy returns.