Kendal Calling review – indie singalongs in a merry Cumbrian mudbath

Lowther Deer Park, Cumbria
In a part of the UK not best served for live music, the Libertines served up a double whammy and northern frontwomen showed the blokes on the main stage how it’s done

Set in spectacular countryside, Kendal Calling is one of the UK’s most picturesque festivals. The ancient, illuminated trees bear signs reading: “We are very old. Please do not climb us.” The 13-year-old, four-day event is more family-oriented than most, and children could play on the fairground or illumaphonium (giant woodland xylophone) or simply gawp at the caged fire jugglers or carnival of percussionists and dancers dressed as giant butterflies or aliens.

Musically, what initially appeared a rather meat-and-potatoes lineup was actually a rather canny pitch to teenagers and their parents, and an eclectic balance of mass and niche. Safe-but-solid festival staples (Hacienda Classical, the Wailers, Fun Lovin’ Criminals) and newer grime acts (Bugzy Malone) were among acts otherwise weighted towards the north’s enduring affection for anthemic indie rock. The Sherlocks and Friday headliners Catfish and the Bottlemen pulled the teenage hordes, while veterans James and Shed Seven appealed to all ages and produced the weekend’s biggest sing-alongs, with Sit Down and Chasing Rainbows respectively.

The former’s lead singer Tim Booth said he had warmed up for their appearance by showering in a Yorkshire waterfall.Getting the most out of this festival’s 11 stages meant exploring, and venturing off piste led to gems such as Scousers Peach Fuzz or the London Astrobeat Orchestra, playing Africanised Talking Heads classics in the woods. Tim Burgess’s superbly-curated Tim Peaks diner stage was a festival in itself, the menu ranging from Creation classics BMX Bandits to Rebus creator Ian Rankin’s new band Best Picture, as the jokily-introduced “multi-million selling crime novelist and now rock star” brought wordsmithery to guitar pop.

Other newer acts doing well included Doncaster’s Blinders, a politicised Birthday Party/Cramps, Costcutter worker turned anthemic Top 5 star Tom Grennan, and “indie electro doom pop” outfit Slow Readers Club. Lady Leshurr and Hollie Cook featured on the main stage, and women – especially northern women – were refreshingly well-represented elsewhere. Becca McIntyre rocked hard with Bingley’s Marmozets. Two-thirds female “sound of young Halifax” trio the Orielles’ dreamy, psychedelic-tinged jangle pop delivered one of the weekend’s best performances – and there were similarly appreciative crowds for Manchester’s goth-looking, pop-sounding Pale Waves and glamorous Izzy Baxter’s Black Honey, a big, shimmering, sequin-wearing Abba/Blondie pop extravaganza.

Rap legends Run DMC’s late withdrawal was a blow, and Saturday headline replacement Plan B didn’t quite have the same wow factor. His performance mirrored his career: the crowd loved the retro soul Strickland Banks-era hits and listened to Ill Manors’ rap intently, but the reggae-tinged new stuff seemed a new direction too far for some. By Sunday, the site had become a mud bath but Peter Hook and the Light’s Joy Division and New Order classics brought the sun out, before an evening double whammy from the Libertines. Their storming secret teatime set in the tiny Tim Peaks diner proved a teaser for an incendiary main stage closing headline of passionate, primal, pub sing-along-meets-punk rock’n’roll. Carl Barât and Pete Doherty affectionately sparred like Corrie’s Jack and Vera Duckworth; microphone stands and drinks hurtled over. Kendal Calling brought fireworks to a beautiful part of the country that isn’t always best served by live music.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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