Kendal Calling 2

It’s Christmas. It Must Be Time For A Kendal Calling Review.

Bloody hell, it’s almost December. I’ve got a ton of stuff to do. Things to buy. Meals to plan. I’m pondering what the weather’s going to be like. I’m trying to work out how much booze I’ll need to last me through. I’m wondering whether I’ll see the same old faces – people that I haven’t bumped into for a whole year. I feel like I’m 10 years old all over again. I think the excitement’s going to kill me.

“Christmas?” you ask.

Nah, sod that. I’m talking about next summer’s festival season. Not sure whether it’s the baltic weather we’re having right now, or the fact that it’s going to get worse before it even begins to get better, but now that it’s almost December my mind is definitely on what I’m doing next summer.

Even more so this year because The Northern Line’s own favourite festival has just picked up the Best Small Festival Award from http://uk.festivalawards.com. And we can confirm that it was definitely the right decision because, contrary to popular belief, I actually was at this year’s festival from the 29th to the 31st of July. And you know what… I damned well intend to be at next year’s, too.

Having not been to Kendal Calling before, I wasn’t sure what to expect in 2010. I’ve covered Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading, T in the Park, some largish European fests, a ton of small one-day fests, and unfortunately, V Festival. But nothing the size of Kendal Calling.

Smaller festival = a lot less hassle

Pre-gig, I’d read a quote from Futureheads’ frontman Barry Hyde, who said “sometimes the bigger [festivals] are harder to love because the idiot verses decent person ratio seems to increase with big ones”. Yeah, I completely agree with that view, and with just 8,000 Kendal tickets up for grabs, I expected that idiot to decent person ratio to be pretty low. I also expected the whole festival hassle factor (y’know, directions, parking, getting through security, finding a camping spot, etc, etc) to be fairly low, too.

I wasn’t disappointed. From pulling into the (well signposted) site, I was fully tented up with a cold one in my hand within 30 minutes. Granted, I arrived a little later than most people on Saturday afternoon so I probably avoided the worst of the crowds. But still, top marks. Well done Kendal.

It’s all about going wild

The festival takes place in a 1,000 year old Deer Park, and I have to say that ‘stunning’ doesn’t even begin to describe the setting. For the other 360 days of the year, it’s home to a herd of deer who were originally a present from the King but for this one long weekend, this little pocket of gorgeous English countryside was a very different kind of wild.

The arena itself has been carefully chosen to provide a natural amphitheatre, with the main stage at the bottom of the hill and plenty of space around to stand or sit without compromising your view. The smaller stages and a good selection of your typical festival food stalls were dotted around the perimeter of the site, and you could literally walk from one end to the other in minutes, rather than the hours you can expect at somewhere like Glasto.

It all meant that the arena had a friendly feel and a chilled family atmosphere, reinforced by the fact there were actually quite a few families dotted around. It was safe enough to let kids run around by themselves and small enough not to lose them once they’re off. Which makes it the ideal festival to take the kids to if you’re feeling guilty about not hauling them to Glasto when they really want to go. Er… just like I am, in fact.

Unfortunately, my plans meant I couldn’t make Friday night so the weekend kicked off for me shortly after midday on Saturday with the New York Tourists on the Main Stage. Oddly, the whole arena stayed fairly quiet until some of the bigger bands came on, but I suspect that was down to the high price of a pint inside the gates, which likely meant most people stayed longer in the campsites with a slab of cooking lager from the supermarket. That’s something for the organisers to address for next year maybe, as the smaller bands in earlier slots don’t deserve to lose their potential audience to cheap beer.

I also discovered that Saturday is traditionally fancy dress day at Kendal Calling – a point that only really became clear after a life size PacMan, a full squad of PacMan ghosts, and Homer and Marge Simpson nearly knocked me flat on my arse as they ran past. But what really made the festival for me were the bands on the main stage.

Saturday evening brought OK Go and a spectacular tickertape canon, The Futureheads and a set stuffed with ‘everyone-knows-the-words-and-we’ll-sing-em-as-loud-as-we-can’ type of tracks, the Wild Beasts with a sound that should definitely have won this year’s Mercury Music Prize, and finally Doves with their dependable and ultra-anthemic back catalogue.

Once again, Sunday stayed quiet until late afternoon but it didn’t bother Birds vs Planes or Erland & the Carnival, who played to a depleted yet still appreciative audience. Things busied up when Kid British then The King Blues took the stage, leading up to the highlight of my weekend – a mainly acoustic set from Badly Drawn Boy. In between tracks from his best selling albums, he invited his 9 year old daughter on stage to sing and play piano with him and you came away with the feeling that this was a gig that really meant something to him.

The rest of Sunday evening was spent driving back over the Pennines to other commitments, which meant I missed a screamingly good set by The Subways, a lacklustre (by all accounts) performance by one of my all time favourite bands, British Sea Power, and finally a storming festival closer by perennial scousers, The Coral.

Would I go back? Do deer #*&% in the woods?

Despite being such a small festival, I came away with that feeling that’s familiar to anyone who’s ever been to Glastonbury – tired, chilled, happy, content, privileged to have been there, and under no illusions that I saw everything I wanted to, especially since 2010 introduced features like Glasto’s own naturally powered Croissant Neuf tent, an excellent new family campsite, some super high profile promoters for the dance tent, and a ton of other stuff I’d have like to explore. Add to that the fact that there wasn’t time to see upcoming acts like These New Puritans, Dananananakroyd and Orphan Boy in some of the smaller tents, plus quality standup and spoken word acts like Howard Marks on the Soapbox stage, and you can rest assured that next year I’ll be setting aside a little more than the 2 days I gave Kendal Calling in 2010.

In fact, it’s only November and I’m planning for it already.

Check out http://www.kendalcalling.co.uk/ for more info and news of next year’s festival. We’d like to congratulate the organisers at Kendal Calling for their Best Small Festival Award, and also Holly and Anna at De Sylva PR for their hospitality (and patience, given how late my review is!)

By Barry Bell on November 22, 2010


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