At first gaze, the mostly lad rock and 90’s bands line up poster was not an inspiring sight and had me having some second thoughts about attending Kendal for the 5th time in a row. However, when you looked a little closer to the undercard on the Calling Out and House Party stages there was an abundance of musical talent bursting forth to outshine the main acts several times over. Ultimately that’s why I go to festivals – it’s the discovery of some new artists you know nothing about, and its they that end up being on your favourite Spotify playlist for the next 12 months.
Kendal Calling is, in my view, the finest Northern Music Festival in the UK, it isn’t the biggest, but it has such a friendly vibe running through its muddy veins, and even when the clouds burst open to deliver the annual deluge – it doesn’t stop the party or the smiles on people’s faces. This is the Lake District, we expect to get wet at some point over the weekend.
There have been a few changes this year, a couple of stage swaps which means that the Glow Tent and the late-night dance and DJ crews have their own area where they can be as noisy as they like – a bit like the naughty corner at Glasto. As a result, the 2ndstage ‘Calling Out’ is closer to the main entrance/exit and it acts like a magnet for those keen to explore something different and new, from up and coming bands like Pale Waves, The Amazons or Marmozets.
Elsewhere there is Comedy, a forest to walk through to experience a trippy encounter with floating elephants on stilts, or multicoloured birds chasing you, and the legendary Tim Peaks cafe shop where at some point in the festival someone famous may just ruck up and play an acoustic set, or Tim Burgess from The Charlatans will DJ for you, all for the price of a cup of his finest tea.
So much to explore and the usual fairground attractions and an exclusive area just for the kids – Kendal is very much a family festival, with many regularly returning over its 13 sold out years. It signifies the end of another school year and for the holiday season to start, but also Mum and Dad can wind down too, plenty of Gin, Cocktail and Chai Latte places, plus a few real ale bars scattered around the site for the CAMRA lovers. Catering is plentiful – firm favourites like Ghandi’s Flip Flop for Veg Curry fanatics, Piggy Smalls for some huge hot dogs with all the toppings, and even something slightly bizarre like Scottish street food – Crunchy Peanut Butter Pheasant anyone?
On the Thursday night there is a special additional evening which turned into a classical dance marathon with Hacienda Classical filling the stage with strings, singers and the two original legendary club DJ’s Graeme Park and Mike Pickering.
First though, Gerry Cinnamon was a surprise on the main stage as he packed the area down the front with his acoustic Glasgow folk anthems. Obviously, a few people have made the short journey from Scotland over to Cumbria for the weekend, but Gerry looked genuinely surprised that he had a decent turnout.
Craig Charles brought his Funk and Soul DJ set next and whilst that was fun, Hacienda Classical was just non-stop and at times we didn’t know when one track ended, and another started – Bezpopped out a couple of times to dance around with his maracas and even Peter Hook turned up for some Blue Monday shenanigans. However, it was the girls that took centre stage and in particular Yvonne Shelton belting out Ride on Time a highlight.
Baking hot sun all day on the Friday ensured that the festival opened proper on a huge high, people spending a lot of time in the woods and under the many ancient trees to cool down.
The heat was turned up on stage too as London based Saint Agnes blew any morning cobwebs away with some stirring psychedelic goth tinged rockabilly. Kitty Arabella Austen is a frontwoman with all the looks and attitude – a stirring performance from a band more used to playing dark and dingy clubs around the UK, they looked more than home on a main stage and left with hundreds of new fans.
The Witching Hour is their latest record – I urge you to check it out and their next UK tour in October. First new favourite discovered and then next it was an obscure and much-loved band, but probably still very new to most people at the festival.
Plastic Mermaids fill the stage with instruments and some lazy and transient psychedelia sounds and are backed by 4 female singers dressed in gold tinsel outfits. I spot Rhain immediately, she possesses a voice that could easily place her in any opera ensemble, softly raising the octaves and then shrieking like banshee Bjork whilst bounding around to the bands supreme final track Saturn. Most people probably looked at it and wondered what the hell was that? I’m already loving this festival and it’s only just passed Friday lunchtime.
Time for some rock’n’roll and Judas are on the Calling Out stage followed by the never-ending bounce of Dub Pistols, it’s difficult in the sun to keep this up, so a trip into the woodlands is in order for Leigh massive – The Lottery Winners,which is part comedy act from singer Thom Rylance, and part infectious tunes from the band. Thom isn’t afraid to interrupt a song with “Did you see that massive wasp?” and Elizabeth still remains my favourite song of theirs, even if it is a few years old now.
Similarly, Marsicans keep all smiles on and off stage with more perfect pop rock music – these lads from Leeds are producing some cracking indie tunes and surely it won’t be long before they get on to some bigger stages.
I ran from a slightly depressing set by White Lies to the Calling Out stage and saw the Augustines William McCarthy with an acoustic guitar play to a small gathering, sadly this also didn’t impress as the full band were so much more powerful live. Instead I chose Scarlet in Woodlands to give me the pick me up and their jangly summer indie noise was exactly the tonic, albeit far too brief as I wanted to get back to the main stage for the next band.
Surprisingly James are not the headliners tonight, and despite that they give the arena the first huge singalong weekend moment as a stripped back Sit Down wins the day. Consummate professionals, their set is a classic run through of hits plus a couple of new ones – a POTUS Trump influenced track that has Tim Booth beating a drum like it’s Donald’s head before going into his trance like flailing arms dance move.
Bingley rockers Marmozets have Becca Macintyre who has her own wiggle and strut dance before she leans forward and melts faces with some extremely powerful female vocals. This band played the main stage at Download this year and continue to put on some impressive performances everywhere.
Finally, punters at Kendal had a difficult choice to make tonight, do you watch Catfish and the Bottlemen power their way through a lad rock bright lights festival headline set on the main stage, or, do you go to see the new kid on the block –Tom Grennan whose high energy and soul will get your toes tapping and body swaying.
It’s a tough choice and both areas are equally packed, Tom was surprised at the large attendance for his gig as the spring in his step clearly showed. Barbed Wire and Found What I’ve Been Looking For actually went down better than Plan B’s whole set the following night.
Catfish and the Bottlemen went into overdrive right from the start as Homesick is their opening number, closely followed by Kathleen. Two big tracks from their much-acclaimed debut album Balcony ensured they cemented their new headliner status. Whether they have enough in their welsh dressers to rival a Manics or Stereophonics performance is doubtful, but for now they are enjoying the attention from a big crowd on what was a superb opening day. All we needed was a quiet evening and then the same the next day – However, Mother Nature had other ideas.
At around 3am I’m hearing the screams of “Oh No – My Sleeping Bags soaked now” as the rain was relentless during the night and a few disgruntled punters crept out of their cheap £25 Halfords tents in the morning like drowned rats. Spent most of the morning discussing the pros and cons of hydrostatic heads (weight of tent vs better rain protection) and I was very happy that mine had survived the test. After the summer we have had in 2018 we needed a bit of rain right?
For a change in the weather, we went to check out Emily Capell at the Chai Wallah stage. Two reasons, 1..because it is indoors from the rain and serves great coffee and 2…Emily Capell. If you have not seen her before then get to a show soon, this beehived modette from North London with a huge Gretsch guitar, wearing a mini dress and docs, will have you singing and dancing like no other.
Emily entertains, and asks the crowd if they have had a poo yet, or if they like her fake tanned legs. Her backing band that she called the Kardashians wore Chitty Chitty Bang Bang jackets and kept the rockabilly beat tight as she sang songs about footballer Joey Barton, Kurt Cobain and Kanye West. Ending her set with the effervescent earworm Bonanza she managed to keep us both dry and very warm inside – a much needed ray of sunshine.
Elsewhere on the main stage a Doncaster band called The Blinders were causing a riot for the few hundred or so dedicated fans at the front bouncing around in the mud. A much-hyped band as everyone seems to be claiming them as their must watch live. This is the first time they have played a main stage at a key festival and they were clearly meant to be there. Lead singer and guitarist Thomas Haywood seems to stare into your soul with his eyes blackened by dark facepaint. Suited bass player Charlie McGough stands at the front of stage looking out at the faithful and drummer Matt Neale breaks into a maniacal stare too. Even though they are several feet away, it feels completely in your face, very dark and brooding punky political stuff – and the rain actually helped set the scene.
Soothing the savage beast were 3 ladies with a harp and some gorgeous harmonies, Paradisia at the Calling Out stagewere a gentle lull before another new noise entered my ears as I had decided to grab some food. Psyence had played a couple of tracks that sounded great outside while I was eating my chips, and rarely do my musical senses fail me, having ventured in to the House Party stage, I saw a bunch of hardworking lads, no theatrics, facepaint or running around the stage – just bloody good trad driving psychedelic rock music, and another new name to add to my ever-expanding list. Check this video out of their performance.
On the same stage Trampolene followed and this 3-piece from Swansea pack a punch with songs like Ketamin, Jack Jones lead singer and poet is also Pete Doherty’s guitarist in his solo backing band and they have a very raw feel but not as dishevelled as the Libertines.
Already the undercard at Kendal is proving mightier than the main stage and next it’s a young band from Halifax who play the best jingly jangly guitar pop you will ever hear, plus some additional cowbell and a whistle.
This is the 3rdtime I have seen The Orielles this year, but they just get stronger with every performance, and this afternoon there was a fantastic turnout in the Calling Out stage – presumably most people wanted an alternative to watching rapper Bugsy Malone in the rain. If they had stayed longer for the next band Yonaka they would have witnessed a feverish set from the first of the Brighton bands this evening.
Theresa Jarvis covering the stage with some funky dance moves whilst guitarist George Edwards gurns for all his might. It is a fine set and will be worthy of a main stage slot in the near future.
Meanwhile the rain starts seriously lashing it down as the Fun Loving Criminals work their cool magic – Scooby Snacks, FLCand Loco are all greeted like old friends so by the end of their show the sun has to shine.
The weather was also the main concern for Shed 7– but in a good way, as a gorgeous rainbow was spotted by Rick Witter on stage, however it was a bit too early in the set for Chasing Rainbows, so they turned it into a mass singalong for Going for Gold instead – Rick getting himself into the audience to let them have a go at Karaoke 90’s style. Looking incredibly lean and sounding better than ever, this band shone above all others today, and should really have been promoted to headliners after Run DMC err…ran away.
Instead for a headliner we get the bizarre conundrum that is Plan B, is it Motown, Hip Hop, Jazz or Reggae? I’m not sure, it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea, and instead I plumped for Black Honey on the Calling Out stage.
The second Brighton band to go down well in the Cumbrian hills, Izzy Baxter is wearing the brightest outfit of the day – she’s dressed in silver, baby blue/grey and pink, and a pair of heart shaped shades. Described as a bit of a slow burner, they have been around a few years now, indie shoegazing goes down well on a Saturday night and they are very cool to watch. Recent single Midnight is a stomping tune and a highlight.
Good strong bands with a female influence have been winning the prizes on this stage but on Sunday this was to go completely off the Richter scale. Sunday was the wettest morning of the weekend, and several families had already decided to have an early bath and pack up their tents for a sharp exit after the Lancashire Hotpots had delivered their regular Kendal morning pantomime slot.
This was a crying shame because Hull’s finest new band Life were on afterwards and only the faithful were prepared to venture out from under the trees, but they were rewarded with a full-on performance of In Your Hands and other caustic punk tunes of theirs. Like the Blinders the previous day this was a stunning show from a band that are normally playing in smaller clubs around the UK – great to see that this energy can transfer to a main stage.
After the well-oiled machine that is Peter Hook & The Light had played through a Joy Divisionand early New Order back catalogue, I saw my surprise act of the weekend – Nelson Can.
I’ll admit I was there largely by accident and was curiously watching the stage being set up for just bass and drums. Half expecting a Royal Blood wannabe tribute, instead 3 girls dressed all in white appear, lead singer Selina Gin looks like she has just been knocked out of Wimbledon – as she is bouncing around the stage in her tennis skirt. Bass player Signe goes from some funky licks to moody sliding notes and short haired drummer Maria holds the chaos together.
Turns out they are Danish and whilst they start with a handful of people watching, by the end of their set it is full and we are screaming for more, Selina even gets into the small crowd early on to stoke up the fire a bit and it works. Miracle is aptly named and if Siouxsie Soux sang with New Order it might sound a bit like Nelson Can. Brilliant! – watch out for them.
After that unexpected treat, I stayed at this stage for the rest of the afternoon because let’s face it – who really wants to watch The Sherlocks and then The Wailers in the rain, here the strong female presence continued as Bang Bang Romeo blew the top off the tent. Anastasia Walker has such a big voice that stops you in your tracks, she dominates the stage and her facial expressions are something to behold, even when she has a setlist stuck to her boots that she can’t shake off.
Anteros are up next, and if you ever wanted to see Blondie in their heyday – just go watch Anteros. Laura Hayden plays a younger and sexier Debbie Harry, pulling all the right poses, curling the lip, shaking her hair and being the ultimate cool chic rocker that she was always meant to be. I’ve watched them quite a few times in the last 2 years and it has never been less than 100%, Laura today decides to jump in the crowd for one number which prompted the biggest iPhone video moment.
Following that we have the all-female band Pins from Manchester and whilst singer Faith Vern remains the ultimate calming influence wearing dark shades and holding her tambourine like it’s a bloody dagger, guitarist Lois McDonald didn’t get the memo about being mysterious and spends her time hopping around her side of the stage dressed in white. Their sound is a curious mix of garage indie rock with some NYC influences, they can get Lou Reed serious, but then complete a set with a rousing Waiting for the End.
Findlay followed them and whilst it started a bit slow, that Jean Genie or Blockbuster riff in Your Sister means it is still their darkest and dirtiest tune and well worth waiting for.
Those glitter goths Pale Waves completed the relentless proof that female fronted bands are in a good place right now, they were the more experimental, expressive and gave everything in the performance – I fully expect this to transfer over to main stage in the next 2 years. So much talk in the last 18months about festival line ups being male dominated, well Kendal just bucked that trend on the Calling Out stage today with six fantastic examples.
Having said all that, I end my festival of 2018 with the all-male Amazons and The Libertines who both put on a superb show.
Amazons had so much energy from the off, a great traditional rock’n’roll band, and then it was great to see Pete Doherty looking healthy all suited up. Last time I saw him it looked like he had been sleeping in a hedgerow, or maybe a muddy leaking Halfords tent for a week.
Today he is looking very clean and smart – didn’t last too long as the sweat from the performance meant shirt, tie and jacket had to come off. Their trademark Pete and Carl at the same mic stance was a constant, even during Can’t Stand Me Now – so there appears to be no in-fighting anymore, expect more festival appearances coming. The fireworks rained down at the end of Don’t Look Back Into the Sun bringing this all to a close.
Kendal Calling 2018 has again been a triumph for the planners and organisers, and for those that looked underneath the main line-up, they were rewarded with a variety of electric performances from some up and coming bands (mostly female) alongside several superb main stage live shows from Shed Seven, James, and The Libertines.
We left the fields with big smiles, aching feet and a lot of memories – For those of you that have read all of this review – here’s a reward. Early bird cheap tickets for 2019 are available for a limited time from this link (starting Friday 3rdAugust), so get in quick and maybe I’ll see you in the fields next year!
All Words and Photos by John Hayhurst