Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

A music festival nestled in the Cumbrian hills, sounds idyllic and it certainly is, although you’d struggle to actually see the hills and mountains other than the moment you park your car at the edge of the site. Then there’s that nice trek up a hill armed with all your camping provisions for a 3 day (or 4 for some lucky folks) event of fun, food, drink and most importantly the music. Yes, there was rain and mud this year, but that didn’t dampen the spirits or the impeccable organisation of Kendal Calling, the preparedness for the weather and ensuring a safe environment for all revellers. It is the lake district after all, so expect some fresh mud to cool your first day sunburn.

Gomez

On to the music, and for the early birds basking in glorious sunshine we had Sea Girls whose pleasant pop/rock sounds were going down a treat until the moment when lead singer Henry Camomile announced “how great it is playing first, in the sunshine, and before any mud or rain”. Cue massive crack of lightning and some thunderous rain for the next 30 minutes, which actually forced the band off stage early and the campers out of the arena for safety – let’s face it, the last place you really want to be during a lightning storm is sheltering under a tree with another 50 people. The main stage was shut for a while which meant disappointment all round until The Cuban Brothers brought immediate laughs and sunshine back. If there was ever a party band perfectly placed in the schedule it was their shortened 30 mins set which turned everything around. Equal parts Comedy, Cheesy DJ sounds, flamboyant dancing and embarrassing striptease – but 100% fun, it brought the party atmosphere back to Kendal and everyone forgot about the rain (for 12 hours at least).

SeaGirls

SeaGirls-2

Cuban Brothers-3

Cuban Brothers

Cuban Brothers-2

Thursday is pretty much a taster of things to come, with only the main stage and a chilled-out cocktail/coffee bar and tent called Chai Wallahs properly open. The line up on the main stage though was enough to justify the extra £ for the Thursday ticket and the anticipation of the return of Gomez playing their 2nd album Liquid Skin in full kept me rooted to the spot. I love this album and hearing tracks like Rhythm & Blues Alibi and the immense Devil Will Ride was enough to match a stunning sunset behind the stage.

The majority of the crowd near the front though were probably too young to appreciate quality musicianship being played out before their eyes and ears. This is the dilemma of festivals in the UK, to try and cater for all ages, you will have some clashes in the line-up and following a student party band like Cuban Brothers with Gomez is probably not the best idea. Plenty of 16-18-year olds looking perplexed when Gomez don’t supply enough bounce for their circle mosh pits. With nowhere else for them to go on Thursday apart from back to their tents for more Strongbow Dark Fruits, the reception for the band isn’t really as it should have been until Whippin’ Piccadilly kicks in towards the end.

atmos-11

atmos-10

Headliners tonight though are Orbital and that’s a different proposition, even without knowing any of their tunes the relentless dance beats are finally in tune with everyone here, young or old you can’t beat a good boogie to some techno combined with sparkling lights and huge video screen set up. Brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll appear to be having the time of their lives up there, although we can only see silhouettes and their glasses lights moving and shaking to the beat. Images of the Royal Family, Brexit Buses juxtaposed with dark homelessness and war, and then adding a Professor Brian Cox narration ensures the messages are not disappearing into the ether while the Cumbrian hills are shaking.

Orbital

A great start but there is so much more to see at Kendal, the woodlands area is a highlight and comes alive at night, a place where anything can happen as you walk through a magical world. Great for the kids who get to stay up late to experience it all. Late nights are buzzing with the Glow Tent playing all the latest DJ sets, a silent disco which is always oversubscribed and plenty of other performances after the main stage has finished. That’s without even touching the jam sessions, comedy soapbox tent, poetry and spoken word, and the interactive discussions and secret sets at the Tim Peaks diner (anyone for a secret Nile Rodgers appearance?).

Friday was mainly a sunny/cloudy affair and with a packed agenda planned I set off to see some new stuff – first up Arkells on the main stage and it’s surprisingly enjoyable, this quintet from Canada know how to fire up a sparse crowd and a few fans were singing along to Leather Jacket plus other belting songs.

atmos

At 2pm I have a problem as there are 4 artists I want to catch – Emily Capell is doing her modette and Gretch guitar singalong (without her band this time), so I catch 2 songs but wanted to stay for more. Bolton’s finest Our Fold are across at the House Party Stage and kick off a rocking set with singer /guitarist Damien Riley sporting a dodgy denim shorts and shoes combo – that didn’t affect the music though and this band should really be on a bigger stage than this after 9 years of slogging around the circuit.

Emily Capell

OurFold-2

OurFold

Also, at 2pm we have Pearl Harts on the Calling Out stage and another rocking set from this female 2 piece – Kirsty Lowery is a force to be reckoned with, in leopard print ripped leggings she is everywhere on this stage as I caught the tail end of their set. Just managing finally to get to see The Big Moon play Cupid on the main stage. That was a marathon hour, which made me think I should calm it down a bit, and check out the food stalls – A pie was in order and the Pieminister stall supplied the best fill you up grub of the weekend – so much so I went back nearly every day! Food was the perfect distraction from the, quite frankly, extremely boring, Badly Drawn Boy.

atmos-3

Badly Drawn Boy

atmos-2

Being boring isn’t the description associated with Matt Bowman and as The Pigeon Detectives took to the stage we had water thrown over us, a splits kick and enough energy to power the whole festival just from 1 person. Like a Duracell bunny he kept going through all their hits playing I Found Out within the first 3 songs. The Leeds band were a much needed shot in the arm for the day and it didn’t stop there with more Yorkshire grit on the main stage supplied by Reverend & The Makers, “Banger after Banger” is the Rev’s catchphrase but he offers the quote of the day when he comes across a bloke not joining in with the bouncing or clapping – “Unfold your arms you miserable twat”. Impossible not to laugh and join in with their infectious dance stompathon – Bassline, The State of Things and Open Your Window kicked off the party and it didn’t really lose momentum until they went off stage to Silence is Talking.

rev-2

rev

Miles Kane also came out fighting wearing some glam festival make up and sporting facial expressions not unlike Liam Gallagher, however, his energy levels are much higher than the Mancunians and he was seen flying around the stage and playing some great guitar. Like a glam rock Bolan reconstructed as a 21st Century Boy he powered through Inhaler at the deer park. With so much to see around the place I took a trip into the Woodlands where there was an immersive theatre experience staged around the RedStars movement who had taken over the park to protect people from the watching eyes of the futuristic government. All I wanted to do was to get to the Woodlands stage to see The Lottery Winners but I found myself having to solve some riddles along the way, which made me late for the start. Elizabeth was playing when I arrived, but Thom Rylance has a knack of getting everyone involved in their set, he could potentially be doing stand-up in the Soapbox tent with his new tales of Tom Jones“my new best mate”. I stayed here for a while as the punky Calva Louise drew a reasonable crowd as well, their album Rhinoceros is one of my favourites of 2019 and Outrageous and Getting Closer sounded superb on this stage in the woods. Hands Off Gretel proved to be the pinnacle of punky grunge later here as they played the best of their stunning 2nd album I Want the World. This stage always has a surprise or two and it is well worth spending a bit of time to see something a little different from the norm on the main stages. Full credit to Off Axis and Pirate Studios who curated the line-up.

miles Kane-2

lottery winners

hog-2

hog

I have loved The Joy Formidable for years, and it was great to see that they had landed a reasonable slot on the 2nd stage (Calling Out Stage), I’ve never seen Ritzy Bryan look so animated, it was like she had this permanent expression of surprise on her face as she ran between each side of the stage. No surprise that it was busy in the tent for them and Cradle still sounds as fresh now as it did in 2008.

joyformid

Phew, what a day, and there were still the last 2 acts on the main stage to go. Years and Years were a main draw for the kids and this was a mighty polished performance from Olly and the gang. Potential headliners in …”Years” to come – I would expect. Olly has this infectious smile and way that you can’t help but really like the guy, the music might not be my normal fodder but I can’t deny that there are bags of natural stage presence with him and several little girls on their dads shoulders loved him, singing every word.

Years&Years-4

Years&Years-5

The headliner on Friday was the legend that is Nile Rodgers & Chic, having seen this performance about 3 times over the last couple of years, I knew exactly what to expect, from Everybody Dance through to the finale of Good Times/Rappers Delight this is a party, you cannot keep your feet from dancing and the sheer breadth of this man’s work is immense – Chic, Bowie, Madonna, Diana Ross, Duran Duran and even Daft Punk all owe a debt to Nile Rodgers and that signature guitar sound. He’s a talker though and not shy from letting everyone know all about his associations of the past, but we’ll give him that platform as long as he keeps playing these festivals. A little rain didn’t stop the party and anyone that thought “I only know Le Freak” be prepared to be shocked to find out that you actually know about 14 of the 16 tracks they played tonight. What a day, jam packed with enough talent to warrant a whole weekend, had to escape to Chai Wallahs for some late night Whiskey Coffee’s before hitting the airbed for the night.

chic-2

Chic

Sadly, Saturday was a wash out – weather wise. Constant rain all day turned the site into a quagmire, the mud was pretty horrendous in certain parts of the park and several thousand people churned this up into a real sloppy mess. However, we are true hardcore Kendal Callers and today we will start….at the Calling Out Stage because it’s dry and undercover, but really it’s because Liverpool’s Red Rum Club are there with their catchable brassy rock sound and they had a huge audience to play in front of (all trying to stay dry). They have a Killers like frontman and with the added brass, a soul vibe but mixed with a bloody western soundtrack, this is great stuff and feels fresher than it should – catch their tour in October! The Calling Out tent is ideally positioned being next to a real ale bar and close to a Lamb BBQ stall which keeps bringing out samples of their food (all very tasty) and all undercover. Gerry Cinnamon is on across on the wet main stage but as he doesn’t want to be photographed, I’ll give him a wide berth till his ego subsides a little. Wasn’t a problem last year at Kendal when he played the opening Thursday? Meanwhile, Easy Life have tried to put some cool laid back jazzy sounds and beats across the tent, it would have worked better in the sunshine, but I’ll happily take a dry Sunday to a wet Saturday – (see what I did there – !!)

Gerry Cinnamon

easy life

Also, coming up is one of my favourite discoveries from last year – Zuzu, she sings in her natural scouse accent mainly about spaceships & aliens but Dark Blue, Beauty Queen and How it Feels are among the best tracks you will hear all weekend. Liverpool are owning this stage today!

Zuzu

I briefly step out to catch Nina Nesbitt sporting a Manchester hat and trying her best to get the crowd going, it’s a really difficult gig in the rain and a sparse audience – The Subways fair better, and for a band that seemed to have disappeared for a while, it was great to see they had returned with some bite. Rock’n’Roll Queen still gets the audience jumping in the mud and even Billy Lunn jumped in for some crowd surfing – ending up covered in the brown stuff, but it was their last song.

Nina Nesbitt

atmos-12

KT Tunstall came on stage with a massive smile and you can’t help but love her attitude, all the hits – Other Side of the world, Suddenly I see and the best bit a mash up of Black Horse & The Cherry Tree with Seven Nation Army on the kazoo. Yes, you probably had to be there, and boy was it raining! It is the 3rd time I’ve seen her this year but she never fails in delivering a good set.

KT Tunstall

Soaked through I head back to Calling Out for Dream Wife – now here is a band born out of an art project with a combination of Icelandic and British female members – It’s like a blonde Bjork fronting the Go Go’s. Visually stunning, colourful and brash cartoon punk pop, exactly what’s needed today, some sunshine and Rakel Mjoll is full of it, with her sidekick Alice Go producing some great shapes being heavily backlit in bright yellow. I end up watching the whole set, Let’s Make Out and Somebody personal highlights.

Dream Wife

Dream Wife-2

I’d decided to stay there but on a trip to the nearest loo couldn’t help but hear the roar as Manic Street Preachers took to the main stage with Motorcycle Emptiness. Strangely billed below Doves tonight, particularly as they had headlined Kendal only 2 years ago and of course they will be playing Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head tonight. The rain wasn’t subsiding though so back into Calling Out for Slowthai eagerly awaited performance, and it was rammed in there. Having just been nominated for a Mercury Prize – Slowthai started in a fully zipped up hoodie and T-shirt but by song 3 he was stripped to the waist. Spitting out his lyrics with venom he jumps on to the sub speakers at the front and nearly into the audience. Glancing to the side of the stage I can see Idles watching, they are up next and probably wondering how they can top this show of fire and energy. There’s a certain amount of mutual respect when the rapper asks, “show your appreciation of Idlesand later he would reciprocate the support by watching the band and coming on for the end of their last song.

doves

slowthai

Idles are the band at the top of my list for today, and probably the weekend. Having seen their opening night of the last UK tour in Sheffield, then the mesmerising performance on the Park Stage at Glastonbury I’m pumped up and can’t wait. They actually appear early on stage to soundcheck their instruments and vocalist Joe Talbot openly says “This is our 4th gig in 2 days and we’re knackered, that was until we saw Slowthai and we want to thank him for giving us the energy tonight, always be yourself, unless you’re Slowthai, then always be Slowthai” and BOOM! We are off Heel/Heal, Never Fight a Man With a Perm and Mother are tossed out like old rags, Mark Bowman is in his pants already and Lee Kiernan has gone into the audience once. The heat rises and the rain on everyone’s backs rises in a cloud of steam that hovers over the audience. Danny Nedelko is up and we have our first set of crowd surfers, this has already been the set of the day and I can’t imagine anyone topping it. So much angst, expression and force from this band that are finally getting the serious recognition they deserve. Samaritans and Rottweiler close the set but not before Slowthai comes back on stage with a guitar and a bottle of champagne to basically thrash out something unrecognisable and watch Mark Bowman climb into the audience and then balance his guitar on his head. Poetry set to a punky angry tune, where anything goes – I love it!!

idles-2

idles

That’s the end of Saturday and as I cross the main stage Doves are still playing to a half-filled area, the rain is still pouring but the hardcore fans are still smiling.

Waking up to sunshine was a strange feeling, and as many people appeared to be packing up their tents to leave, I check today’s line-up and see that the Lancashire Hotpots are on stage in half an hour. It’s a tradition – you have to see the Hotpots on a Sunday morning no matter how wet it is. Can’t miss the sight of several thousand people conga dancing in the mud and singing along to Shopmobility Scooter. From Idles to the Lancashire Hotpots that’s a pretty wide spectrum of entertainment, but that in essence is the beauty of Kendal, family friendly fun in the Lake District. A mini Glastonbury in the North which feels safe and has everything you would need at a festival. They even had a dinosaur on stage with the m this year to join in with the theme and the actions, although it had very small hands for that.

hotpots-2

Hotpots

Sunday, we had very little rain at all, only reserved for The Courteeners. First though, the discovery of the weekend – Sophie and the Giants back in the Calling Out Tent. This band come across as a Christine & The Queens or Florence and the Machine, somewhere in-between perhaps, but there is distinct melody and rough pop electro feel to their music and Soph herself has some supreme vocals. Bulldog, Monsters and The Light – every track was a belter, I stayed for the whole set again and made a note to catch them again soon (Leeds Festival !!).

Sophie & The Giants

Don Broco were making a fine noise at the main stage and trying desperately to get everyone pogoing in the few circle pits in the mud, The Fratellis managed it with Chelsea Dagger and even included a marriage proposal during their set.

Don Broco

Fratellis

The surprise of the day though came in the shape of a Californian rock band called Rival Sons. Not a surprise in that I knew I was going to enjoy them as I had seen them several times before over the last few years, but just how much I have missed them and that style of music. Jay Buchanan is the lead singer, and when you talk about rock voices, there probably isn’t a finer one out there right now, it’s booming and raspy just how I like it and his stage persona is somewhere between Jim Morrison and Steven Tyler, slightly dark and edgy with a little over flamboyance. Having this band at Kendal is a massive coup for the festival and yet it was never advertised as such, they are not playing any other English festivals in 2019, not Download or even Ramblin’ Man – Kendal is the one for them!. Without doubt the strangest eclectic line up on any festival stage this year – Rival Sons followed by Sir Tom Jones, followed by The Courteeners and yet it worked brilliantly. I’ll always love Pressure and Time and Electric Man but it was Shooting Stars that sold the show. A proper rock band in the classic style with a frontman who knows he’s a star, there are not many bands doing this right now, and they went down a storm here and gained so many new fans – UK Tour in November, check back for that. I think Idles and Rival Sons tied for 1st place as ‘set of the festival’ for different reasons.

rival sons-3

rival sons-4

rival sons-5

Another coup was to invite Sir Tom Jones to play here, a living legend, and still after all these years a truly great voice, the biggest draw to the arena all weekend and the reason most people stayed till late on Sunday was just to see him perform. Opening with a John Lee Hooker tune Burning Hell – Mr Jones (almost 80 yrs old) teased us with tales of Elvis Presley and others that he associated with when he played in the States. Mama Told Me Not to Come got the first audience participation and several sets of large underwear had already been thrown. He always had time for a smile, wink and nod of appreciation towards those that brought Welsh flags, signs and undies – even the men! Ironically singing Green Green Grass of Home with everyone looking for a remaining blade of grass left in the arena. Every hit such as Delilah, What’s New Pussycat and It’s Not Unusual sung with gusto from artist to audience and back again, exactly how it should be, and brilliant that it didn’t rain during his set. A very special guest indeed – Sir Thomas John Woodward we salute you!

Tom Jones-3

Tom Jones-4

Before the headline act (as if anyone can follow Tom Jones), one last trip to the Calling Out stage for Mahalia and WOW has she changed from the last time I saw her! Gone are the geeky student looks and acoustic guitar and in comes soul diva with that sweet voice interspersed with a little rap and dance. It’s been 3 years since I last saw her live but other than her face, she is unrecognisable, in a good way. Writing new songs like Water with Kojey Radical will only progress her further, and I expect her to be on Jorja Smith’s coat tails pretty soon.

Mahalia-2

Mahalia

One remaining act – The Courteeners – many made a sharp exit when the rain started, leaving the younger fans with flares (the lit sort) to cope with the rain. Liam Fray and Co went through their usual bag of tricks, expertly leaving Not Nineteen Forever till the latter end of the set. I’m by no means a major fan, so that meant I joined the many leaving early for the car, which thankfully didn’t need towing out!

Courteeners-3

Courteeners

Kendal Calling is a mighty fine festival, probably the best of its size in the UK. Impeccably organised and maintained. It feels very safe and friendly, there is great food & drink, increasingly varied entertainment and really shows what a regional independent festival can become after years of continuous improvement. That’s why it’s a sell out each year, and that’s why you need to be buying your ticket NOW for their 15th Anniversary next year. Check their website, you will be able to pay monthly and then will be certain to be in the fields in 2020 – and I’ll see you there!

See the full photoset from Kendal Calling 2019.

atmos-8

One Response to “Kendal Calling Festival at Lowther Deer Park, Lake District, UK – 25th – 28th July 2019”

  1. Michael Butterworth Says:

    Such an engaging and well written review with great photos. I’ve picked up a few recommendations to follow up on too, which is impressive as I wasn’t even there. Sounds like a couple of other festivals I now.

Leave a Reply