The Lake District created and punctuated a lot of my fondest childhood memories. Staying in kitsch little cottages, drinking afternoon tea by the waterside. Being perpetually rained on while walking up a thousand hills. Watching a wayward horse bolt down a hill and buck my shrieking mother – miraculously unharmed – off at the end and absolutely pissing myself laughing.
So it’s up to Kendal Calling to prove itself worthy of a spot in my memory bank of nostalgia. Now in its sixth year, the festival is set in the picturesque grounds of Lowther Deer Park. Rolling up to the festival, the sun is blazing; there are beautiful, endless green pastures and, despite the fact it’s officially sold out, there’s no queue to get in. It’s certainly a good start.
Setting up our tent in the “Quiet/Family” area of the campsite, due to lack of space elsewhere (sorry Quiet, sorry Families), we begin the day with a leisurely afternoon stroll before the evening of music. Kendal Calling’s campsite is set close to the main arena so it’s easy for everyone to get to and there are no fears of stumbling around in the dark for hours and ending up nestled in the armpit of an unsuspecting stranger. My boyfriend accidentally tests this theory first-hand by getting an inhumanly level of drunk later on (helped by the real ale tent) and finds his way back to the tent safely before alarming the parents with an expletive-laden outburst that ends with a vomity flourish next to our tent.
After enjoying the delights on offer at the Sailor Jerry’s vintage airstream bar we amble over to see House of Pain on the main stage, who ricochet through an energetic set to a more-than-game crowd. They’re followed by Chase & Status who, while not being my particular cup of tea, go down an absolute storm among a sea of neon paint & glowsticks and definitely create a buzz in the air.
We cut short their show to get over to the Calling Out stage and watch Frankie & The Heartstrings pull out a charmingly shambolic set, Frankie Francis bounding around the stage with puppy-dog energy and the rest of the band showing off their arsenal of indie boy moves. (Inward-pointing feet dance? Check!) They win the audience over with their breezy, cute brand of guitar pop music and we end the night suitably toasted near the Riot Jazz stage, dancing to a soundtrack of blues, rockabilly and songs from The Jungle Book.
Saturday begins a little shakily, with sore heads being nursed, suitable apologies issued and stale make-up wiped away. Alice Gold kicks things off on the main stage but with less of a bang and more of a whimper. Her voice is strong and she struggles for PJ Harvey’s husky passion but unfortunately it sounds empty and disingenuous. She and her band aim for dark pop but are far too clean & nice to pull it off. (I am much more excited about the honey & mustard sausage sandwich served to me by the Gourmet Sausage stand, which is a pricey £6 but is so delicious it’s hard to complain. Especially with a mouthful of sausage).
The Young Knives are a much more exciting prospect, Henry taking to the stage shirtless and announcing that it’s “Top’s Off Saturday”. They charge through their angular, thrilling catalogue barely pausing for breath except to deliver some characteristically tongue-in-cheek jostling with the crowd and are really a very tight unit to behold indeed. Over on the Calling Out stage, Bear Driver play their homage to Pavement style indie, pulling out their single ‘Envy’ as a definite highlight. Their songs are hardly ground-breaking but pleasant enough and they really should be applauded for surrendering to the fact they’re actually enjoying themselves on stage without a scrap of pretentiousness.
Around the festival site, a sizeable vintage tent is a wonderful addition, stocking the wares of several vintage collectors and is a bit of a feast for the eyes. I leave with a particularly fetching polka dot shirt for the bargainous price of £10 and look forward to wearing something that doesn’t smell of “tent”. The sun is baking- appropriately goth Factor 50 sun lotion slathered on to protect my ghostly pallor- and everyone’s in excellent spirits. I head back over to the Sailor Jerry’s bar to be decorated with a retro Hawaiian lady transfer tattoo and there’s a queue of girls all waiting to be faux-inked. I spot tons of people getting involved with the “Beasts & Machines” dress up theme, as well as those thinking a little outside the box- Michael Jackson, Jedward, and a whole menagerie of animals to name just a few of the DIY costumes on show.
As the day draws to an end, Echo & The Bunnymen deliver a huge sounding set of gothic classics and finally The Cribs take to the main stage. Their lovably raucous take on indie draws a huge crowd and delights everyone in it, Ryan Jarman vocally deadpanning over every song and the band as idiosyncratic as ever, they play a mealy one hour set that just doesn’t let up. A personal highlight as a die-hard Riot Grrrl was their unexpected and gorgeous cover of ‘Concrete Life’ by 90s noiseniks Huggy Bear as well as fan favourite ‘We can no longer cheat you’. We end the day at the Soapbox stage, watching live burlesque and sensibly retire to the tent for an early-ish night.
Sunday begins with I am In Love over on the Calling Out stage. Their drums are tribal, their synths are at full volume and they sound like a cross between Bronski Beat and Friendly Fires but their huge sound and their light projections across the tent are engaging enough to draw in a pretty decent crowd by the end of their set. The fatal flaw is the blatantly pre-planned decision of the frontman to take a drum into the middle of the crowd and play it. Contrived much? They also shuffle around awkwardly dancing like they’re the first self conscious kids to get up at the school disco. Maybe they’d do well to get to the salsa dance classes over at the soapbox stage but it’s a bigger- and drunker- woman than I who’d dare take part.
After vastly enjoying (Read: feeling terrifically guilty about eating) a kangaroo burger from the bafflingly named ‘Ostrich’ food stall we skulk off over to the Get It Loud in Libraries stage to watch the completely adorable Summer Camp. They sound stripped down but play unashamedly pop music and are really very cute indeed without tipping the twee balance into overdrive, singer Elizabeth urging the crowd to get involved and frankly charming the pants off everyone. It’s just gorgeous and the perfect antidote to festival excess, highlights being single ‘Ghost Train’ and ‘I Want You’.
Back at the Calling Out stage The Chapman Family utterly throw themselves into a frenetic, triumphant set of guitar-heavy gloom pop and secure my place back at the main stage to wait for Blondie. Debbie Harry and her troupe of punk legends take to the stage to a rapturous welcome, and deservedly so. They play a greatest hits set with the likes of ‘Dreaming’, ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Atomic’ alongside newer material that fits perfectly into their back catalogue and I can feel the audience collectively swoon as Debbie prowls the stage. They’ve been around long enough to completely perfect their live show and everything sounds suitably and wonderfully polished. Just when you thought you had them licked, they throw an inspired cover of ‘Fight For Your Right to Party’ into the mix just to shake things up. CBGB’s may be dead but Blondie live on.
As if by magic, the clouds set in on Monday morning and signal the end of Kendal Calling 2011, leaving me to reflect on the whole affair. While I think some of the elements of the festival might be improved on- such as bagging a few more big names rather than just the headliners and showcasing cutting edge bands from further afield- the overall feel is of a huge victory for smaller festivals. Kendal Calling really transcends genre, tries to include everyone, to offer an eclectic line-up and to entertain and in every respect, it completely succeeds.
What’s more, the atmosphere is incredible – there’s a real sense of community, goodwill and friendliness that just isn’t there at the bigger festivals and there’s an overwhelming feeling of everyone being there to have an amazing time together, going unequivocally wild in the country.