The 2017 edition of Kendal Calling served up a whole host of excellent amusements. Music may be the intended primary focus, but this festival thrives on much more than just its live stages: From the art installations, to the fringes of the outlandish, and the child-friendly play areas, literally every need is catered for. Though we were dealt a rough card this year, due to defiant weather conditions taking a heavy grip of the festival site, making it near impossible to flurry from one end of the compound to the other without having to battle through varying incarnations of mud; yet no doubt about it, the spirit of the event was never lost.
After a few false starts and a lengthy induction process, our Friday truly began. The sore disappointment of missing out on Elle Mary‘s Carvetti Stage debut was a bitter pill but we stride forward and meet RedFaces on the Main Stage for a blast of upbeat indie guitar and happy-go-lucky thrills, followed by Glasgow’s Bossy Love. Their carnival of contemporary R&B and hip-hop dynamism is true Radio 1 bread and butter, and translates well in a festival format, so it’s not unreasonable to see a healthy crowd gathering to enjoy the sunshine soul of the duo.
The first instance of love-at-first-listen came later in the day when we head into the Calling Out Stage, for Communion-signees MarthaGunn. Having spent a whole 10 hours travelling via Brighton to the festival, the band, I’m sure, were keen to play and so when the 30-minute set arrived, fireworks flew and bohemian loveliness ensued. The five members join together on-stage and never really fall apart, they carry an irresistible energy and the show passes by all too quickly. The emphasis here is on the ‘song’ – no shortcuts are taken, lyrical depth is considered and expressed, and the intensity of musical skill is thoroughly explored. It’s the whole package: strong vocals, arresting progressions, fierce presence, serious crowd interaction. Think First Aid Kit timed with Fleetwood Mac and London Grammar vocals.
Later than originally billed but worth the wait, is London female force Paradisia. Complete with a full-scale harp on-stage, this isn’t the only time we’re impressed during their Houseparty set. The three-piece are joined by a few other members to make their sumptuous sound really glow, as they indulge in various songs taken from their debut album, including the superb ‘Warpaint’. Dancing around a Lianne La Havas / Jessie Ware soulful swoon, Paradisia’s pop is elegance amplified, especially newly written ‘Into the Deep’, a full harmony-led choral beautification that coyly asks: “Would you dare to dive into the deep?” Also a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ makes a startling impression and sees the room ignited in voice. You don’t get immediacy here but what is given in spades is honest, pure, angelic-given harmony. There are hooks, but they aren’t obvious, the whole is meant to be savoured rather than just a fleeting moment, which maybe goes against the idea of a ‘festival set’ but we didn’t mind that at all.
The Australian band DMA’s locked eyes on a modest Main Stage crowd on the Friday afternoon, delving into their ’90s indie in perfect subdued fashion. Personally though, the set felt hit and miss. Translating more aloof and nonchalant than physically affecting, the pacing of the set seemed to be the main issue here. For a well-seasoned touring outfit you begin to wonder – are the songs fitting for festivals? Or was it just simply down to a misfire on the day? Having previous meetings with the band before, I am inclined to think the latter was more in play. Glimmers of hope do persist to shine through in the end though, with ‘Step Up the Morphine’ and ‘Lay Down,’ taking the term fever pitch to new highs. Then there’s ‘Delete’, providing songwriting that lives in the spaces of the euphoric and the timeless, “Just let it all out,” a lyric that sighs in its brilliance. If this isn’t a vital hold-stake in the transformative power of music, I don’t know what is.
Circa Waves go down a treat and satisfy the craving for brash, energetic guitars – ‘Young Chasers’ springs a pop of colour and ‘Goodbye’ exudes a darker, grittier quickening pace. Even the album cuts go down a storm, this is a band who has worked the festival circuit and now are reaping the rewards – the audience lap it up. Feel-good, sing-your-heart-out, lose all inhibitions music never let’s you down. After the blazingly feral blast of Circa Waves, the emergence of Jake Bugg‘s swift juggernaut precision is a welcome not too distant departure. Covering all the bases, Bugg and his band steadily run through material from all of his three albums, ‘Two Fingers’ breezily opens, with the triad of ‘Messed Up Kids’, ‘Taste It’, and ‘Bitter Salt’ following soon after, for a fly-by snapshot of the songwriter’s career progression. Bugg is always a reliant festival booking, for breadth of appeal and the easy listening quality, taking Johnny Cash’s skiffle romps and matching them to Kris Kristofferson’s gloom. Ending on ‘Lightning Bolt’, it’s an electrifyingly affectionate closing note.
The reliability of Stereophonics is confirmed when they play a tastefully brazen headline set on the Friday night. Kelly Jones’ honeyed tones and signature rasp seal the deal beside his band mates’ frantic guitar blade raucous, as they breeze through career-defining hits aplenty.
Walking through the fields on Saturday morning, even in a rain shower, we are met with the optimistic sight of glistening mud trails that lead us along in our quest to reach the main festival gates. Making a beeline for the Calling Out Stage, we unexpectedly find Billy Bibby & The Wry Smiles (courtesy of a switch around in set times, they play the opening slot). All together this proves to be a happy accident, as they serve up the perfect remedy for second-day jitters and rainy day despair, steering us back into cheery consciousness. It’s also a well-executed excursion in upbeat indie – loud, unpretentious and packed full of hooks. The post-Catfish days seem to have awarded Bibby a fortunate second coming.
Next to appear on the Calling Out Stage is Larkins, and due to the worsening conditions outside, further droves descend into the tent to sample the Glossop band’s fiery indie pop. Latest single ‘Sugar Sweet’ opens and bursts with fragrant sunshine and airy guitar, the rest of the set transgresses between funk-based indie and syrupy groove, condensing into a riveting 25 minutes. It’s not all about superficiality here, there’s substance to be found in their breezily-packaged lyrics and Foals-esque rebellious edge. Their likeable stage presence and humbling shows of appreciation bring smiles all around, but it’s when we’re met with the personalities that gradually appear at the tail-end of the show, that we really see their true potential and real deal appeal.
Having heard nothing but good things about London group Moses, we felt obliged to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. Giving an all-thrills performance, they rattle through a bunch of material that’s electric and high energy alt-rock. The main thing that hits here is the ability of their frontman to engage with a crowd, I mean really engage. For all intensive purposes, this is why you enter the tent to watch a band like this; they’re incredibly self-assured, inescapably present and truly unforgettable. Channelling a sort of scallywag quality, their frontman inspires thoughts to drift to other equally great band leaders – like Pete Doherty (The Libertines) and Matt Bowman (The Pigeon Detectives) – it’s the high flying scissor kicks, viscous attitude and lust for chaos, the dangerous unpredictability, that is brilliant for festival outings like this one.
With certainty FEWS are one of the best live bands you’ll see. On this occasion, they play the Calling Out Stage, where they deliver decisive nimble rhythms and frenzied stark motorik allure, between bouts of abrasive post-punk. Squally finesse cultivates a ravaged storm of epic breakdowns and fierce discord on tracks like ‘ILL’ and ‘The Zoo,’ with their tightly-would orchestra feeding off the precision of its players, there’s never room for a stray move. The guitar is the illustrious appendage in FEWS, just like the arm plucking/ravaging/appeasing those strings, it is as necessary a tool as the ability to stand up straight. It’s a glorious thing to watch FEWS play, we should do it more often.
Now to a band I’ve personally been striving to witness for a good while, and with a little luck on my side, this wish was finally made possible. Newcastle’s EAT FAST join the excellent array of musicians and genres to occupy the Calling Out Stage on Saturday, and make a fine job out of their slot too. For music that primarily lives and dies by fuzz and distortion, the band surprisingly manage to break what could easily become drone-like tedium and deliver a short burst of fun-filled, action-packed daring. Through careful song choice, variance in palette, and a winning diet of well-placed pop hooks, EAT FAST’s set bolsters a taut, bracing impact that’s totally worthwhile.
The JägerHaus stage was well worth a visit. As a legitimate fixed abode (well as close to one as you’ll get on a festival site) they had acts like Dream Wife, Anteros and Pretty Vicious all sharing in the pool of awesome music available in the decorative structure. When we arrive, it’s Litany who are performing a sweet medley of electro-R&B on the corner stage. They are act that sit nicely next to major pop heavyweights like Banks and Dua Lipa, the music is easily pleasing and gives a certain assurance that in time will encourage a strong infatuation to take hold. Taking in tracks from their recently released body of work, we find their music to be a nice change of pace from the heavier sounds we’ve heard during the day. ‘Bedroom’ and ‘Flaws’ are two of the very best; gorgeous crystalline vocals swirl pretty alongside synth gloss and textured live instruments. Unfortunately heavy bass throbs in the room make the experience a little uncomfortable as a watcher, but hell to comfort levels, when the music is this good and easily lifts the mood.
As the alternative to Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds on the Main Stage, Honeyblood gave a blistering performance, well-deserving of anyone’s time. First things first, this band are loved – even when running a line-check, they’re met with yelps of motivation. So by the time the Glaswegian outfit begin their tantalising rampage of grunge-pop, the crowd are more than ready for the music to take them to a good place. ‘Babes Never Die’ already feels like a classic, heavy-hitting and smart, catchy as hell.
Returning to the Tim Peaks Stage on Sunday was TEAR. A band we will always try and scamper to see every time they play, a mixture of new tracks and songs from their already released EP were aired. The first two made me think of ASH, with their more straight down the middle alt-rock focus and dizzy riffs. Moving through the set, regular favourites ‘The Sprawl’, ‘Careless Again’, and ‘Never Fade Away’ turn up the grunge end of their sound – it’s trashy, sludgy post-Veruca Salt / Courtney Love rock. The bass solo and Nirvana-like thrash of Careless Again‘s grand finale is worth the trip to see TEAR in any circumstance. Just excellent.
OUTLYA played a remarkably blissful set on the Calling Out Stage, even though I was well aware of their music going into the tent, there was something quite revelatory about watching this performance. It took me by surprise how much I actually enjoyed this. This is positive pop down to its core, uplifting and resolutely joyful – perfect for festivals and any kind of large gathering. OUTLYA, I think, at the root of everything is about the bountiful scope of the imagination, and the beauty of where it can take you. So have a shimmy, join the backing choir, become a fourth member of the band. It’s all possible.
A secret performance brought droves of people to the Tim Peaks cabin on Sunday afternoon, and the special guests? The Coral. Performing a stripped-down acoustic medley of past hits, full of charming melody and singalong opportunities. Opening with the familiar chimes of ‘Pass It On,’ it was clear that the band were here to please, ‘In the Morning’ soon followed, sparking a full-on session of vocal revelry, with ‘Dreaming Of You’ closing for the ultimate high. It’s spontaneity like this that really brings the festival to life, these unique, unforgettable moments will be cherished and remembered as the snapshots of a time where everything was sunshine and rainbows.
Our final trip to the Calling Out Stage was to watch Brother/Sister duo Ardyn, a delightfully sanguine shimmer of ’70s pop is devoured and savoured. ‘Together’ is their piece de resistance, their most upbeat offering to-date and one that will spark a love fixation by the time its chorus kicks in. Full of Fleetwood Mac harmony, Lana Del Rey allure and Angus & Julia Stone rootsy appeal, Ardyn are probably the most exciting young band out there. With an eye on the timeless, feet firmly in the contemporary and a fantastic appeal to the mainstream, I feel this band will cut through, it’s just a matter of time.
For more information on Kendal Calling, head to the Website.