Here’s a Kendal Calling tip for you. If you really want to see any of the bands on Friday, get there on Thursday. I got to the outskirts of Lowther Deer Park at 12:30 pm, and eventually parked my car some 5 and-a-half hours later. I’m sure some lasting friendships were formed in the queues leading to Kendal Calling, as families shared picnics, walked through leafy Cumbrian lanes, or even had a pint together in The Queen’s Head in Askham, in fact indulging in any other activity rather than watching The Mysterines, The Vaccines, The Slow Readers Club, or any other artist they’d paid good money to see. My mood was not improved as I approached the site entrance to be told by a staff member that they had run out of wristbands and she would not be able to let us in until someone had gone and got some more. She did not appreciate my lecture on how a ‘Just in Time’ production model is probably not best suited when it comes to festival wristband distribution. As a result my Friday viewing consisted of 10 minutes of Craig David, and a decent headline set from Supergrass.
Saturday was a new day, and I achieved one of my recently set goals – to see Revivalry live. This young band from Cleethorpes (singer Connie is at college, drummer and guitarist, Ben and Lewis are still in school!) first popped up on my radar when they appeared on the excellent Brits & Pieces II CD released in April 2021. Obviously things have gotten in the way since then so I was delighted to find out they were playing at Kendal Calling. They played a tight, tidy, well delivered set, that included Shame On You (the song that first brought them to my attention), other original material, and a rather excellent cover of the Nothing But Thieves track Amsterdam. I was pleased to see that there was a sizable crowd at the Gatsby’s House Party Stage, and they all seemed to enjoy the set as much as me.
I’ve only ever seen Earlestown foursome The K’s in crowded, hot, sweaty, cellar venues so was intrigued to see how they performed on a big stage. Pretty damn well would be my response. Jamie Boyle’s energy isn’t impeded by the extra distances he needs to cover to scamper around a main stage. Ryan Breslin’s guitar work loses none of it’s immediacy and easily leapt the chasm of the photographers pit. And what can you say about bassist Dexter Baker? Well, you have to admire the confidence of a man who is willing to show his arse to a main stage crowd at a festival. After two days on site, I don’t think I would have had his assuredness. I can happily report that songs like Glass Towns, Aurora, and Sarajevo work equally well in a field in Kendal in front of thousands, as they do in front of a hundred in Jimmy’s in Liverpool.
It was time for a bit of refreshment before seeing another band. One thing Kendal was not short of was bars. You were never far from one and queues were always minimal, but if you wanted to try something different, then there was really only one place to go – Oktoberfest. A large tent decked out like a Munich Bier Halle, it had a decent selection of locally brewed beers (my personal favourite was the In Der Fielden lager), entertainment from Oompah Bands performing genuine Bavarian classics like Sweet Caroline and Don’t You Want Me, and was the place to be to watch The Lioness’s Euro triumph on Sunday afternoon.
Performance of the weekend for me was The Lottery Winners. Bumped-up the timings to replace Eurovision runner-up Sam Ryder (who had a sore throat) they took the Parklands Stage by storm. The tent was packed to capacity and overflowing at the seams. Everyone around me claimed to be from Leigh or had gone to school with one of the band. There was a genuine feeling of excitement and anticipation as the band took to the stage, and they didn’t disappoint. Lead singer Thom Rylance was born to entertain and had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. He did allow some of the adoration to be spread about when bass player Katie Lloyd took over vocal duties on Sunshine, but immediately reverted to type at the songs conclusion, ‘Stop cheering her. I wrote that song. Love Me!’. If you don’t know the songs you learn them by osmosis. The Lottery Winners tunes are such instantly relatable indie-pop anthems that you don’t listen to them, you absorb them. Start Again written in collaboration with Frank Turner is as uplifting a song as you’re likely to hear; singing along to Much Better makes you feel ‘much better’ and should be available on prescription; and when the crowd sang ‘Don’t wanna go home, Don’t wanna go home’ at the conclusion of 21, I believe they meant it and could have stayed and watched The Lottery Winners all night.
My current relationship with Baby Queen mirrors that of her and Jodie Comer. After seeing Baby Queen live for the first time only a week ago, I spent the previous seven days ‘lying on the floor typing your name into the internet’. Time well spent as I was now fully up-to-speed with the Lady-in- waiting of Alt-Pop. I could now safely join in with the others in the Calling Out Tent with Nobody Really Cares, Buzzkill, and Want Me. I know I am not Baby Queen‘s target demographic (she almost certainly doesn’t have one, she just pleases herself , but you get my point), but the energy and exuberance of her performance can’t fail to drag you in. The tunes aren’t half bad either.
I still haven’t quite made my mind up about The Reytons. Although judging by the fact that the crowd outside the Calling Out tent was five-deep, many others have. The South Yorkshire vernacular, song structures, guitar-riffs, and ‘der-der-der-der-da-da’ backing vocals of On The Back Burner are unashamedly, early Arctic Monkeys (it even references Alex Turner in the lyrics). They at times sail dangerously close into tribute band waters, but always seem to pull it back. They are the type of band everyone says is missing, lads off estates with guitars, that others on estates can get excited about. Shoulder-riding, flare-holding, bouncing, bedlam erupts during Red Smoke, Slice of Lime, and Kids Off The Estate proving the point that The Reytons might just be that band that everyone is searching for.
I feel sorry for festival organisers when it comes to choice of headliners. They just can’t win. Put an established artist on and some critics will moan about lack of ‘relevance’ and ‘nostalgia trips’. Put a newer artist on and some will say ‘what have they done to deserve a headline slot?’ I have to say that with their choice of Friday and Saturday headliners, Kendal Calling did a rather good job. Like Supergrass the night before, Stereophonics have served their time, enjoyed longevity through talent, and can put on a good show (even in the pouring rain). Kelly Jones’ gravelly vocals have lost none of their tone or edge and songs like Dakota, Maybe Tomorrow, and Have a Nice Day continue to have meaning and resonance.
One of the staple ‘must-dos’ at Kendal Calling is a visit to Tim Peaks Diner, so this is where I headed for Sunday breakfast. Famous for it’s intimate sets and occasional secret gigs (I heard Blossoms rumours throughout the weekend) it also offers reasonably priced teas, coffees and bacon butties. As I queued for my Americano all the buzz was about the previous nights gig and DJ set from Manchester’s Dirty Laces. You also don’t know who you might bump into in there. I had my breakfast next to another Manchester band, 60’s garage rock revivers Fruit Tones, who looked slightly crestfallen that the only vegan option on offer was a banana.
One of the things that makes Kendal Calling stand out, apart from the beautiful Cumbrian countryside, is their attention to detail. You can’t take in all the nuances of the décor in the two main tents when surround by crowds of people on each others shoulders during The Reytons, but get in early and have a wander and take it all in like I did on Sunday morning. The Parklands stage has a lost city of the Inca’s/hanging gardens of Babylon feel. Ancient statues bookend the stage front and trees and exotic plants appear to grow down from the roof.
The Calling Out stage has an equally alluring Alice In Wonderland theme to it. All the references were there – the Cheshire Cat beamed down from the back of the stage, playing cards and potions where everywhere, and a mantlepiece clock supplied psychedelic images on a ceaseless loop – disappearing spirals, rabbits, Alice and myriad other images. All very splendid.
First band on the Main Stage on Sunday were Edinburgh band Retro Video Club. You have to admire the effort they put into such an early slot. Their performance was even more remarkable when you add in the fact that they had to drag their drummer out of bed as he had been to a wedding the previous evening. When singer Liam Allison pointed this out our hero gave a couple of beats on his kick drum and smilingly raised a can of Carling to the crowd. You can’t keep a good man down. I liked their songs too. Indie-guitar power-pop anthems in the style of The Enemy or The View, songs such as Boys Like Me, Break-Up Songs, and the relentless Addicted.
Someone who I was eager to see again was Geordie prodigy Andrew Cushin. When I saw him on a couple of occasions pre-Covid, he was alone and vulnerable with just an acoustic guitar for company, singing achingly honest open songs about himself and his family. Since then Cushin has been joined by a four piece band; gone majorly electric; and been taken under the wing of Noel Gallagher. The metamorphosis from vulnerable teenage singer to rock god is well underway.
The majority of Cushin’s set on the Calling Out Stage was made up of songs from his recent You Don’t Belong EP – the title track, Yeah Yeah Yeah, and Catch Me if You Can as well as older songs Hollywood and Where’s My Family Gone. The Calling Out tent was generously filled despite the early time slot – testament to Cushin’s growing reputation. He is unrecognisable from the singer-songwriter, solo artist I first saw in Leeds a few years ago. Gallagher’s influence is in evidence with the orchestration and instrumentation of Cushin’s newer material, but even more obvious is Cushin’s own talent.
That’s where my own Kendal adventure ended. If you’re looking for top class entertainment on beautiful stages, located in wonderful countryside then head to Kendal Calling. Just make sure the buggers let you in.