Review: Kendal Calling 2012

After a glorious weekend of mud, music and general enjoyment, Kendal Calling organisers Ben Robinson and Andy Smith can sit back and congratulate themselves on another job well done. The 16 areas of the festival were filled to the brim with all kinds of entertainment, and everyone from the teeniest of tots to the greying festival-veteran wore a happy grin. There was no mystery as to why; Kendal Calling has so much to offer, you can’t help but find something special to smile at.

After pitching our camp comfortably close to both the arena and the main gate, we explored the various venues and found ourselves delightfully surrounded by fairy tale touches (a gingerbread house, a wishing tree and a ferris wheel to name a few). We wandered through the magical Woodlands stage, where silent discos were held at night and welly-clad kiddies danced in the mud by day, and tried our best to resist the temptation of a relaxing massage in the Garden of Eden. Laughter was already erupting from the Soapbox; a trend which continued all weekend with performances from mimes, comedians and musicians filling the circus-style marquee. Our exploring gave us quite the appetite, and there was no shortage of delicious options to choose from, even for veggie-vores like us. Tummies happy, we floated over to Chai Wallah’s and got stuck into the musical magic.

For such a small festival, Kendal Calling boasts a barrow full of excellent music, and even sticking to a strict schedule, we couldn’t see half of the awesome acts available. Yet the scaled-down size of KC let us bounce freely between stages, and it felt a lot more manageable than the overwhelming line-ups of T in the Park, Reading and Leeds.

Though each tent had its own unique charm, Chai Wallah’s was indisputably the place to be. Showcasing some truly talented performers, it was the irresistible alternative to the mainstage. Shisha pipes, chai tea and some of the best bevvy on site (like ‘mullered’ wine and ‘hot-shots’ of apple-ginger juice with coca leaf liqueur) set the backdrop for Friday’s enchanting acts. Lucy Rose gave listeners a taste of her sweet guitar and lullaby voice, with support from earlier acts like Karima Francis and Rae Morris.

Cozy as we were, there was no missing Maximo Park, who were the first headliners to storm the Main Stage. They set the bar high, jumping onto stage with ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ and keeping the energy high throughout. Meanwhile, Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip delivered their supreme swirl of killer beats and social commentary at the GloW Dance Tent. Things heated up later on at Calling Out, with rollicking performances from Little Comets and our fellow Scots, Admiral Fallow. As exhaustion set in, we swung by Riot Jazz to witness the brassy brilliance of songs like ‘Amsterdam’ from the Whiskey Cats and managed to wolf down some top notch curry from Ghandi’s Flip-Flop before flip-flopping ourselves down onto our sleeping bags.

We woke in what felt more like a sauna than a tent, with glorious sunshine beckoning us to get up and go. Sunnies in hand, we emerged into the cartoon wonderland which Saturday’s fancy dress theme of Fairy Tales and Comic Books had inspired. After chatting to super heroes and sharing a fag with the Gingerbread Man, we headed over to the Vintage Fair and picked ourselves out some stylish steals to keep us dry as the weather threatened to do a complete turnaround and let loose the heavens.

The sunshine held out a little longer for Little Roy on the Main Stage, whose collection of Nirvana covers like ‘Polly’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ were ironically uplifting. Chai Wallah’s had us swooning over Jack Martello’s jazzy rendition of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and the strumming of the truly lovely Benjamin Francis Leftwich.

Kendal Calling vets The View treated the audience to a ukelele solo on the Main Stage before what was arguably the climax of the festival, as the highly anticipated Dizzee Rascal let loose with hits like ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp‘ and ‘Dance Wiv Me’. As the rain finally poured and the evening wore on, Dizraeli and the Small Gods got the crowds roaring back at Chai Wallah’s with a guest appearance from #1 female beatboxer Bellatrix. Indie-kids Tribes let their artfully disheveled hair loose at Calling Out, and Coda’s sweet beats kept us dancing into the wee hours.

Sunday promised to be even more musically jam-packed, and we fluttered around the site all day, drinking in every drop of the festival’s intoxicating atmosphere (and maybe a sip or two from the always-buzzing Real-Ale tent). Northern favourites The Lancashire Hotpots got the Main Stage started with humorous every-man-anthems like ‘Chippy Tea’; followed by rock duo Feeder, then James, who delved straight into their massive back-catalogue and had everyone swaying to classics like ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Laid’.

A brief trip to the Olde Sweet Shoppe stall had us hopping around on a sugar rush with the kids at the Ladybird tent, which provided constant entertainment, music, and workshops that would have exhausted even the most energetic of littl’uns. Our sweet tooth satisfied and our inner-child unleashed, we dug back into the music as the 3am closing time loomed ever closer.

Calling Out had a slew of stellar acts on Sunday night; funny-man folk singer Beans on Toast’s ‘M.D.M.Amazing’ resonated particularly well with the crowd. King Charles his massive hair took to the stage not long after, and we were spoiled to see him again at an exclusive acoustic set later on (LINK). The performance of the night, and possibly of the entire festival, was the sweaty, soulful, ‘pelvis-pushing juke music’ of Vintage Trouble, whose racy track ‘Total Strangers’ was met with the launch of a g-string onto the stage.

With Sunday night inevitably coming to an end, we (and what seemed like the other 13,000 happy festival-goers) headed back to Chai’s for some terrific horn-led indie ska from Yes Sir Boss, and finally a funk DJ set from the legendary Craig Charles, who somehow made a school disco-esque soundtrack into a deliriously great time.

Shattered and elated, we packed ourselves up under Monday morning’s mellow sunshine (but not before treating ourselves to a massive veggie breakfast, of course) and prepared to return to reality. Though it’s unlikely the wildlife will appreciate the mud-covered swamps where their grassy fields once were, we certainly felt grateful to the deer for lending us their stunning home. A feeling of appreciation settled over us as we waved a reluctant goodbye to Lowther Deer Park; I felt lucky to have been a part of Kendal Calling, and if that isn’t a sign of a damn good festival, I don’t know what is.

Words: Tess Hokin

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