During its inception in 2006, 900 people packed into a small town-centre park to hear the likes of British Sea Power and, the then unknown, Pendulum. Now Kendal Calling has grown into a serious contender on the festival circuit, drawing in the likes of Blondie and Dizzee Rascal and picking up the ‘Best Medium Festival UK’ award in 2013. This year may well have been the wettest yet but it didn’t dampen the spirits of the hardy 14 000 who packed Lowther Deer Park to hear sets from acts like Frank Turner, Example and Suede. qmunicate was lucky enough to head along and check out all the action…
Arriving on Friday morning with clouds already beginning to move in, qmunicate’s first stop is the Calling Out stage for cinematic post-rock eclecticists Nordic Giants. Dressed in feathery head dresses and wielding an array of instruments including trumpets and bowed guitar, they stamp themselves into the audience’s retinas with a series of videoclips set to music. As the videos veered from the moody and threatening to the almost comedically grotesque, their soundscapes ebbed and flowed with a gloomy intensity reminiscent of Mogwai.
After a brief woodlands wander, Mirror Signal aka singer-songwriter/producer Steven Barker is just coming on over at the Main Stage. The crowd is small but the biggest reaction is for a piano-based cover of Chase N Status’ ‘Lost and Not Found’.
Back in Calling Out, The Ramona Flowers joke about the miserable weather, “Is anyone moist out there?”, before firing into ‘Surrender’, a wall-of-sound anthem that brings to mind U2’s ‘Pride (in the Name of Love)’. Likewise, their new single ‘Vultures’ is shamelessly engineered to sound gigantic, but it’s awkwardly let down by cringe-worthy lyrics. With some solid crowd interaction, they’re basically what it would be like if Michael McIntyre fronted an indie rock band. Whether this is a good thing will be diplomatically left up to the reader.
Unexpectedly great however are Pusher, over in the Tim Peaks Diner, a packed shed kitted out like a fifties restaurant, with gritty vocals pushing into walls of My Bloody Valentine guitar as punters sip on milkshakes.
Over at the House Party Stage (sadly no longer Kendal Calling’s answer to Glasgow’s Flat 0/1) MDNGHT offer a live band take on electro-house. Perhaps it’s their charismatic frontman or perhaps it’s the fact that this is the only place to have a boogie at this time in the afternoon but they go down a storm with the crowd as flexible basslines merge with smooth vocals to get the audience dancing.
Returning to Kendal Calling two years after making their festival debut in this very field, Amber Run are five white boys with two guitars and skinny jeans. If you make it past this fact however, they turn in a solid performance, helped by the fact that ‘Spark’ is basically ‘This Little Light of Mine’ with electric guitars. More promisingly ‘Good Morning’ has the sweet summeriness of late nineties Britpop and the band seem genuinely excited by how well the crowd respond.
Back in the House Party stage, qmunicate’s photographer risks bleeding eardrums to snap away at special guests Dinosaur Pile-Up . ‘White T-shirt and Jeans’ pushes the soundsystem into the red and the band never let up; blasting noisy grunge anthems like the ghost of Kurt Cobain is hovering side of stage. They’ve mastered sound and fury but they only crack melody intermittently so it’s hard to see them getting a lot bigger than this but on a small stage it’s a set with plenty going for it.
On the same weekend that they play Glasgow’s own East End Social, Admiral Fallow have made the short trek down to Cumbria. The audience clap along to the always brilliant ‘Beetle in the Box’ and Louie introduces ‘Guest of the Government’ as their “party song” but the real treat is an early airing of a new song destined for their forthcoming third album due later this year.
The real standout set of the day though comes from Stockport’s Findlay. qmunicate have been fervent fans ever since she tore up King Tuts’, upstaging both Jake Bugg and Tom Odell but once again Natalie Findlay is on top form, striding onstage in heart-shaped glasses to belt out garage-rock projectiles like ‘Your Sister’ and the fantastic ‘Electric Bones’. Like Karen O or Debbie Harry, she’s a stunning frontwoman, strutting across the stage and howling like Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane. Set closer ‘Off and On’ kick starts the first mosh pit of the weekend as Findlay drapes herself over the monitor and eyeballs the audience. Explosive stuff.
Sadly an accident on the M6 delays hip-hop legends De La Soul but a patient crowd are eventually rewarded with the energetic arrival of the trio on stage. Limited to an all too brief half an hour, they treat the audience to a rapid-fire burst of tracks from across their career as alt-rap totem bearers before departing as suddenly as they arrived.
Up the field the hype machine is in overdrive for Catfish & the Bottlemen, recently anointed Zane Lowe’s hottest record in the world for the second time. With Manic Street Preachers settling into middle age and Lostprophets, well, we don’t talk about them, the Welsh rock scene needs some new standard bearers and this young group seem well-placed to take up the banner. Their frenetic assault includes energetic singles like ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Pacifier’ and if there’s a sense that you’ve seen this before, it is quickly blown apart by the way the crowd feed off the energy of the band.
Finally closing the Main Stage on Friday night is Britpop’s glammest band, Suede, who open with their talismanic frontman, Brett Anderson, centre stage before bursting the whole group into ‘For the Strangers’. The rake thin but fit Anderson is, of course, inevitably the focus of the crowd’s attention but guitarist, Richard Oakes, deserves his share of the plaudits as his thick, chunky riffs cascade across Suede’s impressive back catalogue.
As you would expect the biggest cheers are reserved for hits like ‘Metal Mickey’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’ which unite the crowd in song; despite strong reviews for their comeback record, Suede’s appeal has been slow to transcend generations but Anderson is both a hard worker and in remarkably good voice for a man’s who heroin habit once made Trainspotting look like afternoon tea. A fine end to day one.
Words: [Max Sefton]
Pictures: [George Sewell]