Kendal Calling 2014 – Saturday Review

Despite the degree of precipitation wavering somewhere between Niagara Falls and tropical tsunami, the remarkably good-natured crowd strode out on the second day of the festival, enticed by the prospect of sets from hard-touring folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner and reformed Manc scallies The Happy Mondays.

673(c) George Sewellstuff

The first act on qmunicate’s hit list is Black Rivers, a new group formed by Andy and Jez Williams, two-thirds of seemingly defunct Manchester rockers Doves. Their debut single ‘The Ship’ is just a couple of weeks old so Kendal Calling offers an early opportunity for road-testing new material and it is immediately evident from the way the new quartet walk on stage that they are seasoned professionals. Their greatest weakness however, may be that Black Rivers’ music still finds itself treading much the same ground as their former project. Doves’ bandleader Jimi Goodwin (who also played an acclaimed set at Kendal Calling on Friday night) has embraced ramshackle folk and acerbic lyrics but the Williams brothers play it remarkably straight for a project that was initially mooted as an expression of artistic freedom.

Following them on the main stage are Bath-based neo-soul crew The Heavy, best known for their advert soundtracking hit ‘How You Like Me Now?’. Sharply suited and booted, their funky sound, which blurs James Brown and Curtis Mayfield, is popular with an audience shaking off the drizzle in one of the afternoon’s brief moments of sunshine.

Even better is guitar wizard Newton Faulkner, who, as the sun bursts out from behind the clouds, treats the Kendal Calling crowd to covers of Justin Timberlake and of course, Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’. As bubbles blow across the crowd, he introduces himself, “I’m Newton, this is a song” before bursting into ‘I Found Something’. With an easy charisma, he’s a popular and likeable presence, and even as his albums have stalled commercially, he is still a hugely impressive live performer, plucking and tapping an array of sounds from his acoustic guitar.

774(c) George Sewellnewton folkner

Back up the hill, Newcastle’s Lanterns on the Lake take over the Calling Out tent. Their frontwoman Hazel Wilde is better centre stage than lost behind a keyboard but they conjure an impressive wall of sound and seem to win themselves a few new fans with their emotive indie rock.

756(c) George Sewelllanturns on the lake

If there’s a lesson to be learned from Kendal Calling – aside from ALWAYS bring more socks –  it is that nostalgia comes with its own set of perils, and nowhere is that more evident than among the three acts that proceed tonight’s headliner.

Post-Coldplay indie middleweights Athlete’s plaintive pop-rock has not dated well but the deathless ‘Wires’ – about the premature birth of singer, Joel Pott’s daughter – is a better class of maudlin anthem than most, adding emotional heft to an otherwise lightweight set.

Similarly, Razorlight have taken quite a hit in terms of festival billings in the past year or two, though whether that is due to singer Johnny Borrell’s fractious relationship with the musical press, his decision to replace all three of his original bandmates or the sinking ship that was Razorlight’s third album, Slipway Fires, is a topic of contention.

Nonetheless for four years Johnny seemed to have the golden touch and it is from this period that the group draw 785(c) George Sewellrazorlightall but one song of their set. Opening with an energetic version of ‘In the Morning’, the new version of Razorlight are tight and punchy and tracks like ‘Somewhere Else’ and ‘Lies’ make a solid case for revisiting their discography. Everyone could do without the Dalston-Dylan style ‘In the City’ though – that was rubbish first time round. Borrell threatens a minor tantrum over a misfiring guitar but soon returns to run through ‘America’ and ‘Back to the Start’ before departing with little fanfare.

By contrast, the final name on tonight’s undercard seem genuinely pleased to have made it this far, though perhaps it would be generous to say that they did so unscathed. Looking like the worst scallies ever to achieve mainstream chart success, The Happy Mondays draw a massive crowd to the main field. Opening with ‘Kinky Afro’, the audience cheer the antics of dancer and maracas “player” Bez at least as much as the music, but the band are on remarkably good form, even if Sean Ryder struggles to remember which song comes next. By showing that British rock bands could make dance music the Mondays were ahead of their time and while their music may be bound tightly to a specific era, the rolling, drugged out grooves of ’24 Hour Party People’ and the bouncing, rave-orientated ‘Step On’ still sound like clarion calls to those keen for a party in a field.

741(c) George Sewellhappy mondays

Even before taking the stage Frank Turner had been tweeting about how much he loved Kendal Calling and right on cue, the audience rolled out for a mutual love fest that saw the well-travelled troubadour display a new theatrical side. Describing his songs variously as tributes to “best friends” and “growing up in a small town”, he stirs remarkable devotion amongst his fan base, with every track inspiring a chorus of voices.

Switching between solo acoustic tracks and longer segments backed by his touring band, The Sleeping Souls, Frank drew from his five solo albums to deliver a substantial twenty-two song set, including a pair of new songs. ‘Angel Islington’ is a gentl715(c) George Sewellfrank turnere fingerpicked tribute to London whilst the louder ‘Out of Breath’, earmarked for his as yet unannounced sixth album, is billed as a “dance number”.

Ending with two of his corniest tracks, the rock n’ roll will save us all proselytising of ‘I Still Believe’ and the uninspired exhortation to dance, ‘Four Simple Words’, was a rare misstep in a set that demonstrated how far Turner has come from his solo singer-songwriter days. In any case, amongst so many highlights it barely seemed to register with fans, with Turner leaving the stage, arms aloft, Kendal Calling’s hero.

Words: [Max Sefton]

Pictures: [George Sewell]

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