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Kendal Calling 2014: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 1st September 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Martin’s Day 1 roundup from
Kendal Calling 2014 is here.

There’s no doubting the scale of The Ramona Flowers‘ ambition – theirs is all big reverb and hanging guitar notes, large-scale emoting and words like “bittersweet”. There’s a common comparison with U2, which is fair enough, but in comparison the Flowers seem a touch lightweight: at least U2 managed to write about politics before moving on to songs which can be played at weddings. ‘Brighter’ is a spacey affair which manages to tick all the boxes of swirly, effected guitar, emo-pained yet meaningless vocal meanderings and a stadium-friendly drum track. Does the world need another bunch of U2 wannabes? Probably not, but the experience is pretty exhilarating while it lasts. Steve Bird is a strong frontman – which basically means he knows how good he looks and plays up to it – and the rest of the band bang out the massive tunes with competence and enthusiasm. If, like Professor Peach, you “like ’em big”, then The Ramona Flowers are where it’s at.

Amber Run (another set, another meaningless two-word band name) belong to that most dreary of genres: Quiet-Loud-Folksy-Rock-With-Big-Crescendos-And-Wide-Eyed-Faux-Innocent-Vocals. Even if this was your very first introduction to the wonders of live rock music, you’d still be forgiven for thinking “is that really it?”. ‘Spark’ has a pointless refrain of “let the light in”, repeated ad nauseum – a defining feature of the QLFRWBCAWEFIV genre. ‘Noah’ has all the other tropes – mildly ironic orchestral baubles (in this case, xylophone) and vowels stretched to the very limits of decency. They’re not as irritating as Eliza and the Bear, although that’s like saying syphilis is preferable to AIDS. Both to be avoided as much as practically possible.

We Were Evergreen do their thing, which is to be very funky and French indeed. We’ve covered them before at Deer Shed Festival (read about this year’s appearance here), so there’s no need to go into detail about their virtues again here, except to say that TGTF had a chat with them afterwards, so watch this space for that.

Thank goodness for Findlay, who can be relied upon to be a proper rock star. There’s more attitude in her slight frame than any number of mopey, reverbed boy bands. ‘Your Sister’ is even more acerbic live, the minimal band (another example of the current superfluosity of bassists) rocking hard to an ancient blues riff over lyrics heavy with innuendo. She breaks out the overdrive microphone for ‘Greasy Love’, which is still a very naughty piece of music, its references to sweaty sex just about as raunchy as rock gets right now, and its music is as dirty as its lyrical content. A new track called ‘Stoned and Alone’ is unleashed with the order, “if you’ve got a spliff, smoke it now!” to the raised eyebrows of security staff; what a rebel. If there’s a girl doing better blues-rock than Findlay right now, call the Guinness Book of Records.

Catfish and the Bottlemen pack the Calling Out tent, punters squelching around in boggy puddles on its periphery, desperate to catch a glimpse of a band that are shaping up to be the next big thing in mainstream rock. The stars were all aligning for their Kendal performance – their album about to drop, it was frontman Van McCann’s birthday, and he’d just exclusively revealed to TGTF that he’d like CATB to be bigger than Oasis. Fair enough. And on the evidence of today, their trajectory is indeed inexorably upwards. Their songs are adventurous yet simple: big choruses, hooky melodies, modestly sweary of lyric yet innocent of eye. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, no novel song arrangements, no obscure instrumentation, just a wall of guitars and an endearing mixture of humility and genuine cool from McCann. Back in March last year, TGTF declared “anyone pondering the future of British guitar music should add Catfish and the Bottlemen to the list”. Come 2014, not only are they on the list, they’re fighting hard to be at the top. Care to bet against them?

With their run of festival performances this summer, Suede have pulled off one of the most profound comebacks in recent memory. Not only are they generally regarded as being, if not quite the inventors of Britpop, then certainly the trailblazers, they have managed to resurrect a career that was in danger of becoming a footnote in pop music history – a blazing start followed by a long tail of increasing mediocrity. No longer. Following their superb comeback 2013 album ‘Bloodsports’, Suede have crafted a live show utterly worthy of a headline slot at any event in the world. Even (whisper it…) Glastonbury. Mumford and Sons? Give me a break.

After an appropriately long wait, a shadowy figure emerged from the depths of the stage to the mournful piano strains of ‘The Next Life’, a hugely brave move in front of a Northern festival crowd known for its rowdy enthusiasm. Impressively, the crowd was hushed and reverent as Brett Anderson knelt, almost foetus-like, his cracked falsetto hypnotising them into silence. A beautiful moment of Kendal history. But in a blink it was gone, replaced by a romp through 20 years of Suede history. They played more than half their debut album but just a single track from opus ‘Dog Man Star’, perhaps reinforcing this author’s opinion that, good though ‘Dog Man Star’ is, it’s ‘Suede’ that is a true pop-rock masterpiece, with the perfect combination of punk, pomp and peroxide, and much more relevant in the live arena.

There’s four tracks from ‘Coming Up,’ demonstrating just how valuable the first Oakes-written Suede album is to their back catalogue. The move to single-word song titles (‘Filmstar’, ‘Lazy’, ‘Trash’) neatly summarises the fresh, efficient, to-the-point Suede 2.0 which emerged from the ashes of the ‘Dog Man Star’ sessions – such songs are remarkably fizzy, electronically-enhanced shocks of guitar pop that still sound fresh and vital today. We also get this writer’s favourite ever Suede song, ‘Killing of a Flash Boy’, never released on a non-compilation album, but a perennial live favourite, a dystopian singalong with a similarly worrying video.

There really isn’t a comparable story in pop to that of Richard Oakes. Plucked from nowhere as a schoolboy with a penchant for playing Suede songs in his bedroom, his mimicry of Bernard Butler was astonishing then, and his ability to write original guitar parts in the true Suede style is nothing short of a musical miracle even now. His recent portliness may not be true to the skinny Suede style of old (Anderson, however, remains as sticklike as ever), but is at least a visual reminder of the years that have passed since his joining. Despite what many longstanding fans may want to believe, Oakes has been in the band almost three times as long as his predecessor, and is the true sound of modern Suede.

The high-water mark for Britpop reunions is arguably Blur’s performance at Glastonbury in 2009, with perhaps an honourable mention for Pulp at Primavera in 2011. The difference here is that Suede aren’t just doing a one-off gig or two, this tour has been going for the best part of a year, featuring several festival appearances. This a proper career reboot, and with a new album slated for 2015, Suede are proving that they’re not happy simply with inventing Britpop. They want to reinvent it too.

More from Martin on Kendall Calling 2014 will be on TGTF soon.

 

Interview: Van McCann of Catfish and the Bottlemen at Kendal Calling 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 19th August 2014 at 11:00 am
 

One only has to spend a handful of minutes in the presence of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s slight lead singer and head honcho Van McCann to be exposed to a masterclass in extrovert charm. Everyone he passes gets a smile and a friendly “Hello, how’re you doing?”, no matter whether they’re a fellow big-name musician or simply an anonymous scribe tapping away on a keyboard that he happens to be walking past. That it’s all done with such genuine humility and joie de vivre makes the experience utterly compelling – a quality that feeds back into the band’s live performance. Politicians could learn a thing or two from him about making friends and influencing people.

TGTF caught up with McCann just an hour or so before his band’s performance at Kendal Calling 2014, which would pack the Calling Out tent to such an extent that people were spilling out of its sides, braving torrential rain and a sloppy mudbath to catch a glimpse of who are sure to be one of 2015’s big headline acts in the making.

I was looking forward to seeing you last weekend at Deer Shed – why didn’t that work out?
I know mate, tell me about it. We’ve had a really bad 2 weeks. We missed Tramlines in Sheffield as well, which is one of my favourite festivals in the world. I know the promoter quite well, he gave us our first ever gig in Sheffield and I was so gutted – we never let people down.

You’re well known for doing a lot of hard work though so I suppose at some point the pressure must tell a little bit.
It was nice because everyone understood because they know that we’re that kind of band who love gigging – I hate being in the studio, I hate being anywhere else except live so it ruined me to miss them but honestly, if you knew the stuff going on – it was terrible.

I guess everyone knew you wouldn’t just do that on a whim.
It’s alright now, we’re back, and I feel good, I’m excited.

So TGTF first caught up with you at the Communion gig in London last year…
That might have been the day we got signed – I think it was, in fact. That Communion show – you were probably thinking, “where’s this band come from”, which wasn’t the case at all – we’d been playing to empty rooms all our lives, playing acoustic gigs for money, coming from nothing. So to be able to come off the dole, onto a deal, it was mad.

We played T in the Park the other week, and I was nearly crying! You know singers are supposed to be cool onstage, well, I came offstage thinking, “That gig was amazing but I’ve just ruined any credibility I’ve ever had!” I was trying to sing the songs, but I couldn’t because I was laughing my head off. We started playing ‘Kathleen’ and everyone was bouncing and singing and I literally couldn’t get my words out because I was so overwhelmed by it. Yeah, it blows me away. My Dad brought me up very much based around live music, I’d go to see people like Van Morrison and be genuinely blown away, so when I can see a crowd doing that for us it’s unreal to me, man!

There’s always a moment at festivals when it all comes together and the tears well up, but for it to happen in front of so many people must make it even more special.
It’s just mad, a really good feeling. When I went to see Oasis at Heaton Park, I remember thinking it feels like everyone in Manchester is going to the same place – as if Jesus had come back – everyone would go to the same place. It used to be everyone was thinking about Jesus, and everyone there was thinking about Oasis. It’s just the feeling of 1,000 or 2,000 people being in a tent, going, we’re going to see Catfish, we’re going to see Catfish! I love it, it’s the best feeling in the world.

So was that always your aspiration, to be, you could say, as big as Oasis.
Bigger! Bigger than them. I want to be the biggest thing ever. I don’t see the point in it otherwise, it’s like saying you want to be a professional footballer but you’re happy sitting on the bench at Leeds. Why wouldn’t you want to be the best on the planet? I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant when I say that, but if I was a bin man, I’d want to be the best bin man. It’s about being the best band we possibly can and getting as many people into us as possible. It’s very much about getting as big as it can possibly get. I love it all, I love everything to do with it. We’ve never been in a band to make music to sell it, we used to give all our CDs away…

I think I got a free CD at the Communion show…
That was the day we had to stop doing it! The day the record label said we need to make money! I hate being in the studio, I hate chart positions and all that stuff, I’m not fussed about any of it – selling out gigs is what I care about, and now they’re selling out – I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Your singles have been pretty well received as well, with Zane Lowe loving them…
Steve Lamacq started all that, and there’s a guy called Jason Carter who gets overlooked from the BBC, he doesn’t get enough credit, he’s been a really important person for this band. Steve Lamacq gave us our first radio play when I was 15! He called me a poetic genius when I was 15 – imagine me going into school the next day, I was like, “Told you!”

So you’re still on an upwards trajectory then – it remains to be seen how far you can go…
That’s the exciting thing – it could all fall apart tomorrow. With the album, I’m so proud of it – in the past, if someone hasn’t liked something, I’ve said, “Well, that’s because we didn’t have enough time to record it”, or whatever, but this album I’m made up with it. I want people to come up to me and say it’s garbage, I want people to feel something from it. It’s dead exciting! I hope that never stops, I hope we never get to the point where it can’t get any bigger, I just want it to get bigger and bigger and bigger, but I want to do it really slowly, because I don’t want to lose that intimacy at gigs – we stay behind after every gig. I don’t like rock stars who are aliens, when you’re wondering what they’re up to backstage. I love it when people tell me “I hate that song, it’s shite!” and we have a good crack about it. It’s really fun.

So, Oasis got to the stage when they made these huge, overblown records, do you think you’ll ever reach that stage?
I hope so. I hope we get the opportunity to make an overblown record. We’re not druggies though, so I don’t think we’ll get into LSD and grow beards and all that shit. But I hope it gets to the size where we get the opportunity to go, “Let’s make a mental record,” but I hope it just keeps getting bigger and bigger so we can keep putting music out for people. We’re not one of those bands who – at the moment anyway – want to change our sound, we just want it to be about the songs.

That’s good, because you make – I don’t want to use the word mainstream – accessible, direct, rock music.
I like the word mainstream though, I’m not afraid of it.

It’s a bit of a dirty word though, isn’t it? Appealing to the masses. But surely that’s the whole point of music?
That’s the thing – when people compare us to bands – I hate being compared to the Strokes or whatever, but I love the Strokes! If you’re comparing us to the Strokes, then go for it! I don’t mind. I don’t mind anything, because we are mainstream! When I write songs, I think “are 60,000 people going to sing this in a field”, whereas other people write songs for themselves and if other people get it then that’s brilliant. But for me I’m thinking like, “is someone going to fall in love with this tune?” or “are people going to have sex in a car to this? Are people going to be bouncing at gigs to this?” I think about all those things. So I’m not scared of being mainstream, I want to be mainstream. People have a go at the Kings Of Leon for selling out – I resent that. They got really annoyed about it, when people got mad at them for writing ‘Sex on Fire. If that song hadn’t been on the radio, Kings Of Leon fans would have been fine about it, but so what? Sell out arenas, man, get as big as you can! If you’re filling 20,000 caps a night, it’s better than doing 200.

You’re bringing pleasure to more people that way.
Music’s about making people happy and positive, it’s not about your ego or ruining your image or anything like that, so we’re not scared of being mainstream. It’s nice that you say that though, I hope we are mainstream. We’re not clever enough or good looking enough to be outside the box. So we’re very much like, while everyone else does the tricky stuff outside the box, we’ll just stay right in the middle of it and try and write really good songs.

There’s a definite lack of pretension in your music.
I think it’s because we’re from nowhere. We didn’t have anything before we got the deal, we were all on the dole and when we got the deal we still paid each other as much as the dole so it felt like we were still on the dole. So we still skimped. I love everything about it – I love interviews, I love these buses [we’re sitting upstairs in a double-decker bus converted into a media centre], we got free pies, man! Pie Minister! I couldn’t afford a pie at one time, and now I’m getting free pies! It’s ace.

It sounds like you’re really enjoying it.
I couldn’t be happier. It’s the time of my life. But it’s nice that people like you have seen us that long ago because I’ve been doing interviews lately where they’re asking “so you’ve just blown out of nowhere, last week?” You would have seen us about 2 years ago [in reality it was 18 months ago, but neither of us were exactly sure at the time]. My Dad was there that day. He used to have to drive us everywhere, and we sacked him and he got really offended. He drove us to Germany non-stop, for 16 hours or something, and we had to sack him or I thought he’d die in our presence. So I had to sack him before I killed him!

And with that, our time is up with Van McCann. Who wants to be bigger than Oasis, isn’t afraid of being mainstream, and loves a good pie, especially if they’re free. Their gig later on is one of the highlights of the festival, and McCann’s charm works wonders on the sodden crowd, warming them through with an unexpected Rod Stewart singalong. Only 18 short months since we last saw them, not only are Catfish And The Bottlemen on the list of British guitar bands, they’re not far off the top of it right now. Give it a bit more time, and unlikely as it seems, Van McCann might be closer to achieving his dream than you might think.

 

Kendal Calling 2014: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 18th August 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Kendal Calling 2014 was wet, windy and wild, but that didn’t stop it being one of the finest weekends of the festival calendar.

Anyone considering a trip to the Lake District at any time of the year would be well advised to anticipate bad weather, as Kendal Calling 2014 demonstrated all too well. At times, revellers were treated to a rendition of the classic “four seasons in one day”: heavy rain, followed by strong winds, then a glimpse of blue sky and sunshine before the rain returned again. Rinse and repeat.

Some people had grokked that it was raining and muddy and wore wellies and raincoats. Others appeared not to notice, sporting flimsy trainers and T-shirts that were soon overwhelmed by the weather. Those who were either already insane or induced to be so by the party atmosphere positively relished the conditions, to the extent of indulging in mud-diving, mud-fighting and indeed, mud-hugging. On this evidence, anyone who tells you rain spoils a festival needs to have a rethink.

In between the mud-love there happened to be some music. Kendal has within its modestly-sized site a plethora of stages: the commercial-biased Main Stage, the new indie bands on the Calling Out stage, the pretty Woodlands stage, in addition to hosting longtime external collaborators Chai Wallahs and Riot Jazz. The compact nature of the site – you’re never more than 10 minutes away from the other side – means it carries a significant advantage over mega-festivals where it feels like one spends most of the day trudging from one far-flung stage to the next.

The big news this year was the opening of the main arena on Thursday night, for the benefit of those who paid a bit extra for early entry. And who better to get the place rocking than everyone’s favourite funk ‘n’ soul (and friend to TGTF) DJ Craig Charles? In truth, technically, he’s no better than the chap in your local boozer spinning the silver discs of a Saturday night – there’s little attempt at anything fancy like beatmatching – but what Charles lacks in technical skill he far more than makes up for with sheer unbridled enthusiasm, standing up on the desk, exhorting the crowd into further frenzies of funk-induced revelry, his set heavy with classic soul and climaxing with a Dimitri From Paris’ remix of Michael Jackson’s ‘I Want You Back’ by which time a random gaggle of lucky punters had been invited up on stage, dancing with DJ Charles in various states of inebriation and undress. The party had well and truly started.

Kendal’s campsites are true melting pots of those brave souls who risk staying up beyond the witching hour to for the simple pleasures of shared song and story… and beer and whisky. If you don’t want to be kept awake by a tone-deaf rendition of ‘Wonderwall’ at 3 AM, then the quiet camping area is a must. Never fear, your correspondent was on hand to ensure that at the very least the guitar was properly tuned – no mean feat at such a late hour. After so much anticipation, Friday morning couldn’t dawn soon enough, and after such a fine prelude, it had finally arrived.

Stay tuned for more coverage from Martin on this year’s Kendal Calling coming soon on TGTF.

 

Preview: Kendal Calling 2014

 
By on Friday, 21st March 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Think of an annual music festival that takes place in verdant countryside, set amongst rolling hills and centuries-old oak trees, featuring a populist main stage, a superbly-programmed and forward-looking new music stage, with jazz, world, dance, and even hidden woodland stages, an exclusive lakeside VIP performance area, and an arts strand curated by a bona fide rock star. Which was voted best medium-sized festival of 2013 (which TGTF can confirm from personal experience – it was). Sound good? You’re thinking of Kendal Calling.

With a heady mix of Mancunians, Glaswegians, and Geordies in the audience, the atmosphere at Kendal is rarely far from party central, but this year’s lineup is shaping up to be the finest yet seen at Lowther Deer Park. The big headline news is that London’s finest flop-haired, council-estate glamourists continue their epic rebirth with their first full summer of festival performances – the first of which is Kendal. Anyone who just a few years ago put money on Suede being the one of the hottest live properties of 2014 would be singing all the way to the bank right now, but it’s true: a new generation of so young beautiful ones are going to be driven star-crazy by the chemistry between us – Europe is our playground and we have the power to stay together. Or something.

Frank Turner (pictured at top) brings his Sleeping Souls to headline Saturday at the Calling Out stage – as Kendal’s most-requested artist, he’ll surely have no trouble in filling the tent, or struggle to exhort a capacious crowd to sing along to his punky, Americana-influenced ditties. A slice of true American chaos arrives in the shape of Reel Big Fish, replete with parping horn section, lots of jumping around, and huge helpings of tongue-in-cheek-and-down-throat ska-punk. Here’s hoping for their cover of A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ – surely the cue for the Kendal crowd to go pogoing mental.

Those for whom festivals simply aren’t fulfilling experiences without not one but two helpings of Johnny Borrell need look no further. He’s there with old band Razorlight, or what’s left of it, presumably with a “performance as history lesson” ethos, given the band haven’t released a record since 2008’s ‘Slipway Fires’. Perhaps this will please the of-a-certain-age Saturday afternoon main stage crowd, but overall seems a Noughties revival too far. Potentially far more interesting is Borrell’s new project, Zazou: heavy with sultry saxophone and avant-garde arrangements, this is the sound of a former rock star going just that little bit off the rails. ‘Cyrano Masochiste’, anyone? Well worth popping one’s head in for.

Everyone’s favourite postmodern diva Findlay will be there, the ever-underrated Athlete will no doubt remind everyone why they were the sound of 2003 (because they’re very good), and Happy Mondays will no doubt manage that combination of inspired madness and total car-crash that they’ve been known for, well, pretty much forever. Other highlights: Breton will be defining the actual sound of 2014, TGTF favourites Catfish and the Bottlemen will be again proving why they are the future of British pop-rock, and the North-East of England is strongly represented by the beautiful, fragile pastoralism of Lanterns on the Lake, and the beautiful ginger hair of the identical, and identically noisy twins of Gallery Circus, the North-East’s answer to Drenge. Except better. Oh, and Goldie’s DJing.

If you’re within walking, cycling, or hitching distance of Westmorland, Kendal is a summer essential, like a rain cape and warm lager. Except it never rains at Kendal, and the beer is always cold. Honest.

Also headlining the festival will be Brett Anderson and Suede. For more information on Kendal Calling including finding out how to book tickets, visit their official Web site.

 

Kendal Calling 2013: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 6th September 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

Is it just me or was Kendal Calling 2013‘s Saturday on the main stage “Lad’s day”? The Twang, The D.O.T., even Ash seemed to bring the inner Manc out in everybody. At least Dutch Uncles were there to bring a bit of thinking man’s rock to the party. Is it just me or do Dutch Uncles get better with every viewing? Duncan Wallis (shown below) is a frontman perfectly at ease with himself, proudly showing off his pristine, angular moves, particularly on ‘Flexxin’’, where the famous moves from the video are reproduced even more lucidly onstage. The band display a limber structure within which they explore their compositions, with a confidence only a group who have toured together for countless months can display. And they seem to have avoided becoming bored with each other or their songs, as have the audience.

Dutch Uncles Kendal Calling 2013

The D.O.T. came widely anticipated. A joint venture between Mike Skinner, ex of The Streets, and Rob Harvey, ex of Leeds rockers The Music, promises to bring some urban smarts to indie music, to replace guitars with electronics, but still within a knowing framework that appeals to both indie kids and hip-hop heads. In reality, it all falls a bit flat. Certainly there’s nothing here to compete with the intensity of the previous night’s Public Enemy onslaught, but conversely it would be more exciting with a bit of live instrumentation. Harvey strums a guitar every now and again, but they fail to excite the crowd at all; Skinner’s deadpan sneering doesn’t help, an attitude which apparently carries through to his DJ set later in the evening. There are occasional glimpses of the urban tenderness of The Streets, but glimpses is all they are. There’s potential here, but they need to have a bit of a rethink on how to engage anyone other than diehard fans of both The Music and The Streets at the same time. How many of those can there be?

The most surprising thing about The Twang is that they’re actually still going, given a steady decline in album sales over the past decade, let alone how they’ve managed to bag a decent main stage slot at a big festival. Well, the answer’s in the laddism. They appear to have two singers, plenty of guitars and energy, and some singalong bits – who am I to argue that what they actually need is class and talent?

Tim Wheeler (pictured at top) from Ash is lacking in neither class or talent – it takes class to maintain a brand for 20 years, whilst keeping people interested and even devoted to its music; it takes talent to continue to wield a Gibson Flying V with the sort of aplomb which would make a 12-year-old boy say, “that’s cool”. Both of which are achieved within a few bars of Ash’s set commencing. Moreover, they command the rain: it pours down at the first note of their set, and would continue for 12 hours. Clearly God is a fan. Nobody has really taken Ash’s place: as survivors of the tail end of Britpop, their offer is clearly still relevant today, and not just by way of nostalgia. Their songs are evocative of teenage yearning, of big guitars, and simple, overriding emotions still capable of commanding a big festival stage. Carry on, sir.

Sweet Baboo Kendal Calling 2013

Sweet Baboo’s delicate, witty, poignant Welsh ditties bring us back to the Calling Out tent. Such assertively sweet music from such an unassuming chap is quite the contrast. By the time the set climaxes, the horn section is parping as if Steve Cropper were in the crowd, taking notes. Which, in a spiritual way, he was. To be followed swiftly by Sons and Lovers (shown below), who tread that fine line between cliche and true excellence. In the cold light of day, their Mumford-esque sound is their downfall: inevitable thumping floor toms, incessant quiet-loud-quiet-loud arrangements, and hopelessly romantic themes do them no favours, but on this day in history, Sons and Lovers provide set worthy of headliners. Such are the complex vagaries of live music.

Sons and Lovers Kendal Calling 2013

London Grammar remain to be assessed another day – their autumn tour should set the record straight as to whether they are simply xx wannabes, or whether they have something truly original to offer. Now… it hardly needs stating that there’s more to music festivals than stroking one’s chin at bands. So Saturday night was as good a time as any to relinquish any thought of sobriety, any notion of “reviewing”, and simply have a bit of a party. A date had been made for 10 pm to watch a delightful bunch of ladies called the Hooping Harlots perform a spectacular LED hula-hoop display, with the added bonus that they let any old punter (e.g., me) practice their dubious hula skills with some of their less precious hoops. Even though I can keep it up indefinitely (that’s what she said!) I can’t do anything more exciting than that; the talented Harlots, however, can do the lot – spinning around the wrist, neck, and unbelievably, the shoulder, and swapping between them all with a fluid ease that defies description. Add to that the LED light show within the hoops, and it’s a spectacle guaranteed to scramble already delicate festival minds.

The whole thing took place at the well-named Tipple Taxi, a London cab converted into a bijou drinking den, one of many micro-venues scattered around the site, making an evening stumble around the place into a voyage of one exciting discovery after another – from the Chai Wallah’s tent rising from the horizontal for a bit of a boogie finale, to the lucky dip of sounds that is Riot Jazz. The climax of any good Saturday night at Kendal has to be the Glow Dance Tent, however.

Which is where it should, and does, become a little hazy. There are photographs – oh, what photographs. The essence of the sublime confusion of a properly executed night in the company of dance music is expressed therein. Please take a look. Musically, Krafty Kutz expressed their unsurpassed UK hip hop beats and flow, assisted by A Skillz. Needless to say there was dubstep bass all over the house, the constant battle between vocal lines, sub bass, and 8-bit melodies proving too much to bear for some. Check out the Dirtyphonics remix of Pounding for more information, and to experience the enormous bass which sets the level for a Krafty Kutz experience. The level reaches even higher with the introduction of the mentalist blend of wound-up beats, vocals, and samples that comprises ‘Happiness’. Spotify it out.

Suffice to say by the time Maribou State took over at 2 AM, the tent was in great need of a bit of glitchy, soulful techno to rest weary limbs. But even then, the subtle electronica coalesced into an irresistible hole of bouncing heads and knowing looks as the next hour passed in a haze of exhaustion. We were to stagger, spent and silent, to a wreck of flooded, ransacked tents… but that’s a story for another day.

 

Kendal Calling 2013: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 19th August 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

If one was to hold a competition to find the most picturesque view in festivaldom, what would be on the shortlist? Certainly the legendary vista of the entire site from Glastonbury’s stone circle. Perhaps the imposing aspect from underneath Primavera’s vast concrete solar monolith across the Mediterranean sea. Equally as impressive, in a considerably more natural way, is the view just past the entrance barriers into Kendal Calling. The grassy site stretches out down a gentle slope, pocked with multicoloured canvas. Billowy cumulonimbus hang in a vast sky graduated between royal and baby blue, whilst on the horizon sit the imposing peaks of the Lake District. Just into the distance, tantalisingly obscured by trees, can be seen the tents and stages of the arena itself.

The geographical fortune of Kendal Calling doesn’t stop there. Being located roughly equidistant between the conurbations of Manchester, Glasgow, and Newcastle upon Tyne contributes to a heady melting pot of accents from three cultures that, let’s be honest, aren’t renowned for being shy of a bit of a party. And Kendal seems to specifically for their requirements: there’s guitar music aplenty, sometimes with a distinctly ‘laddish’ slant, and non-stop dance music until 3 AM for those so inclined towards a bit of an uplifting boogie. Which, as it turned out, for one night only, was me.

Concrete Knives Kendal Calling 2013

The rest of my time at Kendal mostly was spent at the Calling Out stage, a modestly-sized tent featuring less well-known and more up-and-coming acts than the household names hosted on the main stage. The very first act of the festival were Concrete Knives (pictured above), given a cruelly short 30 minutes in which to get across their funky Gallic guitar-pop. They rattle through several from debut ‘Be Your Own King’, Morgane Colas apparently floating in a self-induced trance when singing. They’re a rare treat, funky, cerebral and humorous all at the same time, and I can’t wait to see them do a full headline set (5/5). Champs have a lovely, summery take on the songwriter duo; something like ‘My Spirit Is Broken’ is just the sort of keening, sweetly-harmonied ditty that you want to hear emanating from a warm afternoon tent (3/5).

Waylayers Kendal Calling 2013

Waylayers turn up the tempo somewhat. Theirs is the sound of guitar songwriting meeting Balearic beats and synths as on the anthemic ‘S.O.S.’, which is dancefloor-worthy even without needing a remix. Harry Lee has enormous physical presence, dominating both the stage and the little keyboard from which he generates any number of uplifting synth lines. His vocals are often the spit of Diagrams’ Sam Genders, while the music treads a similar path to other practitioners of the dance crossover genre such as Friendly Fires; the fact that ‘Fires’ was produced by Ewan Pearson of TGTF former faves Delphic is surely no coincidence. Are they still unsigned? Surely not for long (4/5).

Misty Miller Kendal Calling 2013

“I washed my hair for you / I shaved my legs for you too” – the first couplet of ‘Next To You’ neatly summarises Misty Miller’s brand of guitar-based feminism, and the enormous blues riff which explodes seconds later indicates how serious she is about it. This is properly dirty garage rock, as simple as it gets: two, maybe three chords, drums bashed as hard as possible, and as generous a dose of swagger from the eponymous young frontwoman as one could reasonably hope for. Nothing particularly complicated here, but a generous dose of attitude and a nice loud electric guitar go a long way, and considering Misty is still only 19 years old, this is a particularly impressive performance (4/5).

Clean Bandit (pictured at top) are an unusual proposition, with their uneasy blend of dance music overlaid with a variety of classical stringed instruments and some MCing – effectively an updated version of the Dads’ car stereo favourite ‘Hooked On Classics’. A couple of minutes into this year’s ‘Mozart’s House’ single, the beats stop completely and the strings play a few bars solo, before the inevitable four-to-the-floor kick drum reappears, and it all goes hands-in-the-air again. The MC mines the depth of cliché in his classical music references – staccato, pizzicato, they’re all there, sticking out like four crotchets in a bar of waltz. One can’t help but think that fans of neither genre are served well – do dance heads really want strings all over their music? And it’s a rare kind of classical music fan that thinks, “what this string quartet recital really needs is a nice 909 bassline!” Nevertheless, there is some virtue here – the twin female vocalists give good show, the whole thing could act as a decent, risk-free primer to the charms of dance music for débutantes, and overall it’s all pretty good fun – if you don’t mind a bit of cheese in your mid-afternoon sandwich (2/5).

The Heartbreaks Kendal Calling 2013

Whether or not it’s the fact that Morecambe’s The Heartbreaks are treating Kendal Calling as something of a homecoming gig, what with them being just a quick trip up the M6 away from home, there’s something in the demeanour of Matthew Whitehouse and co. that demonstrates that they’re not just making up the numbers here. They would end up playing three times in the same day, including an acoustic set, but the Calling Out stage set was as good as any place to catch them. Clearly steeped in the aesthetic of the swinging ’60s, in many ways The Heartbreaks are keeping alive the straight pop of the pre-grunge ’90s, with a sweet, upbeat songs about girls. There’s a clear Smiths influence, which is no surprise given the band’s enthusiasm for them, but they come across as far more joyous than the Mancunian miserabilists. If you’re in the market for slice after slice of optimistic guitar pop, The Heartbreaks are who you should be listening to (5/5).

A few minutes in the company of Willy Moon soon assuages any doubts that his underwhelming Liverpool Sound City performance was anything other than representative of the usual standard of his work. His set consists of vignettes of self-aggrandising cliché; he himself is an obsequious musical magpie that steals the shiniest but most worthless musical baubles. For example, a compilation of lyrics from recent album ‘Here’s Willy Moon’ tell their own story:

“ain’t coming back no more / yeah yeah / how you like me now / one, two, three, four / I got what you need / got a strange affliction deep in my soul / I wanna be your man / when I was young my mama said / I put a spell on you”

Make no mistake, the first time these musical ideas were invented, they worked, because they were new and exciting. But to simply rehash them and sell them on as one’s own work, isn’t just plagiarism, it’s insulting the intelligence of one’s audience. Moon has an obvious talent for performance, but a desperate hole where there should be some decent, meaty bits of song – pretty much all of which are under 3 minutes long, and some are under 2. Usually brevity in music is to be applauded, as long as what is presented is an original idea, concisely expressed. In Moon’s case, his are underdeveloped foeti of songs, birthed at too young an age, dressed up in the glitter of production to disguise their weakness (1/5).

Public Enemy Kendal Calling 2013

Public Enemy, on the other hand, have a lot to say, perhaps quite a lot more than can be easily understood on first listen by a white Yorkshireman. The show is highly theatrical, with Flava Flav making an appearance ages after things have got going; in fact it was three songs in, because the photographers were preparing to leave after the customary three songs, only to be called back by Flav because he hadn’t had enough of the limelight – the first time in my experience that an artist has called for more photographic exposure rather than less. And certainly the first time that terms have been overruled directly from onstage. Flav makes an impassioned tribute to the unfortunate black American teenager Trayvon Martin, to whom he dedicates his continuing to wear the clock around his neck. There’s entourage scattered around the stage, seemingly just standing there most of the time, but overall it’s a pretty highly-charged affair, set amongst what it could be said is a fairly inoffensive, apolitical bill. And there’s nowt wrong with that (4/5).

 
 
 

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We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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