As I left Kendal Calling 2017, I thought back to a conversation from some friends trying to convince me to attend Y Not Festival rather than travelling up to Lowther Deer Park again. The idea of trying somewhere new, coupled with a similar line-up, made it vaguely tempting but ultimately there was no way I was going to miss another year in those fields.
Focusing on what happened in Derbyshire would be churlish but news did filter through to the campsites and everyone had the same reaction; those problems are everything Kendal Calling wouldn’t encounter. Everything about Kendal from the security and setting to the punters and overall organisation feels like how a festival should be. It’s why we all go back year after year.
Thursday, when those fields were actually green, not brown, we open our weekend with Frightened Rabbit. We manage to do this because we get from car to fully-erect tents inside around thirty minutes. I’ve never been that convinced by them, preferring The National for my source of misery, but I was still singing ‘Get Out’ by the time Sunday came around. They will get that second chance from me.
Happy Mondays show up and played that one song with the piano before Franz Ferdinand took us on the usual nostalgia trip. It’s telling immediately why this band once headlined arenas and the top tier festivals, although with the reaction to their tracks from later records, it’s also telling why they declined in popularity as they did.
Friday is one of the quieter days on an otherwise impressive line-up. Kate Nash showcases exactly how much she has strayed from her early twee-pop by absolutely lighting up the main stage with her neon blur. She thanks everyone for letting her evolve as an artist, and she really has become this brilliant ball of energy. Still, you can’t deny the infectious brilliance of set closer ‘Foundations’, and neither can she.
We spend Circa Waves thinking every track is ‘T-Shirt Weather’ but it turns out only one of them was. Stereophonics then are either completely solid or entirely uninspiring, depending on whether you’re a dad or not. Opener ‘C’est La Vie’ is actually pretty strong though, and you can’t argue with the sight of the main stage crowd losing their collective shit for ‘Dakota’.
I can say pretty much all the same things for Feeder as I said about Stereophonics, but I just like their songs a little bit more. ‘High’ is a particular highlight of a set dedicated entirely to their greatest hits. Editors, sans the ever popular ‘Smokers Outside The Hospital Door’, are as fantastically anthemic as ever. Tom Smith is still incredibly underrated as a frontman and that breakdown in ‘The Racing Rats’ is one of the most euphoria-inducing things I’ve ever heard.
Honeyblood though, steal Saturday and my entire weekend. A failed attempt at starting the set only adds to the anticipation in a packed Calling Out stage before the duo rinse through a phenomenal set of that mixes pop and punk but is absolutely not pop-punk. ‘Babes Never Die’ closes the set as the drummer gives her drumstick to a toddler on the shoulders of her father. These two are genuinely special, as I annoyingly turn and telling my friend about twenty times during their set.
By Sunday we’ve given up on any semblance of good weather (although ultimately I return home with an exceptional tan, weird). Lethal Bizzle commands the main stage and creates mosh pits that would make a fan of Download Festival blush. ‘Fester Skank’ is a predictable highlight but what surprises me is how much I enjoy every single song in this killer set. If Honeyblood hadn’t been so fantastic, he’d have been wearing a crown at this point.
Nothing But Thieves provide a generous excuse to have a chat and get some food (Ghandi’s Flip Flop remains the best festival food I’ve ever tried) before Slaves take to the stage. They’ve been pretty maligned over the last few years (and sometimes it’s been deserved), but the pure anger and energy they bring to the stage is refreshing and that’s why they’ve been so successful. Why reinvent the wheel when you can just pop the tyres and run?
A minor (major at the time) complaint comes in the form of Frank Turner not actually headlining. This is a complaint because Turner is quite clearly billed above Tinie Tempah on their website. Still, the festival has grown since Turner last headlined in 2014 and it’s good to switch things up a bit despite my own preference.
Turner himself, covered in glitter, performs as if he’s determined to show he should be at the top of the lineup. During his hour-long set we get a wall of hugs (rather than a wall of death), a crowd-surf race, and some of the best folk-pop songs of this generation. It’s a quintessential festival set, in which he plays all of the hits with no room for the rarities a superfan might look for. Closer ‘Four Simple Words’ sees him wade into the crowd as fans ballroom dance in the pit.
The Coral are our alternative to Tinie Tempah, but they fall a little flat despite the crowd spilling out into the open. There’s a sense that everyone is exhausted and just wants to hear ‘Dreaming Of You’. Not that it matters as I stand there cradling four gin cocktails, dreading the morning and the trip south.
Photo Credit: Jody Hartley