“I made a couple of robots from tinfoil in the kitchen earlier in the day. Then I had a fight onstage. Then I climbed up the tent…” So remembers British Sea Power’s Martin Noble, of his band’s headline set at the first ever Kendal Calling back in 2006. That tent pole he climbed? It was fifty foot high. A feat of aerial daring that caused the promoters, Andy Smith, then only 18, and Ben Robinson, still 21, no end of terrors. “I was seriously nervous when he started going up,” Andy recalls. “We’d put everything we had into this – and you really just can’t plan for that.”
Martin’s high-wire act turned out OK, and their first festival, put on for 900 people near Kendal Castle, passed off successfully. Just three years after opening, they moved to the 20,000 capacity Lowther Deer Park, where Kendal has lived ever since.
Ten Kendals on, BSP were among many long-time returnees back to celebrate the big anniversary. Festivities climaxed with a big fireworks display by the lake on Sunday night. Before that, the weekend blurred by with Elbow, James, the Super Furry Animals, a ‘though the decades’ dress-up theme, a parade of ‘stags’, sumo suit wrestling, comedy from the likes of Mickey P Kerr and Brendon Burns, Grandmaster Flash, Mr Scruff, a real ale festival, a whole new enchanted arts arena, Tim Burgess’ ongoing adventures at Tim Peaks, dub legend Prince Fatty, grime firecracker Fuse ODG, Northern Soul Dance classes, drawing lessons, Hacienda greats, the one and only Lancashire Hotpots, Soul II Soul, Billy Bragg, actual parkour, a rave for kids, and of course, the notorious Snoop Dogg causing all kinds of fan apprehension after he mistakenly went through the green channel at an Italian airport carrying $400,000 in cash.
Like a QEII of the rails, Virgin Trains launched their party train to Kendal on Thursday afternoon. With three first class carriages, and free prosecco for those within them, the Kendalino Express set off direct from Manchester Piccadilly to Penrith.
This was no ordinary journey. Virgin had pulled out the stops to make train travel feel as glamorous as air travel did forty years ago. There was on-board entertainment, goody bags, and on the platform at Manchester Piccadilly, the station tannoy blasted not only the usual announcements about not feeding pigeons and having a valid ticket, but a bunch of shout-outs, done in the same flat train announcer monotone. “Welcome… aboard… the… party-train”.
Long-time Kenadaler comedian Mickey P Kerr had bought a ticket on the Kendalino too. He was so excited that he treated carriages A, B and C to a greatest hits set.
Tim Booth’s survivors have a special place in Kendal’s heart. They headlined three years ago, the same weekend the London Olympics were in full swing. Back with a sharp new album, they gave the crowd a masterclass in thirty years of British indie – from baggy classics like ‘Come Home’, to the Britpop-era likes of ‘Laid’, and late-period ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’. But the largest cheers were reserved, of course, for ‘Sit Down’. The band say they like to rotate their biggest hits ‘like farmers keeping fields fallow’, so it doesn’t feature in every year’s set list. Here, it was transformed into a soft, bluesy piano and guitar shuffle. After balancing on the crush barriers, Tim dived his yoga-toned frame into the crowd, all the while grinning his head off.
This year, a crack opened up in the woodlands at the far end of Kendal. New paths were cut through the forest, their glades were stuffed with a jumble of fascinating weirdo art. A twenty foot white egg. A seven foot bird cage. Various lampshades that beamed insect noises onto the heads of passers-by. A ring of fire. An entire transit van cut into a doily.
This was the brand new Lost Eden area. But who had lost this Eden in the first place? "The elusive Tribe Of The Stag,” it said in the accompanying literature. "An iron age tribe who celebrate freedom, art and exploration as the core of their identity”.
Meanwhile, at knee level, a festival within a festival was taking place. Kids Calling has organically grown into a big part of the Kendal experience, and now incorporates a host of activities. This year marked the first ever kiddie rave: Big Fish Little Fish. There were dance lessons, art lessons, bizarre musical instruments for the young ‘uns to find their inner Bjorks with, an Insect Olympics, Dr Zig’s Bubble Show, Cbeebies presenter Alex Winters, and of course the actual Kids Calling zone.
In just a year or two, the concept of chucking powder paints at your mates en masse has gone from fringe pursuit of highly strung people who own too much powder paint to something everyone wants to join in on. In the main arena, there were three paint fights on day one. For the rest of the day, those who’d joined in could be easily identified by their orange and yellow glow.
Soon enough, the Tribe Of The Stag came out to play. “They were coming up really close to people and trying to freak them out,” says our photographer Scott. They wended through the forest, celebrating freedom, art and exploration.
Behind them marched Spark! five drummers in bright white face paint and silver costumes, who picked up great gaggles of curious followers as they swept through the Lost Eden. A stage-hand walked behind them, perfuming their path with dry ice. They stared, and grinned, as their drums changed colour in time with the dense, complicated rhythms recurring and morphing constantly. As they reached the far end of the Lost Eden, they performed a dazzling forty minute display of drums, lights, intricate choreography, before, in another puff of dry ice, they were beamed back up to whatever planet they’d come from.
The Vaccines have gone cosmic on their new album, making the slightly odd jump between barroom surf-pop and barroom space-pop with ease. In terms of how that has translated live, they’ve kept the cowboy shirts and greaser looks, but mixed it in with confetti canons and a slick lights show suffused with violet and turquoise.
They blitzed through several cuts from new album English Graffiti, including the telescoping astral majesty of ‘Dream Lover’, plus old standbys like breakthrough single ‘If You Wanna’ and the anthem for doomed youth everywhere: ‘Post Break-Up Sex’. “This is a very special place to us,” Justin Young said, as they parted. For a band who only released their debut three years ago, the ride to headliner status has been breakneck, but as Kendal can vouch, richly deserved.
Grandmaster Flash busted out his original wheels of steel over on the Glow stage Friday evening, treating an enormous crowd to a constantly-morphing mashed-up set of everything from Major Lazer to long-buried classic funk. The Grandmaster had his car stolen a few weeks ago – including a record crate containing armfuls of classic breakbeats he has been carting around the world for decades. If the loss of some of his dustiest vinyl was on his mind, it didn’t show. As the crowd waved their inflatables in the air, it felt like the man who invented scratching was close to perfecting it.
Tim Burgess has had a strange, wonderful career renaissance in recent years. He’s become an unlikely brand – releasing a cereal with Kellogg’s called ‘Totes Amazeballs’, doing his own line of Fair-trade coffee, and being immortalised as a cartoon. Just a month ago, his iconic fringe was turned into a work of art for the Manchester Fringe Festival.
Much of that re-imagining of the Charlatans singer began four years ago, when the organisers of Kendal got in touch to see if he wanted to curate the little cabin at the top of the Lowther Deer Park site.
Tim knew he had to name it after his favourite TV show ever, and armed with that cheeky homage, in the past few years, it’s become Kendal’s most beloved pocket of Manc eccentricity. A place to go for a smooth cup of Tim Peaks coffee, to put your feet up, and bask in the variety of Tim’s enclave. This year has included Northern Soul dance classes, a four hour Saturday night dub marathon from Prince Fatty, and Jodrell Bank astrophysicist Professor Tim O’Brien. We caught up with Tim in the middle of his Saturday afternoon DJ set in his mountainous Peaks lair.
Hi Tim. How did you come to have your own cabin in the woods at the top of the festival?
We got offered this room four years ago, as a place for people to hang out, and we wanted to do something eclectic, because my personal taste is quite varied.
What’s happening this year?
Loads of things. Today, we’ve had Chris Hawkins doing a radio show. We’ve had Paddy Considine’s band. We’ve got Tony Husband doing some drawings.
He seems to be drawing you right now.
That’s right! I’m doing a DJ set, based on what someone would listen to on a Saturday night just before going out.
It seems quite low-slung. Is this what you’d listen to?
Yeah. Not bangers, just gentle.
How did Paddy Considine become involved?
Just cause we know him. Same with Tony Husband. It’s my friend zone up here. I like to work with people I get on with.
Three top twenty hits in a row, possessor of a MOBO for ‘Best Newcomer’, a modelling contract for Armani, and a freshly-minted Cosmo cover, Ella Eyre hasn’t even released a debut album yet, but she was clearly the act of the moment. Saturday afternoon, as the sun actively blazed down on Kendal, she treated families sprawled on the grass to a boisterous set of her big-throated soul, bouncing about the stage with the excitement of a girl who’d just been given her own Cosmo cover and Armani contract. Had it been dark, the lighters would’ve been out for ‘Together’, but ‘If I Go’ better matched the freewheeling mood of the afternoon. The album only drops in the middle of August. On the back of this performance Kendalers who saw her can say they got in on the ground floor.
Kodaline issued a kode red on Friday night, after one of their number went down ill. Thankfully, some long-time friends of Kendal were on-hand to fill-in for their vacated Saturday evening main stage slot.
Gruff Rhys’ legendary Power Rangers helmet made an appearance early on for oldie ‘Placid Casual’, while the bulk of the set concentrated largely on mid-period Brian Wilson-tinged pop faves like ‘Rings Around The World’. Despite the late addition, a hardcore of Furries superfans were making themselves known down the front of the stage. They saved the day’s biggest mass pogo for SFA’s traditional closer – ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ – which saw the band walk offstage, then come back on, rounding off their capitalist-skewering classic wearing wookie suits to thrash its acid rock squelch to a blinding white noise crescendo.
And look who it was over on the Woodlands stage – back for their fifth Kendal, British Sea Power, playing amongst their beloved nature in the Deer Park’s most gracious stage. Their usual stage camouflage of branches and leaves looked especially well-matched amongst the glade’s trees and plants, while their traditional giant bear seemed actively in his element as he roamed through the backs of the crowds. ‘Waving Flags’ to ’All In It’, it was a gently uplifting triumph end to end.
“Every time we’ve been back, we’ve played a smaller stage!” BSP’s Martin Noble laughed when we caught up with him afterwards. “I like to think the festival has grown rather than we’ve shrunk.”
His band aren’t alone among those who’ve been coming back year after year after year. At times, it feels like a whole big reuniting family of bands and culture-makers and fans, all magnetised back to the easy welcome of the Deer Park.
It’s a festival built around old friendships, a sense of community, and the ancient art of growing with your audience. Originally put on by Andy and Ben "because there was nothing in England North of Manchester” it’s grown into something way beyond their early expectations. Winner of Best Small Festival in the early days, then Best Medium Sized Festival, Kendal has become so popular it can’t grow any further without leaving its Deer Park home. Something founder Andy Smith considers impossible. "We’d never leave here, because then it would become a different festival, wouldn’t it?”.
Over in the Chai Wallahs tent, Babyhead had the raving crews spilling their brandy hot toddies and Irish cream coffees on the dance floor as the zoot-suited nine-piece brass ensemble rapped about Roquefort to a crowd still containing an unusual number of fancy-dress enthusiasts.
Chai Wallahs travels the festival scene pushing odd alternatives and cult live shows on crowds as far afield as Germany. Richard Campbell, the film composer and bass ace, drew the real heads on Friday, but it was Kendal boomerang Mr Scruff whose Saturday three hour set there has become an unmissable fixture for many.
Elbow’s Saturday headline set also starred a giant football that had been punted onstage from the crowd halfway in. Guy kicked it back, whereupon it reappeared onstage. In fact, he kicked it back into the crowd a full three times before the checked sporting sphere learned its place.
Across a consummate set, the local faves found time to play their brand new single: ‘Lost Worker Bee’, a more upbeat jangle than their normal brew, undercut by Guy’s sonorous little boy lost voice.
With a retina-clubbing LED show and a brace of classics from his gilded drum n bass career, Roni Size drew hundreds of true steppers to the Glow arena. ‘Brown Paper Bag’ got the crowds hyped, before Roni’s MC, Tonn Piper, advised all of the gentlemen to put ladies on their shoulders, leading to a mass lady-upping mid-set.
Cut Capers took to the Riot Jazz stage into the wee hours of Saturday morning with a high energy swing set that saw outbreaks of jitterbugging at the back of the hall. The following night, Riot Jazz the band headlined the stage they’ve been personally programming the past five years, throwing in their canny cover of the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Saturate’ to maximum delight.
Riot jazz is a style of music, coined by the Youngblood Brass Band, that blends hip-hop, jazz, punk, and anything else with mad energy. Of course, not everything that happens in Riot Jazz is riot jazz, but as anyone who has dipped into this hidden corner of the site will understand, it’s all a riot.
Meanwhile, back up at the Lost Eden, the hedges were getting increasingly bolshy. A scan through festival literature reveals these three to be: "Daisy, Launa and Mo, our glamorous 1950s housewives in sunny suburbia, who enjoy nothing more than a bit of baking and a quiet spot of gardening on a Sunday afternoon”. They ambled through the Eden for several hours, spooking some passers-by, and handily reminding others to fix the Flymo when they got home.
Sunday afternoon, while Less Than Jake pogoed the main stage back to life, over at the House Party arena, JJ Rosa was bringing her svelte blues rock to Kendal’s favourite reconstructed living room.
With its chunky stylings and sorbet yellow livery, the 2015’s House Party was themed around ‘a sort of early 90s house’. Years ago, the original Kendal House Party also had "couches, fridges, and it was genuinely just DJs who were mates-of-mates, no one professional,” recalls festival co-founder Ben Robinson, “But over the years, it’s expanded in size alongside the festival.”
This year the House played host to the likes of Hacienda legend Dave Haslam, Dj John Da Silva, rave karaoke, the always-groovy Baggy Mondays, a full-to-bursting reunion set from early 90s nearly-men Northside, and something called ‘Power Ballad Salad’, which we’ll leave to your imagination.
This year, those extremes were represented at the barking and feral end by the ever-juiced Turbowolf. And at the soft and sensitive end by the ever-lovely Emmy The Great.
The Doggfather almost didn’t make it to Kendal. Italian police had held him after it became apparent that he was travelling with $400,000 in his bags – a spot more than the 10,000 Euros the law allows to remain undeclared.
Demonstrating just how much he loves the Lake District, Snoop bravely left all his Benjamins with the Italian cops and continued on his way to Kendal. “I’ll come back any time for you people,” he declared at the end of his set. An expensive hobby, but clearly a worthwhile one given that he pulled by far the biggest crowd of the weekend – a thicket of humanity who nodded and body-popped like a raging North Sea to the likes of ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’, Doggystyle greats like ‘Gin And Juice’, and his long line of collabs from Dre to Perry. He even nodded to the East Coast’s JFK, Biggie Smalls, with a cover in homage to the fallen rap god, plus a nod to his 2013 reggae reincarnation as Snoop Lion with a touch of Bob Marley.
Finally: birthday time. A fireworks display burst over the lakes. Streamers ascended over the crowd. Long-time Kendal supporters, including Richard Branson, Lancashire Hotpots and British Sea Power, expressed their best wishes for the tenth anniversary on video.
A warm and fuzzy crowd sang ’Happy Birthday to their festival, then dispersed into the night, off out to Chai Wallahs, to the indie disco at Calling Out, off to Riot Jazz or the Lost Eden, to embrace the last few precious moments of the weekend.
And now, with the tenth anniversary over, Andy and Ben and everyone on the team would like to take this moment to say a very special thanks.
“From that first tent-pole climbing high-wire act at Abbot Hall Park in Kendal a decade ago, we never believed it would turn into what it has. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to every single person who has, by coming or contributing, made this festival with us.”
See you in the fields for another ten years.
Ian Taylor, Paul Whiteley,
Giulia Spadafora and
Words by Gavin Haynes. Web development by Andrew Kendall for Digital Photo Gallery. Art direction by Kris Atomic.