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Festival Review: Kendal Calling 2012

Skiddle returns to the boutique playground of Kendal Calling for a colourful weekend of music, fancy dress and magical moments in the picturesque Lake District.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 6th Aug 2012

The thing about Kendal Calling, is that nothing ever goes quite to plan. With treats and surprises around every corner, it's easy to stray off course and wander down the proverbial rabbit hole, ending up somewhere completely unplanned and unexpected.

It's a weekend of discovery and fun set against the lush, green  backdrop of the glorious Lake District, carrying that other worldly quality of Secret Garden Party, Bestival and even Glastonbury - where the musical line-up is just one component of the  fantasy playground.

Having grown year on year since its rough n' ready inception back in 2006, Kendal Calling is now an undisputed gem on the festival calendar, attracting a loyal crowd each time with its colourful, family friendly atmosphere, oh-so-pretty setting and diverse line-up that always mixes iconic acts with exciting newcomers across a wide range of genres. This year for example was headlined by Maximo Park, Dizzee Rascal and James, but with plenty of underground, undiscovered and up-and-coming acts performing on smaller stages around the site.

This year's Kendal Calling was blessed with sunshine across the entire weekend - sometimes glorious, sometimes punctured by rain showers. Thankfully the rain never lasted longer than half an hour or so - and provided fun opportunities for outdoor dancing in freebie Kopparberg ponchos that were liberally handed out to festival goers.

We arrived at the festival site on the Friday evening, just as the sun was setting behind a wooded, teepee scattered hill. The site was already buzzing with life - the musical action being well underway by now - and we decided to spend the first hour or so finding our way around the site - which seems to offer more each year.  The main stage sits central to the festival site as in previous years, taking advantage of a gentle slope which provides a natural amphitheatre - providing great views of the main stage action from wherever you happen to be perched.

In addition to the main stage there's a large dance tent, a new music tent, the eclectic 'Riot Jazz' tent, and a variety of other stages hosting everything from children's entertainment to spoken word and comedy. New additions for 2012 include 'The Woods' - a secret stage nestled in woodland hosting a programme of nu-folk and electronic acts as well as a late night silent disco - and the Tim Peaks diner - a 1950s style diner hosted by Tim Burgess.

The Tim Peaks diner was undoubtedly one of the highlights of this year's festival, providing a cosy place to escape the madness with a cuppa and a brownie, while enjoying a diverse programme of acoustic acts, poetry, book readings, DJs, and more. Indeed, one of the most talked about moments of the festival took place at the diner - when Tim Burgess and Roddy Frame joined Edwyn Collins for an acoustic jam of 'A Girl Like You'. Watch the video below:

Friday night's headliners were Maximo Park,  who took to the main stage in front of a sea of awaiting fans. And boy did they deliver. An energetic performance from the band led by charismatic frontman Paul Smith, they belted out their huge hits such as ‘Apply Some Pressure’ and ‘Velocity’ for nearly 90 minutes, mixed in with plenty of tracks from their latest album The National Health – most of which went down with as much vigour as the classics, indicating that fans are already well versed in the ’Park’s new material.

After the disbandment of the main stage, the highly charged crowd dispersed into the festival's various tents to party the night away. We chose the packed out House Party tent, where we danced amongst the beds, sofas and washing machines until 3am before deciding to call it a night.

Saturday started brightly for the weather - though not so much for our heads - so we camped out by the main stage where beardy Mancunian nu-folksters The Travelling Band were opening up. The band put in a brilliantly energetic, toe-tapping performance that blew away our boozy cobwebs with tracks from latest album Screaming Is Something alongside old favourites.

Saturday at Kendal Calling is fancy dress day - and festival goers certainly go all out for the occasion. This year's theme was 'Fairy Tales and Comic Books', and the already magical festival site was transformed into a fairytale land of colourful - and often hilarious - characters. At one point in the afternoon we found ourselves clapping along to an impromptu dance off between Snow White, Scooby Doo and a crusading Knight . All in a day's festivalling.

Saturday ambled along nicely with a visit to the on site real ale festival, cabaret at the Happy Slap Boutique, coffees and poetry in Tim Peaks' diner and plenty of dancing with old friends and new at The Kube and the Sailor Jerry's outdoor DJ booths.

Musical highlights of the day included the always awesome South West London duo Alpines, whose mesmerising electronic sounds was enhanced by the fairy tale forest setting up at the Woodland Stage, and singer/songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who had the Chai Wallah's tent singing along to his breezy, folky sounds. Psychadelic, Horrors-esque London five-piece TOY also put in a memorable set at the Calling Out stage, while The View and Shed Seven provided plenty of sing along moments at the now sun soaked main stage.

Dizzee Rascal headlined on Saturday when the colourful plethora (collective word for superheroes sent in on a postcard please) of superheroes – Batman being by far the most popular choice of character (28 sightings at the final count) – turned up in droves to watch the British rap star. The Londoner, whose new single ‘Scream’ has been chosen as the official song for the 2012 Olympics, entertained his army of “dirtee stankers” with classics such as ‘Holiday’, ‘Dance Wiv Me’, ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’, and, of course, ‘Bonkers’. The star appeared fresh from his performance at the Olympic Opening Ceremony the night before, and the impressive display of lasers, pyrotechnics and fireworks that accompanied his set  certainly hinted at some of the previous night's grandeur.
Late night revellers descended into the House Party Tent where Will TRAMP! was throwing out a great mix of disco tinged house and electro, that kept the people dancing until the early hours. So impressed was one member of the crowd, clad in a Super Ted costume, that he offered his huge Super Ted head to the DJ, who wilfully accepted and sportingly adorned it for his set. Of course this led to one little genius conjuring up the inevitable sobriquet 'Tedmau5' - which was duly chanted by the crowd after a rousing finale of Psychemagik's remix of the Fleetwood Mac classic 'Everywhere'.  A good moment.

Unfortunately we were unable to attend the Sunday at Kendal Calling, missing out on a headline slot by Manchester icons James, as well as the Kendal Calling staple that is Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show.

Our Sunday absence aside however, Kendal Calling had given us another magical, memorable (if slightly hazy) and action packed weekend of adventure, escape and brilliant times.

Undoubtedly one of our favourite UK festivals, Kendal Calling just seems to get better and better every year without sacrificing any of its 'small festival' magic. We're looking forward to 2013 already.

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