15,000 people with 15,000 different tastes in music all took turns standing at different stages at different times of the weekend watching the good, the bad, the old, the new, the mainstream and the weird stuff that everyone seems to understand apart from one or two who stand scratching their heads bewildered. Keith Goldhanger covered every angle.
Standon Calling gets away with being so musically diverse because experience has taught us that just around the corner, any corner might be a person or some people about to plug in and perform something that can keep the observer jumping for joy for the next few minutes, months or even years. It also gives us the opportunity to witness some of the acts that we wouldn’t usually feel the need to stand in front of.
This year in our case the headliners all fall into this category.
For many others it can be the loud shouty stuff that people sometime hear on the radio but would never board a train to go and see on a school night in November.
There’s loads of popular bands out there and at events such as this we find there are good reasons why some of us haven’t heard of all of them. This particular event, now well into its second decade works slightly different to other festivals. Watch bands such as the mighty HORRORS and five minutes later find yourself watching as much as you can stomach of BRIAN FERRY. Watch a kids pop band and then watch ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE (right), wonder what it is they’re doing and at some point grab a beer or two from the ale bar . Somewhere in between a GEORGE EZRA fan and a SHAME fan exists an act discovered in these Hertfordshire fields this weekend.
We found a few this year. We knew we would and that’s why we like to be here.
This has always been a festival everyone wants to have a little moan about and 2018 is no different. We’re used to the cashless system but couldn’t get over the re-positioned main stage for a few hours that’s been relocated to a more central position this year and therefore closer to anything else. By the time Saturday arrives many of us don’t care anymore, we can still find our way to the front if we feel the need or are grateful to catch the odd unplanned act as we staggered along the periphery.
The Laundry Meadows Stage is where you’ll find many of the music hooligans you often see at this and many other festivals. If in doubt about any of the bands worth, ask Big Jeff Johns (who now needs no introduction). He does appear to like everything and know a bit about every band and more often than ourselves, is ever present at anything worth catching.
AMAROUN’s early afternoon show was a welcome introduction to proceedings as we stood and worried about any potential forthcoming sunstroke before a few raindrops appeared and had us muttering ‘Oh well the ground could do with it I suppose’.
A three hour torrential downpour followed, complemented by thunder, lightning and high winds. This was as bad as it got though.
THE AMAZONS are playing festival friendly tunes on the main stage and sticking in the obligatory cover version to keep the strangers happy. DJANGO DJANGO threw in Blondie’s Rapture immediately after the superb Surface to Air (minus the coughing sample- if it is indeed a coughing sample) and ARTIFICIAL PLEASURE are playing tunes from their recent debut album under flashing lights, smoke machines and amongst dancing spacemen.
PALOMA FAITH had hands in the air moments available on tap for the families still keen on partying before day one ends. Most of the show was like watching a very good Eurovision act. To consume this once is enjoyable, twice might be too much for some of us.
Steveange band WASTE open proceedings on day two and own every decent riff and idea from the world of rock music. Very loud and compelling enough to keep us there for the half hour show however its back inside the BBC Introducing tent where we catch one young man called DECLAN J DONOVAN with just a guitar, keeping the noise down and entertaining those of us present with a sublime set of tunes and a voice that just seems too superb to only be heard tucked away in one of many small corners of the festival. MEGGIE BROWN and NELSON CAN have us scratching our heads wondering if there were any tunes coming from these bands we’ll fall in love with one day unlike PARK HOTEL who for some of us performed one of the best shows seen all weekend. Park Hotel provided light disco beats that have us swaying as though we’re watching Earth Wind and Fire or festival favourites (next year hopefully) Jungle. LCD Soundsystem get a mention but the dancing has began and Park Hotel have managed to tick the first box marked ‘Previously unknown bands we need to investigate more of….’.
SHAME (right) managed to pull off another one of those Standon Calling performances that will be held up along with some of the great shows that keep bringing us back to these Hertfordshire fields. They’re probably the most un-Standon Calling band of the weekend and it’s always the bands in this category that seem to achieve this greatness over this particular weekend (Fucked Up, Factory Floor, and Idles all come to mind that have shone the brightest in previous years). Shame today are basically being Shame. Angry blokes that remind us of Killing Joke, Sham 69, The Fall, Happy Mondays, Wire and numerous other UK bands from the past. Their album isn’t a year old yet but this band are pulling in the punters and becoming one of many great bands we proudly have available to share with the rest of the world at the moment. No need for festival friendly cover versions with Shame, just throw us the album and the occasional new tune, the odd friendly smile and we’ll soak it in, throw our fists in the air and sing along without a care in the world.
We used to throw our fists in the air to BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB but wait until ‘Spread your Love’ and ‘ Whatever happened….’ before this happens. The seemingly obligatory cover version pumped out during this set is ‘Dirty Old Town’ – another tune to stop people at the back from chatting about where they’re off to next.
It’s raining again and HOLLIE COOK (right) is managing to entertain those in front of her in the most delightful way. We’ll never know how many people will now have Hollie in their music collection due to their attempt to avoid a light shower but we leave happy in the knowledge that this turn of events has worked in her favour. A fabulous show in front of a fabulous audience.
(Big Jeff John’s recommendation) ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE made the biggest racket of the weekend. Recreating every big ending to any Psychedelic/Space Rock song ever, repeating it, adding more crashes, throwing half a dozen guitar solo’s all at the same time into the mix, overusing a sax, overusing a flute – (yes them again!), allowing us for ten minutes to go ape at a piece of music that could have been as close to any big fast cymbal lead techno tune we hear all weekend and concluding that had they have ended it there we’d have recognised the point of all this and wandered off on our merry way. Of course it doesn’t seem to ever sound like ending as the bass stops throbbing and the drums continue to crash into more false endings. A bit of restraint wouldn’t have gone a miss but this is why we have such bands in our lives such as Explosions in the Sky for those of us easily confused. This band have been going for years according to Jeff and I’m sure I heard someone say they had about fifty albums out. Some of us remember that when we first started attending festivals in the 80’s these were the type of bands we needed to avoid. We have been fortunate over the years, been a bit clever until now, however these are put down as yet another band that watching once may be enough during our short lives.
Over at the main stage one realises that if you’re a 13-17 teenager at a festival then GEORGE EZRA is what you want to see. Polite music for polite people, all allowing the smallest member of the family to sit on someones shoulders. This is a festival where Liars once headlined remember. Standon Calling may have changed slightly over the years to accommodate the mainstream but thankfully still manage to find space to challenge. Where else could we stand in front of George Ezra on a Saturday night we ask ? – At a George Ezra gig some wag replies but misses the point that this weekend there are alternatives close by.
HOT CHIP are Dj’ing well past our bedtimes over at STARBASE STANDON, The DIG IT SOUNDSTYSTEM continue pumping out the tunes wherever they end up peddling, the DJ’s inside the Grove Garden are mixing bass drums, snare drums, bubble machines and flashing lights whilst a modest queue forms outside the late night rendezvous known as the Cow Shed where DJ’s spin tunes that repeat for longer than we should be noticing and people dance for hours longer than they should be.
Sunday begins with a sublime introduction to MAVEN GRACE who provide a sound track that we just know will be hunted down once home and armed with a half decent internet connection. Big anthems, sweet choral vocals and tunes that could belong to The Temper Trap, Sigur Ros, Abba (everyone is starting to sound like these at the moment) , Cocteau Twins or the New Seekers. Just what anyone waking up after a big night needs to hear.
We’re back to reality a few moments later witnessing the annual ‘Jeff Johns sings 20th Century boy on the main stage’ routine. One of few performances that we can watch from the front of the crash barrier knowing he wont also be there.
PIP BLOM throw us some delightful indie pop songs with twangy guitars that all seem to have catchy choruses. It’s a thrilling ride watching this band from the Netherlands grind through tunes that are fast tight and will sit nicely next to our ever growing Courtney Barnett mp3’s.
HER’S are a welcome inclusion on any festival line up. They make music you can eat your dinner to or fall asleep to (today is pie and mash with loads of gravy ). The duo’s performance will always be one that pulls people towards them and once the introduction is over may have the same people return. Not a band some of us expected to see in a field however we notice that as passers by stopped, smiled looked at their program or tapped strangers on the shoulder we guess they’d have got home and struggled like the rest of us to find their tunes on the internet (remember the apostrophe and you’re pretty much there).
QUEEN ZEE have us divided in our opinion.
There are some that would say this is just a group of people using up their annual leave from the bank in order to let their hair down, apply some lipstick and shout like the The Towers of London for half an hour. They’re dressed almost the same as ANDY AND THE ODD SOCKS who we saw giving out autographs earlier today to seven year olds. We stand and watch whilst others go crazy but we can’t work out if Queen Zee are ready to carve their names in their arms or enter themselves onto a major network talent show to represent the ‘punk element’ into today’s mainstream. It ends with an awful rendition of Dizzy Rascals ‘Bonkers’, and it’s as punk rock as the Krankies. Queen Zee sound as through they’re still trying very very hard to be a punk rock band but seem to lack anything (yet) that will sweep us away and into the night. Great tunes are what we need in this day and age. The muscles, lipstick and jumping up and down often work better when accompanied by some explosive anthems. The sound they’re making threatens to thrill and they are thoroughly entertaining on first viewing but without the tunes……back in the comfort of our homes we sit patiently waiting for something fabulous to arrive. It might do one day and they’ll probably do OK regardless of what one or two of us might suggest. This is what the punters love (they told us), but they might as well just be The Hives with a different singer. They’ll no doubt come back and kick one of us up the arse eventually and once this happens we’ll report back and try to give them as much space as we’ve given them here. Some bands we believe are capable of being great and Queen Zee for the moment are filed under ‘Maybe’. Temporarily gone from our lives after this show only to return another day once we find ourselves being able to differentiate between their music and anyone else’s.
DREAM WIFE (right) give us another Standon Calling legendary performance. It’s the bands that attack our senses through gritted teeth and a wry smile that seem to be winning us over this weekend (See also Shame). A young sassy group of people that tempt the viewing public into befriending them but come with a warning. They sound like The Shangri Las singing Babes in Toyland songs, they don’t sound like the Bangles and they tell you what they want what they really, really want (they want to ‘fuck you up’). This was a fabulous forty minutes and it’s felt bigger platforms still exist for them to stand and command as they have done in front of us today. One of the weekend highlights for many people and a band that will soon be favourites of many. A huge year awaits.
GAZ COOMBES sings ‘Moving’ from his Supergrass days and a selection from new album’ Worlds Strongest Man’. He’s discovering new sounds and styles that all seem to fit perfectly into each other and keeping the listeners interested enough to hang around to see where he’s going next. This is a performance by a man who’s pushing forward, not concentrating on past glories as we see once or twice in our day to day lives. Gaz Coombes simply continues to put out decent tunes and getting the praise that’s well deserved. A superb main stage performance from a national treasure.
GOLDFRAPP in the rain isn’t as gorgeous as Goldfrapp in the sun but the big bass drones and glam rock drum beats keep many of us content with the proceedings for a while before hot footing it the the far side of the site (a five minute walk) to catch what was surely be one of the best festival bands still not playing on the main stage yet.
CONFIDENCE MAN are still ploughing the same path as they were twelve months ago but it’s a great path that many festival goers will dance down and tell anyone later who happens to be in earshot what they are missing. This is pure pop music at it’s best. Made for the family just as The Scissor Sisters introduction into the UK was before we stopped listening to their music now being played on radio stations we don’t listen to anymore or ever listened to in the first place. Confidence man still have a few more years left in them to achieve the great heights of festival headliners in fields where everyone wants to dance but we’d have liked to have seen this thrown onto the main stage. Standon Calling would have benefited greatly from this instead of hiding them in the corner whilst Goldfraap and The Horrors were entertaining.
There’ll be chance of redemption in a few years one imagines.
THE HORRORS were loud and a welcome excursion for those still trying to lose themselves somewhere so they don’t have to watch Brian Ferry. This works better on an even bigger stage than what we’re seeing here but this was a sufficient enough display to continue taking notes every time they throw us a new album or two (current count is five).
BRYAN FERRY is an OK headliner for those who have just popped into the festival on a Sunday day ticket. These are the people with clean shoes, umbrellas, looks of surprise when confronted by a man in a white wedding dress and easily entertained by a bloke who has a fair amount of songs they recognise. Not the performance that folk spending their 3rd or 4th night want to be standing in the rain listening to. There are beats in the Grove Garden, odd performances in The Peoples Front Room, Dig It will still be finding a space to set up in and security are counting the hours before their final shift ends.
Before bed time Sunday is a grand time to stand through 2 Many DJ’s as they throw everything including the kitchen sink at us for over two hours and end the corners activities for another year before we struggle back to our tents witnessing stalls closing, stages stripped and fairground rides half taken down to remind us we won’t be back in the morning.
These three days flew by. Great music, decent weather, decent but expensive food, toilets that don’t seem as decent as they did a few years ago and decent security. Camping was a bit of a trek for some but overall the changes we experienced from previous years were all accepted and forgotten about by Monday morning. All in all another typical Standon Calling Festival. Great bands, terrible bands, bands we’ve seen before that are better now, acts that we never thought were good in the first place and plenty of new discoveries that we’re sure everyone experienced that will drip feed lives for a few more months or years.
This is a festival that people love for different reasons, where we can stand shoulder to shoulder watching bands some of us think are terrible and drag those looking for something new towards those making music that mean something to those of us that are hungry for the fresh and unspoilt. As long as this balance is maintained it’s a festival that is still not preaching to the converted and can provide bands with new fans they wouldn’t ever reach.
Which is never a bad thing.
And it’s got a dog show, a swimming pool and a non compulsory fancy dress theme.
More photos here.
All words and pictures by Keith Goldhanger. More writing by Keith on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can also find Keith on Facebook and Twitter (@HIDEOUSWHEELINV). You may subscribe to the Goldhanger Shorts Facebook page or browse some of his photos too if you so wish.