Standon Calling Festival 2014: Standon, Hertfordshire – live review

Standon Calling Festival,

Standon, Hertfordshire

1-3 August 2014

We sent our man Keith Goldhanger along to Standon Calling last weekend. Unsponsored, themed and decidedly “boutique” the festival organisers also have a knack of programing a cracking lineup of bands – and judging by Keith’s review of this year’s Standon Calling 2014 below, 2014 was no exception.

Standon Calling is the one festival of the year that combines what a few of us consider to be some of the best up and coming artists with what we also think are some of possibly the worst established nonsense you’re ever likely to find yourself standing in a field waving your arms in the air too.

We do get bands that aren’t of our musical taste here at Standon Calling, but that will always give us miserable bastards an excuse to slope off and watch some wrestling, or go for a swim in the festival’s own swimming pool, paint some plastic ducks, dance around the sound system next to the pool, take a mates kids to the children’s area so their parents can have a little dance in front of a band or two, eat some chips, have a hot shower, visit the comedy booth, eat some pies, play croquet, learn how to tango, drink ale, chat to strangers who may or may not actually want to indulge in conversation (especially if they’re about to swing on a trapeze) dance around to wherever the DIG IT SOUND SYSTEM happens to have landed (basically a sound system on the back of a long bike) or simply pass out under a tree for a few hours.

Whilst dressed as an ape.

Standon Calling is the ideal festival for first time festival goers either with children of whatever age, or without. It’s also the perfect festival for those that like to stand up dancing all night long with their mates, drinking lemonade, eating crisps and smoking fags until the sun comes up and everyone can have a little kip between 4am when the site suddenly becomes quiet and when it gets too hot to be in our tents anymore.

It’s a festival where one feels the audience come first and the bands come second. At times you feel that we’re all dancing to the music not the song (the biggest euphoric moment of the weekend was arguably when Grandmaster Flash dropped Smells like Teen Spirit late on Sunday night) and it’s also the festival where each and every one of us has our own special moment with a few special songs that will be remembered for years to come.

Some of our favourite bands are here this weekend (one of them fails to turn up) and although we’ve seen some of these a few times this year in large venues with flashing lights and enthusiastic large crowds it’s nice to see them again in daylight and amongst more metaphoric cats than one can count being swung around.

It’s great to see these artists in the middle of the afternoon at events such as this because it allows those here to come and see some of the bands that people like us have been ranting on about all year and in return gives the likes of us the opportunity to see what some other people spend their spare time listening to.

The two main stages are a couple of minutes away from each other (where one can scurry their way to the front of any band on the bill whether it’s the HACKNEY COLLIERY BAND band on a warm Sunday afternoon or PUBLIC ENEMY late on Saturday evening) and when people leave at the end of the three day festival it seems that everyone has had their own different highlight from the next person.

Each highlight we experience can sometimes be the result of having seen something out of the blue and new that Standon Calling is capable of providing on an annual basis. This year that accolade went to Edinburgh’s YOUNG FATHERS (see pic below, right) who we nearly swerved for something else but came away happy that we stayed and witnessed something truly astonishing.

This festival, now in its 13th year (tenth with bands), knows what the Standon Calling attendees expect and yet again get it absolutely right. If some of us get into conversations during the year about certain bands that aren’t really “our thing” then Standon Calling for at least one of us is the one weekend of the year where we can, after half an hour bouncing up and down and gripping on to ones pint for dear life, then sit down again and decide that…… well I’ve had a good time but I wouldn’t go anywhere near them again.

Which must be better than claiming a huge dislike because you’ve heard them on the radio whilst clearing out the garden shed one winters morning and snagged your favourite jumper.

Some of us could spend our lives discussing shit bands.

Most people around our neighbourhood make it very clear that some of us do anyway but at least at Standon Calling they can actually come and watch some of our “shit bands” and over the same three days we can also wander off to watch everyone else’s.

There’s a figure we spot early on Friday with big blond hair (no, not him) called FIONA BEVAN. She appears on the Autumn Shift stage Friday night and is one of a few truly ace artists seen all day.

Let me tell you about Fiona Bevan … –Well … she was seen one night a few years ago in a Camden pub singing in the corner with an acoustic guitar. Her debut single “Us and the Darkness” caught the ears of some of us and then she not only went on and got involved with those heroes of rock “One Direction” (they don’t write their own songs you know) but surpassed all expectations and then did what every decent artist in the world should have done well before now and that is to visit that mecca of small Essex villages, Goldhanger to make a video (called appropriately for some, “Home”).

This is where my mum lives.

Fiona now has a side kick, Lee Levent who hits the big box that he sits on and flicks away at the tiny cymbals as she sings her angelic acoustic tunes in the direction of the few who know that Frank Turner across the field can wait until we’re ready. Her simple songs that twist and turn are a great example of what happens if you don’t accept a song is finished after five minutes of writing it on the front step before dinner time and then going straight on to write another one. Each tune seems to have small magical moments that keep the listener interested and it’s plain to see that this is a person who understands that a song needs numerous tiny details in them so we won’t tire of them on a second, tenth or hundredth listen. Fiona has an album out now called “Talk To Strangers”. It’s not been heard in our house yet but this is a great example of what’s on it.

The day had started well with BEANS ON TOAST (see photo right) pulling a decent afternoon crowd that he stood amongst singing about war, earthquakes and chickens. He brings in Mr Frank Turner for an early main stage appearance and snubs my earlier request that he should now start thinking about writing a song about playing on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage which he will surely be performing on one day. Not necessarily at the latter bit of the day but an early afternoon slot is something that some of us….well at least one of us wants to encourage.

But not until he writes a song about it first maybe…? Does this man play (or write) requests….? only time will tell, but not today.

CHARLIE XCX is one of those artists who in the past that has been seen, ignored and moaned about (can you believe she once supported Sleigh Bells !!) but today she shines like the pop goddess one individual here hadn’t previously noticed. This year’s Toni Basil if you like. Full of energetic jumping up and down and full of catchy choruses that the teenagers in the big top tent are going mad for. Friday afternoon in the sun is perfect for Charlie XCX and by the end of the set some of us are already out of breath.

NZ SHAPESHIFTER (see photo right) are a live drum and bass band from New Zealand who remind us of those days when Australia’s Pendulum appeared on our doorsteps. This stuff is good enough dance music to get hundreds waving their arms too, but it’s a gender that we are now very familiar with and feel it needs something a little more unique every now and again to really get the pulse racing. One feels that at times this stuff seems better to be heard when bands such as Enter Shikari or Slipknot or even Britney Spears throw in snippets of this electronica amongst their songs. Hearing an hours worth of this is OK for jumping up and down to whist some bloke with a Mohican bellows out inaudible words, but once it’s over …..well, no one’s wandering around singing the last catchy chorus they’ve just witnessed. Everyone’s busy heading over to see if there’s anything “bangin'” (I hear those horrible five chaps say with white shirts who really believed the were in Ibiza all weekend) going on over at the Cow Shed where various DJ’s are pumping out heavy bass drum based anthems to lose ourselves in.

On our way we’re all a little distracted by how FRANK TURNER(see photo, right) is spending his time on the main stage and we watch him play “Real Damage”, the glorious title track from his second EP about going out with all your mates but stumbling home on your own a few days after everyone else has left. By the time he’s teased us about “something special” he’s about to do and we stay around to learn that he’s not about to crowd surf across two fields on an inflatable sofa with a firework in one hand and bottle of whisky in the other we’ve had enough. By the time his roadie is on stage doing that “Something special” thing (stand on stage and do star jumps during the chorus of one of his hits) we hear the glorious sound of the big bass drum over at the big top and feel the night is still young enough to put on our dancing shoes and stomp around for a few more hours (with those horrible Ibiza boys who by now are shirtless and still looking for someone to sell them anything that might mean they no longer have to pretend they’re ‘avin in larger than anyone else)…..

Saturday is the day when according to those at home is going to rain all day.

Hammer it down.

All day.

The day when we drag out our wellies and waterproofs and … well it doesn’t.

How many festivals have we been to over the years when the expected bad weather doesn’t arrive ? Two short showers is all we get and dozens of superb bands to keep us entertained in the sweltering sun.

AMBER RUN (see pic right) kick today off for us and their Coldplay/Bon Iver influenced anthemic tunes which on this main stage sound massive are just what the sun soaked punters are in need of.

THE BOHICAS (photo right down below the one of Public Enemy) have a tune that sounds very much like one of those off the second Nirvana album and another one (“Swarm”) that reminds us of “Teenage Rampage” by Sweet (ask yr granddad) but “XXX” with its choppy screeching guitars is one of many highlights we’ll soak up during the day.

REVERE are up next and they’re here every year and every year we get to see them and they’re great. I’m sure they do gigs away from this particular festival but we’ve not been able to find any. On stage their songs come across as Arcade Fire inspired anthems, on record a bit more like The Editors and it appears that this band are keeping themselves very busy as their web site shows with many Northern Europe shows and radio sessions already under their belts (another example of yours truly not keeping an eye on events outside East London)

Those blokes we go to football with ELIZA AND THE BEAR (see photo right) are up next on the main stage. Of course we don’t go to football with them, we saw them once at half time during an FA cup 1st round match down Brisbane Rd. That’s when they really knew they were being stalked but they carried on nevertheless, writing tune after tune after tune that a generation of young kids are already falling in love with. Eliza and the Bear write songs like Abba used to and next year when their debut album comes out and gets in the charts a lot of people will suddenly realise that they’ve actually spent the last two years hearing these tunes on TV shows such as Match of the Day, Masterchef and the odd alcohol advertisement every time they switch their laptops on.

THUMPERS (see photo right) are the highlight today. If we were impressed with M.I.A’s hand clapping shenanagins at Glastonbury this year then this lot win the competition I’ve just invented hands down.

Or hands up as the case may be.

Playing tracks from their debut “Galore” (Sub Pop) this exciting five piece fit dozens of different ideas into each tune they play, have a drummer that grinds away bouncing rhythms off his kit we’re not used to hearing but making us throw ourselves around regardless. Backing singers, bursts of occasional electronic bleeps, clapping ,horns, massive vocals, more clapping and terrific tunes that are already available down your local record shop and need to be heard. This was a truly terrific set in the tent that we decide has the stage at the wrong end of it due to a bloody great post in the middle of the front of the stage that obscures whoever happens to be standing at the center of it.

We’re on a roll now and over on the main stage is KING CHARLES who again, seems to turn up at Standon Calling every year and keep a large crowd all dancing together.

EAST INDIA YOUTH over at the big top is going through our favourite tunes that we keep singing the wrong words to from our favourite album that still remains firmly in our CD players and TOY pay loud and fast and on a very dark stage in a very dark tent whilst outside the sun still shines brightly.

Back outside and those pop darlings CLEAN BANDIT (see photo right) are up there on the main stage pulling a huge enthusiastic crowd and we realise that this is one band that could have actually headlined any one of the three days. We get all the expected chirpy breakbeats, vocals and strings and an audience ready to party as one before the kids start yawning and people start arriving that might just start swearing a lot.

PUBLIC ENEMY (see images above) are on site. They arrive in big cars to an almost silent backstage area and look like they mean business. On stage we get a long drawn out aggressive hip hop set that get our pulses racing and are reminded of many things we may have now forgotten about such as Michael Jackson being dead and that outside of this field in a far away land people continue to kill each other.

Meanwhile, in this field there are thousands all dressed up as various Latin American themed figures such as a gaggle of Chillean Miners, Paddington bear or Colombian footballer Carlos Valderrama.

CHUCK D rules the stage, occupied with a few blokes dressed in army uniforms and a few just , like…” ‘anging around makin’ sure nuffink goes for a burton” (they probably didn’t say). We get long stories about the king of pop’s doctor and we get intense fist waving popular anthems. You know ’em… the one about fighting the power, bringing the noise and not believing the hype.

Flavour Flav, not content with already inserting his footprints all over the stage in the first forty minutes is jumping from bass playing duties to drum duties and back to shouting stuff about all and sundry. By the end , those struggling to comprehend what was actually going on up on the main stage gave up and just went ape for a couple of hours in the hope that people like us can explain on another day what that was all about.

But we were all too hammered by then as well so you’ll have to take our word that Public Enemy were great and don’t listen to anyone who thought otherwise (it’s a good job we sent someone to the Leeds gig really…)

We end the day in the presence of Coronation Street and Red Dwarf star Craig Charles (Funk and Soul Show.) It’s an odd sounding dance set that really is superb and includes a version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which sounds like it’s being played on a dozen flutes backed with the obligatory booming bass drum.

Sunday arrives just as Saturday departs and the sun is beating down again presenting us with a slow start in the company of FLYTE who are a certainty to fit in with those people still waiting for another Citizens! album or Theme Park offering. “We are the rain” shows is a big nod to 80s synth pop and one of a couple of other tunes that are starting to sound better on each listen. This lot are going to grow on soppy old gits like me you know…

At some point since arriving here we got introduced to a chap called Adrian. Adrian is Canadian / British, lives in East London and sings in a band called OFFICIAL BURNT TOAST of whom three people unconnected to each other tell us we should see. OBT include Adrian on vocals rapping, talking, whatever you want to call it (Toasting ?) over some beats from a Laptop and some bottom end provided by a couple of bass players, at times playing a three chord punk rock riff like the Lurkers taught us was acceptable. We’ll get back to you on this lot in the future unless we decide we were just too polite. My moneys on the former as long as we can actually find some tunes to listen to.

YOUNG FATHERS are astonishing. Sundays highlight and the weekends highlight. Four silhouetted figures sometimes sharing the same mike but continuously bellowing out tunes to a backdrop of noise that sometimes remind us of those early Cabaret Voltaire records we have at the back of the wardrobe and those Animal Collective MP3’s we put on a memory stick but can’t find anymore. This is rather unique stuff we’re listening to. Dark yet anthemic electronic based (African) hip hop from an Edinburgh based band that come across as cool and calm and are a band just here to play which means that we have none of that asking us if we’re alright or trying to get our hands in the air. A no nonsense direct performance that is noisy yet compelling right up to the final shrieking high-pitched feedback they leave us with to fade out slowly so we can applaud and whoop with sheer delight a few minutes after they have left the stage.

One person had previously worked out that on first sight of MAXIMO PARK (see pic, right) we should eat dinner, walk up a long hill to indulge in a long conversation about as to why some of the entrances to our camping field have now closed, complain to the non listening, patient and over worked security as to the reasons for this, put on a jumper in case it gets a bit chilly and return to the bottom of the hill just in time for the classic anthem of ten years ago “Graffiti”…Well I played my part but didn’t bank on them playing this tune this early in the set and before I’d even contemplated an alternative plan of action. Yet again this weekend we’re treated to another display of being talked to like we’re at a school fete during half term watching someone address their mum.

“This one’s a punk song”

…….they then throw us a three chord number that stands between being OK and average. We learn that those people on TV talent shows who give it all and appear to be trying too hard are actually taking notes from Maximo Park’s Paul Smith whose non stop arm movements know no bounds.

Around the corner, hip hop recording artist and DJ GRANDMASTER FLASH has started and the crowds are swarming into the big top to hear all thirty thousand of their favorite tunes all mashed together into one long mix of bass heavy foot stomping madness. We get sections of rock and roll, jazz, pop, Disco, Indie classics that some call Jive Bunny, some say it’s like Beardyman with real samples and some say Mr B Gentleman rhymer without the banjo. It’s a glorious set (and any set that makes us dance to the Bee Gees is always a winner in our books) and just the right high to end the weekend on.

Unless you happen to stumble into the silent disco just before deciding it’s time to go to bed. An unlimited supply of headphones with three way switches are on offer giving us three options: Green DJ being mainly Indie classics, Blue DJ being hands in the air dancefloor summer anthems and red DJ being….well, shit to be honest. It kept some of us entertained for hours. We danced without our headphones for a while whilst hundreds sung very badly along to Oasis and we watched others doing some kind of dance that popular culture has obviously thrown out to 90% of the population that some of us here don’t seem to be part of.

Watching a tent with hundreds of coloured headphones slowly all turn blue when the Blue DJ dropped Frankie Knuckles really was a highlight even for those of us who finally fell over and landed in a messy heap, ruined, exhausted and in need of some rest after 3 days of constant partying.

Standon calling 2014 was slightly bigger and slightly better than previous years. We all had fun, no one looked miserable of dissatisfied on what was going on around them. It’s non-compulsory but hugely popular fancy dress theme (this year “Lost in Latin America”) worked well and gave a lot of colour to the site as the weekend wore on.

Food and drink were about the same as Glastonbury (£4.75 a pint) and there was confusion at times as to whether bringing your own beer into the arena was allowed or not.

The festival went with the cashless system again (read last year’s thoughts on that) and the security were hardly noticeable.

Even though some of us decided to not bother with our mobile phones due to the festival being rather small those that did found their signal limited due to being in a small valley all weekend. Not that any of us noticed but we do live in an age at the moment where the profile of a festival can be highlighted by the people in attendance via social media. Not that we want this to get any larger. This year’s festival was slightly bigger than last years, the camping areas have certainly increased in size over the past five years but it’s still OK. The people who attend this year in and year out know what to expect and newcomers soon begin to enjoy the event without having to worry about any unsavoury things that some other festivals can be let down by.

And the tunes you’re fed on are either superb top notch quality or total bollocks whatever your musical persuasion.

Which allows the punter to do more than just stagger around from stage to stage for three days dancing like a fool.

~

Early bird tickets are already on sale for Standard Calling 2016, hit up the website to buy them: standon-calling.com. The festival’s also on Facebook and twitter, as @StandonCalling.

Words by Keith Goldhanger. More writing my Keith on Louder Than War can be found here. You can also find Keith on Facebook and Twitter (@HIDEOUSWHEELINV).

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