Standon Calling Festival 2015: Standon, Hertfordshire – live review
Standon Calling Festival,
31st – 2nd August 2015
The best small festival in the world right now …? Keith Goldhanger thinks it just might be. Read to find out why!
Well If I were to mention something as bold as that you’d probably all want to come along and experience it for yourselves thus creating on line queues for tickets, disappointment for those not lucky to get successful, a temptation to make the event bigger than it’s been the past few years and annoyance for those of us who would spend the following years complaining it’s not as good as it once was.
This, according to the posters is the tenth anniversary of Standon Calling. Some of us have lost count now to be honest and would argue it’s probably more, however that aside it’s a festival that seems to get it spot on year after year and sometimes we imagine without even realising it.
We dealt with the Cashless system years ago (https://louderthanwar.com/cashless-festivals-is-this-the-future/), it still works and we’re all used to it now but the most noticeable and successful innovative idea this year is the introduction of good quality (deposit required) plastic beer glasses. Imagine a festival with no stray empty pint drinking vessels lying around ? Not just on the dance floors but around the over spilling bins. Not that we saw many full bins this weekend but it certainly made a huge difference to the site. There’ll always be a few that don’t give a second thought about emptying the contents of their carrier bags around the site but paying a quid or two more for a pint every time you don’t have your last glass is a good deterrent for anyone who would normally otherwise discard it on the floor for someone else to pick up.
The main stage is still in the same place and the big Top is around the corner past the Trapeze. Yes a Trapeze – where if you’re inclined to one day run away to join the circus, as many pre teen kids seem to be keen on then this is a good place to take those first steps. The rest of the site seems to get tweaked every year to an almost unrecognisable background as punters and performers sing, dance cheer and limp from one small corner to the next whilst attempting to take in as much as there is to offer over the three days events.
It’s been mentioned before but the music on offer around these small fields is what draws some of us here annually and as with previous years, we get the great and the not so great performing alongside artists that we wonder if they would make any sense anywhere else in the big world that a few thousand here have deserted for the weekend.
There’s three blokes who apparently are called Stan, Dan and Colin who drag their sound system on a bike around and deter punters from actually going in a direct route to wherever they happen to be heading. There’s always a few people dancing around the DIG IT SOUNDSYSTEM and there’s always some good thundering repetitive beats being thrown out of these speakers. The bit about their names being very similar to the name of the festival we’re attending may be a lie but we do start the weekend in the company of a couple of people who really are called Dan to get us on our way in the calmest way possible.
DAN MICHAELSON & THE COASTGUARDS are playing their subtle, whispered slowed down country and western in the corner of a bar. There’s a few of us crawling slowly towards the performance so we can hear them above the hundreds at the back of the bar, finding their festival feet and getting in the beers for their mates before everyone looses each other for a few days (physically and mentally).
PRIDES around the corner play tunes that delight a few twelve year olds and we imagine it’s the kind of music that Lorraine Kelly would introduce and say patronising things to on breakfast television (that is if any of us are out of bed for any of that nonsense nowadays)- We fear they could possibly give those monsters of rock “Scouting For Girls” a run for their money one day and as painful as it is we come away having slightly enjoyed the performance but in denial that we’ve actually been moving our legs and singing the choruses whilst we watched this.
Another Dan, or to give them their full name DANNY AND THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD are the perfect tonic for anyone within earshot who may be first timers here and have been unsure of the quality of acts that appear year in and year out at this festival.
Any Xfactor contestant who “wouldn’t know what to do ….” if they got eliminated would always get our backs up therefore LUCY SPRAGGAN just for being Lucy Spraggan and doing things the way it’s meant to be done gets our attention. The big glitter cannon entry on the main stage coupled with a few dozen beach balls gets us exited in the early evening sun but she’s not really doing anything new or potentially life changing up on the stage to warrant our full attention. Fine for the families who have their spots marked out so the children can wander off and return to the fold where dad by now is probably drunk and wearing mums clothes but for some of us it’s something that is shrugged off to one side due to other pressing matters that keep our hungry ears twitching. As she’s the first artist we see on the main stage this weekend we’re reminded immediately from previous years that this stage will contain bands that will invite you to clap your hands above your heads and have a good time as though we can’t be experiencing the event right and actually be having a good time without doing this. One or two of us may moan about this continuously even though it won’t stop. “The Young Fathers” have managed to get through life so far without doing this and more than once we meet a few people still buzzing about their performance here last year and how glad they were that they caught them at this festival whilst at the same time making enquiries as to who we should be looking out for this year (I tell them “Lonelady” but I’m not sure anyone is listening).
This festival is full of people keen to search for something new and exciting in the music world. Everyone has a different amount of time available in their lives to do this. For some , it’s just this weekend once a year and it has to be said it’s a great place to dedicate the time, discover something new or simply to catch some established bands for the first time
Having a potential new favourite band that haven’t even completed their debut recording might sound a bit premature but a few days ago in a tiny basement bar in East London a five piece called SWEAT (see photo, right) caught our attention enough to go and have a word in their ears. The mid 80’s sounding “Bowie” vocals got us chuckling and the mention of them appearing here at Standon Calling was enough to have one of us scampering between stages on Friday evening, not sure if the late stage performances on the Autumn Shift stage would ruin our evenings plans or reinforce what we thought a week ago on a quiet Tuesday night in Dalston at half eight in the evening. Watching a new band in front of about twelve people (This band are so fresh that even Big Jeff wasn’t even in attendance for this one) is what some of us do from day to day and week to week and if this lot manage to throw at us in future months what they seem to be hinting at then there could be a chance of that 1AM appearance on our radios one evening.
And then more.
They tease us with throbbing synth lines that have the potential to be dragged out one day into longer dance anthems, a decent frontman that you’re all going to like and chord changes that remind us of ….sorry, I’m already mentioning Bowie too many times. You may get to read more about this lot as the year drags on.
THE MAGIC NUMBERS back in “The Last Dance Saloon” remind us we’re watching one of the UK’s finest bands that never let us down but make us also wonder why they’re not on the main stage. Fridays assortment of artists on this stage have been curated by “LOOSE RECORDS”, a label that seems to like artists containing the odd bearded man with cowboy hat . Missing the rest of the afternoon and evenings performances on this stage were regretful but necessary. Some of us could have been happy sitting in this tent/bar all day, and I’m sure some people were.
Paul Hartnoll’s 8:58 gave us a joyous hands in the air jumping up and down hour or so that seemed to mark the beginning of a few hours where it was noticeable that the start of a late night had begun. Hard techno big bass drums and hints of his “Orbital”days spun around our heads and we left at the end feeling happy that the night was still young, the weekend even younger and the annual high standard of acts a reality yet again.
EDDY TEMPLE MORRIS DJ’ing in the big top continues this high and we’re reminded again of one of the best guys we have around that we crave for at festivals such as this. It’s been a long time for some of us seeing and hearing Eddy on the decks but we’re reminded again that he really is the best around when it comes to throwing your whole body into the noise he’s responsible of serving up.
Back at the Autumn shift stage for a late appearance by LA HORSE (see photo, right). We caught these late last year in an empty pub in Camden Town and liked what we heard. A second look was always going to be on the cards and an impressive show was witnessed. Life on this stage may look chaotic and disorganised at times but as soon as the first note is struck the pains of a repetitive snare drum and the site of a struggling tech swapping leads from one socket into another are soon forgotten. A band that at times have us thinking about the loud bits “The Flaming Lips” have dished up and a voice that wavers between “The Fat White Family” front man Lias Saoudi and Shirley Bassey keep us interested. One to watch?.. …some of us have been for nearly a year now. Entertaining stuff.
SATURDAY begins well with CROWS (see photo, down and right!) playing to a mosh pit of milky bar kids with water pistols. Some change from earlier in the year when their set was witnessed between legs and arms of crowd surfers in East London’s hot and sweaty Old Blue Last. This works very well on a big stage and we have here a band that could follow in the footsteps of “Savages” in terms of popularity. Singer James sandwiching himself in between a couple of microphone stands is enough for us to keep up our interest visually but the buzzing hypnotic songs in this four piece’s repertoire are strong enough to keep us excited in the long term. Another one we’ll be back to look at another time.
BLACK HONEY give a strong performance that’ll be remembered in a couple of years time when they become household names and start releasing albums that the music loving world will enjoy. They’re appearing all over the place currently – expect this band to crawl up on you and be part of your lives one day. One of those bands Standon Calling is famous for nonchalantly putting on the bill on an annual basis when no one is really watching or listening to yet.
Ditto KWABS who, with a couple of EP’s to his name and an online presence that pulls in a respectable size crowd this is one of those artists that wouldn’t be heard by one or two of us usually but is a welcome diversion from the usual diet of tunes we usually gorge ourselves on during the year.
In context with the rest of the line up one would expect SLAVES to struggle on the main stage, however a big crowd turns up for the only real bit of shouty fast punk rock music we’re going to hear all weekend.
THE ANTLERS in contrast were subtle, soothing, joyous and a glorious distraction from the hustle and bustle that gave us all a rest from tapping our feet and shaking our legs until they almost dropped of. We came away from this one looking forward to seeing them again one day, perhaps after the sun has gone down and begin to recognise the different experiences available for a lot of bands seen this weekend who have the capabilities to offer us different experiences under different circumstances.
“The Last Dance Saloon” is today curated by BBC INTRODUCING and again, as like Friday, one could quite easily have just sat in here all day. ATTAQUE from Essex are a three piece electronic band that keep us interested and leave us wanting more and AMBER RUN return to our lives again a year since they entered it and with a headline performance that was a truly magnificent highlight for those of us here. It’s noticeable that the front two rows here contain people whose ages vary between about nine and nineteen.
We’d like to think that these people were watching this band on the main stage a year previously, liked what they heard, bought the album and were then as excited as us when they were announce a couple of weeks before the festival. That’s how it happened for us anyway and yet again another indication of just how this festival seem to get the small things right year after year. A future headline performance on the main stage one day would be truly deserved.
This is followed by THE DANDY WARHOLS (see photo below) who really are a band to witness after the sun has gone down.
“One of the most amazing little festivals we’ve ever come across” says Courtney Taylor-Taylor which considering the amount they must have visited over the years is some compliment to those involved in building this tiny shanty town, curating a line up of varied tastes and allowing the drink to flow and the queues to be kept at a minimum all weekend. It’s great to see this band still intact with the same line up and a catalog of tunes so perfect for the late night party people and it’s a performance that sits high above an impressive catalog of past headliners in this field. Catching this band during a short appearance in the UK this month and putting them on the bill as the Saturday night headliners was a real treat for some of us and we weren’t disappointed. It’s hard to believe we once stood watching the same band in the middle of the afternoon at other festivals many years ago. This works so much better at night time and they were cool enough to throw this together whilst they were here.
Saturday fades into Sunday, the sun still shines and the sounds from every corner continue to pump out tunes that have all passes by smiling and dancing with joy as the realisation that this is a hot one again. It really isn’t going to rain, the festival is a proverbial stroll in the park, the dog show is about to start, there’s a choir under the clock tower and the impressive list of bands on the final day has us wondering who we’ll be more upset about missing and when we will find time to eat again.
BERNARD AND EDITH (see photo, right) begin the day in “The Last Dance Saloon Bar”, which today is curated by the wonderful BELLA UNION label. Greta “Edith” Caroll is dressed in black and singing like Kate Bush in the blazing sun. A short electronic trip hop set gives us reason to appreciate labels such as Bella Union getting this music released. When we saw this in a tiny (almost empty) garage during Liverpool’s Sound City a couple of years ago one feared that would the beginning as well as the end. A second experience in front of this duo has helped us recognise this is the beginning.
BLACK DELTA MOVEMENT, LANDSHAPES, SYD KEMP, JAGAARA and EX MAGICIAN get our heads spinning as we zip between stages trying to avoid the distraction of the main stage and blazing heat and we land back into the big top after a long sit down in a United States school Bus eating curry for the annual appearance of REVERE.
This band have been unfairly described by one or two of us…well just me actually as the band that play once a year at this festival, sound a bit like “The Editors” and “The Arcade Fire”, always wear the same outfit then disappear for twelve months. This may be very wrong but whatever this band do get up to during the rest of the year must be responsible for them always being so bloody good you have to wonder year after year what they are doing wrong to be away from our radar every 364 days during the past five years. When we walked into this lot in 2010 and opened our eyes in amazement we thought we’d catch them again, or someone else would and elevate them onto those stages we often see ourselves in front of back home in the capital. It’s so very noticeable that during this bands set there are people wandering in and being totally transfixed by what they are witnessing. Big powerful songs with strings that grab the listeners attention immediately, and this was just leading into a string of pre determined events that got us giddy with delight before we ever arrived here this weekend.
WE HAVE BAND have kept us interested for a while now and their 80’s sounding electro pop was not disappointing. This tent for the next few hours is about to give us some of the finest indie dance music available right now and their dual vocals, whistling and harmonious choruses’ allow us to catch up with what we’ve been missing recently. This is another band who need a few more festival appearances under their belt to get the huge masses an opportunity to gather and dance to.
THE CUBAN BROTHERS are a ridiculous band doing ridiculous things up on the main stage but are the ideal band for Standon Calling. It’s all hands in the air dancing in the sunshine and many peoples highlight of the weekend.
Our own personal highlight is LONELADY. An early afternoon performance at Glastonbury this year was a memorable half hour and we’re sure that one day we’ll be dancing to these tunes as they stand high on a dance stage late at night in front of thousands. These tunes at their fingertips just chug along at a pace that the world must surely soon go crazy for. Guitars that remind us of early 80’s Post Punk band “Delta Five” and beats that click like a clock, thud and bleep away just like we want them to . A disco with a favorable tempo with flashing lights and long songs that we’d really like to be even longer are ready and waiting to happen. Lovers of Hot Chip or LCD Soundsystem would love this and hopefully will join us all next summer when this will surely go off in a huge way.
HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR on the main stage hit us with their wonderfully executed sleazy disco. Basically they have a woman who sings like a man and a man who sings like a woman backed with personel from all over the globe. They ask us to put our hands in the air and those here oblige without question.
THE HORRORS (see photo, right) are the first band all weekend to cause a huge hand clapping scenario without actually requesting one. That, we applaud metaphorically. Here’s a band that we can experience in daylight or darkness with great satisfaction (The Big Top is a dark tent) and get two differing performances. At Glastonbury last year, in the late afternoon sun (and puddles) we saw a performance of joyous anthems that included Frankie Knuckles “Your love” and they were assisted with a couple of backing singers. Today, we get full on strobes and dry ice, band members are all but silhouettes and a set of tunes we’ve all fallen in love with over the past couple of years. Farris appears to spend more time strutting around the stage, tangling with a couple of microphone stands and ends by spinning round fast enough to bring him horizontal on the floor motionless for a couple of minutes. Another fab hypnotic glorious performance.
BASEMENT JAXX are a mash up of incredible dance genres that zip around the field at a hundred miles an hour without pause for breath. One minute we’re dancing like crazy to a couple of chaps thumping out bass heavy drum and bass rhythms and the next we’re watching twenty people going disco crazy whilst guitarists dressed as apes twist and turn the night around with remarkable results in front of what must be one of the largest crowds we remember in front of this stage.
And even though that should be it and we should be stumbling up to our tents it isn’t.
THE BLOOM TWINS in the Autumn Shift stage turn a crowd of weary patient punters back into life. What began with an audience all snuggled up in hammocks and sofas ended with a crowd losing their shit for probably the final time this weekend. The two Identical twins from Eastern Europe playing minimal bleeps and singing pop songs (They threw us a superb version of “Crazy Right Now”) ended each tune as though they’d just won three hundred quid on a TV quiz show. Beaming smiles, thumbs up McCartney style and proclaiming it’s the best gig they’ve ever played turned this sleepy corner into mayhem in under half an hour. Another one of those special performances that this festival has always been capable of throwing up whenever we least expect it.
And that really was it…..well kind of. A late visit to a packed Cow Shed which had to be seen to be believed (comfy beds, cushions all over the place, thumping techno), A disco around the swimming pool (ah ! yes, forgot to mention the swimming pool) pumping out Donna Summer’s “I feel Love” and a final stop off by the Dig it Sound System where Stan, Dan and Colin are still trying to convince us their names are real and their appearance at this festival is just a coincidence.
We reckon it might be a good idea to come here again next year. Come along too if you get the chance, bring the kids, bring your dogs, your granny’s clothes, your neighbours, some glitter and your dancing shoes. Enjoy the next 51 weeks and be content that some people somewhere will be hatching something just as exciting again for the next one. Bands we love will somehow end up here, bands that we’ll continue to discover as the year goes on will probably get to play and the sun will shine as it always seems to.
STANDON CALLING … probably one of the best small festivals in the world.
There, I’ve said it.