We put Keith Goldhanger in a field for a few more days. This time at The Standon Calling Festival in Hertfordshire. During the weekend he reacquaints himself with a few old friends, some new bands, some current bands and one or two acts he’s previously forgotten about.
Some of us are starting to fall in love with these Hertfordshire fields as much as the similar looking stretches of grass we stroll along in Somerset every June. Set in the grounds of Standon Lordship just outside Standon village less than an hour from the capital this festival has again become what will be remembered as the year’s highlight yet again for many of us in attendance.
This unsponsored themed festival changes ever so slightly each year – whether it’s the main stage moving six inches to the right (allegedly) or the camping arrangements that get spread out a bit more. The quality of bands that get invited remains as high as previous years and of course, the amount of glitter covered, falafel eating, drink swilling fancy dress punters that embrace the weekend seems to remain at a steady ten thousand which is enough to avoid any long queues for food drink and toilet facilities over the three days.
Headline acts could have been chosen from five or six that played lower down the bill this year so strong is the line-up, and Standon Calling, as usual still manages to throw the odd spanner in the works for those of us often lacking the knowledge to identify popular acts in the same way that we find ourselves bizarrely explaining to some people who Sonic Youth were and what Thurston Moore has to do with all of this feedback we’re witnessing at the tail end of the weekend.
Suede give us the biggest thrill over the three days of mayhem. For those of us who have spent twenty five years mocking ’The best new band in Britain’, Friday night has at least one of us conceding defeat and recognising the difference between a small fat old bloke sponging beer off the female half of Blood Red Shoes and the man on stage with the audience in the palm of his hand known to one person over the past few decades as ‘Bert’ but to the rest of the world as Brett Anderson.
Mr Anderson, now in his late forties is fabulous. We feel he’s going to grow old(er) gracefully like Iggy, live forever and maintain the status as being one of the UK’s best frontmen whilst he sniggers behind his hand as he’s told that it took some of us over twenty years to realise. Brett Anderson of Suede walking through the crowd in front of a stage without any stage lights to accompany him whilst being followed by the tiny lights of mobile phones belonging to those alert enough to realise there’s a familiar looking man also singing ‘Animal Nitrate’ standing next to them but with a microphone, can only happen at Standon Calling. There are no big screens here and there’s always enough room to be at the front of the main stage even though from the back the field looks rammed.
This followed a magnificent performance on the same stage before the sun went down by some blokes from Sweden. Dressed in quartered black and white suits and going through all their hits and all the stage antics many have witnessed before elsewhere. There’ll always be room on festival stages for The Hives and there’s always going to be the thrill for those who haven’t seen this band before – The Hives, as they have been managing for years now, never disappoint, or in their own words are ‘The best thing in the world ever!’
Friday had begun at around lunchtime with Hannah Lou Clarke minus her analogue drum machine at least one of us was wanting another look at and listen to. ‘It’s broken’ she tells us and plays the percussion via an mp3 player or something similar. ‘Kids in Heat’ was the opening tune for some of us this weekend and as the clouds gathered and temperature dropped for the only time all weekend we began to discard any puns mentioning . . . .well y’know . . . . .’Kids’ and the . . . er. . . the weather.
Swim Deep showed us what they are capable of on a big stage. Here’s a band whose danceable indie tunes probably work better on a big stage than the smaller ones we’ve witnessed them on before, and Tangerines, who were the second band of the day (as if you care about the running order anymore) are also a decent outfit playing simple garage riffs like a more sobering Fat White Family chugging away nonchalantly, getting the job done and seemingly hanging around to party for the rest of the weekend. A band worth checking out.
Blood Red Shoes maintained the high standard they’ve set themselves over the past few years. They sound tighter, they’re playing harder than ever, sound grungier and dirtier and even a little bit angrier than they sounded a few years ago. This duo are four albums old now and do appear to have managed to contain a consistent output of tunes over this time which was ideal for those of us ready to stagger towards the main stage for the events already covered above.
Day Two and The Laundry Meadows stage, which is a lovely white cotton surrounded arena that slowly morphs into its own building (you need to imagine there’s a roof) the longer the weekend goes on, is hosting INHEAVEN who yet again delight and impress those considering the first beer of what is going to a warm day and get the fists pumping in the air yet again. This four piece seem to have a dozen or so big tunes we’re slowly getting to grips with and they’re a band who will collect more and more converts with every stage they stand on.
Yak load their gear in, drift around on stage making an unholy joyous racket that ebbs, flows, twists and turns at a frantic pace and has one of our entourage needing a bit of a lie down afterwards.
Blossoms are on the main stage and yet again we watch, digest and wonder what this band have to offer that we’ve not heard before during our short but eventful lives. It’s the bands that stand before us that make us wonder what they’re doing that we get drawn towards, however Blossoms music seems to come from a variety of bands we’ve been watching for many years that we see selling out large venues on an annual basis having marked their territory out over the course of a few years. At the moment this band still appear to be offering nothing more than standard UK indie music (they’re on a major label we’re told) without anything that individually stands out. Of course they’ll be one of those bands that’ll also take two decades to recognise the brilliance of won’t they?
Everything Everything also on the main stage give us yet another performance of odd timing, strong falsetto vocals to a ‘Motown’ rhythm (‘Regrets’) ending in a finale of ‘No Reptiles’ and ‘Distant Past’. It’s a glorious ending to a fine set and a signal to launch ourselves pronto over to the Big Top to catch the end of Ghostpoet who seemed to stumble a bit beneath a wall of bass heavy droning but managed to throw out ‘Be Right Back, Moving House’ whilst we were there which came at us at the tail end of last year. A cracking tune that has helped some of us fall in love with the rest of this guy’s work recently. Although this was a bit challenging considering the dark tent and dark music, this performance was as cool as ‘The Young Fathers’ show a few years ago that some of us still consider a golden moment at this festival over recent years.
Of course, it’s not all about the music. There’s a huge ale bar with a big list of what could be all the same liquid but with different names, however some of us have to make sure. This means headliner ‘Jess Glynne’ who some of us know very little of (apart from ‘Hold My Hand’ which manages to ruin our YouTube viewing every time it pops up advertising the fizzy drink that’s very bad for you but tastes very nice) gets missed. Of course, this number one hit (if I’ve got that right, do these things matter anymore?) was left until the end, by which time we were looking at a very odd performance back over on The Laundry Meadows stage.
Now here’s a thing we learnt about ourselves this weekend. . .
A few ales down, a few bands witnessed and a memory like a sieve means that on entering this arena we actually stand staggered at what we’re watching until after about fifteen minutes we realise it’s New York’s Adam Green. He of ‘The Mouldy Peaches’ who people are expressing their love for during the breaks in between songs. He doesn’t stand still for more than 0.001 of a second, dances out of time, is backed by some chaps that look like they may have zoomed into the field after a night shift presenting ‘Playschool’ (ask your parents) and manages to keep those of us here captivated, intrigued and curious as to what will happen next. Adam Green was fab, some of us have actually been near this chap before and a late night show in a field on a warm night was an ideal closing for day two. Before the penny dropping that this was Adam Green one of us was slightly worried. ‘Is this awful or is this genius?’ . . . Strangely, and because The Mouldy Peaches really have now been all but forgotten, by the end it was the latter.
During Yak’s performance, what seems like years ago now, we met a big-bearded man who simply suggested we come and see his band on Sunday. This is how to become a household name and it’s something that every musician should learn.
‘Distinctly average’ was the description given to us by the man with his tongue moving slowly towards his cheek who we discover eventually is the main man in Bella Figura. Although this early afternoon gig has all the evidence of a few chaps with a few recent missing night’s sleep under their belts they really are fab. Two of us independently call for ‘The Afghan Whigs’ as a comparison however the man with the note book and pen in his hand has written down 1980’s Aussie legends ‘The Triffids’. There seems to be rather a lot of tunes available to get our heads around once we get home and Standon Calling seems to have thrown those of us here another little gem to savour and take home with us, which is another reason why this festival brings some of us back year after year.
Some people who also seem to pop back year after year are The Cuban Brothers who we say we’ll avoid at any cost but inevitably end up chuckling away with, every year, at the front until we’re waving our arms in the air to John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air’ unashamedly.
Back to business and we straighten our shirts and go back to the Laundry Meadows stage for PINS from Manchester who repeat their equally fab appearance from last year, according to those following this band’s activities over the recent years. They behave like five different cool versions of ‘Sonic Youth’s’ Kim Gordon, thumping out fast tight songs that make us feel we might be humming along to once we hear them a few more times.
Too Many T’s turn a nearly empty totally enormous Big Top tent into a very well attended party in the near dark which suddenly makes the duo (we can’t see DJ Savage Henry on the decks at the back) appear to be a lot more angrier than we know they really are. This band could have played on any stage here this weekend. Having them perform in this particular location was quite a challenge but one they pulled off with aplomb.
Blinking our eyes back out into the early evening sun we visit The Duke Spirit for the first time in what feels like years. A decade after seeing this London band perform means all that some of us remember is that they were great then, should be now, and would be prepared to separate anyone arguing whether this band actually spilt up reformed, disappeared reappeared, or have just been slogging along very slowly ever since. It doesn’t matter, they pull off a fantastic show. Sounding a bit like an aggressive collection of Patti Smith songs with the occasional heavy groove at their fingertips and a vocal performance by Liela Moss that can only be described as powerful, this has got us searching for the catch-up button in life and a search for the listings to see if we can have another look at this band again sooner rather than later.
Anna Calvi is a performer some of us were very much looking forward to seeing on the largest stage this weekend. Long loud guitar solos that echo around the field are very impressive breaks to the breathtaking songs she’s written. Her incredible voice and the way it’s delivered to us leave us wondering why the field isn’t as full as we would like it to be. This was a very memorable performance to add to the huge list anyone who would consider themselves a regular at Standon would have tucked away in an obscure part of their head.
And then Thurston Moore arrived and played an equally superb show to close the night on The Laundry Meadows stage before it would be taken over by grown men and women wearing a limited amount of clothes as they thrust their bodies along to some recognisable disco tunes.
Thurston Moore’s tunes are perfect for a balmy Sunday evening in a field. Wrong notes, played in the right places by all three string pluckers who are following Thurston’s very individual song crafting technique melt away into washes of feedback that are controlled, restrained and still comfortable to the ear. Songs stop, start up again or are maybe even repeated, leaving some new converts slightly confused but more determined to try and figure all this out at a later date. We get the groove of Debbie Googe’s ‘My Bloody Valentine’ bass rhythms and realise that this is the music made for a field that’s hosted as much as it has over the past few days.
Catching Kellis as she advertises her back of the field burger stall raised a few people’s eyebrows who all had a joke to tell about someone from a burger van headlining, however the tunes that ended the evening fell flat and kind of fizzled out when this festival of all festivals needed something a bit more explosive to close the main stage with.
So it was left for Goldie to rip apart the Big Top and remind us that the night, albeit the last one at this year’s festival, was soon to end. Heavy, fast and brutal drum and bass tunes had us falling over, waving our fists in the air and gasping for some last breath before (spending three hours in a silent disco and then) calling it a day, and left us imagining this on the main stage as an alternative to what actually took place.
As mentioned at the beginning, the line-up was strong enough this year to complement the size and demographic of the Standon Calling crowd. A crowd that seem to bring their families or simply jump on a train, stick up a tent and end up making a bunch of new acquaintances to last them a lifetime.
Good clean toilets with a good supply of cleaning material, a swimming pool to cool oneself down when the going gets tough, some very good food, the drink we’ve mentioned, the cashless system that has become second nature now that many of us are used to contactless cards in the real world, and the security were simply not noticed except when approached. There was a dog show that we missed, no doubt featuring all the superb animals we kept stopping to stroke and discuss over the weekend. There were hot tubs at the top of the site that some of us didn’t even manage to see. The fancy dress competition, if there was one, we missed also. Some comedy was witnessed, we ate everything and got through rather a lot that was on the list of ales we stared at a few days earlier.
Stage times were adhered to and matched what we were reading in our programs and apart from one or two clashes (sorry Teleman, still haven’t seen you) we had more than enough entertainment to keep people going for days.
Non-stop nonsense and a small stretch of fields, or gardens, that are gradually becoming the best big party or the best small festival we could experience.
And this year with ‘The best old band in Britain’ – now that sounds like a headline. . .
Hold the front page!
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 too if you so wish.