Before we review this year’s Kendal Calling 2015, we must spare a moment to remember Christian Pay, the unfortunate soul who lost his life at the festival in the early hours of Friday morning. Four others are ill in hospital, two critically, after taking substances they thought would help them have a good time. Few of us can honestly say that we haven’t at some point put something of unknown provenance in our bodies, the safety of which could not be guaranteed. Most of the time we get away with it but in this case the outcome was the worst one imaginable. The pain that his family and friends must be feeling is simply indescribable in words. For what it’s worth, my, and no doubt our readership’s, thoughts and prayers are with you.
Solemnity turns to anger when one considers the turn of events that has led to this tragedy. I am utterly sick of hearing of people being regularly harmed and sometimes killed in the pursuit of chemically-enhanced happiness. Anyone who takes a legal drug – caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, prescription medication – has access to a quality-controlled supply of goods from a responsible retailer at a reasonable cost. Indeed, alcohol enthusiasts are particularly well-served, even though said drug turns a significant number of those that use it into slurring, staggering, incontinent, occasionally violent, husks. Those who choose something other than drink to help their party experience along are forced to buy from the black market, with all the risk that entails. Our drugs policy is killing our children. If you accept that people will always take drugs, and that legislation is largely ineffective at stopping them, then prohibition is revealed for the folly it is and always has been. Nobody should have to die in the quest for a good time. In this writer’s opinion, MDMA and cannabis should be licensed for public consumption. If that had been the case, Christian Pay would have spent a night full of love on Friday, rather than everyone who knew him enduring a lifetime of pain.
This year saw the biggest and best Thursday night ever at Kendal Calling – a superb way to celebrate the festival’s tenth birthday. Yes, there were some teething troubles getting so many Thursday visitors onto the site – those who turned up early queued for 3 hours or more. Personally, I drove over after work, encountered no traffic at all as always, and parked directly opposite the festival entrance. Depending on where you’re prepared to camp, Kendal Calling has surely the shortest car-to-tent distance of any comparably-sized festival, a bonus when all you want to do is get the tent up, crack a beer, and listen to the first band of the weekend.
James headlined the Thursday night party, and were a superb choice. Where their compatriots have faded away, against all the odds James are still looking and sounding both fresh and expertly sharp after a quarter-century of practice. They’re not necessarily relevant to everyone (the teenagers camping around me had blank looks when I mentioned I was going to see James – “Who’s he?”), and I must make the personal confession that I thought they were finished after 2001’s ‘Pleased to Meet You’, but that’s my fault, not theirs. After all this time, they’ve mastered the art of the teasing slow-burn buildup, both on the micro level of a song – ‘Sit Down’ being a case in point, the whole thing reimagined as an admirably restrained ballad – and the macro level of a whole set. There’s no two ways about it, a great headlining band.
The alternative was the equally compelling Future Dub Project in the always-reliable oasis of hot comestibles Chai Wallahs. Their sound melds reggae rhythms and electronica, a male rapper and a superb female singer.
Friday saw rain of the kind that is commonplace for Kendal. Wet, dreary, mudogenic. Judging by the vast number of sodden-brown appendages that used to be sneakers, not all of the crowd have grokked that Wellington boots are essential festival accessories. Ah, the folly of youth. The beauty of Kendal Calling is that, in contrast to some of the nation’s bigger events, all the stages are but a matter of minutes stagger away from each other, so one can see a year’s worth of bands in a single weekend. At least you can on Friday, when the spirit is keen and the legs fresh.
Louis Berry is a Scouse rock ‘n’ roller – one can infer from his reference to ‘Her Majesty’s pleasure’ that he may have been something of a naughty boy in the past – but he’s clearly discovered the redemptive power of music. Being blessed with a veritable roar of a voice, he and his sharp band seem perfectly at home on the big stage, the songs drip with Liverpudlian heritage (La’s, Cast, er… The Beatles) and do the massed ranks of Merseysiders proud.
Rhain is a startling discovery, her modest Bristolian twang belying a genuinely world-class singing voice, as if Björk, Kate Bush and Kiri te Kanawa were reimagined as a bundle of flapperish trustafarian kook. She accompanies herself with a bit of minimalist piano, but it’s really her voice that steals the show, as powerful as an opera singer one minute, squeaky and coy the next, all delivered with such disarming modesty that endears one to her even more. I didn’t hear a finer or more notable voice all weekend.
Having been reliably informed by my considerably younger camping buddies that Fuse ODG is the next big thing, then I had to pay him a visit. It’s dancehall, Jim, but not as we know it – self-nominated as the sound of ‘new Africa’, Fuse himself is a singer and rapper, and he’s got a decent band with female harmony backing and a big Notting Hill sound system blasting out the tunes. Exciting enough, and apparently he’s the most successful Ghanaian singer on iTunes, but I must confess this sounds much like all the other dancehall-inspired pop I’ve ever heard.