Standon Calling Festival
23-25th July 2021
Keith Goldhanger reports from Standon Calling where he got back into the swing of things again, catching not only some of his favourite bands but, despite stringent and valiant testing attempts to keep everyone safe, also the dreaded Covid on his return.
Some of us are feeling a little guilty and a little unsure about this. Notwithstanding a lack of clarity and leadership over the past couple of years from those given enormous amounts of money and privileges to look after us, we’re all seemingly just doing what we want to now and to hell with the consequences. It doesn’t really make it any better that the football, tennis, motor racing, horse racing etc….got there before us though, now it’s our turn to participate in what we love – and therefore Standon Calling, ‘one of the first festivals to return with full capacity in nearly two years’ has arrived and we’re there with bells (and masks) on.
It’s weird of course. We walk out into the blinding light from our reopened front doors, blink a lot, notice that some motor vehicles have decided that it’s now too dangerous on the roads so they now use the pavements, and we fail to hear anyone singing Three Lions even though our TVs for the past few months have been feeding us (false) information, giving us the idea that this is what’s been happening whilst we’ve been stuck inside listening to Colombia Mills and moaning that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic then some of us would have actually seen them play live by now. We’re back out into the fresh air and fields where music will play loud all day and most of the night, and we approach with caution and trepidation in the knowledge that there’ll be parts of this small festival that we won’t visit this year. We also note that some of our friends who have been jabbed twice are not here due to having tested positive and cannot motivate themselves to get out of bed at the moment. We expect one or two names on the line up could change over the weekend. Blimey, we’ve all had some terrible ideas whilst at festivals, but this could top the lot. Will we even last three days, will the weather forecast be wrong, will we decide to just stay in our tents shouting at each other across the campsite until Monday morning……? Let’s see.
First though, the admin…
It turns out that the Covid tests taken by those of us intermittently over the past year because we had a headache (even though it turned out to be a hangover) were PCR tests. That’s what you take if you’ve had symptoms (and send the swab off to a laboratory to get results), yet the one we take 24/48 hours before the event (filming it and registering the results) is a Lateral Flow Test for those of us who feel fine and haven’t really been very far since early 2020. Some of us who are still feeling unsure about life outside the four walls we pay our rent for are taking a couple of these tests a week. It’s no big deal, you can get them from here, it’s free and it helps to not only monitor the current extent of the virus but could save your friends and family if positive. They come in packs of seven therefore on return it’s probably worth using at least one or two more to see if you’ve returned unscathed.
The wise amongst us have decided that if there’s one band we want to see to get us all back into the rhythm of watching loads of bands, then it just has to be YARD ACT. This Leeds band have risen from the depths of the pandemic and have been moved over to the main stage early on and are engaging, entertaining and brilliant. It’s like catching The Fall in 1981 and listening to Jarvis (who turns up with Hot Chip the next day) entertain, not only whilst the guitars tune up but mid song also. The rambling vocals, coherent, humorous and with subject matter we can mostly associate with, are a breath of fresh air and less surreal than the recent content by Dry Cleaning (due here on Sunday but beaten by the weather). BAD SOUNDS and HOLLY HUMBERSTONE make a great first impression and we realise that every band this weekend will be reminding us that they too have been unable to live their lives in the way we have been accustomed to since early last year.
Most acts over the weekend introduce each new song like a child with a new crayon drawing, however BABY QUEEN have landed themselves here, a brilliant pop band that know how to make great pop music, pull a decent size crowd and are performing their first ever gig. This is an act we expect to learn more of as months plough on and the four piece have a few dozen more gigs and releases under their belts.
We’re dancing to the drum machine owned by WORKING MENS CLUB and expect the day will come when we’ll be witnessing this later at night and not this early in the evening. The electronics are throbbing, the vocals are sporadic and hidden behind the harsh guitars and bass, but this is what we want to dance to after so long away. We’ve found our feet and after four hours life feels a bit like it used to feel during that golden year of 2019.
MYSTERY JETS are now six albums old and it appears the line-up has changed slightly but it’s still the oldies that have us waving our arms in the air and singing along to. Young Love and Two Doors Down maybe over a decade old now, but these tunes still sound as wonderful now as they did when we first crossed paths with the band. Recent tunes that are now a couple of years old are holding everyone’s attention, the sun is shining, the ale is flowing and more than once people around us are beginning to accept that life is beginning to feel rather normal again. BC CAMPLIGHT (Brian Christinzio) sits at a piano and owns the field for half an hour with his deadpan humour and songs that at times seem to consist of more than one piece of Americana, sliced and reconstructed with glorious results. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING begin a storming set that displays how fabulous and intense the band can be, however it feels as though frontman Johnathan Higgs may be struggling a little and by the time we get to Distant Past he’s relying on us to help him out with the chorus. Even without the voice at full strength No Reptiles still remains a festival anthem, and as nighttime arrives gives us the tonic we need to dance until we fall, grab another pint and go to see what BASTILLE are about to provide us with.
There’s an orchestra on stage, it looks great, it sounds OK, but those of us with late night dancing shoes on could do with a change of pace. This may have worked better during the daytime as song follows song at the same plodding pace. There are DJs and an Elvis tribute act to get through before bedtime, but comedy tribute acts don’t wash at one o’clock in the morning. Off to bed via the DIG IT SOUND SYSTEM, of course.
MADDOX won a competition a decade ago to appear at Standon Calling but keep coming back and are here to entertain early starters yet again on day two. They don’t seem to play anywhere else during the year, which is a shame but it’s a unique career path. They’re a good band lacking the experience and confidence that a twenty day slog playing gig after gig would solve – something we may have to wait a couple more decades to experience.
We’re not too sure why, but there’s a sign at the front of the Laundry Meadows stage warning us that BOB VYLAN will be using explicit language during his performance. We were never warned about Baby Queen or Yard Act, nor especially the comedians and comperes who performed in front of young children during the day (who wants to play bingo at a festival?) using some of the most foul language that in context to what they were doing or where they were doing it was deemed inappropriate, especially to any parents with eight year old children looking on. Bob Vylan’s appearance at Standon is what helps make this a great festival. He’s not preaching to the converted and anyone wandering towards the stage was surely drawn into the mayhem he was creating around him. He swore a bit but probably not as much as many other acts, and his appearance confirmed him as one of the good guys, a loveable bloke we need to get to know and listen to more. The group hug with the audience at the end pretty much won us all over. Another one of the weekend’s highlights for sure.
BILLY NO MATES may have her doubters who may not be keen on the slight American accent deadpan delivery in her outpourings, but she’s established herself now as one that won’t go away and will be with us for a few more years. It’s a great performance featuring tracks from her self-titled debut album that are short sharp pieces of music build around a throbbing bass and drum machine coming from her laptop.
THE BIG MOON are on the main stage being happy and keeping those in attendance happy. We get an audience-friendly cover of Fat Boy Slim’s Praise You, before last year’s Your Light that is one of the weekend’s many tunes that we’ll be singing well into Monday morning as we wait to be towed out of the car park.
KID KAPICHI from Hastings are brutal fierce and loud, DAOI FREYR is calm and polite and get the main stage excited with his two recent finger-clicking electronic Eurovision hits, SQUID are better on a large stage than crammed onto the lid of a shoebox in a South London pub, and SISTER SLEDGE get the party well and truly revved up for those keen on ending the night at the main stage with their familiar collection of songs that everyone knows all the words to.
SHAME appear on the Laundry Meadows stage from nowhere to provide us with what must surely be the most frantic explosive show many of us have ever seen them do, before what must be the best headliner one could hope for at Standon, HOT CHIP. Joe Goddard is notably absent today and is briefly replaced by Jarvis Cocker during Hungry Child and Straight To The Morning, we get a couple of cover versions (Beastie Boys Sabotage and Springsteens Dancing in the Dark) and, although we don’t really want to be saying this out loud yet, the weather has held up.
No one dared to utter anything about the forecast during Saturday as we expected to have been dancing in puddles by this point of the weekend. It’s hot, slightly humid and probably perfect Saturday night festival conditions. Therefore against our own advice we carry on regardless. It’s way past our bedtimes as LYNKS in Peachy Mellons provide us with a hectic half an hour of choreographed dancing, a Courtney Barnett cover version and heaps of sexy disco anthems of their own before we wander back to our tents tired and sunburned, via HAAI performing on the Electric Willows stage to give us the adrenalin rush we needed to walk up the hill towards our tent and day three. We’ll all be seeing more of Lynks in months to come, preferably on larger stages and probably before dinner for those that have to be tucked up in bed before midnight. This performance we decided to watch from outside the tent looked and sounded magnificent. One to see again sometime for sure and one we need to see close up.
LAURAN HIBBERD seems to be the perfect person to kick off the day at any festival. Her bright white wedding dress and chirpy tunes are made for these situations, however the sky is now looking threatening. We go into a small empty tent to watch PUNK BAND who play a terrible version of Sham 69’s Hersham Boys in their freshly-laundered Destroy T-shits, zipped tartan jeans, tartan DM’s, sun glasses and carefully shaved hair above their ears. Recent single Red Rag To A Bull is good enough not to write this band off at the present time regardless of their name, what they look like, and the simplistic three chord plodding punk rock tunes that many of us may have been proud of forty years ago in our dad’s garage, but the jury is still out on these. There’s a lot some of us might have to say about this four-piece in time to come, however before this we’ll sit back and wait to see if the band can come up with a few more tunes to justify the name, the look and what they may have to say for themselves, if indeed they actually have anything to say.
PORRIDGE RADIO managed two minutes before it all went pear-shaped on Sunday afternoon, and JAKE BUGG we’re sure was about to play Lightning Bolt before everything came to a crashing end. A month’s rain in a couple of hours simply didn’t get soaked in by the dry ground. Electricity was turned off as bolts of lightning and rumbles of thunder could be heard above the sound of the rain pounding down and bouncing off the dry ground. Stewards had no working radios for a while and the whole festival looked as though it was on its last legs. There’s no way anything could continue regardless of having witnessed worse over the years at other festivals, and the decision to abandon was a wise one. The area leading to the site at the bottom of the hill was knee deep in water by 7pm and it would have been daft and dangerous trying to continue the event, accidents would have happened and day trippers would have increased the crowds, making for a very uncomfortable experience in some places around the site. Those of us three or four days in seemed to accept the decision. We’d expected all this a day earlier if we were honest, and Saturday night was made especially magical due to many of us still wearing t-shirts, shorts and light shoes during the hot and humid night.
Organisers of Standon Calling need to take a lot of credit for the way this event took place this year. The pre-event Covid tests, the usual strong line up and the replacing of bands where there were gaps and the ability to run (almost) everything on time. It has been a long time since many of us have witnessed a show, or in the case of artists performing, played a show. It made a change to witness something to be ruined by the weather and not by an act of idiocy by any human beings. No enquiry required, we came, we danced, we drank, we laughed, we got wet, we hooked up with new friends and old friends and embraced every moment we could.
At the time of writing we do not know how this festival crowd will be affected by Covid. Many of us are now used to testing ourselves and are planning on staying in for a few days after the event. It was great being out again in the fields as our favourite bands stepped back up to do what they have been unable to do for many months, and the weekend was a reminder that we still have such a strong army of new bands and individuals who still have so much to offer to this world. Hopefully these people will not be brushed aside in the future as they seem to have been over the past few months.
An encouraging and emotional restart to a lifestyle that we hope will continue again but those test kits need using up and a few days later one of us is still feeling as rough as you’d expect after three days in a field. Old age or something that might be diagnosed by a positive Covid result ?
Regretfully it’s the latter. Take it easy out there and get jabbed.
See you all on the other side.
All words 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).
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