Standon Calling 2012 @ Standon Lordship, Hertfordshire 2-4/8/2012

August 17, 2012 by  

Slap-bang in the middle of the festival season, Standon Calling has been springing up in a field outside Stevenage every year since 2001, when it was essentially a barbeque by a swimming pool. During this relatively short lifespan, the festival has developed a reputation for playing host to artists that are teetering on the brink of commercial success – namely Mumford & Sons, Florence and the Machine and The Maccabees. It is, therefore, a great place to search the wilderness around the main stage for hidden treasure; the smaller stages, the fairy-lit tents where the daily line-ups consist of artsy silent films and reggae bands. This year’s festival theme was exploration, after all. There was practically no excuse not to.

Day 1: Friday August 2nd

Admittedly, the desire to explore smaller stages was largely fuelled by a lack of any tantalising prospects on the main stage. We headed there to see The Thirst kick off Friday in front of a handful of people, but the persistent rain and lacklustre performance drove us away to The Cowshed – optimistically described by the program as Standon’s ‘on-site nightclub’. It looked nothing like a nightclub. It was a lot more like an ordinary stage, except with places to sit down. However, with bands of all genres playing during the day and DJs at night, some of the best performances of the festival took place here.

We arrived just in time to see The Tricks play a very solid set, followed by the Graveltones, who totally blew the place away. A two-piece made up of a burly lumberjack of a drummer and a guitar-playing lead singer, they sounded like early Black Keys duelling it out with early Wolfmother. Loud, energetic Australian blues-rock with frantic, crashing drums and guitar which pummelled the fast-gathering crowd with hook after hook – it was utterly delicious. They managed to retain the intimacy of two guys jamming in a garage while sounding huge and thoroughly professional. Convinced that nobody in The Cowshed could follow that, we left in search of a change of pace.

Festival crowds at the Folk Stage, by Tom O’Meara

We eventually found solace in the garden of the manor house. Here, your typical festival grunge was switched out for clean-cut grass, white picket fences, an ale tent and the very quaint Folk Stage (pictured above). It was genuinely a delight just to be there. Standing on the tiny raised stage in the corner, surrounded by people sitting cross-legged in the evening sun, were two timid, jumpered young things. Here, Johnny Kearney and Lucy Farrell crafted sweet, delicate inter-gender harmonies in the vein of Slow Club. Johnny’s fingerpicked guitar was subtle and interesting, shunning the common tendency for fledgling folk acts to stick to simple chord progressions. After their set, Johnny said “I think I mumbled a bit”, but that was exactly what made them so intriguing. A charming, self-depreciating yet quietly confident and oh so – for want of a better word – cute, duo.

Back on the main stage, Vadoinmessico were joined by a jungle of instruments, which made for a promising prospect. In the end, though, their set was surprisingly bland. Later on, Beardyman (in the top image, by Jim Hanner) played to an absolutely huge crowd, and gave a performance befitting his first festival headline slot.

Day 2: Saturday August 3rd

King Charles (seen below) was the standout act on Saturday – he drew the biggest daytime crowd of the festival by a mile. For a wide-eyed whipper-snapper of 24, he sure can command a stage. Like a less over-the-top Prince, he blasted out guitar solos and encouraged the crowd to sing along. Assured, cool and oozing talent, he put on a dazzling show; his rendition of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ went down especially well. Foxes made the best Cowshed appearance, bathing onlookers in breathy synth-driven pop, and headliners Death in Vegas did a fairly admirable job of collectively chilling out the entire festival site on Saturday night.

King Charles, by PG Brunelli

Day 3: Sunday August 4th

Sunday night brought rain. Lots of rain. As with any festival after a hefty dose of moisture, Standon now resembled a battlefield circa world war one – but spirits refused to be dampened. That was perhaps the most endearing part of the whole festival – the atmosphere was so friendly, so welcoming, that it was difficult to have a bad time. There were hundreds of children and dogs on site, and all of the problems that you might imagine would come with them never materialised, it just made for a truly inclusive, fun place to be.

The facilities really made a difference, too – the toilets were like mini washrooms which were regularly cleaned, and there was a great selection of food available. The lineup wasn’t the best, but it didn’t seem to matter. Standon is more of an experience than a music festival, but reviewing experiences is a pretty niche business, so let’s stick to the music. The Folk Stage was the place to be on Sunday. Interiors kicked off the day’s music and were excellent, as were Vardo and the Boss a little later on. Willy Mason stole the show though – witnessing a man with such obvious talent in a setting as intimate as that is really quite something.

All in all, Standon was very pleasant. The line-up was so-so, but that was mostly made up for by the thoroughly lovely surroundings and people in attendance. King Charles was the highlight of the festival – there’s a good chance Standon Calling will be able to add him to their list of extra-notable performers sometime very soon. An honourable mention goes to the Graveltones, because the world needs more good blues rock, and that’s precisely what they specialise in.

Festival revellers in a tent, by Jim Hanner

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