This past weekend we travelled down to Hertfordshire for Standon Calling festival, a festival that originally started as a party for mates of organiser Alex Trenchard that has evolved into a thriving celebration of arts, culture and music. With top acts on the bill including Ella Eyre, Little Dragon, Slaves and Basement Jaxx, I hoped the festival lived up to the high expectations. Here’s a short review of each of the acts we really enjoyed on each day and perhaps a few that we didn’t enjoy.
Saturday August 01
The Saturday was a pretty chilled out day, I arrived down at Standon in the late afternoon just in time to catch CROWS (7/10) who I knew had previously supported Wolf Alice, with a small but dedicated crowd in the dark and dingy Big Top stage. I had no idea what to expect from the London band, and their dark and moody songs contrasted with the blazing heat we’d all been experiencing on the festival grounds and lead singer James was like an angry, aggressive caged animal who was prowling and almost convulsing on the stage. A set that was as spontaneous as it was fun and visually thrilling to watch, CROWS are a band I’d like to see again in perhaps a more intimate setting with them as headliners to ensure a more responsive crowd.
Black Honey (6/10) were up next, a band that I’d heard a surprising amount online about considering they’ve only released 3 eps, have 4 demos on their Sound cloud and have a total of 6 official songs. Heralded online in their early days as an ‘elusive Brighton four-piece’ they’re a band whose members have remained relatively unknown with the exception of their music. Black Honey are a band that have taken the internet by storm and soon to be festivals if their Standon Calling mid-afternoon set is an indication.
Kwabs (6/10) was one of the most popular acts at the Big Top stage over the day despite brief technical issues at the start of his set, London-based soul singer Kwabs wasn’t fazed and took it in his stride. Personal favourite song that I discovered from his set is synth-y R’N’B Fight For Love with its massive chorus that is upbeat despite his soulful and emotional vocals. Watch out for his debut album which is expected sometime in 2015.
One of the most enjoyable sets I saw all day on the Saturday was from London electronic trio Real Lies (8/10), I had heard some of their stuff previously but their excellent set has definitely given me a kick up the arse to finally give myself more time to listen to the band. Despite a scarce discography with only 4 EPs to their name, Real Lies didn’t let it hold them back. They reeled in their young, indie electronica liking crowd into the dark abyss of the Big Top stage and wowed us all. With their mixture of electronic, rock and pop elements they provided a reprieve from the indie guitar acts that had been playing the stage previously.
With the esteemed second from headline spot on the main Stage were Slaves (9/10), who had a large and extremely responsive crowd who were as excited and ready to see them as I was. With a brilliant, fast-paced set that could have incited riots and definitely proved to be a difficult feat for the Standon security, Slaves provided their biggest hits in a no-nonsense no-frills set. From older songs such as Where’s Your Car Debbie?, Hey and The Hunter the crowd was fully engaged and was the most aggressive crowd I’d seen all day, their set would have pleased the casual slaves fan but would have also engaged anyone with a dislike for politicians/the government or who wanted to rage a little. Here’s a tip for bands who do a Radio 1 live lounge: don’t do a cover of a song so well that you’re plagued by fans heckling you to perform it in your own set, fair play to the fans though their cover of Shutdown was even better live. It was my first time seeing Slaves and I wasn’t disappointed nor will it be the last time I see them!
Sunday August 02
The Sunday of the festival I’ll admit I wasn’t as excited for with a more diverse line-up it was probably for the majority of people I’m sure, but most of the acts just weren’t to my liking. I mostly checked out sets by acts on the Big Top stage and Bella Union’s Last Dance Saloon as I wanted to see new rising bands instead of already big bands that were headlining the Main Stage.
The first act playing that I caught was Syd Kemp. As it was early in the day the smaller crowd was understandable but the band didn’t let this affect them and gave their all. I didn’t stay around to watch all of Syd Kemp’s set instead I was flitting about between the different stages trying to see as many sets and new artists that I could.
I ran over to the Main Stage to go and check out The Cuban Brothers and for the first three songs of theirs I was in the photo pit but I didn’t hesitate to leave after taking the photos. To say I didn’t understand their set is an understatement, it seemed to be enjoyed by the older family crowd that was watching the act play on the main stage though but I found it to be very karaoke-like or like a band you’d get performing at a Spanish resort hotel.
All hope wasn’t lost though as I headed over to the Big Top to check out Jagaara whose sound has been described as ‘pining pop’ by NME. The sisterhood group create the perfect heartbroken synth pop with lead vocalist Jane’s piercing and haunting vocals. A thoroughly engaging and beautiful performance that I wasn’t expecting but enjoyed, they are the perfect early afternoon summer band.
I was bound at the Last Dance Saloon next to see Clarence Clarity who is somewhat a buzz act of the moment and brilliant Manchester babes PINS who are as effortlessly stylish as they are a great band. With a fierce live set that is raw, fuzzy and unpolished much like the band themselves, they rocked the Last Dance Saloon in the bright daylight for a crowd that was largely more interested in the bar than any performing act with vigour.
I was bursting at the seams at being able to catch The Horrors in the smaller Big Top stage and was intrigued to see how the bands set list changed from a UK tour date to a festival set. Their set was good but it certainly didn’t match up to their headline show last year at the Troxy in London, I found some of the songs blended together and it would have been great to have a slight more variety in the setlist but I can’t complain as I did see Endless Blue, one of my favourite songs of theirs that takes on a whole new feel when performed live.
Standon Calling was a festival that I largely liked but definitely found the Saturday of the festival to be better than the Sunday but that is more down to personal performer preferences than down to the festival itself. I liked the variety of different activities with art and culture but in further years as the festival gets bigger and improves, it would be great to see more as I found a lot of the festival grounds to be taken over by the multitude of different food caravans. Standon Calling is the perfect festival if your nan’s been bugging you for bonding time or your middle-aged parents want to re-live their wild festival days with their children, so grab your old people and bring them along to Standon Calling, I bet they’ll have an ace time!
Check out our gallery of some of the bands we saw over the course of the weekend!