Standon Calling 2009: Rated!
United Kingdom | 04 August 2009
Standon Calling has come along way from the birthday barbecue it started out as many years ago and this year organisers really surpassed themselves, writes Jane Pople.
Overall - 7/10
Sitting in an uncanny replica of the DeLorean from ‘Back To The Future’ (including flux capacitor), there are perfect views of the main stage as well as the English countryside and Standon Calling’s sunny day atmosphere filters through the glassless windows and it’s quite the experience.
Celebrating all things extraterrestrial, this year’s festival has gone all out on the theme, making an out of this world experience and with a bit of imagination it’s tin foil fun for all the family. Set in rural Hertfordshire, this middle class festival comes complete with the quintessential British stereotypes of orderly queuing, politeness, plumb accents, China tea sets and homemade cakes. This up and coming festival has real potential to become one of middle England’s major summertime attractions.
Getting there and back - 8/10
With the majority of people arriving by car there are not many transport problems at all. For those using public transport trains to Ware and Bishops Stortford run frequently from London Liverpool Street station. A shuttle bus provided by the festival runs both Friday and Monday, however on the Friday there are quite big gaps between times. Come Monday there is a surprisingly smooth operation running and despite the bus being quite small, there is enough to meet the demand.
The site - 8/10
Set in the most picturesque of English countryside backdrops, the site is small and intimate, with nothing around it except rolling hills and greenery. It is so compact, in fact, that nothing is more than a couple of minutes walking distance away. There is a reasonable sized main stage but it has an area too large for the respective capacity - with many bands almost swamped out by the large area surrounding it.
The Apollo Tent, which is a huge domed tent that once inside is intrinsically laid out - including several booth style seating areas and a flashing bar – is easily the best and most suited venue for the small capacity festival.
The Galileo Stage - apparently an exact replica of the observatory in which Galileo invented his telescope - is like a tent from the world of Harry Potter, appearing much larger on the inside. It’s complete with armchairs, homely lampshades and quirky touches that make the area hugely popular and perfect for seeing bands, poets and even gay bingo in. There is also a swimming pool complete with ‘Button Moon’ props including a life size Mr Spoon. The Barbellea Area - a cowshed-come-nightclub - wins the award for best improvisation as it transforms at night to a brilliant glow in the dark rave spot.
Atmosphere - 6/10
The family vibe is almost too laid back at times, with the crowd often lacking the energy needed to bring this festival to life. There is also an air of snobbery with marc Jacob Wellington boots making some of the more modest wellies feel out of place.
The fancy dress theme does help bring everyone together and for the few who haven’t made an effort, it is obviously their loss, the looks of jealously at Chewbacca and the Clangers from the normal folk doesn’t go unmissed. With a family atmosphere the organisers need to rethink time slots given to bands. Putting Dead Kids on in the late afternoon is not a family-friendly move. With bands like Easy Star All-Stars being better suited to an earlier afternoon slot keeping the grizzles and tantrums at bay (not only from the toddlers).
Detroit Social Club - 7/10
With an attitude the Gallagher brothers would be happy to sport, it is obvious why these guys have recently supported Oasis. Their northern accents make the songs come alive and they are an exciting start to the weekend. It is a shame that the crowd is small and sitting in huddles as if on a school field for the majority of the set. Being too windy for the smoke machine to have a proper effect doesn’t put these lads off and they finish their set with ‘Forever Wonderland’ which has managed to drag the crowd onto their feet and get them dancing.
The Invisible - 7/10
This three-piece band fit well into the space theme with their electro synth sound that sees even the old timers produce what some may call dance moves. Recently nominated for a Mercury Music Award their musicianship is impeccable and they produce such a quality sound they have a real chance of scooping the coveted prize. With a mixture of lively upbeat tunes and more soulful slow movers they have the crowd up and down, but they thankfully end on a high.
Golden Silvers - 7/10
Golden Silvers start the evening line-up and despite only having a bass guitar, drums and a keyboard, they create an amazing noise and sound like an English MGMT with their exaggerated electro synth stylings. A beefed up version of ‘Another Universe’ adds a touch of pop eloquence to the synth orgy and goes down well as the crowd grows. As their set ends with a dance tune the crowd are left wanting more and it has warmed them up nicely for a night of musical entertainment.
Dead Kids - 9/10
Easily the best performance of the festival, Dead Kids totally destroy the Apollo Stage with a mind-blowing performance on so many different levels. The music, itself, is so good it’s unbelievable this band who have been around for years are yet to hit the mainstream. But these guys have so much more to offer. Front man Mike Frankel is a force of nature, single-handedly dragging people into the tent.
He demands that people dance and get closer, making you want to run away and hide from his piercing stare, yet dance until you can make him happy. He kisses a male fan, slaps another and steals a drink. He then ends the set in the most magnificently family-friendly fashion: by getting a little boy up on stage to finish the show for him. The boy’s screaming wins the crowds affection and a new life had been breathed into the crowd who leave the tent pumped up and ready to party and its not even 7pm.
The eco-friendly vibe of Standon Calling sees an innovative take on the horrors that are festival toilets. Saving on gallons of water, we’re asked to scoop sawdust from a container using a cup after placing a ‘deposit’ (as they so kindly put it). It makes a huge difference on smell pollution and a moral boost for helping the planet.
A classic take on Japanese favourite karaoke, Rockaoke is the same but with a twist - your own personal live rock band to back you and make you feel like a rock god. Rock star poses at the ready, or a great chance to look like a twat - your choice.
A vintage boutique onsite selling some seriously cool clothes and trinkets at amazingly reasonable prices, it also doubles up as a fancy dress store for those who forgot to bring their space suits.
The schedule is so behind some days that slots that it is hard to work out if you’ve missed a band entirely. But with so much on offer, the disappointment doesn’t last long.
The programmes, small and held together by a metal pin that lasted as long as 5 minutes, for £3 and bit of string so we could wear them round our necks is not an unreasonable request.
Standon Calling has come along way from the birthday barbecue it started out as many years ago and this year they really surpassed themselves. But with a little bit too much effort in some areas - mainly the amazing space props- other areas such as stage management were left neglected. With some small tweaks next year they could really put the tiny village of Standon on the musical map.
By Jane Pople
Thursday 6 August :
I have to agree with the Deadkids being the best band, they are just amazing everytime you see them they get better each time. Its not just about the music but a whole live experience, when you leave the gig you just feel elated like you've been on the scariest rollercoster not knowing whats going to happen and then when its all over you just want to go back on the ride. To be honest they have got me back into music again i feel like i'm 20. I've been thinking i don't know how they would do if they were on a bigger stage but i'm sure they would manage; the lead singer loves getting involved with the crowd, and is one of them people who has the likeable factor, making contact with all the crowd making everyone feel part of it, which comes across as totally genuine.