The 11th edition of Kendal Calling drew to a close on July 31 in spectacular fashion, as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds saw out the festival in style. The sold out Lake District music and arts festival was bathed in glorious sunshine for four days as 23,000 festivalgoers were treated to huge performances from over 200 artists – alongside the first ever Carnival Of Colour Parade, the stunning art installations of Lost Eden, fine ales at the Real Ale Festival, the tranquil settings of The Woodlands and all sorts of unexpected musical and literary surprises at Tim Peaks Diner who this year raised £10K for the David Lynch Foundation.
Insights spoke with Kendal Calling Director Andy Smith and Creative Coordinator Roxy Robinson about the various collaborative initiatives undertaken on the festival, plus the event’s philanthropic work and approach to programming.
Festival Insights: The Northern Festivals Network supported much of this edition’s arts programming. What did they bring to the event, and to what extent do you guys work with external curators?
Roxy Robinson: The NFN is an invaluable resource to us at Kendal Calling and has, over the last few years and through their Arts Council funding, helped us to deliver high quality, family friendly arts content. This year this included the likes of the Fabularium and Raynard the Fox, an animals-only theatre show by Kids Calling, and the brilliant Copperdollar — a troupe of highly skilled performance artists who paraded the site on Carnival day. We curate the content we receive from the NFN, who supply us with a roster of sorts and assure a level of quality. From this, Kendal Calling along with other members of the consortium selects the artists.
FI: Kendal’s theme for its 11th anniversary was ‘Carnival of Colour’. How did the festival explore this theme, and do you think annually switching up the aesthetic of the site year on year is the best way to keep things interesting for long-time festivalgoers?
RR: Themes are brilliant because they have the potential to appeal to two, even three generations of a family. Everyone can get involved, and festivalgoers can come up with their own completely unique interpretation. Every year the team debates the theme and this year’s Carnival of Colour was chosen for its simplicity and wide appeal. The decor (for example, the frontage of the Houseparty) was adjusted to reflect the theme. A new element for 2016 — a festival parade — saw tribes of colourful Kendal Callers join Mr Wilson’s Second Liners for a joyous stomp across the site. Themes definitely add an important element to Kendal Calling, though they are increasingly difficult to come up with, so suggestions for 2017 are welcome!
FI: Last year you introduced a new four-acre woodland area to the festival called Lost Eden – replete with psychedelic sounds and visuals, as well as panels, spoken word and more. What did the area involve this year and how did it develop as a concept?
RR: We are incredibly grateful to the Arts Council England for supporting year two of Lost Eden, which was a real leap forward in terms of artistic quality, site design and engagement with the audience. We are proud to have hosted, once more, brand new artistic works by eight commissioned artists. They each worked for many months prior to the event to create unique installations that premiered at Kendal Calling.
The artistic concept for Lost Eden is ‘nature and the metropolis’ and all of the art you will see in Lost Eden is a reflection, in some way, of the interaction between these ideas. While last year Lost Eden was more popular as an after-hours area, in terms of developments, this year Lost Eden was a fully programmed space for both day and night. During the day, our virtual reality journey brought to the event as a co-commission with the Lake District National Parks Authority took festivalgoers on a thrilling ride across the real Eden – Eden Valley, Cumbria – while Snake Oil’s live art and the Carvetti Stage helped to create a lively yet ambient escape from the main arena.
It was also great to see more involvement from the audience this year – whether helping live artists with their murals or insect spotting at the Love Motel for Insects, 2016 was a year where parents could take a break from Kids Calling and find additional, interesting activities for the kids up at the woods.
FI: Since 2012, Kendal Calling has raised over £100,000 for various charities, including Alder Hey Children’s Charity, North West Air Ambulance, and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Was philanthropy always part of Kendal’s ethos, and did you work with any new charities this time?
Andy Smith: Kendal Calling would never have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for charities – MusicLinks in Kendal was the delivery partner for Generator North East’s ‘Cumbrio touring platform’, an initiative to help musicians and promoters get talking to each other and for artists to play more concerts. They also hosted a bunch of conferences in Kendal, which is how I came to meet my co-promoter Ben Robinson and develop the idea of starting a festival. Once we’d begun though that wasn’t the end of our reliance on charities, being fortunate enough to receive funding from UnLtd in our first year, which underwrote the event.
Now that we’re in a position to do so we support charities as much as we can, as many other festivals do.
FI: This year Kendal Calling proved its dedication to showcasing emerging talent through a pioneering partnership with Off Axis – a burgeoning network for underground acts to grow their audiences through gig exchanges. What led to the decision to have them host a stage at the festival, and how did it go?
AS: Off Axis approached us and we love what they do and what they stand for – it felt very much like a national extension of the Cumbrio network I mentioned earlier. We’re also a big believer in bands being proactive and for them to be involved with this shows they are.
The line-up of talent over the weekend was fantastic. The quality of stage production, supplied and ran by WigWam, was especially high and showcased the artists to their potential.
FI: Another distinguishing feature of Kendal is its onsite real ale festival, which is supported by CAMRA and includes two of the festival’s own ales. Do you foresee a time when people come to festivals primarily for the food & drink and non-musical programming?
AS: Primarily? I don’t think that will ever happen. But a high proportion, certainly, and I feel we’re probably already there. A lot of people come down just for the atmosphere and there’s more than enough non-musical content on offer, whether it be the comedy tent, cinema screen, children’s area or the many quirky areas of the Garden of Eden.
FI: Anything else we should know about this edition of Kendal Calling, or your plans for 2017?
AS: Tim Peaks, the venue of The Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, surpassed itself this year with a whole bunch of ‘you needed to be there’ shows. From secret gigs by Pete Doherty, Cabbage and Blossoms, and the following day a solo performance by Robin Dewhurst (father of Blossom’s guitarist Josh) to Jazmin Sawyer’s performance before leaving to catch a plane to Brazil and join Team GB in competing in the Rio Olympics and Mike Hitchard calling by with his piano on his Lands End to John O Grotes bicycle tour for Children In Need.
Following last year’s mega three-hour traffic jams to get in and off site, in 2016 we redeveloped our entire traffic strategy. As part of our strategy we created a traffic tool that plugs in to Google Maps and allows you to select your starting location and your end location (noisy general camping, campervan field, yurt camping, staff camping) and will give you turn by turn directions the entire journey, stopping satnav directions from interfering with our traffic management plan.
The artists this year absolutely smashed it – from The Charlatans, Madness, Plastic Mermaids and Craig David’s TS5 I have seen some of my best performances in 11 years of promoting. I’m excited by the challenge of topping this next year!
We’re back in the office now after running Bluedot Festival and Kendal Calling on back to back weekends, but we’re not resting just yet – we’ll be launching a new city based conference event in the next week with some great partners. Never a dull moment.
The Northern Festivals Network
Arts Council England