Tucked in a gently rolling Hertfordshire valley, miraculously only an hour from London, Standon Calling has been a gem of a festival since it’s birth twelve years ago. They’ve managed to hold onto the boutique feel, with minimum branding and maximum garden party feel, despite surging towards 15,000 ticket sales.
The line-up at Standon this year was well beyond your average boutique festival with Orbital, Grace Jones, Slaves, Kate Tempest, Clean Bandit and Gary Newman among the big names. There may be a dog-show, rockaoke contest, hot tubs in the ‘Summer Sensorium’ and ‘Horrible Histories’ for the kids but this festival is first and foremost for music lovers.
Friday night saw Legends of the dance world Orbital blow the crowd away with their trademark uplifting set on the mainstage. The younger crowd may not have realised quite what impact they had on the music scene in the 90’s but after his set Paul Hartnoll made his way up to join the Topside DJ’s at the more intimate Topshed for a secret gig. Relaxed and happy to chat to everyone it was clear that Paul still loves what he does and the place was soon packed with the shining faces of new fans.
Saturday was a wash-out weather-wise but with a festival this size there’s none of the sinking in mud lakes or wading miles to just miss a friend who’s given up on you. I’d go so far as to say, spread over about four fields, it’s the perfect size. In the afternoon, we went via the BBC introducing stage to join a chilled out crowd sheltering from the rain up in the ‘Golden Goose’ tent for a bit of comedy. The Posh Climber had us all chuckling over our posh drinks from the Fentiman’s cocktail stand until we felt brave enough to face the drizzle again.
Whilst Standon draws a real mix of ages, a very young crowd of local festival go-ers streamed in for Saturday night, head-lined by Clean Bandit. They rapidly created a muddy mosh-pit in front of Nothing but Thieves’ whilst the rest of us hung back and enjoyed their blend of rock beats with Connor Mason’s beautiful vocals. They were followed by Laura Mvula who struck a instant connection with the crowd, reaching out with her intense vocals and pounding rhythms.
It’s often the small, unexpected places that remain in the festival memory bank. Late Saturday night after enjoying the 80’s video (memories for some) with DJ Yoda’s ‘Stranger things,’ we found ourselves pulling muddy boots off in exchange for a numbered clothes peg at the entrance to ‘The People’s Front Room.’ Inside the intimate carpeted tent, styled as a psychedelic 19th Century salon, were louche sofas and warm colours with giant birds and cages suspended from the low ceilings. We found somewhere to sit (heaven on a night like this) but couldn’t contain our dancing feet for long as ‘Bombs’ packed the tiny dance floor with their retro sound. It was an awesome mix with lead singer MC-ing as well as he sang, with an impressive scratch DJ mixing over the top and a brass trio magically appearing at one point. The small crowd were eating out of the palm of their hands. Finding the right boots on the way out, however was a serious challenge…
By Sunday night, the ground slippery with mud, Grace Jones emerged on the main-stage from a raised platform behind a giant image of her face - like the true diva that she is. If you haven’t seen Jones’ hypnotic performances before, you should. She’s an inspiration and a total original – as ever her performance was an all consuming crazy work of art where high fashion, contemporary dance and jazz, rock and pop music fuse. She transformed into animals, climbing across the stage before assuming another role, changing head-dresses, wigs, half naked, hula-hooping while singing her many hits including an extended version of her massive anthem, Slave to the Rhythm. Impossible to believe she’s 69.
Standon Calling remains at the top of the plethora of small festivals on offer in the UK. It’s certainly grown into a festival with mainstream appeal but retains its creative charm and idiosyncrasies, reflecting no doubt, the big personality of its founder Alex Trenchard.