A heated outdoor swimming pool, trapeze lessons, a dog show, and Mexican wrestling. These are just some the ingredients that made 2014’s Standon Calling festival a sumptuous delight.
Situated in the grounds of a 16th Century Hertfordshire manor house, Standon Calling has come a long way since it first started out as a birthday house party for founder Alex Trenchard in 2001. Back then it was little more than a barbecue with a few friends, drinks, tunes and chaos, and has since evolved into well-established annual music festival.
Since our first visit in 2010, many things have changed at Standon. For one thing the signage to the event has greatly improved. I recall our visit four years ago where I spent close to an hour roaming around the village of Standon looking for the grounds of the private residence, Standon Lordship. This year things were considerably easier. The signage to the festival was clear, resulting in a smooth and effortless journey from London, and getting to the camping site was a doddle. For the general campers, the contraband searches at the gate proved time consuming, resulting in a slower rate of entry. However once on site there was an ample amount of camping space, which negated the “crammed like sardines” situation sometimes experienced at larger festivals. Although we camped in our own tent, we were afforded the opportunity to camp in the Boutique camping area complete with a huge pamper tent. If nothing else, the huge dressing room style mirrors supplied in this tent by Hotel Bell Tent made it considerably easier to put my contact lenses in each day.
Another change to the festival was that for the second year running, Standon ran a cashless festival. This meant that payment for everything on site was done via an electronic tag attached to your wristband. For everything from ice creams to beer, whenever you made a purchase the vendor would scan the tag on your wristband using a tablet that was attached to the system.
The idea behind this system was to improve safety, reduce hassle and to cut queues at bars and food stalls. Of course, in order to make your wristband of any use you had to top it up with credit by visiting the manned top-up station on site. It was here and at the onsite cash machine where the queues formed instead. The line for the cash machine was particularly exacerbated when the ability to top up using your bank card went down early into the festival, resulting in many having to rely on the cash machine – for which you were charged £2.75.
One of the problems myself and some of the festival goers that I spoke to found with this system was that, unlike at a checkout counter, you can’t actually see how much you are being charged at any point. So when it comes to collecting any remaining balance on your wristband at the end of the festival, you’re likely to either be pleasantly surprised or bitterly disappointed. And in case you were wondering what would stop someone pilfering a vast number of wristbands from unsuspecting festival goers and having their merry way with their newly acquired credit, the policy is that wristbands can only be used if attached to a wrist. If your wristband did go missing then it could be cancelled if you informed the top-up station.
The theme for the weekend was Lost in Latin American and as such there were plenty of activities catering to this such as Chilean singing and percussion workshops, Tango classes and even a carnival parade.
In terms of the musical performances, Standon didn’t disappoint. The two main performance areas were the Main Stage and the Big Top tent, and there was a great variety of acts to suit every musical palate.
Friday saw strong sets from the likes of NZ ShapeShifter, and The Heavy, who were by far my favourite act for the Friday night. The day was closed by Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls on the main stage. For those in search of more musical mayhem, the Big Top continued until 4am with Felix Da Housecat, and Heavy Hz, and the cowshed similarly finished at 4am with Jay Taylor.
Saturday saw the The Cuban Brothers on the main stage, a hilarious, riotous and talented show complete with quality music, colourful language and spandex breakdancing. Having seen them for the first time last year at Bestival, it was an absolute delight to see them again. Even the torrential downpour on their final song didn’t serve to dampen the feel good vibes that the band delivered, as everyone scurried to find shelter. Also on the main stage were Eliza & The Bear, Clean Bandit, and Public Enemy who closed the day with a characteristically energised (albeit at times slightly discordant) set. DJ Yoda’s live AV show, just before Craig Charles‘ Funk and Soul show, had to be one of the highlights of the night. His fingers surely must be aching from some of the songs and videos he managed to fuse together and the visuals were a spectacular eye-fest.
Sunday’s musical offerings included the warming big brass sounds of the Hackney Colliery Band,who kept me dancing non-stop through their set. They were followed by the brassy extravagance of Ibibio Sound Machine’s 70s Nigerian electro-funk. Their set got the crowd to their feet and the audience participation sections brought a smile to crowd’s faces. The highlight for me was seeing Young Fathers at the Big Top, whose dark and enchanting set was well executed and had an air of mysticism about it. The mix of hip-hop with psychedelia, pop and powerful lyrics made for an extraordinary performance that defies easy categorisation. Grandmaster Flash closed the Big Top tent with a full DJ set including many old hip-hop classics from the 80s and 90s.
When it came to satisfying your hunger, the food vendors had a fantastic range of meals all reasonably priced. And whilst the festival operated a “no cans on the festival site” policy, beer could be bought from £4.70 a pint, or a 330ml can of Savannah cider for £3.70.
In terms of facilities, Standon had the best onsite toilets of any festival that I have attended thus far. No makeshift holes in a plank of wood, we’re talking fully functional flushing porcelains. And with such a good number of them, I rarely ever had to queue for longer than a minute or two and they were usually clean and stocked with toilet paper.
Whilst more could be done to reduce the environmental impact of all music festivals – they can be environmental disasters when it comes to the amount of trash generated, particularly from festival-goers’ strange disposable mentality when it comes to camping gear – it is positive to see that Standon Calling has taken some measures to ensure they provide entertainment whilst taking responsibility for the planet. These initiatives include only working with caterers that care about their refuse and employing an on-site environmental army to recycle as much as possible and ensure that nothing stays on site that shouldn’t after the event.
From taking a dip in the outdoor swimming pool, to trying your hand at being a trapeze artist, or even rocking out at Rockaoke, there is so much to see and do at Standon that it is difficult to sum everything up in one article – seeing is believing. Overall, Standon Calling is a good sized festival (it has a relatively small capacity of 6,500 people), is well organised, very family friendly and inclusive, and despite growing in popularity over the years it has still managed to maintain that party in your back garden feeling that it started with all those years ago.
If you want to secure your place at next year’s Standon Calling, super early bird tickets can now be bought here from £89.