‘To be perfectly honest, I like a woman with spirit.’ So said hapless builder Mr O’Reilly to fiery Cybil Fawlty in the British sitcom before being struck about the head and torso with an umbrella by the immovable object of his affections. At the wonderful Kendal Calling festival at Lowther Deer Park, near Penrith, Kate Tempest offered us a gentler kind of beating in the Calling Out tent on day one, despite abandoning the poppier touches that accompany her laser-sharp poetics on debut album ‘Everybody Down’ and infusing her set with dark and brooding drum and bass.
In forming such a musical landscape it would have been easy for Tempest’s hyperactive percussionist and coy DJ accompanist to affect menacing pantomime poses, but like Tempest herself they can’t seem to stop smiling, whether in cathartic relief as her home truths are delivered with thumping accuracy or simply at the thrill of a performance greeted rapturously from the off.
Yet Tempest’s steely compassion accepts no distraction, knows no bounds. When she raps of young lovers separated by shyness at a London café in ‘Lonely Daze’ we quickly accept that this is no storm in a teacup but an everyday drama of Shakespearian proportions – whether it happens to be happening to you or one of the billions who crave love and acceptance just like you.
Hong Kong’s Emmy the Great, also performing at the Calling Out tent, had to compete with one of the biggest acts of the three day event.
‘I guess you guys don’t like Snoop, huh?’
Emmy sounds almost sorry for Snoop in a way that he might feel truly sorry for anyone who failed to attend one of his shows. But Emmy’s lilting melodies aren’t intended for those seeking easy answers. Snoop may talk the talk but few on site could claim to be even moderately challenged by his sing-along gangsterisms, whereas Emmy has something to say.
Let down by an ex-lover who chose his religious calling over his relationship with her, Emmy closes her set with the haunting refrain ‘There’s no such thing as ghosts’ from her deceptively tender ‘Easter Parade’. Like Mr O’Reilly (secretly) we’re left appreciating every blow delivered by these spirited women at a festival dominated – albeit in a soft power way – by competing male egos.
Top 5 ‘happenings’ at Kendal Calling:
- Jangling our bells in the intimacy of the Jam Tent as Billy Bragg sings old Woody Guthrie songs in support of the Music Links outreach programme and their energetic charges.
- Sitting outside our tent each morning feasting on squashed brioche and cheap sausage rolls, remembering the night before.
- Friend meeting someone who shares the same unusual (sweet or savoury, pastry-lined) surname in a sun-dappled beer garden where the latter had already tried all 17 real ales on offer.
- Not falling over despite lack of wellies and surfeit of mud (New Balance still going strong)
- Standing in line to be hosed down by portly Virgin Trains staff before we could board our carriage home. We are the freaks!