Standon Calling takes place under an hour outside of London, in the picturesque grounds of a country house. It's had a tough year; a general decline in UK festival attendance, the festival organiser being sent to prison, and one of their headliners (Spiritualized) pulling out at the last minute.
It was immediately obvious on arrival that there was a lot of space. Tickets didn't sell out, but the experience was all the better for it – no queues for the bar or the toilets, and no trouble walking between the stages. While it may not be good news for the festival organisers, it makes for a great sense of community, where you kept bumping into the people you'd met the night before (which obviously has pros and cons...).
The line-up featured a host of lower-key buzz and post-buzz acts, and there were some real gems. Dananananakroyd may have a gimmicky name, but in a live festival setting they're perfect – tearing up the intimate Twisted Licks tent on Friday afternoon, clambering over speaker stacks and jumping over the barrier to get right up in people's faces. Friday's headliners Battles may have lost a vocalist, but it hasn't held them back – with the guests from their new album appearing on a video screen behind them, they hammer the guitars and smash cymbals (placed just beyond arm's reach), leaving the crowd a sweaty mess.
On Saturday, performance poet John Cooper Clarke took the stage to soothe everyone's hangovers with a healthy dose of swearing – and won over a whole new generation of fans. The Raghu Dixit project carried on blowing out the cobwebs with some of the sunniest tunes of the weekend, and Saul Williams scared everybody with an angry rant that suffered a little from poor sound quality, meaning you couldn't quite make out what he was so angry about. Lamb proved to be a relatively subdued headline act, playing to a small crowd of the converted - while Hercules & Love Affair tore up the smaller tent with their own brand of disco.
Sunday saw a reduced crowd, but boasted arguably the best line-up, with Hempolics, Egyptian Hip-Hop, Trophy Wife, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Beans on Toast and The Africa Express Sound System all keeping the crowd going through the final evening.
However, almost eclipsing the music, Standon Calling has an awful lot of other entertainment going on. For the whole weekend, the crowd is decked out in an assortment of fancy dress outfits (the cabin crew flying their way around the site were a personal highlight). Who knew that a crew of London rioters (and their natural enemy - a gang of girls with their riot clean-up brooms) would enjoy Raghu Dixit so much?
Forming a kind of festival centrepiece, a sculpture known locally as the “Underwhelming Oblong” loomed over the main stage. This was a large, dark coloured rectangle, and on the Saturday night, a crowd gathered round to watch a bit of smoke come out of it, and a man yelling something from the top. Something must have gone wrong – it's hard to imagine that was all that was planned. Maybe some fireworks didn't go off? It was a pretty surreal experience all round – but one that seemed to unite the crowd in their confusion.
After the main stage acts finished, the Twisted Licks tent is where the party atmosphere was to be found – with Friday hosting electro-swing, and Saturday hosting Tayo's pyjama party. Electro-swing may not be everyone's cup of tea, but that guy from the Correspondents can't half dance. Finally, the cow-shed keeps playing music until beyond 5am, so if you're dead against the idea of bedtime, there was plenty to keep you going...
Late nights aside, Standon's a really family-friendly festival. You see a lot of parents with young children, and there's plenty about for the kids to get up to. It's such a relaxed atmosphere that the kids can just potter about, and neither Jesus nor Michael Jackson bats an eyelid as they nurse their hangovers by the swimming pool.
It'll be interesting to see what happens next year, with the reduced crowd attendance, and the general state of the UK festival industry. Let's hope Standon Calling keeps going – because this festival's got a lot of soul. You can definitely find worse ways to spend a weekend.