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Standon Calling might be the UK’s most wholesome festival. Many of the music fans wandering around the parched Hertfordshire fields are families or teenagers. They cheer on the kids taking part in a fancy dress parade, fly through the trees on zipwires, and splash around in the swimming pool. There are fairground rides. Yoga sessions. Massages. Karaoke. And even though the heatwave means the annual dog show is cancelled, there are still dogs everywhere, meaning a cuddle with a friendly pooch is never far away.
That’s not to say Standon doesn’t also have an excellent music lineup, of course. There are plenty of familiar faces alongside the fresh, from the Noughties nostalgia of Razorlight and the Sugababes to full-blown Madness. A record-breaking heatwave provides plenty of good reasons to take refuge under the shade-covered stages, such as the Laundry Meadows, where newcomers such as Lime Garden and English Teacher lure in the crowds from early doors. This year, Standon Calling has honoured its commitment to the Keychange gender diversity pledge: 54 per cent of artists on the billing are female or non-binary.
A gentle start to Friday afternoon allows festival-goers to fill their bellies with truffle veggie burgers and espresso martinis, before heading over to watch Billy Nomates. Her voice is cool, low and smoke-filled, redolent of Stevie Nicks; she darts between punk and pop, melding jangly, Johnny Marr-style guitar lines and juddery New Order synths. It doesn’t matter that she hasn’t brought a live band with her: pinballing around the stage, she has enough energy for five people.
On the Laundry Meadows stage, the enigmatic Lynks wins over the crowd with their synchronised dance moves and “gay agenda”. Bridging the gap between the pub and the club, they revel in the driving, pumping rhythms of “Relax” and “Silly Boy”. “Nobody cares that you’ve watched Pulp Fiction” they sing mockingly. “Standon Calling popped our festival cherry last year,” Yard Act’s frontman James Smith tells his audience, before proving exactly why they were invited back. He delivers spoken-word witticisms and poetical sprechgesang over gloomy bass and twangs of electric guitar: “Watch me explode,” he instructs, on “100% Endurance”. Tick, tick, boom.
Saturday belongs to Loyle Carner. The 27-year-old artist, who rose to prominence thanks to his sun-drenched brand of UK hip-hop, is making his festival headliner debut. It’s one of those rare performances where phones stay in people’s pockets. A lone saxophone ripples woozily through the air as the intro to “Ain’t Nothing Changed” kicks in; Carner’s flow is rich and velvety against the shimmer of the hi-hat. Jordan Rakei joins the stage to perform Jorja Smith’s part on “Loose Ends”, which he co-wrote with Carner, prompting thousands of tired shoulders to relax at the sound of their plush harmonies. Towards the end of the set, Carner asks his fans what they’d like to hear next, instantly obliging their request of early single, “NO CD”, from his 2017 debut Yesterday’s Gone. He even finds time for an acapella moment, closing with an astounding, unreleased poem that explores identity and race. It’s sensational.
On Sunday, it becomes immediately apparent as to who the day-ticket holders are, vs the weary-looking weekenders. A series of tantrums and desperate pleas from parents can be heard through the tents. But by the main stage, Olivia Dean calms the crowd with a soothing yet charismatic set. Over on Laundry Meadows, Dublin’s country music singer CMAT wakes us up: “This is ‘standing calling’, not ‘sitting calling’ - come on, get up,” she demands. Soon enough, everyone is line-dancing to “I Wanna Be A Cowboy Baby”.
In one of the final sets of the weekend, the ever-articulate Ezra Furman tells us: “The spirit of music belongs to all. It cannot be owned. It’s a wild thing, the human heart.” Her performance is visceral as always, providing a poignant segue into Primal Scream’s headline set, where a gospel choir joins the stage in a generation-unifying performance of rock’n’roll euphoria. Once again, Standon proves why it’s one of the most colourful, vibrant festivals around.