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Sun Ra Arkestra, Femi Kuti and The Positive Force, Chrome Hoof, Mothlite, Tony Christie - Standon Calling review

Imogen Decordova 31/07/2009

I need a snorkel, I'm practically drowning in the sheer abundance of festivals taking place this year. Slowly but surely each year our fertile musical nation is giving birth to more and more. Fortunately, Standon Calling manages to stand out from the brood. From its humble beginnings as a birthday barbeque, the Hertfordshire based event has evolved into an award winning, fantastically intimate boutique festival, and it's only in its second year.

This year the festival had the ingenious theme of space, synchronizing the line-up to fit the theme and encouraging attendees to dress up in an array of out of this world (excuse the pun) garments. I believe a round of applause is in order for the group of fifteen middle aged drunkards ALL dressed as Coneheads.

What is particularly special about Standon Calling is the sheer quality of acts performing. The festival isn't afraid to put on avant garde musical pioneers like Sun Ra Arkestra and Femi Kuti alongside emerging local talent. They may have possibly succeeded in upstaging last year's Japanese themed lineup comprising Acid Mothers Temple and Melt Banana.

Adhering to the intergalactic theme, each stage is given a cosmic inspired name: Galileo, Apollo and err…Main Stage. Barberella's proves a popular nightclub style haunt, tucked away in a converted cowshed with graffiti and decoration paying homage to the movie of the same name. People dance like extra terrestrial beings and play with the strange and ever so slightly confusing decorations/props dotted around the place.

Friday brings us the eccentric and childish musings from Tim Ten Yen. Pulling some serious shapes, 'Tim Ten Yen warbles his way through one eccentric ditty after the other whilst forcing the cross legged audience sitting in front of him to stroke the stuffed cat he brought along to accompany his act. My festival acquaintance speaks about him for the rest of the day and genuinely wants to marry him one day…

We Have Band are a London based funk dance troop. Dressed in silver and white they play matchmaker with Gang of Four and Donna Summers, who's also messing about with LCD Soundsystem behind their back. WHB manage to pull in the largest crowd of the day thus far, which might well be over 30 people! Bear in mind this is a very intimate festival. The trio's cover of West End Girls, and single Oh goes off like a bomb in a discothèque (note: I just looked up the term Disco Bomb, this is not what was meant by the aforementioned metaphor.)

Not quite in keeping with the space age theme swedish folky sisters First Aid Kit are Johanna and Klara Söderberg and are exactly what you'd expect from Sweden - quirky, delicate beauties with a warm and soulful tinge. They look a tiny bit like fashionista shedevils the Olsen Twins (they are a brand not humans) in certain light but redeem themselves with their maudlin, gorgeous two part harmonies. These Scandinavian sirens have ethereal voices and no one can deny a genuine talent which defies their envy-inducing youth.

Making their British festival debut Mothlite are a welcome surprise, providing beautifully atmospheric drone pop. Visually, these folks are mind-cripplingly boring, although they do come with some smoke which they most likely stole from sunn0)))'s tour gear. Sonically they are gifted, close your eyes and you might find yourself falling into a deep, beautiful slumber; open them and you probably will too.

Sun ra Arkestra clash, quite tragically, with the much hyped Chrome Hoof who are in their very existence a doom/jazz tribute to the Arkestra themselves. The astro jazz disciples of the late great Sun Ra, the Jazz legend who coined his own philosophy and believed he came from Saturn, perform to an elated and intoxicated crowd, led by 85-year-old Marshall Allen who has played in the arkestra since the mid fifties, the group eventually begin after an intensely long sound check. Streams of people crawl into the Galielo tent, whether they're there to shelter from the torrential rain or there to witness a free jazz spectacle is beside the point.

The group lead the audience in a hypnotic chant of Space is the Place and after this I'm left wondering which planet I originate from, afro futurism is the future.
Playing to an embarrassingly small Sunday afternoon audience, Kap Bambino do exactly what Crystal Castles do, create a barely tolerable noise which sounds like a cross between Scooter and a female-led hardcore punk band. The latter being a good thing; the former…not such a good thing. I have to leave quickly as my ears begin to bleed quite heavily from the gabba influenced back beat.

Obviously 98% of the crowd watching Tony Christie turn up for the novelty of seeing the man himself perform 'that song', much to their disappointment Christie doesn't bring along the cast of Phoenix Nights for a march along, instead he croons his way through a couple of Everly Brothers tunes and knocks out a bit of Andy Williams. He even dares to sing a few songs of his own that aren't 'that song'…but then he belts out 'that song' and simultaneously everyone feels like they've achieved something, no one's quite sure what though.

Femi Kuti and The Positive Force are a fantastic climax to such an eclectic lineup- channeling the spirit of his father, Fela Kuti, Femi brings his politically charged Nigerian carnival to the green fields of Hertfordshire. Kuti coaxes the largely white middle class spectators into repeating politically charged anthems criticizing the state of African governments. This afro beat is accompanied by a huge brass wind section and three curvaceous backing singers shaking it in every direction.

Not to be missed is drag queen Jonny Woo's Gay Bingo. Not for the faint hearted, or for that matter the young children sitting in front of me, there are a lot of references to Ketamine and predictably a lot of sexual innuendos. Woo looks like one of the girls from the video to Simion Mobile Disco's Hustla, at the end, when the girls wear those creepy masks that make them look like sexy ugly monsters. Gay bingo proves a fun camp frolic and a good opportunity to win a bottle of nasty cheap plonk.

Not only boasting a stellar musical roster, Standon Calling is situated in an eighteenth century manor house; yes, someone's actual garden…a really big garden. The festival even has a swimming pool for tent dwellers to cool off/wash in, replete with Wet Sounds under water DJ's, quite spectacular I think you'll agree.

Anyone willing to pay 300 quid to go to Reading frankly deserves to pay 300 quid to go to Reading…Standon Calling has set a standard and I'll be damned if I ever lower mine!