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The Ultimate Village Fete: Standon Calling Review

Set in the rolling hills of Standon Lordship in Hertfordshire, Standon Calling is a quintessentially bonkers British festival, one that presides in a magical bowl shadowed by crop-circled fields and low-swooping clouds. From its humble beginnings as a BBQ with friends, the event has blossomed into a full-on summer highlight, renowned for featuring acts on the brink of success (think Florence and the Machine and Mumford & Sons). Each year a steadily more eccentric theme underpins the festival, and this year’s ‘Lost In Latin America’ one bore the expectation of a fiesta of funky outfits.

Arriving Friday afternoon, we pitched our tent on a hill-side adorned with South American flags and made our way below. Upon entering the grounds we walked past a make-shift rave cart blasting out drum ‘n’ bass, token festival girls drenched in glitter, a few well-placed tree dens and straight to the bar for a pint (or three) of Meantime.

Then it was on to the main stage.

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Stevenage’s Charli XCX provided the pop-glam over at The Big Top with her infectious voice and huge chart hits, ‘Boom Clap’ and ‘Fancy ‘, while later on in the evening headline act, Frank Turner with his band The Sleeping Souls drew a massive crowd with his unique blend of folk-punk.

After hours, the resident DJs in the Cowshed (literally what it says on the tin) had everyone going mad ‘til gone 5am with Michael Jackson, James Brown and Prince blasting out amid the usual house and drum ‘n’ bass. Here you were just as likely to make friends with a geriatric raver as you were a man dressed as a giant burrito.

The Saturday saw everyone get even more into the spirit of the theme with a glamorous carnival procession, all-day trapeze acts and some of the best costumes and craziness ever witnessed at a festival. Everyone embraced it – think parrots, ponchos, Chilean miners and Frida Kahlo–while as night fell, fairy lights and flowers began to light-up some extremely flamboyant skeletons.

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In the evening, Clean Bandit played against a dramatic backdrop of burnt orange skies and fiery clouds, which had many of the crowd in awe as they smashed out hit after hit, ending their set with a sparky, highly energetic version of ‘Rather Be’.

Public Enemy were the highlight of the night though, with their politically-infused tracks and statement red flags looking as powerful as ever. ‘Fight The Power’ sounded as relevant now as it ever has, resonating especially with the crowd as the band reflected on the Malaysian Airlines disasters, Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza.

Unfortunately, frontman Flavor Flav alienated the crowd somewhat with his Dr Conrad Murry diss, ‘Michael Jackson’ – “he never had your back he only wanted your money, everybody knew that” which had many walking away in disgust, while his advice to “be smarter than your phone” while contradictorily requesting us to add him on Instagram and Twitter also left a bad taste. This overshadowed an otherwise brilliant set, with DJ Lord and Chuck D especially having the audience in the palms of their fisted hands.

Just a few minutes away, DJ Yoda in the Big Top and the residents in the ‘shed provided the after-hours entertainment, exposing a darker underbelly where the make-up melted and the partying got harder.

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Sunday saw a more relaxed feel with people making the most of the swimming pool while kids played giant football matches and ran about in outrageously scary costumes – unsettling for the increasingly fragile adults among them. By the evening, a massive turnout headed back yet again to enjoy the last rays of sun with some reggae courtesy of New York City collective, Easy Star All Stars.

Later, Peace delivered a stand-out set with the fizzing riffs of ‘Wraith’ and ‘Bloodshake’ provoking some strong shapes all over the field. Headliners Maximo Park had a huge turnout with frontman, Paul Smith looking every inch the rock star (apart from the shit hat) as they blasted out both new and old hits. More nostalgic than anything, the feeling of being transported back to 2005 didn’t seem to bother anyone all that much.

Over in The Big Top, the pioneering Grandmaster Flash delivered a legendary set with his unique blend of hip-hop, pop and rock which rounded off the festival to perfection.

From a silent disco and Mexican wrestling to a dog show and art installations, Standon Calling is the ultimate utoptian village fete, and with readily available toilet paper and easy walking distances why would you go anywhere else next August?

Words: Jasmine Cowler
Photography: Tommy-Lee Winkworth



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