Raindrops keep falling on my head, sang Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield during their Saturday night set at this year’s Kendal Calling festival, and he wasn’t wrong.
The 50-year-old might have been one of the few of the 30,000 or so people present whose heads weren’t being rained on to any extent, being largely sheltered by the roof of the Cumbrian event’s main stage, but the 1969 Hal David and Burt Bacharach tune Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head was as appropriate a choice of song as could be had this side of Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain, coming in the midst of several hours of near-incessant heavy rainfall.
That persistent deluge didn’t stop the Welsh band, returning for a second visit after a headlining set in 2017, packing out a main arena almost empty prior to their arrival for a 17-song set beginning with their 1992 single, Motorcycle Emptiness, and concluding with A Design for Life, a No. 2 hit four years later.
The BJ Thomas hit was one of three covers played by the Manics, the others being the Mash’s Suicide is Painless and Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child o’ Mine, the latter giving Bradfield the chance to show off his unsung standing as a guitar hero.
That night’s headliners, Cheshire indie rock act Doves, last seen at Lowther Deer Park in 2010, did see their turnout take a hit as many rain-sodden festival-goers decided to call it a day and head back to their tents, but that didn’t deter them from delivering a storming set too.
Further Welsh wizardry followed on Sunday, again with north-west indie rock for afters, veteran singer Tom Jones supplying the former and Manchester’s Courteeners the latter.
Sir Tom’s set was one of the most popular of the weekend, sparking singalongs to classics such as Delilah, It’s Not Unusual and Green, Green Grass of Home.
The 79-year-old might have left much of the crowd nonplussed by covers featured on recent albums of his such as Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song and John Lee Hooker’s Burning Hell, but tunes that would have triggered mass throwing of feminine underwear in years gone by, like Sex Bomb and What’s New Pussycat?, soon got them back singing along with gusto.
The Courteeners – fresh from playing the biggest-headlining show of their 13-year career in front of around 50,000 fans at their home-town’s Heaton Park the month before – also went down a storm, despite a downpour leading to a sizeable chunk of their audience bailing out halfway through.
Friday night’s bill-toppers, Nile Rodgers and disco act Chic, also refused to allow a bit of rain to dampen their spirits, playing an upbeat set mixing up hits from Chic’s back catalogue with covers of collaborations by Rodgers with the likes of David Bowie and Daft Punk.
Like last year, it wasn’t wet, wet, wet from start to finish, though, as the four-day festival got under way on what was billed as the hottest day of the year so far, its blistering sunshine interrupted only by an hour-long thunderstorm in the evening, and Friday was mostly dry and sunny, as was Sunday until midway through the Courteeners’ festival-closing set.
Other highlights of the weekend included Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Cinnamon making a speedy return following his debut at the event last year, US band Rival Sons bringing a rare helping of old-school hard rock to the main stage, comedy sets in the Soapbox tent from the likes of Reginal D Hunter and Josh Widdicombe, and a Calling Out stage collaboration by Bristol punk act Idles and Northamptonshire rapper Slowthai.
This year’s Kendal Calling was the first for years not to sell out, but that was down to an increase in its capacity to 30,000-plus rather than a dip in its popularity, and event co-founder Andy Smith commented: “Our 14th Kendal Calling has been one of the best ones yet.”
He went on: “From standout singalong headline performances from Nile Rodgers and Chic and the legendary king of Wales, Tom Jones, an incredible opening party from electronic pioneers Orbital, plus a huge festival finale from the much-loved Courteeners, the main stage has seen some of our favourite Kendal moments ever – and let’s not forget when Idles brought out Slowthai for a Mercury prize-worthy jam session on the Calling Out stage.
“Big thanks to the 30,000 people that joined us in the fields this year to dance, sing and shout, come rain or shine. We had a lot of both!
“We’re looking forward to showing you what’s in store for our 15th year.”
For details of next year’s Kendal Calling festival, go to www.kendalcalling.co.uk