George Ezra’s homecoming puts the heart back in Hertfordshire at Standon Calling 2018
Standon is calling, and you should be listening. Over 15 years since the family festival first set up camp on a once-quiet country estate, the weekend event is picking up pedigree and stamping Hertfordshire on the map as a cultural hub. If you’re laughing now, you certainly will be when you arrive. Comedy, crafts, fancy dress, dance classes and a whole host of musical talent – both new and established – make this a party with just as much soul as any in the capital, and a great deal more heart. And did we mention the extra-terrestrial life?
When we get to the Standon estate, it’s the food that first lures us in. Upon entrance we grab a quick Macchiato from Carnival Coffee and a falafel scotch egg from Deli village, and feeling sophisticated and smug as any Shoreditch hipster we tramp down the hill, where we are greeted by a barrage of street food stands. It turns out the festival is not the small affair we thought. It’s not humanly possible to sample all of the offerings in one day, but we give it our best shot. By the time we leave, full of spicy pork belly steamed buns from Le Bao, an indulgent salted caramel and peanut sundae from Bad Brownie and a wood-fired pepperoni pizza from Born & Raised, we can safely testify to the quality of grub on offer. The prices are not so appealing, but the festival runs a cashless wristband system, making parting with your money a faster and more humane process.
Stepping onto the field is like stepping straight into a sci-fi movie. Not only because people are scanning themselves to pay as if they are human microchips but because half of them are painted silver. Punters appear to have very wild and varying interpretations of the fancy dress theme “future”: pink Cybermen, Thunderbirds with afros and a family of Jedis – fit with a clone buggy and baby Yoda – all feature in the costume parade.
Music-wise, there is a host of new talent. On the smaller Laundry Meadows stage, the notable acts of the day are Park Hotel, whose timeless funk sound incorporates both disco and electronica; Gengahr, whose vocalist Felix Bushe rises effortlessly into ethereal falsetto; and Hollie Cook, whose reggae beats had the crowd bopping even in the midst of a sudden downpour. Indeed, from the enthusiasm of the people, it is hard to tell the festival has had its setbacks. Last night the heavens opened, forcing the stage to close to disappointed onlookers. But today, even the rain can’t dampen spirits.
Easing us into the afternoon on the main stage is Lily Moore, whose soulful voice – Amy Winehouse meets Adele – you can barely believe comes from a 19-year-old. Her emotional ballads pair teenage angst (I will Never Be) with the vocal range and wistful quality (Now I Know) of a mature singer.
Though we only catch a little of the live comedy – Kerry Godliman performing a strong set on the difficulties of being a mum, well-received by the long-suffering parents in the audience – this is only because we are busy laughing along with the incomparable Cuban Brothers. Dancing onto the stage in a bright green, patterned suit jacket and matching shorts, frontman Mike Keat is a natural comedian. After introducing his dynamic duo Archie Easton and Kengo Oshima – who have donned matching outfits – he launches into cheeky, risque banter. The ensemble have a funky, Latin American vibe which is impossible not to move to, as do Keat’s stage companions, who perform routines throughout and who change at one point into tasselled, skin-tight Rocky suits and proceed to breakdance, much to everyone’s delight.
But jokes aside, the message of the band is clear. I Love Love, a highlight of the set, sums up their ethos fairly well. Some fairly unsubtle gags aimed at a certain “orange dickhead” give the set a political element which goes down well with the demographic. Indeed, the dancing Oompa Loompas holding decapitated Trump heads are a good measure of the general festival vibe.
As Black Rebel Motorcycle club finally enter the stage to heavy distortion, the audience is warmed up and ready. And the band does not disappoint. The San Francisco three-piece are the definition of cool: leather jackets, slick shades and laid-back attitude. As the group kick off Robert Levon Been takes the lead, a highlight being his almost tribal rendition of Beat the Devil’s Tattoo from the 2010 album of the same name. However, one of the rare qualities of this ensemble is that it possesses two vocalists of equal talent, something which Peter Hayes proves as he dives into Ain’t No Easy Way, accompanied by trills on the harmonica which give the song a distinct bluesy feel.
What Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll sees the band members throw the lyrics back and forth in a perfectly paired call and response. Levon Been slows down for a resonant acoustic rendition of Dirty Old Town, which proves that even stripped back, the ensemble remain powerful. The setlist spans many of the band’s eight albums, but Spread your Love is the track that sets Standon ablaze, the heavy drums and riffs indeed catching “like a fever”.
The night’s headliner has only two albums to his name, and yet his name is on everyone’s tongue. After backpacking from Budapest to Barcelona and popping up to Paradise, George Ezra, Hertfordshire’s very own Prodigal Son, has returned. And what a homecoming it is. As the 25-year-old appears on the main stage, his popularity is evidenced by an eruption of sound. Feeding off the mighty roar of the crowd, the Hertford-born artist launches into one of the tracks which established his distinctive sound and consequently his pop career, the pleading Cassy O’.
After warmly introducing his live band and recounting stories of his travels and inspiration to an enraptured audience, Ezra performs Getaway, a song from his new album Staying at Tamaras, which this year reached number one in the UK charts. The singer then hops back to his critically-acclaimed 2014 debut album Wanted on Voyage with the slow and mournful Barcelona – which puts spectators in the opposite mood. From here, the artist picks up the pace with the upbeat Pretty Shining People, encouraging the crowd to sing along, which they do with reckless abandon.
Next comes a personal favourite, Listen to the Man, a number which showcases both the silky bass of the performer’s voice and his irresistible charm. After a lesser-known song, Saviour, Ezra ramps up the audience once again with pacey Don’t Matter Now, asking them to sing him into the piece. Then comes a crowd favourite and one of the highlights of the night, one of this year’s hit singles, Paradise. Though on the cheesier end of his material, the song is bundles of fun and loyal fans echo the lyrics throughout.
Ezra slows down for a couple of tracks, Hold My Girl and Song 6, then begins a rendition of All My Love, which he introduces as a slow dance song, but which climaxes into something entirely different. Utilising his band to the full, the performer incorporates a full instrumental section, throwing himself into the music and jumping around the stage. The party continues with another popular track, Blame It on Me, which transports us all to Rio with an unexpected samba twist. The addition of carnival whistles and Latin-inspired brass give this live performance a new dimension.
Finally comes the track we’ve all been waiting for, the revered Budapest. It is clear that even after four years, the song has lost none of its popularity, and Ezra beams down on his onlookers as they sing the final chorus back to him, just about managing to scale the octave jump that the vocalist hits so effortlessly.
Returning for an encore, Ezra ends the set with his first chart-topping single, Shotgun, and the crowd go wild. Before exiting, the young performer – overcome with emotion – expresses a genuinely heartfelt gratitude towards all the fans who have come to see him and the familiar faces who were there from the beginning. One senses that this local gig is one the artist will not forget. And we don’t think Standon will forget it either.
Photos: Justine Trickett
For further information and future events visit Standon Calling 2018’s website here.
Watch the video for Shotgun here: