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Standon Calling: Lightning storm floods festival and brings it to an early close

The “great” British weather managed to do what coronavirus could not and curtailed this summer’s Standon Calling festival, writes Indie news editor Sinead Corr.

On Sunday (July 25) – the last day of the three-day event – a lightning storm and torrential rain forced organisers to cancel performances from around 4pm as the site flooded.

Performers including headliners Primal Scream were unable to reach the venue as roads around Standon Lordship became gridlocked as water levels rose and thousands of revellers tried to escape the deluge.

The music and comedy event began as a symbol of optimism and a pilot for a post-pandemic future where such large-scale gatherings are managed safely.

Every reveller completed a Pre-event Covid Certification Process (PCCP) to ensure the 15-year-old festival was as “close to normal” as possible.

After last year's event was cancelled, founder Alex Trenchard and his team spent four months working with Certific, a leading Covid testing verification app, and Imperial College London on a unique video-recorded PCCP.

Standon Calling (49575382)
Standon Calling (49575382)

After messing up my first attempt and failing the four-hour verification process, I had to complete a second negative lateral flow test before I received a QR code which admitted me to Standon Calling.

Once inside, the festival was a welcome blast from the pre-Covid past with brilliant bands, superb stand-up comedy, hot tubs and even hotter work-outs, DJs and club vibes, children’s activities, costumes and the canine capers that make Standon such a family favourite.

As I relaxed on the grass with an Aperol Spritz, contemplating a wide choice of street food for supper, it was a world away from lockdown misery.

The carnival spirit kicked off on Thursday with Uncle Funk’s Disco Inferno, fronted by Bishop’s Stortford’s Simon Baker. Spirits were as high as the temperature on Friday when Bastille Reorchestrated topped the bill, and Elvana – “The world's finest Elvis fronted tribute to Nirvana!” – was a big crowd-pleaser.

Throughout the weekend, organisers made last-minute changes to the programme as some acts were forced to withdraw. That meant Iceland’s Daði Freyr was bumped up the bill on Saturday and his evident joy at warming up for Sister Sledge and Hot Chip was infectious.

His two bandmates were unable to make the journey to Standon, but his solo show was a huge hit and Think About Things – Iceland’s entry for the cancelled Eurovision Song Contest 2020 – got the crowd on their feet and singing along.

That chorus of appreciation continued as Sister Sledge belted out hit after hit. Now fronted by original star sibling Debbie Sledge with her daughter Camille and Tanya Tiet, their set was hit after hit ending with the anthemic We Are Family.

Hot Chip topped the bill on the main stage and idiosyncratic frontman Alexis Taylor seemed to foretell the rain to come, arriving on stage in a bizarre hat fashioned from plastic and a mac.

The band had a treat for fans – a special guest appearance by Pulp singer and Britpop icon Jarvis Cocker.

The eclectic blend was vintage Standon Calling and set the scene for another superb mix on Sunday, when the main stage line-up was Horrible Histories, the Rockaoke Final, Hackney Colliery Band, Arlo Parks, Jake Bugg, De La Soul, Craig David Presents TS5 and Primal Scream.

Primal Scream posted this picture on Twitter as the band tried to get to Standon Calling (49575426)
Primal Scream posted this picture on Twitter as the band tried to get to Standon Calling (49575426)

But at around 4pm, when Bugg was four or five songs into his set, the skies opened and lightning meant the site had to be closed to new revellers for safety reasons, although there was a steady stream of guests packing up and leaving.

As crowds gathered at the entrance, anxious to enjoy the evening’s music, the rain drove down harder and teens wearing shorts and T-shirts looked like they had been for a dip in Standon’s famous swimming pool.

I handed the two emergency plastic ponchos in my backpack to two wringing wet youngsters without any protection. The lesson I thought I had learned during the past 18 months is that there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes.

Rain stopped play at Standon Calling for Indie news editor Sinead Corr and photographer Gerred Gilronan (49575428)
Rain stopped play at Standon Calling for Indie news editor Sinead Corr and photographer Gerred Gilronan (49575428)

But the rain drenched my walking trousers and water poured down into my stout walking boots and bubbled back over the top. I looked and felt like my lower half had been hosed down and even my raincoat, made to withstand the worst of Scandinavian weather, struggled to cope.

After about an hour of battling the elements, it was clear the downpour was not going to stop. As a festival veteran, you have to know when to quit. Standon’s exit is downhill and across farm fields on a temporary road. In 2019, my Mini struggled to make the descent without sliding and I was wary of being stranded.

The brick-hard, dry earth I had walked over just an hour before was now ankle-deep in water and flowing down the hill to the arena and camping areas.

Squid on stage by Cathie Ridler (49577963)
Squid on stage by Cathie Ridler (49577963)

We were lucky and made it to the exit before the gridlock began. As we drove back along the A120, floodwater was bubbling up through the gulleys along the side of the road, signalling the chaos to come both at the festival site and in the surrounding area.

It was already clear the festival was bound to be abandoned.

Primal Scream, fronted by rocker Bobby Gillespie, took to Twitter: “We wanted to play @standoncalling so ****king much tonight. Really disappointed the festival has been cancelled due to flooding. So sorry to everyone who wanted to see us play tonight. We couldn’t even get into the campsite as the festival roads were bogged down in mud and gridlocked vehicles. We got as far as this garage forecourt 20 mins from fest site and were told to wait until a decision was made about wether [sic] we could play or not. Total bummer.”

At the site, organisers urged anyone who could leave safely to do so but warned guests who had been drinking to stay put, along with those who could not get to public transport or find another way home. Some frustrated music fans abandoned their cars after hours queuing to exit and walked across fields to get out.

On Monday (July 26) revellers were returning to reclaim their storm-ravaged tents and sodden belongings.

Each year Standon has a theme for its iconic costume parade and 2021’s inspiration was 'Time Turbulence', which prompted a range of extravagant costumes from the Stone Age to space travel.

Little did the organisers know that as they tussled with the Covid-19 issues that will be with us for the foreseeable future, the age-old problem of Britain’s barmy climate and a freak storm proved to be the festival’s undoing.

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