Standon Calling 2022: The Sugababes, Sigrid, Sam Ryder, Sleaford Mods and Billy Nomates my festival stand-out acts
What makes a great music festival? My list of demands is pretty extensive. I want to tick a few items off my bucket list, indulge in at least one guilty pleasure, revisit old musical friends, find great new bands to follow, discover hidden gems and appreciate this generation's rising stars.
I also want DJ sets, a spot of comedy, expert insight, appetising food, interesting drinks, plenty of toilets, free water, shady trees, friendly security and slick management. If you can throw in hot tubs, a swimming pool, a costume parade, cuddly canines and Mr Motivator, so much the better.
Did four days of Standon Calling deliver my wish list? Yes! And the sun shone too.
Let's start with my bucket list and the stand-out performance of the festival for me – The (original and best) Sugababes.
Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhán Donaghy were in their early teens when the group was created. In just over a decade, all three had quit and were replaced by Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen.
The personnel may have changed but the hits never stopped. Nevertheless, for connoisseurs of their perfect pop, the original line-up was the real deal.
Their decision to reunite – and record new music – resulted in a Standon performance that was both nostalgic and fresh. Still only in their 30s, the trio delivered a set that swung from R&B to garage via a solid gold back catalogue and showcased the vocal talents of all three women. It was a moment to savour to see them back on stage.
Gabrielle was another name to cross off the list. Over the years, I'd reduced her to a one-hit wonder and it was a real pleasure to be re-educated and appreciate what a great singer and songwriter she is. Her set was back-to-back hits.
My hunger for nostalgia was well and truly sated by Thursday night headliners Madness and Primal Scream on Sunday. With Suggs and the rest of the north London nutty boys, I was transported back to Bishop's Stortford in the 1980s at the height of the ska and two-tone revival and the town's only "nightclub", variously known as Triad, Peppers and The Juicy Duck.
It was third time lucky when Bobby Gillespie and his band closed the festival's main stage line-up with a vintage performance on Sunday after Covid-19 cancelled 2020's event and then last year's apocalyptic thunderstorm and torrential rain stopped them from even getting to the site.
Festival founder Alex Trenchard's relief was palpable as he welcomed them to Standon. As he looked out over the crowd of smiling faces, I hope he felt satisfaction at a job very well done.
He and the event have helped put Hertfordshire on the summer music map and that county pride was reflected by Bishop's Stortford party favourites Uncle Funk's Disco Inferno, The Subways from Welwyn Garden City, making their first Standon appearance, Watford's Connie Constance and Cheshunt's Declan McKenna. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter told the crowd the performance in front of his home crowd was the most important of the year and he used the county's flag as his backdrop.
My guilty pleasure was Example. He may have looked like he dropped onto the main stage via a Saturday afternoon trip to B&Q, but he transformed the crowd into a bouncing mass of bodies with his exuberant set. For me, his performance knocked Craig David presents TS5 into a cocked hat.
As I worked out my festival viewing schedule with the help of Standon's superb app, there were three acts I wanted to see more of. This is probably the first and last time Sam Ryder, Sigrid and Sleaford Mods will be in the same category, but they all piqued my interest.
I wasn't disappointed. At Laundry Meadows, Standon's second stage, the post-punk Sleaford Mods were as political as I'd hoped. Sigrid has an outstanding voice and a catalogue of great tunes while Sam Ryder emerged into the spotlight like a blond messiah dressed in his nana's crochet blanket and entranced the crowd.
The saviour of the UK's Eurovision pride has the same stage presence as Freddie Mercury and I would happily have watched his whole performance, but difficult decisions must be made.
Standon is no longer a boutique festival, it's the real deal, and I wanted to watch Billy Nomates at Laundry Meadows. Her fierce and furious performance was worth the trade and I'm now an ardent fan. The Skints' brand of reggae punk has similarly made it to my personal playlist.
As I clocked up 25 miles (40km) in four days criss-crossing the site, I also enjoyed American synth star John Grant, the intriguing Dry Cleaning and RuPaul's Drag Race UK star Bimini, who can't actually sing despite a newly-signed record deal but gyrates beautifully and is very entertaining.
While the talents of Saturday night's headliner Loyle Carner were evident – he has real star quality – my Standon rapper of choice was hip hop star, author, activist and poet Akala.
But that's the beauty of this festival's evolution from a birthday barbecue in 2001 to an entertainment extravaganza in 2022 headlined by Madness, Anne-Marie, Loyle Carner and Primal Scream.
It has a comprehensive line-up with acts and activities to appeal to everyone from toddlers to pensioners. If a performer on the main stage or Laundry Meadows doesn't float your boat, find an alternative at The Dive Bar, Electric Willows, The Lawn, The Cowshed or The People's Front Room.
Were there any disappointments? Well, Richard Dawkins was a no show at The Lawn, a late positive test for Covid-19 meant the Dub Pistols swapped their live performance for a DJ set and the toastie van ran out of onion for my cheese sandwich. Roll on next year.