A personal guide to Kendal, England
Local Heroes: Wild Beasts

A quick message to all the city boys and girls out there: you may have the clubs, the gigs, the record shops, the jobs and the twenty-four-hour off licenses, but until you’ve woken up bleary eyed in a field in the middle of nowhere (not a park, Londoners, an actual field), smelling of cow shit and clutching an empty bottle of cider, you simply haven’t lived. And where better to undertake the drunken delights of the country than in the obscenely beautiful surroundings of Kendal - a picturesque market town in the Lake District, and home to the beautiful avant-garde pop of Wild Beasts.

In fact, after listening to the exquisite, haunting songs of the band who are single-handedly resurrecting the lost art of storytelling in popular music, it seems impossible that they could have come from anywhere else except the countryside. This is not to say that their musical spectrum is narrow - far, far from it - just that their songs are possessed of that romantic, spacious, thoroughly English air that befits this (sometimes) green and (occasionally) pleasant land, much like Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy and The Wurzels. Maybe not The Wurzels.

But despite a respectable independent festival, Kendal Calling, it’s fair to say that this “traditional, rural, farming community town - quite ancient in its ways”, explains Wild Beasts’ lead singer and guitarist Hayden Thorpe, isn’t exactly famed for its musical achievements, primarily because there haven’t been any.

The exception to the rule is (three-quarters of) British Sea Power, who gave an unintentional kick-start to Wild Beasts, showing four young lads that there was life after, and indeed during, Kendal: “We watched British Sea Power playing a gig and a light bulb went on in our heads,” says Hayden. “We realised there was a path there - maybe some breadcrumbs had been dropped for us to follow.”

And follow they did, beginning with an open mic night at one of the most bizarrely named bars in the country. “There was a jam night every Tuesday at a local bar called Dickie Doodles, but that was it in terms of a music scene in Kendal,” recalls Hayden. “We all got up there occasionally. It’s where me and Ben [Little, Beasts’ other guitarist] first played in public. Tom [Fleming, bass] and Chris [Talbot, drums] were both there, watching. It was terrifying, but we wanted our music to be as free and uninhibited as possible. We wanted to express ourselves fully. We all felt very suppressed.”

The youthful frustrations of the band, partially with their claustrophobic rural surroundings, resulted in ‘Limbo Panto’, an angry and inspired first record of “baroque and roll” (Hayden’s current favourite journalist label for the band’s music). Second album, the beautiful ‘Two Dancers’ - featuring ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues’, an outstanding and masterful piece of songwriting - is, says Hayden, more composed. “We weren’t angry anymore. ‘Limbo Panto’ was the sound of four guys mustering all the strength they have to break the door down, to try and be heard. I think that will be our aggressive record, but what we had to say was far too much of a mouthful to get out in one album.”

Talking of mouthfuls, this is one area in which Kendal excels: delicious food and lashings of booze. “The food is designed to be hearty and filling,” notes Hayden. “I religiously go to a place called Artisan that does really good local food. That’s one of the main things here - when you go to Borough Market in London, half the produce is from Cumbria.”

But after you’ve eaten your fill, what then in Kendal? Well, anything alt. and arty ends up at the Brewery Arts Centre, a lovely little venue which hosted Wild Beasts’ most recent hometown gig. “The only step up from that,” says Hayden, “would be the town hall or the leisure centre, neither of which really appeal. They’re more the sorts of places you’d see amateur wrestling shows or Abba tributes. I’m not sure where we could play next in Kendal, though I do have certain dreams of maybe playing Dickie Doodles again one day…”

But any resentment at their market town and its scenic but isolated location has long since expired. Hayden and co. are moving back to Kendal after an extended spell living in Leeds, as the idea of the Lake District on your doorstep as a musical muse becomes too appealing to resist: “The thing about places you grow up in is that there are limitations you shouldn’t really fight. You accept them or forever struggle,” Hayden reasons. “Having somewhere of that beauty to rehearse in - it’s an amazing place. Our future will involve more of ‘The Lakes’, I think. There’s a place there for us to hide - everybody needs a hiding place.”

Words by Tristan Parker

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A festival? In Kendal?
“Kendal Calling emerged just as we left the town. It’s actually very unusual for Kendal, I haven’t quite got my head around it yet - the idea of Dizzee Rascal playing there. You just think, ‘What will Dizzee Rascal think of Kendal?’ It’s surreal. We’re so used to having to get out of the place to go and see bands that it’s strange to think of all these people converging here to listen to music.”

Strength in numbers
“There’s a lot of good pubs. That’s one thing, there’s a lot of places to go and drown your sorrows, that’s probably one of Kendal’s strengths. There’s a lot of really well-preserved pubs in the city, and Kendal actually has one of the highest pubs-to-persons ratios in the UK. Burgundy’s wine bar is really good.”

Make your own fun
“If we wanted to see a gig we’d either have to put it on ourselves or travel an hour and a half to Manchester. Then again, that gives you a healthy breathing space from the mainstream media that force feeds impressionable young people… We hit the bottle pretty early on - that was one of the only things you could do, drink, which I think is a pretty normal situation at that age in that sort of location.”

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A brief but handy guide.

The Brewery Arts Centre
Beautiful arts venue, hosting music, film, theatre and exhibitions.

Quirky but highly revered café, attached to the ground floor of a supermarket.

British Sea Power
Kendal’s other musical export - a decent rock/power-pop outfit.

Burgundy’s Wine Bar
Not really a wine bar - more a friendly place to drink, serving any booze you care to mention.

Dickie Doodles
Live music bar with a jam night frequented by Beasts’ members. No idea where the name came from and don’t want to know.

Hawkshead Brewery
Awesome brewery that produces lush Lakeland Gold ale, amongst other treats.

Kendal Calling
Set in the scenic surrounds of the Lake District, this year’s festival features a set by none other than Wild Beasts, plus Erol Alkan and Dub Pistols.

Kendal mint cake
A diabetic’s worst nightmare and a mountain climber’s best friend - basically a slab of minty sugar.

Dismal new wave outfit. Alright, only the singer’s from Kendal. They’re still shite though.

Legal nasal fun that was big business back in nineteenth-century Kendal.

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