Calling Festival - Clapham Common, London, Sat 28 & Sun 29 Jun 2014
Aerosmith and Stevie Wonder headline the two-day festival
Moving from Hyde Park to Clapham Common for the first time, 2014’s Calling Festival offered two very different days of music. The opening line-up was a full on old school rock fest. Richie Sambora ●● proved that unless he’s doing Bon Jovi tunes he’s pretty much irrelevant, wisely bookending his set with ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ and ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’. He’s a great guitarist but doesn’t have the stage presence of his usual sparring partner when powering through his own meat and potatoes blues compositions.
The second stage has a slightly more indie vibe. Lonely The Brave ●●● sound like a heavier version of White Lies and fully commit to their hefty emotional hard rock. Toseland ●●● are fronted by former Superbike Champion James Toseland. Having retired after an injury in 2009 he’s obviously still chasing the same adrenaline rush with some heads down, unreconstituted 80s metal. It’s damn good fun if a little generic.
Back on the main stage Thunder ●●● are having a whale of a time (despite having split multiple times). Formed back in 1989 they’re the British answer to Foreigner, Journey and Europe all rolled into one. It might not be clever but it is big bombastic grin inducing rock especially their closing double bill of ‘Love Walked In’ and ‘I Love You More Than Rock’n’Roll’. Joe Bonamassa ●●●● proves he’s no blues pretender with 60 minutes of mesmerising guitar action. Hugely influenced by the British blues revival of Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jeff Beck et al, wringing wailing, squealing riffs from his instrument. A dazzling display of musicianship as he stretches seven songs over an hour.
The Jezabels ●●● feel slightly out of place headlining the second stage. The synth heavy Aussie alt.rock four-piece probably more at home when they supported Depeche Mode and Garbage in the past. However Hayley Mary is an effortlessly charismatic frontwoman.
It’s all left to Aerosmith ●●●●● to close the day with a textbook showcase of how rock should be done. If ever a rockstar knew how to utilise a runway through the middle of the crowd it’s Steve Tyler. The reaction to his new moustache might be mixed but his pouting and preening as he sashays through opener ‘Mama Kin’ solidifies his status as the world’s greatest rock’n’roll gypsy pirate. Most will acknowledge that Aerosmith’s greatest tunes are from their first three albums (particularly 1975’s masterpiece Toys in the Attic) but for sheer good times it’s hard to argue with their 80s and 90s output as they power into ‘Eat the Rich' and ‘Love in an Elevator’. Not many bands have managed to score huge chart hits throughout a forty year career. The rest of the band seem to have aged naturally but Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry (aka the Toxic Twins) just seem to have got skinnier and scrawnier through the decades. Perry’s guitar style looks effortless as he fires out killer riffs and hard hitting solos. During the massive sing-along of ‘Livin' on the Edge’ Tyler rushes to the side of the stage where Richie Sambora joins in on vocals for the chorus. Their power ballad ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ might be a big fat wedge of prime cheddar but live it’s an awesome chest thumping anthem, while The Beatles ‘Come Together’ is an inspired cover (which Aerosmith originally released as a single back in 1978). The tempo is already running at fever pitch but they turn it up one more notch with ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’ and a barnstorming, shit kicking, all out ball busting ‘Walk This Way’ to close their main set. Returning to encore with ‘Dream On’ and an epic ‘Sweet Emotion’, Aerosmith are rock’s evergreen master showmen.
The second day at Calling is a very different proposition. There’s some crossover but this is a very different crowd sheltering from the drizzle as Michael Kiwanuka ●●● plays an early chilled acoustic set. It’s Paloma Faith ●●● who first gets the crowd on their feet with a belting voice, a killer horn section and a smattering of solid jazzy pop hits. She also has some cracking, genuinely funny, cheeky banter.
By the time the inexplicably popular Jack Johnson ●● takes to the stage the sun is almost shining. His laidback acoustic noodlings are uninspiring and met with indifference by the majority of the crowd, ‘Better Together’ being the only minor highlight.
With his face plastered across nearly every tube station in London it’s unspringing the crowd swells to bursting point in the Pepsi Max Tent for Gregory Porter ●●●. His deep jazz funk vocals and superb backing band help Porter live up to the hype.
The preliminary line-up today was slightly underwhelming but Calling plays the ultimate trump card with headliner Stevie Wonder ●●●●●. He walks on stage playing the keytar with Marvin Gaye cover ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)’ but it’s ‘Master Blaster (Jammin')’ that really lights the blue touch paper. There’s perhaps a bit too much chat about God early on (certainly more than a British crowd is comfortable with) but the harder funk of ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Living for the City’ hit with precision. Perfectly crafted slices of heavy groove, packed with soul and emotion. At 64 his voice might not hit the high notes of his youth but there’s a deep resonance that brings more weight to his vocals. Wonder stops the band and leads the crowd through an a cappella ‘Ebony and Ivory’, and while reducing such a complicated issue to a single chorus which might sound cheesy, in practice, having several thousand voices sing back Stevie’s every word while bathed in glorious sunshine is simply beautiful. Even the soppier side of his back catalogue – ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’, ‘My Cherie Amour’, ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ – sound great live: big, uplifting and shamelessly sentimental. Backing vocalist Keith John takes lead vocals on ‘If You Think You're Lonely Now’ in tribute to Bobby Womack, then Wonder returns for an extended cover of Gerald Goffin (who also sadly died recently) and Carole King’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, which morphs into the Latin rhythms of ‘Another Star’. Wonder’s band and horn section are superb throughout but are bolstered by Richie Sambora (the Bon Jovi guitarist must be the busiest man of the weekend having played with his own band the day before, and joined Dolly Parton onstage at Glastonbury earlier in the day) adding some extra riffs for a bass heavy ‘Superstition’ that positively drips with the funk. A truly wonderful end to Calling’s Clapham debut.