Introduction by Mick RyanAlso see the Crux article.
I can remember my first Kendal; I think it may have been the first Kendal Film Festival twenty odd years ago. I was 17, working and living on farm near Blackpool. I'd started climbing a few years before and was hooked. I spent my time with school friends in the Lancashire quarries; Houghton, Wilton, pre-filled in Stanworth, Denham, Witches, and Flying Shed. When we weren't getting grubby, pumped and bitten in gritstone holes we poured over Crags magazine or sat in a cafe in Clitheroe with our climbing mentors Malc Haslam, Dave Kenyon, Pete Black and Rob Smitton, and talked rock.
I somehow managed to get Saturday off, but only after milking 120 Friesians in the morning, and was told to be back for Sunday morning milking. I hitched up the M6 to meet my mate Greg Rimmer in the bar at the Brewery Arts Center. We couldn't afford any tickets for the films, most of them where sold out anyway, so we looked at all the photographic exhibits and wandered round just glad to be among so many kindred spirits. That evening in the bar at the Brewery Arts Center we rubbed shoulders with our heroes from the mags; Al Evans, Al Rouse, Pete Livesey, John Sheard, Chris Gibb, Pat Littlejohn, Jim Curran, Geoff Birtles. they were all there. There was a wedding party there too, Ron Fawcett and Gill Kent, a god and a real live climbing chick (wasn't many of them about in 1980).
We were giddy with excitement at all this celebrity action and all in the same room. The beer flowed and the bar was heaving. “Look who's that?” “Steve Bancroft." “Hi Steve" we said, "Fuck off", he replied. We slept in a bus shelter in Kendal. The next day we went to watch 'The Bat and the Wicked,' Jim Curran's and Tony Riley's film about Robin Smith's and Dougal Haston's taxing ascent on Ben Nevis's Carn Dearg Buttress. It was being shown in a church on the high street. Chris Bonington, the Chris Bonington was there, not his stunt double or some celebrity look alike, the real McCoy. We could almost touch him, but Jim Curran was having a melt down. The lighting wasn't right in the church; a hot and bothered (although it was raining and cold outside) Brian Hall was running around like a headless chicken trying to solve the problem. The screening eventually took place and ended with well-deserved and riotous applause. I hitched back down south to the farm late Sunday night and the old dragon that I worked for sacked me thank goodness. I went to a couple more Kendals later in the 80's before it eventually had a rest through most of the 90's.
Thankfully it was resurrected in 1999 and hasn't looked back since. Kendal continues to give the opportunity to climbers to display their artistic expressions of climbing in film, in words and photographically. It gives us, the viewing public, a chance to sit back and relax and be transported to places far away and to often live vicariously through adventures told by top performers in the climbing world - and have a pint with them in the bar afterwards. Kendal has gone from a small, slightly disorganised affair run by a handful of people to a slick production (still with the odd glitch) run by a legion of mostly volunteers.
John Porter was one of the founders of Kendal,
"Brian Hall, Jim Curran and I started Kendal in 1980. Originally it was as much a photography festival as a film festival. We all had great photos and of course launched people like Gordon Stainforth, John Beatty and Stephen Venables at our photo competitions. The production of the Bat that year was also a key driver, as was the fact that Brian and I were skint and were trying to finance the West Ridge of Everest in winter. That was a mistaken objective as we totally underestimated the cost of putting on a Festival as we still do, although at least now it is managed.
I ran another one in 1983 the year after Alex MacIntyre was killed and I was recovering from a bad accident myself, but in the words of Bernard Newman, "it was about as well advertised as D-Day." The 'final' one in 1985 was to raise money for our K2 trip the following year. Again, it was a great event, but cost a fortune. We closed them down because these early events, although great fun, were very amateurish and time consuming.
We started up again because every year since then it was almost impossible for any one of us involved in the 80's events to walk into a bar without someone asking,”When are you going to organise another Kendal?" It had an international cult status that still feeds the fires. Except now it is run professionally (all primarily voluntarily) and we knew we could be at least as good as Banff and Trento."
This year's festival, the 25th anniversary event, was a vast affair split between several venues in Kendal and Rheged. Around 5,000 people came to at least one of the 290 film screenings and/or 39 lectures and presentations over nine days. The Festival is now split into a book festival, an arts festival, an extreme film school as well as the film festival. Like the Banff Festival it also now tours after the main event giving everyone across the UK a chance to see the best films. You can view some of the venues for the Best of Kendal tour at Heason Events. This year there was also an online photographic competition that anyone could enter and vote on. You can see this year's winners here.
Kendal has definitely entered the digital age and they have an impressive website where you can view the itinerary, buy tickets and watch, read and listen to reports from the last Festival. They have an overview of this years festival with listings of the winners here it is well worth a read (and a watch and listen). Never under estimate the amount of effort it takes to organize something as vast as Kendal, the organisers and volunteers deserve our thanks and attendance if possible. A kind word also goes a long way.
If you did happen to miss this years Kendal, make sure you book a spot at next years Llanberis Mountain Film Festival (LLAMFF) that will be take place from the 3rd to the 5th of March. They are running films from Kendal and have an impressive line up of speakers, films and events that celebrate mountain culture and the spirit of adventure. UKClimbing.com is proud to be one of this years LLAMFF sponsors and you can view the line up and buy tickets at the Llanberis Mountain Film Festival website .
But back to Kendal. At UKClimbing.com we thought we'd get one of our own celebrities to report, from a purely personal point of view of course, his experience of this years Kendal. The flamboyant poet, beatnik, 70's pop star, the owl-loving Marc Chrysanthou was furnished with a press pass.
High Noon at the K-Village (or The Disillusioned Shoe Machine) by Marc Chrysanthou
Picture yourself in a mall by a river
With cumbrian cheese and home-cured meat pies
Somebody calls out, your eyes focus slowly
A man with tight lycra-clad thighs
Then a strained hour of bellows and screams
Toproping songs from some 'thread'
Look, an old girl with a glint in her eyes
Who's she in row 5 in nylons?
Who's she in row 5 in nylons?
The Beatles had their Apple HQ rooftop concert, Queen had their Wembley Live Aid...and, completing a trio of memorable rock gigs, Up Where The Brave Go (a group of UKC contributors: Gordon Stainforth, Vixen, Jimmy D, Judi C, Simmo and me) had their K-Village shopping outlet extravaganza... Weeks of rehearsals, perfecting such toproping classics as Trad Loon Rising, Topropers' Hell, Dangling Queen and Ropin' All Over The World had led inexorably to this corner of a shopping mall that will be forever England...sandwiched between a café, a National Trust gift shop, and a dimly-lit K-Shoes Museum in an alcove barely spacious enough to accommodate one solo busker, let alone a sextet (with drums, amps, microphone stands, keyboards and guitars). In this small space we were required to strut our funky stuff for an hour. And slap bang in the middle of our 'stage' – between the twenty or so chairs neatly arrayed and the 'stage' – stood a giant grey metal monstrosity – a shoe soling press (weighing at least a ton) - reminding shoppers of the mall's noble history as a shoe factory once employing half of Cumbria (presumably the half not employed as shepherds, fell-runners or bearded mountaineers). Fittingly, only climbers capable of clambering on top of its 'summit' could hope to gain an unimpeded view of the 'stage'.
It had all started so promisingly back in the early Summer. A Down the Pub thread inviting people to submit their toproping parodies of classic songs. Then a party at my house where over 100 'classics' were sung under the influence of copious quantities of wine and lager. Then a Supergroup was formed and invited to appear at Kendal. The innocent among us had heady dreams of being talent-spotted by Simon Cowell and groomed for next year's X-Factor. Reality then bit our keyboardist (and Elvis-impersonator) Gordon Stainforth on the Friday before the main weekend. Checking out the concert hall - the way Nigel Kennedy or Pavarotti might reconnoitre the Concertegebouw or La Scala - he found himself being shown our 'stage': a car park adjacent to a main road! Querying the suitability of the venue, he was told that 'mountaineers are a hardy lot, aren't they?'.
Meanwhile, over in the hive of bustling fleece-jacketed bees at the Brewery Arts Centre I was picking up my Press pass, scouring the programme, and experimenting with the 101 ways that my complimentary Kendal Festival edition buff could be worn! One wave of my laminated pass and I was fawningly ushered in through doors locked to the common herd. One click of my journalist's fingers and I could demand private showings of any film I wanted, one nod of my head would summon Lucy Creamer to my UKC trailer....”Marc! Wake Up!” Reality bit me too - Gordon informing me of the impending nightmare. Down at the K-Village I surveyed the freezing car park...deserted apart from marquees selling Cumbrian produce. Hasty negotiations were conducted and a new spot inside was found. The happiness of relief we felt was akin to that of the condemned man being informed he was going to be guillotined rather than hung, drawn and quartered. The only people condemned to not be at all happy were the staff in the National Trust gift shop (“it won't be good for business”), Book Festival booksellers planning to snooze the morning away (unless a miracle happened and some lone bibliophile climber managed the arduous Shackleton-esque trek from the Brewery Arts Centre), and poor unsuspecting Jo Public seeking refreshment after a long morning snapping up Christmas bargain 'smellies' from Crabtree & Evelyn.
Before High Noon (well, Sunday 12.30), this Gary Cooper moseyed over to various saloon bars and stores in search of entertainment. At the Leisure Centre I particularly enjoyed the short film of Dave Macleod repeatedly taking hu-u-u-uge falls off his Project X at Dumbarton Rock to the strains of N*E*R*D (Dave describing how difficult it was to 'switch off' at night afterwards...surprise, surprise!), and Eric Jones and Leo Dickinson's recounting of Eric the Everyman's outrageous solos (Matterhorn N. Face, Eiger N.Face) and audacious stunts (ballooning over Everest, B.A.S.E. jumping off the Eiger) - all related by Eric with the deadpan humour and matter-of-factness of someone who'd just walked into town and had a cup of tea.
Back at the Brewery Arts Centre, I slipped in to a packed arena to view John Beatty's (website) 'Wild 2' - an assemblage of dissolving images of 'Wild Nature' set to a Celtic-inflected soundtrack. Athough beautifully-photographed and technically flawless, for me it was too polished and tranquil to justify its title 'Wild' (only tangentially capturing the raw and savage moodiness of Nature); and the Koyanaasqaatsi-esque philosophical sub-text of 'spiritually rich' indigenous people counterposed with 'materially rich' westerners struck me as too simplistic.
In the exhibition space, Jim Curran's (website) paintings (interpretations of the Verdon Gorge, Rackwick seacliffs, The Old Man of Hoy, and the Himalaya) exemplified the interplay of sublime wildness with the painter's own inner-gazing emotional landscapes. Gordon Stainforth's (website) ''The Crux' lovingly celebrated 150 years of climbers engaged in playful and agonistic combat with the challenges of high places. A brave and impossible task – to select 25 images from 150 years that would satisfy everyone – but the photos (and captions) melded to form the climbing equivalent of a Bayeux Tapestry ('From Whymper to crimpers'?) The early selections particularly inspired me...Norton on Everest, Mallory & Herford reclining against the wall at Pen-y-Pass. Constrained within its narrow corridor exhibition space, climbers congregated like bees around the Source. One imagined after dark that the long-dead heroes and heroines of the early stills climbed down from their laminated mounts, stretched and chatted, then furtively re-assumed their positions at first light.
Imagination and Inspiration. That, in two words, is what Kendal at its best offers us ordinary mortals. On the Sunday afternoon, Leo Houlding expanded our horizons of climbing's potential with his daring exploits on Patagonian towers. And, in the evening, Ian Wright's Excellent Adventure was a charming, moving account of the ex-footballer's personal Triumph of the Spirit on the Arctic's highest peak. And add to imagination and inspiration, realism – the true Best Of Kendal is when reality pokes through the glossy production values, stage-managed antics and tecno-soundtscapes. Both the highly talented expert (Leo H) and the unskilled enthusiastic amateur (Ian W) conveyed the joy, suffering, sweat, tears and pain of the climbing experience - both inspired the audience to get 'out there' and 'just do it'. As Ian Wright said, “I think I left something of me on that summit, but I don't care...it can stay there for all I care. What I found was much more precious.”
Speaking of 'leaving something behind', my memory drags me kicking and screaming back to Sunday lunchtime. High Noon at the K-Village. Backstage (well, in a dimly-illuminated alcove next to the K-Shoes Museum) I loiter in my grey suit and tie. In my imagination, I picture hordes of climbers (fresh from the bars at The Brewery) eagerly anticipating our show. Time to go! Like a terrified parachutist clinging desperately to the exit-hatch, I emerge, and launch into my Pythonesque sketch, 'I never wanted to be an accountant...I wanted to be a TOPROPER!'. Stripping off at this declamation, I reveal a tight vest and lycra shorts underneath. My striptease is witnessed by rows of empty chairs, the shuttered entrance to the National Trust shop, a handful of climber-types, a little old lady, and, on the far horizon, a gaggle of bemused shoppers...oh, and, centre-stage, the unmovable unsmiling shoe-soling machine. As undeterred as Leo confronted by a holdless wall, I picked up my guitar and launched into “I'm a Toproper and I'm Ok'.
The set unfolds. Jimmy (be-Stetsoned) on Coward of the County , Judi and Anne (in fetching wigs) emulating ABBA on Dangling Queen, Gordon appearing from the wings in Elvis-style black jump-suit and quiffed peruke for 'Is Your Toprope Too Tight?', Simmo on 'Daydreaming Leader', Tyrolean hats on 'Idle Vice', and an epic Garland-esque 'Up Where the Brave Go'. Applause from the seated few and distant shoppers motivates us (for some reason, I think of the Zen koan 'What is the sound of one hand clapping! ). Unscheduled mishaps – Jude's wig getting caught up in the microphone, my guitar lead being pulled out by her as she tries to get past me on the cramped 'stage', Gordon's silent keyboard solo on 'Pull Me Up Higher – only add to the fun. Daring to peer outwards, I see Rocktalk's Offwidth and Lynn smiling, Tim the Grey doing a D.A. Pennebaker with his camera...and, even more satisfying, the little old lady singing along delightedly ! Two hours later and my wine-addled brain is experiencing its own vertigo as I sit on the floor of the cinema theatre – nothing to do with the dizzying precipices in Leo's film – the result of a post-gig celebratory drink (or two or three).
What I left behind in the K-Village was a large chunk of my ego (ideas of perfection, expectations of acclaim), and what I found that was more precious was the value of being part of an indomitable team (the Up Where the Brave Go gang) – some of whom had never sung or played in public before – and the buzz from entertaining an appreciative audience (however small in number). The sound of one, two or three hands clapping can be very loud indeed.We have another feature on "The Crux" - 150 years of British climbing in 25 images - 22nd Oct to 21st Nov compiled by award-winning photographer and author, Gordon Stainforth, ARPS. Follow this link