WHEN Standon Calling’s founder and director was jailed this year, it could have been the death of the popular music festival – but for new replacement Graham MacVoy and his team, the show must go on.
In February, national papers and music mags swooped on the shock news that Alex Trenchard, who opened his annual summer party to the public in 2004, had been convicted for embezzling £355,000 from his employer Tesco to keep it going.
Within 24 hours, the Standon Calling committee had reassured fans that the event would still go ahead – and with less than a month to go until its August 12 launch, they’ve proven as good as their word.
Preparations for this year’s extravaganza, whose big-name stars include psychedelic fuzz-rockers Spiritualized, Damon Albarn’s world music project Africa Express Soundsystem and Mancunian punk poet John Cooper Clarke, are now well underway.
Themed around Gods and Monsters, the festival – held in the spacious grounds of Standon Lordship – will once again boast elaborate decorations, hidden surprises, workshops and a small army of costumed performers to get guests into the spirit of the weekend.
Among the centrepieces of the site, which will take some three weeks for a dedicated team of contractors and volunteers to set up, will be the Obleron – a mock-ancient totem pole that will be unveiled in a spectacular ceremony on the Saturday night.
However, with its spiritual leader serving a 30-month stretch, and amid reports that it was struggling to make ends meet, what does the future hold for Standon Calling?
Graham, who has been involved with the event for the past four years, said: “It was a shock for all of us - but although it started out as Alex’s party, it’s developed over time and there’s now a team that puts it on year after year. They’re still involved even while he isn’t.
“He’s sorely missed, but we’re still in a position to put it on; it just means a slight change in the distribution of the workload. It’s had an effect, but we’re all pulling together to keep it going and it’s looking really good.
“I still talk to Alex and he’s okay – it’s not easy for him and he’s looking forward to getting out if I’m being honest, but he’s keeping his head down and getting through it. It’ll be nice to have him back.
“Standon Calling is a very strong festival. How it’s been run in the past is nothing to do with me; in terms of moving forward, we’ve been looking at ways to streamline it and make it more viable so that similar problems won’t happen again.
“We’re slowly succeeding at that – it’s not something that happens overnight, but it’s getting there and we’re looking forward to putting it on this year.
“Once we get through to the other side of that and Alex is out, I think the next decision will probably lie with him – but it’s on a strong footing and we’re happy with how it’s going forward.”
Despite its capacity of just 3,000, Standon Calling has built a reputation for showcasing some the world’s hottest alternative acts, many of whom have broken through to the mainstream shortly after appearing.
Among those to have graced its stage are Florence and the Machine – who went on to win BRIT awards and Mercury and Grammy nominations with their 2008 debut Lungs – as well as Mumford and Sons, Paloma Faith, New Young Pony Club and VV Brown.
It has also welcomed some well-established names from a multitude of genres, including Glasvegas, Super Furry Animals, Rumble Strips, The Magic Numbers, Buena Vista Social Club and even the likes of Hawkwind, Tony Christie and out-there jazz veterans Sun Ra Arkestra.
On top of a stellar line-up, it boasts intricate theming and a range of non-musical diversions from poetry reading to performance art – and as well as sourcing its materials and food from local suppliers, £2 from every ticket goes to drug rehabilitation charity Phoenix Futures.
Graham said: “It’s a smaller festival, but it punches well above its weight. You just feel like you’re in it together with everyone else and not just part of one big mass – you can meet people, chat with them and have fun.
“Last year was absolutely fantastic – it felt like such a special weekend and I’m just hoping we can top that this year.”
Standon Calling runs from August 12 to 14. Day and camping tickets are both available, with prices starting at £120 for adults. For line-up information and bookings, see www.standon-calling.com.