Sportsthoughts (118) – The return of 3-5-2

The England team

England 1990. Photo David Cannon/Allsport, from Google Images

I apologise in advance if my statto tendencies have got the better of me in this blog! But I love the analysis of tactics and structures – and then the fact that the players can blow it all apart with a moment of genius, or an horrendous error…

A strange thing is happening in the Premier League. More teams are playing with a 3-5-2 formation. Man Utd, Hull, QPR, with others dabbling. Essentially that means three central defenders, three midfielders and two wing backs and two forwards. A few sides tried it from time to time last season, including Liverpool. But there is more this season, possibly encouraged by its successful use in the World Cup, by Holland, but mainly the Latin American teams: Mexico and Costa Rica, for example. Juventus have been using it in Serie A too, winning the Scudetto three times in a row.

What’s behind this trend? It’s very retro. It’s in tune with what’s happening culturally – fashion, music. Still quite eighties-influenced, moving into the nineties. It could be that players who played in the formation in the nineties are now reaching the higher echelons of coaching and management? But it’s also a response to previous tactical developments. Football is always changing. When one style becomes supreme, people work out ways of countering it. Look at the experience of Barcelona. The ultimate football team, playing a 4-3-3, with intense pressing in midfield and a high back line. No-one who could really be called a centre forward, just three highly mobile attackers, with Messi as the “false nine”. But the top teams started to work them out, sat deeper on the whole, surrendered possession and waited to pounce, attacking the vulnerable central defence. And the Barca team grew older, maybe not quite as mobile, or hungry. Their style could only work with the most intense and disciplined of approaches. So maybe it wasn’t built to last.

The main counter to the Barca style, and the one most favoured in the Premier League last season, and at the World Cup, was the 4-2-3-1. Designed for defensive solidity, with two midfielders protecting the back four. Allows the full backs to get upfield. But also needs the midfield three to act very much as auxiliary attackers, given that there is only one real forward. The best teams play it very well: Man City in England, Germany in the World Cup. But lower down, it can become over-defensive and the central striker can become isolated. Negative sides, sides just looking to survive, often turn it – and 4-3-3 – into a 4-5-1, a packed midfield clogging up the central areas of the pitch. One striker trying to hold the ball up, hoping someone in midfield might make it up in support. A reliance on set pieces to score. Sadly, this describes the West Ham of last season very well (but possibly not this one – there is hope).

So 3-5-2, apart from being a fad, and inspired by the World Cup, is a response to the 4-2-3-1. First, if you are only marking one striker, why do you need four defenders? Second, it allows the return of two strikers, one target man with the other playing off him – the classic No10. I like this. It gives two attacking players a chance to establish a really effective partnership, gives a team a better focal point and relies less on players arriving from midfield for goals. It means talented strikers don’t get shunted out into wide positions. It means the return of the “man in the hole”.

The midfield remains well-stocked, with three central players. Width is provided by the wing backs: overlapping full backs really, but with more licence to roam.

So, 3-5-2 is essentially an attacking response to defensive formations. So far, so good. There must be flaws though; otherwise everyone would be playing it. And yes there are. The good thing about football is that 11 players aren’t enough to cover all the requirements. Something must be sacrificed. Under 3-5-2 it is defensive cover out wide. In theory that cover should be provided by one of the centre backs, depending on where the threat is coming from. But it doesn’t always happen – centre backs are always wary of deserting the central positions and getting isolated. So the counter to a 3-5-2 is to put balls in behind the wing backs, or get your own wide men to attack that space. It was this defensive flaw that led to its abandonment in England after its use in the late eighties and early nineties. Its most famous use in England was by the national team in the 1990 World Cup after an awful start in the first group game, against Ireland – possibly the worst game of international football I have ever seen. It is said that the players insisted on the switch to manager Bobby Robson. In fact it was more a 5-3-2, with the full backs still cautious about advancing. But it tightened up the defence and midfield, and while it wasn’t used rigidly in every game, it gave England a solidity and freedom which allowed them to progress to the semi-final, where, of course, they lost to Germany on penalties.

The 3-5-2 system is essentially Latin American. Argentina used it in the 1986 World Cup, releasing Diego Maradona, and winning the tournament with a pretty average team (apart from Maradona!).

West Germany and Italy played a variant of it in the seventies and eighties, a 5-3-2, which had a sweeper, or libero, playing behind a four man defence, and having licence to roam forward. The great Franz Beckenbauer is perhaps the finest example. This never really caught on in England – it was far too sophisticated. And Steve McClaren’s disastrous adoption of it in 2007, in the last Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia, looked to have killed it off forever. We have carried on with our essential 4-4-2 until quite recently, when the influx of foreign players and, especially, managers, has led to much greater variety.

I still quite like a 4-4-2, played intelligently, so your two wide midfielders don’t leave the two central midfielders vulnerable to being overrun by more numerous opponents.This has often been the problem for the England team. But it doesn’t have to be. The wide midfielders can tuck in, letting the full backs get forward. One midfielder can drop back, to provide defensive cover. In fact you can end up with a 4-1-3-2, which I reckon is the best system of all. The risk with 4-1-3-2 is a loss of width, unless the full backs get forward. And if they do, you are practically playing a 3-5-2!

All this shows is that none of these formations are really all that different. The virtue of 4-4-2 is its simplicity as a starting point. You can improvise from there. Improvise? It seems that some managers give such detailed instructions these days that players feel afraid to improvise. But the best ones still do: that’s how you win matches at the very top. And, as matches progress, players tire, and the best of systems can start to fall apart. That’s when simplicity becomes really important. And it’s why some English teams, notably Man Utd in this early part of the season, under Louis van Gaal, are struggling to adapt to 3-5-2. They’ll probably be OK when all their best defenders are fit and available, but right now it looks like the three centre backs don’t know who’s supposed to be doing what, and they have two wingers trying to be wing backs – not very well.

That’s the problem with sudden changes: players sometimes can’t adapt. You would think that they could, given that they are all highly talented at the top. But remember they have always got an opposition trying to outdo them. If you have too much to think about you make more mistakes, they get exploited and trust and confidence evaporates.

So will many teams adapt 3-5-2 as their default mode? I doubt it. It takes a degree of sophistication which isn’t inherent in English football (even when foreigners play it) and is inherently risky, if those wide areas get too exposed. It takes very good wing backs to make it work well. Super-fit and equally good in attack and defence. That’s quite a lot to ask.

But then, what do I know? Even Big Sam might have West Ham playing before we know it!

By the way, there is a very fine book on the history of football tactics, called “Inverting The Pyramid”, by British football writer, Jonathan Wilson. The title is relevant to the 3-5-2/5-3-2 debate. From the mid 1880s to 1925 apparently, most teams played with 2 defenders (full backs), three in midfield (half backs) and five forwards. Now that would be good to see! A pyramid on its point. In that 1986 World Cup, Argentina had reversed the formation. The pyramid had been inverted.

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Have You Heard? – (53) “Dear River” by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

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If you read this blog, you’ll know how much I like Emily Barker’s music. On my holiday on the Costa Brava, Spain, over the last couple of weeks, I made some good progress on my book on music. It included writing about three of my favourite artists over the past couple of years: Emily, The Staves and Lindi Ortega. As I always do, I listened again to the albums I was writing about. Emily and group released “Dear River” in 2013. I liked it, of course. It seemed a bit rockier than earlier albums and that worked well, including on the live stage. I liked “Letters” and “Ghost Narrative” best.

On holiday I really gave it a better listen than ever. Even had a good look at the lyrics. And what a wonderful story it revealed. It’s an album about place, about roots and being away from home. Having more than one home and loving both. And about the ambiguity of the feeling about your roots, when others – the native people of Australia in Emily’s case – have suffered as others dug their roots deep into the soil. There’s a metaphor about water, rivers, nature, that runs through the album, with a nostalgia for the Blackwood river back in her homeland of Western Australia. But there is also reflection on the turmoil of Europe in the second world war – Emily has Dutch ancestry.

The more I listened, the more profound I found the album. It is one to listen to the whole way through, which we rarely do these days, when you can just pick out favourite tracks early on, and neglect the rest. It was one of the previously neglected tracks that hit home for me on holiday.  “In The Winter I Returned”. A truly beautiful song, unassuming, but about how Emily feels as she returns to Australia, when her main home is now England. I was making salads for a barbecue when, one evening, the song came on. It sent a shiver down my spine. That love of place – more than one place – and a kind of sadness about separation, wherever you happen to be at the time, felt so real.

All the choices I have made lead me to this place…

This video of “In The Winter I Returned” is one of a series on the whole album, where you can read the lyrics as the song progresses. Produced by Emily, to make her music as accessible as possible. A great thing to do. I hope you enjoy – and go on to listen to some of the other tracks.

 

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Sportsthoughts (117) – “The Wasteland”, West Ham style

So West Ham’s season has started in the expected grumpy mood. 1-0 home defeat to Tottenham, after playing against 10 men for much of the game. Big Sam lamented the missed chances, but having invested a lot of money in three new strikers he started with none of them. It doesn’t feel good. Reminds me of the last time we went down. Always unlucky, you know.

That was in 2011. As we went down in May that year, a few of my friends resorted to poetical form to commemorate the moment. Not quite sure why, but it was amusing. I responded by taking the only poem I really know well, T.S.Eliot’s “The Wasteland” – I studied it at A Level – and turning it into a lament for West Ham’s plight.

You may notice that my biggest fear was that we’d respond to relegation by appointing…. Big Sam.

As we did. He’s done a job for us, but we will never be happy while he is in charge, I fear.

Anyway, if you know T.S.Eliot’s masterpiece and know what was happening at West Ham I hope you will enjoy the spoof. If you don’t I hope you might see what I was getting at and enjoy the wordplay.  Which was just a bit of fun really, as I travelled down on the train to Cardiff, to watch Harlequins play Stade Francais in the final of the 2011 Amlin Cup – rugby’s equivalent of football’s Europa League. Quins won 19-18. Some compensation for the Irons’ decline.

So here is the the alternative, claret and very blue “Wasteland”…

April is the cruellest month,
Breeding losers from the dead land,
Four defeats from four,
Three scored, 12 against.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Gloom with the occasional win,
Feeding life with Demba Ba and Hitzlsperger.
May surprised us, coming over Upton Park first with hope then despair and resignation.
We stopped in the Queen’s
And drank lager and talked for an hour.
Er ist der Bomber, wir resten auf.
When we were children,
Watching Trev and Devo,
My cousin, he took me into the North Bank hardcore,
And I was frightened. He said,
Marie, hold on tight when Cottee scores. And down we went.
In the North Bank, there you felt free to abuse Tottenham or the Mancs.
I read most of the night and we will go south in August.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches will grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Scotty Parker, we cannot say, or guess if you will stay, for You know only
A heap of broken defenders, when the ball descends,
And Robert Green gives no shelter, Carlton Cole no relief…

I will show you fear in a handful of Hammers…
We gave you millions first a year ago;
You bought Barrera and Reid and Piquionne,
We called you the lugubrious loser,
Your eyes dead, your shirts black.
I could not speak as we lost to Wolves, West Brom, Blackpool.
You could not speak, you were neither living nor dead, and you knew
Nothing.
Looking into the heart of defeat, merely silence…

Unreal City,
Under the brown smog of a winter’s day
The crowd flowed down Green Sreet, so many,
I had not thought hope had deceived so many.
Chants, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man crammed his burger down his throat,
Flowing up to the Boleyn Ground.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: Paolo!
You who were with Harry when we were good,
Those UEFA coaching badges,
Have you got them yet?
Oh keep Big Sam far hence, that’s enemy to football,
Or with his tactics he’ll turn us into Blackburn, or Stoke.
You! Slaven! – mon sembable – mon frere!…

What is that sound high in the air?
Murmur of managerial lamentation,
Who are those hacking hordes swarming over endless plains:
Millwall, Coventry, Brighton, Forest.
What is the League over the mountains,
Cracks of shins, and burst lungs in the violent air,
The fleeing Hammers
Parker, Upson, Green
Keane, Cole, Ba, Obinna
Der Bomber
Unreal.

I sat upon the sofa
Watching Sky Sports Super Sunday, with relegation behind me.
Will Karen Brady set my team in order?
West Ham United is falling down falling down falling down…
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
O’Neill O’Neill O’Neill

We wanted Martin O’Neill then. Maybe we could have him now…

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Sportsthoughts (116) – Premier League predictions!

So, little more than a month since we were watching Germany dismantle Brazil in one of the most astonishing games in World Cup history, the Premier League is back. Time to forget about England’s mediocrity, the collapse of Spain, the vivacity of Colombia, the awesome power and skill of the Germans, and to focus once again on the helter skelter world of the self-styled greatest league in the world.

And you know, I just can’t wait!

So, fantasy team selected, brief burst of optimism about West Ham quickly doused by Andy Carroll’s latest injury, fingers-crossed for the Bees in the Championship, here are my predictions.

Winners – Chelsea. Assuming Diego Costa continues to score goals like he did in Spain (though not yet for Spain) and with the infusion of elegance in midfield from Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea look very strong. Matic looked a powerful force in defensive midfield in the second half of last season and there have been defensive reinforcements, including the return of Thibaud Courtois in goal, to give Petr Cech some serious competition. It will hurt to see Cesc in Chelsea blue, but by all accounts Arsenal had first refusal and didn’t want him.

2nd – Arsenal. OK, I admit to a bit of wishful thinking here, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens to the defence in the first away match to a top team, after last season’s meltdowns. But the acquisition of Alexis Sanchez should add pace and incision up front – and Theo will back soon. Debuchy is a good replacement for Sagna and Calum Chambers is clearly viewed as having serious potential. Given that they have sold Vermaelen to Barca, I would like to see Arsene get the chequebook out for a top quality centre back. Use the German connection to get Hummels? Anyway I expect Ramsey to continue scoring goals from midfield, Ozil to show more in his second season and Wilshere to show that he can be England’s best midfielder. Yes, yes, yes. Hey, maybe they’ll actually win the thing!

3rd – Manchester City. Now, it’s risky to go against City for another title. A strong squad has been strengthened: Mangala in defence, Fernando in midfield. But, having won the League last year, will their focus be on the Champions League? Will Aguero be back to his best, or will he continue to get those niggling injuries? Will Fernandinho recover from the shell shock of that 7-1 defeat to Germany, in which he played a notorious part? Will Yaya feel the love? If the answer to all these questions is yes then they will probably win it again. But, right now, I have my doubts.

4th – Liverpool. The big question is obviously how Liverpool will be affected by the loss of Suarez. Brendan Rodgers seems to have bought well – Southampton fans must be cursing him – and Coutinho might really star now. But I think Sturridge has a bit to prove after a poor World Cup. Same could said about Henderson and Gerrard. Liverpool were genuinely exciting last season and caught the other big sides off guard, to come second. Will be harder for them this season and they have Champions League too.

So that means no top four place for Man Utd. A lot of commentators are assuming that the sheer presence of van Gaal will revitalise them. They may well be right. But the summer purchases haven’t been spectacular and they look quite weak at the back. (So why have I got De Gea in my fantasy team?). Will van Persie stay fit? Will Rooney stay happy? Too many question marks still. But of course you cannot rule out a return to the top for a side used to being there and they did have an impressive pre-season in the US. And there are a couple of weeks of transfer window left.

As for my own team, West Ham, I’m reasonably optimistic. Don’t expect anything spectacular. Some interesting summer purchases: Kouyate from Anderlecht in midfield, Cresswell and Jekinson (loan) Zarate, Valencia (who scored for Ecuador in the World Cup), and now Sakho, all up front. Will they make up for the loss of Andy Carroll to injury once again. Will Big Sam deliver the attacking football the board – and the fans – want? Will Diego Poyet (Gus’s son) be given a chance to restore the concept of playmaker to West Ham’s football? It all feels a bit tetchy at the moment, and if we start badly – first game home to Spurs – the Sam Out calls will resume. That could be damaging for a side that could easily lose confidence with so many new players and others, like Nolan, Downing and Carlton Cole, who are quickly slated by the fans.

Oh well, give us another win against Tottenham and we’ll be talking about Europe.

I’m going to sit on the fence and say 13th – about the same, then, as last year. But hopefully with a bit more style.

Relegation: Burnley, West Brom, Palace. With jury out on Leicester and QPR.

Surprise success of season? Well last year I thought about Southampton (8th) but tipped Norwich. Relegated! So the curse this year falls on Stoke, who Mark Hughes might just be turning into a good footballing side. The purchase of ex Barca starlet, Bojan Krkic, might be a flop, but equally could be inspired. So, I say top eight for the Potters!

PS. Written on plane home from Spain and on M1 back to London. Didn’t alter my Man Utd verdict when I heard they were losing at home to Swansea, but 2-1 defeat seems to bear out the doubts. As we always say at this stage though, only one game…

PPS. We lost at home to Spurs in second minute of added on time! Stoke lost at home to Villa. First game, first game…

 

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Holiday listening

Off on hols tomorrow. Excuse to download some albums I hadn’t got around to listening to. Plus a few Latitude follow ups.

All gotta be good!

There’s a folky/ Americana theme to most of the albums I downloaded tonight. Some left over from 2013, some new.

Added just now:

John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

Kurt Vile – Walkin’ On A Pretty Daze

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

The Rails – Fair Warning

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

The albums I downloaded after Latitude were predominantly electronic, with the exception of Mighty Oaks, who are Americana personified.

Latitude follow-ups:

Mighty Oaks – Brother (EP)

East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

The Acid – Liminal

Nils Frahm – Spaces

Julia Holter – Loud City Songs

Everything on this list is seriously worth listening to. I’ll be enjoying them on the Costa Brava in Spain. And no doubt I’ll still be listening to a lot of War On Drugs, Parquet Courts, Half Moon Run and The National too.

You should try them too!

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lovelondonscenes – 64

Ealing Jazz festival, this afternoon.

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It’s been going for years, one of many in Walpole Park over the summer. I have great memories of family outings with friends, basking in the sun, catching a bit of music, enjoying a beer, the girls shopping for bracelets, the boys eager for a game of football and a burger.  This year the weather has treated it kindly, after a few damp ones.

There are two music tents. The main stage, in the picture above, tends to feature big band jazz, the favoured sound the be bop of the fifties and sixties, with maybe a tinge of Latin thrown in. Traditional stuff.  The second stage is more adventurous and intimate. We saw a really good band there today, called the John Crawford quintet. Latin Jazz is the easy summary, but within that there was a real variety of sounds and styles, drawing on the heritage of South America and Southern Europe. The guitarist, Guille Hill was superb. He is from Uruguay. John Crawford is the pianist and song arranger. I’ll be looking out for future gigs.

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Latitude 2014

My third Latitude. The best ever? I suspect each one will feel like that in the immediacy of the event,  but there was a sequence of bands on Sunday this year, which I suspect will be as good as it ever gets…

This year it was just three of us: me, my friend Jon and my son Kieran. We do our our own thing at times, when preferences are different, but come together for most of the key moments.

And there were so many key moments…

All the photos here are my own. As you will be able to tell by the quality. Just had my iPhone this year and it doesn’t cope with shooting into lights at a distance. But you get some interesting effects at times. Anyway, I hope they embellish the text.

The festival starts in earnest on Friday. We, like most of the all-weekenders, got there on Thursday, to pitch the tents and enjoy a relaxing evening, taking in a bit of entertainment and enjoying the various discos (if you still call them that) dotted around the place.

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We did see one band, on the Waterfront Stage, called The Irrepressibles. Cabaret? I guess so. Some very subdued songs, then some grandiose ballads with a bit of electronica, with the singer and a dancer gliding on floorboards across the lake. From a distance it would have looked like they were walking on water. The singer reminded me of Morrissey a bit. Entertaining when there was nothing else.

Friday

The best venue at Latitude is the i-Arena, sponsored by the Independent newspaper. If in doubt about what to see, just go there. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know the artists. They are almost all really good. Whoever books them really has their finger on the pulse.

So that’s where Jon and I headed for the start of proceedings at midday on Friday. And we saw two excellent performances. First a young English singer calling himself Rhodes. In that current mould of young, sensitive singer-songwriters, which seems so popular with the youth. He had a bit more edge than some because he played a distinctive electric guitar and had an impressive vocal range. The blurb in the guide likened him to Jeff Buckley, and I could see why. Worth looking out for.

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Next up Mighty Oaks. Simple categorisation would be Americana, but they had something extra about them, from a bit of hillbilly swing, to some big guitar workouts at the end.  A familiar genre, but they did it really well. Multinational: singer was American, but others were English, Italian and German. I shall definitely be checking out their music.

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The next three bands I saw were all in the BBC 6 Music tent. Hozier is an Irish singer who plays bluesy, R&B-inflected pop, with a hint of Irish folkiness too. It was good, but I didn’t get a strong enough impression, enough emotion, from it. Best thing was an interesting cover of Amerie’s “1 Thing”, a dance hit from a few years ago. Asgeir is massive in Iceland, so of course I was hoping for a bit of Sigur Ros-style expansiveness. In fact it was closer to the simpler Sigur Ros songs. So I liked it without getting too excited. Sohn is an Austrian electro wizard, with perfect English. For some reason, he was dressed like a monk. All in black, with a hood, in the heat. I liked the beats and electronic swirls. Another to follow up.

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Back to the i-Arena for Koreless, a young Welsh electro-composer. It was one for a seat on the grass, a beer and letting the soundscapes wash over you. Cue for a shot of the i-Arena, with its big new red tent. Keeps a lot more people out of the rain!

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Next up at the i-Arena was one of the highlights of the weekend: East India Youth. EIY is William Doyle from Bournemouth. He sings, plays bass and twiddles the knobs on a variety of keyboards, computers and beat boxes – all at once! It really was a virtuoso performance. It started steadily, with electronic soundscapes and pop melodies, and sped up at the end, with the last piece an awesome piece of rampant techno. Exhilarating! The performance ended on a massive high. With his black suit, shortish hair and animated style, he reminded me of a young Wilko Johnson chopping the riffs for Dr Feelgood in 1976.

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We then hopped over to one of the smaller venues, the Alcove, for a “to be confirmed” gig – always the chance of someone interesting. In fact it was a Swedish folk singer called Sumie, who’d missed an earlier show on the Lake stage.  Simple, affecting, but quite gloomy.

I then caught the excellent Cate le Bon on the Lake stage. She’s a 6 Music favourite. How to describe her music? A kind of pastoral Velvet Underground. Slightly quirky and psychedelic, but still grounded in sharp rock’n’roll beats. Those really came through live. Cate rocked out a few times. A captivating concert and really well-received.

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I stayed around the lake stage for Bondax. I’d never heard of them. My oversight. For me they were a revival of Soul II Soul and some of the early nineties pop-house music. Well, when played by the youth of today for the youth of today, they were awesome. One of the liveliest reactions I saw all weekend. Amazing to stand back a bit and just enjoy the sight of hundreds of youngsters really getting into the grooves. This is what Latitude is all about. It’s for everyone. And the energy spreads.

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The headliners on the main stage were meant to be Two Door Cinema Club. They had to pull out at short notice. Lily Allen stepped in. Mogwai were headling the 6 Music stage. Jon and I decided this was another moment for the i-Arena. Another electronic composer, this time James Holden. He had a “real” drummer. They exchanged some awesome beats. I liked it, but found it a bit relentless – I needed a little more light and shade. Jon loved it though. I thought Thom Yorke would too.

Kieran was back with us by this time and we went for a rare excursion into the Poetry tent, to see a blast from the punk past, Attila the Stockbroker. Now in his mid-fifties, he was still arguing for renationalisation without compensation, but also had some touching family stories. Kieran enjoyed it without knowing the back story. Kieran and I then wandered along to the Lavish Lounge, by the lake, having heard some funky South American beats. It turned out to be a band called the Meridian Brothers (though there women in the band) playing some psychedelic Latin grooves from Colombia. The genre is called Cumbia. It was rather good. It took place under the BBC Radio 3 Late Junction banner – a source of fascinating music from around the world.

After that, a tour round the dance venues. I settled on the Lake Stage for some familiar indie, dance and rap. Always a lot of fun. People of all ages dancing in their own way, with the real energy generated by the youngsters, of course.

Saturday

Of course at festivals you are obsessed with the weather. Will the ground turn into a quagmire? Will you you stand there in the rain watching artists on the main stage, feeling rather miserable? Friday was a lovely hot, sunny day, with thunderstorms forecast for the evening. In fact the storm didn’t arrive until about 4am, Saturday. The night was lit up by lightning and the rain lashed down. You could sense it in your tent. Luckily, the time of day meant the ground wasn’t churned up.

More of the same was predicted for Saturday. We were lucky again for most of the day, until Damon Albarn’s encore…

We started in the i-Arena again, with a band called Vaults. They played a sophisticated mix of pop and electronica, with violins in support and a woman, whose name I still don’t know, dressed in a flamboyant red dress, singing with soul. It started a bit like Kate Bush (sorry, obvious comparison) but ended up a bit like London Grammar, with a dash of House. It was impressive. Vaults ought to be successful.

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We stayed for another band at the i-Arena, called Teen. After the name of the singer, not the age of the band. Four American women singing a quirky kind of pop, which wasn’t what the blurb suggested at all. That was an ethereal folkiness. Anyway, it wasn’t that good. We didn’t hang around too long. A rare no-no for the i-Arena.

After grabbing a bit of lunch, we went up to the main stage for Tinariwen. The desert blues in the middle of a Suffolk park. It’s a good sound and one I’ve loved in the form, especially, of Ali Farka Toure. After that, I headed back to the i-Arena with Kieran, to see Marika Hackman. Sounds German, but she was definitely English. The blurb made her sound a lot more adventurous than her live sound was, but it was still pretty good. She could appeal to that current liking for singer-songwriters. She played a decent guitar too.  Kieran gave her the thumbs up. He knows better than me.

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I stayed on for The Acid at the i-Arena. Fronted by Ry X, who did a solo slot (which I missed) later in the day. They are Australian. The sound is electronic and reminded me of the way Atoms for Peace and Radiohead are playing live. Hard electro beats, overlaid by haunting melodies. At one point I was thinking: Depeche Mode veering into techno. It was really good. Ry X sings beautifully and played some searing guitar. This was one of the best things I saw all weekend. Exhilarating, especially as it was all so new to me.

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My plan was then to head back to the 6 Music tent for some eighties soul nostalgia with Hall and Oates.  On the way though, I planned to stop and catch a bit of a band called The Bohicas, who sounded like a good rock’n’roll act. Good? Brilliant! Dr Feelgood meets punk and a bit of hard rock. Straight down the line rocking. Irresistible. First time I’ve seen proper moshing by the Lake Stage – not just kids but middle aged men… and women! (Family and friends? Maybe, who knows). Needless to say, I couldn’t leave after ten minutes. Stayed for the lot.

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Hall and Oates were good though. The 6 Music tent was packed and so hot! I caught “Sara Smile”, ” I Can’t Go For That” and “Rich Girl”, so I was happy. Super-slick.

Jon and I met a friend of his and sat at one of the tables in the open area for a beer or two. We met a guy who was about the same age as us and had charge of four fifteen year old girls. Except he had no idea were they were! One of the few faults of Latitude is that it’s hard to get a decent signal on your phone. The good thing is that it is such a friendly, safe place, you don’t have to worry if you have kids there. While we were sitting there, a duo called Slaves were bashing out some serious noise on the Lake Stage. Guitar and drums again. Fearsome.

I left Jon then and wandered up to the main stage to see Swedish folky sisters, First Aid Kit. They were good, but I couldn’t help thinking of Abba! Not fair, I know. They did a couple of interesting covers: Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” and Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of coffee”. Good stuff. With Kieran I then checked out James Vincent McMurrow in the 6 Music tent. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but could hear Bon Iver with beats. He did a good version of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” at the end. One of his top songs, Kieran tells me.

That took us to Bombay Bicycle Club. One of Kieran’s favourites. I remember buying a few of their early tracks, on an EP called “The Boy I Used To Be”. I particularly liked “Sixteen” and “The Hill”. They took me back to a band called the Feelies in the seventies. They’ve moved on from there, and have made some really good indie pop. There’s a bit of Vampire Weekend in there, but really, it’s their own sound. The show was excellent, the best thing I saw on the Obelisk stage all weekend. The reception for them was huge.

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Then, before Damon Albarn started on the main stage, we hopped back to the Lake Stage, where Catfish and the Bottlemen were ripping up the place with their indie anthems. Jon was somewhere up front – we couldn’t find him. He saw them at The Alcove last year, and we saw them at the Borderline in London recently. (I blogged on it if you are interested). Frontman Van McCann was as engaging as ever. They have a debut album out in September. It must be a big hit.

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I had doubts about Damon Albarn as the headliner on Saturday. What if he just played all his new stuff? Some if it is pretty subdued. No need to worry. He was superb. The main set was indeed recent vintage, but there was a real energy and passion about it. And towards the end of the main set (headliners get encores, unlike anyone else) we got excellent versions of Blur’s “Out Of Time” and ” End Of The Century”. As the set neared its end the clouds began to rumble. As the encore began, horizontal cracks of forked lightning lit up the sky, to gasps from the crowd every time. It’s fair to say it was a bit of a distraction. And the rain began to fall. The encores included “Tender” (with Graham Coxon guesting) and “Feelgood Inc” from Gorillaz days. Great stuff, though the lightning took equal billing.

The rain just didn’t stop after that. Down at the Lake Stage, it made no difference to the dancers. They weren’t wearing much so there wasn’t much to get wet. I watched for a while and felt some paternal concern for all these kids getting nasty chills by the end of the night. But they all seemed to be enjoying it. In the woods, the evening was seriously dampened. The actual In The Woods disco was wiped out. The music played on, but at one time it looked like there were only 30-40 stragglers. The i-Arena was the place to be, as it’s under a roof and bigger than before. It was packed to the rafters. But the music, when I was there, was a bit monotonous. The DJs there are specialist and no doubt reluctant to diverge from their planned patterns to accommodate a larger audience. Still, people seemed happy enough. On to another day.

Sunday

I think this may go down as the greatest day of music I’ve experienced.  All will become clear.

It was also a day for the wellies, after the mayhem overnight, this time with people walking over the sodden ground and churning it up.

First up, at noon, were those old indie stars, James. They had been scheduled for mid-evening on the Obelisk on Saturday, but flight delays had led them to postpone. The place was packed. The band were slick, tuneful, with lots of rousing choruses. Their new stuff was greeted enthusiastically – there were some great hooks. And when they did songs like “Come Home” and “Getting Away With It” the reception was rapturous. Singer Tim Booth was wearing what looked like a black skirt, or very wide trousers. Now bald, he looked a bit like Michael Stipe of REM. He was witty and relaxed. Surprisingly they didn’t do “Sit Down”. I thought I’d missed it, being slightly late for the start, but no. And no matter. It was a really positive start to the day.

Jon and I went up to the Obelisk to catch a bit of the William Onyeabour’s African music show. To be honest it didn’t really hit the button. A bit unfocused. Exhorting people to party at 1pm on a Sunday was always going to be a challenge.

Then it was down to the i-Arena for Nils Frahm. A real favourite of 6 Music DJ Mary Anne Hobbs, in whose judgement we trust. And she was so right this time. One of the moments of this year’s Latitude. A wash of beautiful, hypnotic electronica, embellished by some lovely piano. Looped phrases and rhythms. Maybe Philip Glass is an inspiration. Nils himself was a really nice guy – personable, humble, witty. It was a truly uplifting set, in the woods. Its natural location.

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After Nils Frahm, we joined Kieran for new sensation, George Ezra. Another sensitive singer-songwriter. He did well at Glastonbury, and that rolled over to Latitude. The 6 Music tent was overflowing. Maybe the busiest of the whole weekend. I can see the attraction without getting too excited about it. But the youngsters spoke – George Ezra matters. I’ll go along with that.

We caught a bit of the Jayhawks on the Obelisk stage. I like the band a lot – they’ve made two of my favourite American songs – “Bad Time” and “Miss Williams’ Guitar”, both off their album, ‘Tomorrow The Green Grass”. But they just aren’t well-known enough for the main stage, and the crowd was the smallest I’ve seen for the arena.

But then it was time for a sequence of music made in heaven. Parquet Courts-Eagulls-Fat White Family-Augustines-War On Drugs. It wasn’t possible to see all of each band as they  overlapped and were on the 6 Music stage and the i-Arena, but it was possible to catch most of it.

Parquet Courts are my discovery of 2014. First the 2013 album “Light Up Gold”, then the follow up, “Sunbathing Animal”. “Light Up Gold” is the best New York new wave album I’ve heard since the Strokes’ first. And “Sunbathing Animal” has been growing on me with each listen. I was so looking forward to this concert. And it didn’t disappoint, from the opening “Ducking & Dodging”, with the sharpest riffs ever, to the double treat of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time’, to the awesomely fast “Sunbathing Animal”, which closed the set. I got quite near the front and felt so excited as they thrashed out all my favourites – except “Stoned and Starving”, but I guess that was too long for this truncated set. Magnificently contrary. True New York rock’n’roll.

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Then it was a rush down to the i-Arena to catch the last couple of songs from up and coming gothic punks, Eagulls. They make a wall of sound. It sounds to me like Joy Division gone metal. Jon saw them from the start and said they played one song twice in a short set, but were brilliant. Time to develop.

Er, then the Fat White Family. What an amazing lot! I knew I had to see some of them, even though it meant missing some of Augustines. The music is punk, blues, psychedelia, Stooges, rock’n’roll. On record it doesn’t always sound that great, but live they are awesomely bonkers. I left before singer Lias Sauodi took off his trousers. But I got the gist.

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I had to leave the Fat White Family early, because I had to see Augustines. They are spectacular live, and were completely brilliant on the i-Arena stage two years ago. I’ve written plenty about them on this blog in the past. So I simply say they were as magnificent as ever.

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And then the highlight. The War On Drugs. I’ve been listening to the album “Lost In The Dream” so much. Totally in love with it. Aching melodies and spaced out guitars.  To see Adam Granduciel and the band close up playing so many of the great songs was not just awesome, but truly moving. As they played the magnificent “Under The Pressure” I felt like time was standing still. So lost in the moment. Adam’s guitar playing was incredible. At one point I thought, it’s like having the “Freebird” solos in nearly every song! And that is a compliment. When the show ended and Jon and I walked out to find Kieran, who’d watched from further back, I felt tongue-tied. If I’d tried to describe how good I thought it was, I think the tears would have flowed. When music is beyond speech…

Will War On Drugs conquer the world? I don’t know. I can’t see them writing for the stadium, like Kings of Leon did. Adam may just settle for Neil Young-style authenticity. But he may just become so good that no-one who loves rock’n’roll can resist.

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After that, there was a feeling of, what do we do next?  But we stayed on in the 6 Music tent, ceding the front to the youth this time, to watch Clean Bandit. The dance-meets- classical-violins combo. Hugely popular and brilliant live. The place was again packed and there were celebrations for just about every song. The dance beats were authentic and varied. A superb show. I couldn’t get a decent photo, through the combination of people’s heads and the flashing lights. But with Bombay Bicycle Club, it was the pop highlight. Which means that for many, it was the best of all.

Neither Jon nor I were all that bothered about the Black Keys, who were headlining the main stage, so we wandered down separately – having gone for food – to the i-Arena, for a final show. Julia Holter. Took us most of the show, despite the fact that the arena was only a third full, to spot each other!

It was a perfect end to the weekend’s music. On the basis that you never know what the i-Arena holds, this was one of the most leftfield performances. Haunting vocals that seemed to echo through the space left by the small crowd. The dark night sky, the silhouettes of the trees. An accomplished band playing avant-garde snatches of sound. A violinist who echoed John Cale in his best Velvet Underground moments. A saxophonist who explored the limits of his instrument. Backed by a rhythm of cello and drum. The songs were jazzy, quirky, soulful. A bit hard to pin down. But perfect for the moment. The close.

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But of course, once the main shows stop, the music doesn’t end. Jon and I went over to the Lavish Lounge and watched an Italian drum and electro duo called Satellitti in the Late Junction slot. The music was harsher than I’d expected, but was another example of the the surprises you get at Latitude. Then we went back to meet Kieran by the Lake Stage. Funk and soul was the theme for a while. Not the kids’ music, but they were going for it. Jon parted company with me and Kieran at about 12.30 and we went into the woods. After a while we settled on a reggae party, with music courtesy of DJ Don Letts, who used to play reggae to the punks in the seventies. The music was brilliant. The rhythms had everyone skanking. We broke off at 2am to check MJ Cole DJ’ing at the i-Arena. It was good! Kieran decided to stay and disappeared into the throng. I went back to Don Letts and stayed until it finished at 3. The last moment at Latitude. You know when you leave and walk through those gates that’s it for another year. I left it as long as possible.

There was a lovely moment around 2.30 when Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” came on and everyone was singing. In the woods, the night air, beer in hand, is this love that I’m feeling?

Latitude…

This is love that I’m feeling! 

 

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