You may have read my first thoughts blog on Latitude, which summed up how I felt about the festival. Very good indeed was the answer. This blog goes into a bit more detail about the bands and singers I saw, day by day. So it’s quite long – just warning those of you having a quick look at lunchtime!
I saw some fantastic bands I’d never heard of before. And I wallowed in nostalgia from time to time. And enjoyed the headliners on the main stages. There was so much choice. Some of the people I would have liked to have seen, but didn’t because of clashes with others, included: Lana del Ray, Elbow, White Lies, Alt-J, Laura Marling, Bat for Lashes, Simple Minds.
But maybe who I did see is more interesting…
Day 1 – Friday 13th
We got to the venue at about 11am, lugged our kit from the car park to the camping area and found someone to pitch our tents. Thankfully it wasn’t raining, so it wasn’t too miserable an experience. Wellies on: 15-16 hours a day for the next three days! Jon and I parted company with the three seventeen year olds and went in search of great music.
There are four main venues for music. The main stage, the Obelisk Arena, is at the top of the hill on which most of Latitude is staged. For the crowd it is open air. The second stage is the Word Arena, under a stripy four-topped tent. It’s a big venue and some of the artists there may well have been playing before their biggest ever audiences. It allowed the stage lights to come into play earlier than on the open air stages. The Lake Stage was just down the slope from the Word Arena. It backed onto the lake that cuts through the site and adds to the serenity of the place. The ground slopes upwards away from the stage, which allows people to chill out on the grass while watching the bands. Would have been wonderful in the sunshine! The Lake Stage also became one of the great venues for the sound systems after 11pm, when the bands had finished. Finally, there was the I-Arena, tucked away in the woods on the other side of the lake from the main area. It was under a tent (which leaked in the rain!) and held two or three hundred people, as well as allowing quite a few people outside to see in. This, as you will see, became my venue of choice.
First stop, in the Word Arena – having bought the first Tuborg of the day – was Lloyd Cole, eighties smoothie with a philosophical bent and a slick guitar. “Rattlesnakes” was his signature album. Now with cloth cap and acoustic guitar, with his son next to him playing the intricate guitar parts. It was nice but unremarkable until he launched into some of those old favourites. Starting with his classic, “Perfect Skin”, which I wasn’t expecting to hear on the acoustic guitar. Taking in “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken” and “Brand New Friend” as well as a dreamy version of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”, acknowledging his roots. A satisfying start to proceedings.
After Lloyd Cole we grabbed some lunch and sat on the slope opposite the Lake Stage, to catch We Have Band. I’d not come across them before, but was impressed. How to describe them? Funky electro? Shades of Talking Heads, Foals, Human league, CSS. Real energy. Definitely a band I’ll be checking out.
Then back to the Word Arena for The War On Drugs. That is a great name for a band! I guess you’d classify it as Americana or grunge. Hints of Pearl Jam. Some big, spacey guitar solos on the Les Paul. The way that the songs built slowly to a crescendo reminded me a bit of early Waterboys. I liked them a lot.
We caught the end of Revere and the beginning of Polica on the Lake Stage en route to the Obelisk for Amadou and Mariam. Revere had a lively pop sound with bells and whistles; Polica were eerie and just a little bit slight for the open air. The singer’s voice didn’t really carry. They would have been better off in the I-Arena. Amadou and Mariam were excellent. Their alternatively lilting and punching African guitar rhythms were irresistible and towards the end there were hundreds, thousands of people dancing in a damp field.
Next was Dexy’s at the Word. Obviously we were looking for a nostalgic celebration, with “Geno” and other old favourites. We knew that with Kevin Rowland, we might not get anything of what we were hoping for. We were right. There was an entertaining rendition of “Come Eileen”; otherwise it was what I imagine to be new music. It was OK, but the whole thing was too showbiz for me: lots of duetting with other members of the band, talking pieces and generally pretty boring workouts. Slick, good musicianship, yes. Otherwise a disappointment. I was wishing I’d gone to see Howler at the I-Arena instead.
We did then go over to the I-Arena, to see Kurt Vile. Once with The War On Drugs. One of the stars of the Americana scene. At first it looked like he was a bit out of it – lots of guitar tuning and mumblings. But then he and the band really hit their stride with a magnificent, grungy version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Downbound Train”. This was my first spine-tingling moment of Latitude. And things stayed at a high level from there. Kurt proved my original supposition to be completely wrong by playing some lovely, intricate acoustic guitar on a couple of solo songs. This was edgy, powerful stuff. The wow! factor most definitely present.
Metronomy at the Obelisk couldn’t have been more different to Kurt Vile. Eighties electro, smart clothes, short hair, pristine, clinical. Sharp, modern. Great pop. I liked it but didn’t love it. I hankered after the dangerous rock’n'roll edge of Kurt Vile. Jon did love it and ranked it as one of the best performances of the weekend. I can see why. But when it comes to the crunch, I’m with the rock’n'roll, I guess.
Finally, we hooked up with our children, and split for the last shows of the night. Kieran and I stayed at the Obelisk for Bon Iver. Jon and Connie and Annie headed to the Word Arena for White Lies. Hard choices! I would really have liked to see White Lies, but Bon Iver had to take priority. Ever since Laura Barton, in the Guardian, alerted me to “For Emma, Forever Ago”, I’ve loved Justin Vernon’s delicate, wistful sound. The second, eponymous, album is rockier, with the addition of more band members, but still has the minor key sad/uplifting sound. Kieran is a big fan of Ben Howard (see Sunday) and I suggested he might have been influenced by Bon Iver. Kieran checked him out and quickly fell for the two key Bon Iver tunes: ‘Skinny Love” from the first album and “Calgary” from the second. Both were brilliant on the night, lifting the audience upwards. It was a wonderful show, with a dazzling stage backdrop. But I did wonder if it was the right thing for the last act of the night. Lovely though the songs are, they are slow and reveal their depths in time. I doubt that if you’d encountered the music for the first time, much of the music would grab you. “Calgary” might, and the way it was played near the end of the set had shades of Coldplay. Does stadium rock beckon? Would be extraordinary if you think of the origins.
In the end, I thought, this is Latitude. You don’t always do the obvious and have someone rocking out at the end. It’s all about the music. And I suspect Bon Iver are going to get bigger and bigger.
So that was the end of the bands. Jon and I got back for a beer, the kids went off to party, and he retired to the tent. I went In The Woods to find out if Dub Boy was any good, in the I-Arena. On my way I caught a bit of a House/ dubstep sound system with a DJ called Goldirocks. And yeah, it was rocking – in the rain. Just as Bon Iver finished, it started to drizzle. The rain didn’t stop until about 2pm on Saturday. But in the early hours it didn’t seem to have any effect on the revelling. I – with my umbrella – was massively impressed by our nation’s young people. Nothing with stop them having a party!
The Dub Boy show was a mix of reggae, dancehall, dubstep, and no doubt all sorts of dance I haven’t heard of. But it was a brilliant melange of sound and rhythm. Dub Boy himself was a white guy with a black T-shirt, essentially just playing his favourite sounds. No ostentation. But what sounds! Pumping bass and rhythm. The crowd were going wild. I stood on the sidelines, drinking my Tuborg, tapping a wellie. But loving it as much as anyone there. Around 1.30am Dub Boy gave way to a more extravagant bunch called The Heatwave. They handed out whistles and horns and pranced around the stage, toasting, rapping. Great stuff too. Similar music. I was flagging so left about 2am. Gotta pace myself!
Day 2 – Saturday 14th
It rained all night – you could hear it rattling on the tent. All the main pathways had attained quagmire status by the time we ventured out to the Village for some breakfast at about 9am. We being me and Jon. The kids got in rather later than us and not surprisingly used the whole of the morning for sleep.
Before we hit the music we looked in at the comedy arena where there was something on at 11am called the Infinite Monkey Cage, featuring the famous science expert Brian Cox, Robin Ince as well as pub landlord, Al Murray. I think they may have been talking about the Higgs Bosun, but will never know. When we got there the tent was completely packed. There was a screen outside, but you couldn’t hear the discussion. Amazing that so many people were there at eleven in the morning to hear this discussion. Says something about Latitude and its variety.
Jon and I wandered into the Faraway Forest to kill a bit of time. This was hippie land and home of the Norwich and Norfolk Mediaeval Association. All I can say is credit to all those involved. There was a lovely, gentle vibe about the place. Not where I was going to stay, but total respect is due. An integral part of Latitude.
Our first band of the day was Splashh, at the I-Arena. I had them as one of my highlights in my earlier blog. They had the look, the style to be the next big New York indie band. Except they are from London. I was surprised when I researched them at home later. The guitar and bass sound was Strokes meets Sonic Youth and the singer had the intonations of Liam Gallagher. I really liked them. I thought there was something fresh, orginal about them, even in a well-trodden field. Will they be big? Should be, but depends who picks them up. A brilliant, exciting start to the day.
We stayed at the I-Arena for Sunless ’97. What the name is meant to mean I have no idea. They were a funny but rather good band. Funny because the three members of the band frequently gathered round a table, hunched over, bobbing up and down to the rhythm, playing their keyboards and laptops. Like the audience wasn’t there! The bassist and laptop man looked a bit like Peter Crouch (very tall England footballer, for those who don’t know). The main man on the music front leaped from instrument to instrument, a bit like the comedian Bill Bailey in one of his live shows. The lead singer, a woman, did her keyboard thing then stood up, twisted her body and sang beautifully, like Elizabeth from the Cocteau Twins. And the music? Fascinating. A cross between prog and electro. All sorts of things going on. Great rhythms. Intriguing. I kept thinking of Gong (from the seventies) updated for the electro age.
Lianne le Havas was on at the Word Arena at 2.30. The place was full to the rafters. She was genuinely chuffed. She plays a jazzy, bluesy soul, with some subtle guitar. When I first saw her on Jules Holland I was impressed. She got a great reception in the Word tent. But I got a bit bored. Guess it was just that after Splashh and Sunless ’97, I had a real appetite for challenging, rocking music. Lianne doesn’t do that. I’ll probably still download her album, as a soothing, late night thing.
We wandered back to the I-Arena, only to find that the tent was so packed we couldn’t get in. For whom? Of Monsters And Men. Didn’t know them at all. But legions of young people clearly did. They didn’t sound that amazing to me. Pleasant country rock, not unlike The Magic Numbers, from Ealing, who had a few hits not so long ago. But there was something going on with this band.
Then it got real. Wooden Shjips were next on stage. They played pounding hard rock riffs that had a really hypnotic effect. And then the guitarist and singer – a man with a very long beard – would launch into some very spaced out solos, full of echo and trembling. It was like listening to Hawkwind at times. But there was something very powerful about the band. I found myself engrossed. Hooked. One of the best bands I saw all weekend. Jon suggested to me that they were Norwegian. Somehow that made sense. It was metal with a twist. Back home I researched the band and found they are from San Francisco! Oh well.
And, as a wonderful contrast, next on were the Staves, my favourite band of 2012. The three sisters from Watford, singing the most beautiful folk-based harmonies. They did it again and got a fantastic reception from a packed-out tent. “Icarus”, “Mexico”, “The Motherlode”. The accapella, ‘Wisely and Slow” was lovely, but kept short – they only had thirty minutes. Our kids made it to this show and really liked it too. Hope that is a good sign. They deserve to be big.
Back over the lake and up the hill after that to the obelisk, for Richard Hawley, ace guitarist and singer-songwriter, once of Pulp, lately a bit of a sixties Elvis impersonator. Or is it Scott Walker? It was drizzling, as it had been most of the afternoon. The songs were slick, but mostly off the new album, which has gone a bit rocky. I love his album “Coles Corner” which had that rich sixties feel. We didn’t hear any of that, as we decided to get back to the I-Arena for Django Django. They were outstanding and again the place was packed and absolutely rocking. I was hearing a bit of funky Talking Heads again, and Foals, but mostly I was just bowled over by the insistent rhythms and the sheer power of the music. There weren’t a lot of tunes. It was all about the rhythm, the drum and the bass. Another highlight.
We had a little break after Django Django, got something to eat and listened at a distance to Los Campesinos on the Lake Stage, with their catchy, jerky dance-pop. And then it was over to the Word Arena for one of the big moments – The Horrors.
Elbow were headlining on the main stage, but Jon and I – and the kids – all felt we needed to see the Horrors. They did not disappoint. They were truly magnificent. The sound, the lighting, the presence… they all showed that the Horrors are now on that sublime level when they can dominate any stage, any crowd. They have made it to awesome. My favourite song is “Endless Blue”, which starts with some prog-ish noodling then launches into a pummeling riff. They did it proud live. But best of all was the finish: “Still Life” and then a completely awesome “Moving Further Away”, a fifteen minute epic, with lighting to match, that reminded you of Led Zep, or the Doors.
The top performance of Latitude, for me.
So that was the end of the bands for the night. But for the next four hours Jon and I flitted between sound systems in the woods, sometimes together sometimes apart. Again there was a brilliant House-style system in the open air, while the I-Arena housed the reggae/dub/dance sound. Before the “disco” started there, there was a gig by a rapper/toaster and band called 2Morrows Victory. It was pretty good and towards the end had an outstanding moment when it was almost like Madness. After that the DJs kicked in, including ShyFX, who is now a Radio 1 stalwart. To be honest, I was getting a little confused about who was doing the music… but what I did know was that it was very good.
Jon and I retired from the fray at 3am, but I can tell you, the place was still buzzing.
Day 3 – Sunday 15th
Felt a bit weary Sunday morning. Couldn’t stay in bed too long because the sun was shining and making the tent intolerably hot! Still needed the wellies to sludge through the mud though.
There was a bloke in a single tent next to us. He mentioned that the hot ticket early Sunday was Lang Lang. Who he? World famous Chinese pianist, that’s who. From the classical world, about which I have little knowledge. He was appearing at noon at the Waterfront Stage, which jutted into the lake, near the main bridge, the Writers’ Bridge. I think the stage was used mainly for dance and drama during the weekend. Anyway, we sauntered down to the stage and picked our spot on the wood side bank. Lang Lang entered the arena on a Viennese gondola – very stylish. The whole performance fitted that bill – stylish. Lang Lang played a selection of pieces by Chopin, Liszt and Schumann. I have to say I found them beautiful and relaxing, and at the same time admired the passion and animation with which Lang Lang played the piano. The whole event was just incredibly civilised.
After that I joined Jon and Connie at the Obelisk Arena – Jon had headed off earlier – to watch Rufus Wainwright. I liked his sense of humour as he introduced the songs, and admired his red jacket. The music was superbly played. But I found his soaring voice a bit much for a lot of the country-based songs. His is a cabaret or jazz voice. If Kurt Vile had been singing some of the other songs they would have been brilliant.
We stayed at the Obelisk for the Alabama Shakes. They’ve been getting some very positive reviews lately. Southern blues/soul/rock. First couple of songs were great. I loved the guitar sound, which reminded me of the Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Faces. But then the music slowed down and the singer did her Otis Redding impersonation. It didn’t quite work for me. She wasn’t Otis, her voice was too sharp. I thought they were best when they rocked, but they didn’t do much of that. I got bored.
Then a bit of lunch – paella for the third day running. It was nice! I watched a bit of Gross Magic on the Lake Stage while I ate. Er, wasn’t great. Music was OK. Punky, Libertines style. Vocals so out of tune it hurt. Actually that was in the style of Pete Doherty too… but this was worse.
By now I needed a fix of the I-Arena, where I knew all the bands would be interesting at the very least. I caught the last ten minutes of Zun Zun Egui, who were a mixture of African, punk and and avant garde jazz, all played at a very fast pace. So fast that people were struggling to dance to it. Intriguing though.
Then it got really good. First, Daughter, featuring Elena Tonra. She sang delicate vocals and played some lovely guitar. She had another guitarist who really expanded the sound, giving the songs a spacey, other-wordly feel. Sigur Ros came to mind. And he even got the violin bow out, Jimmy Page style. But the extraordinary thing about this gig was that it was another that attracted the teenagers in large numbers. And that made for a very positive and lively atmosphere. Elena was clearly moved by it. I checked with our seventeen year olds and they hadn’t heard of Daughter. But clearly some of their generation had.
And if that was good, nothing had prepared me for the next band. We Are Augustines. I have seen the future of rock’n'roll and they are called… that’s how I felt after this gig. Those words were applied to Bruce Springsteen in 1975, and became a millstone. We Are Augustines may never reach Bruce’s heights, but live, they have a sound inspired by him – and unbelievable energy. The singer, Billy McCarthy, so obviously loved what he was doing. It was pure passion. So infectious. Some of the choruses, great chants, were straight out of the Springsteen book, but stripped down to the essence. It was amazing. It was the greatest rock’n'roll moment of Latitude for me. A massive high.
I wasn’t in a great position for photos of Billy until he moved centre stage and then he was leaping around so manically that my digital camera just couldn’t cope. But I’ve got to have a photo, so this is the best I’ve got…
I stayed at the I-Arena for the next gig – King Charles – mainly because I wanted a good place for Other Lives, who would follow. King Charles was basically a pop version of Prince. More pop, less funk. But the way he wielded the guitar at times, I thought he was going to break into “Let’s Go Crazy” or “Purple Rain”. I could see him being pretty big if he got the right promotion.
Then oddly, the tent emptied and wasn’t fully re-filled for Other Lives. I thought we’d be battling for space for them. Some big tunes, in the mould of Fleet Foxes and other such bands. Alexis Petridis of the Guardian raving about them. With good cause. Tent two-thirds full and time cut back to half an hour because others over-ran. It was all a bit gloomy. The music is minor key anyway, but the uplifting element of that faded and we were left rather with the gloom. Shame. I think they are a really good band, but it just didn’t work for them at Latitude. No way it puts me off them. Their two albums are great. Have a listen.
The festival reaching the climax, it was time to succumb to the main stage. First for Ben Howard, singer-songwriter and ace guitarist. Much loved by our kids, who were right at the front. He was good. Well-crafted songs and some impressive guitar, notwithstanding a broken string at one point. He could easily have headlined as he was so clearly the most popular artist with the youth.
But Paul Weller took that top spot. Now I love the man and his music. The Jam, the Style Council, loads of excellent solo albums. The latter a bit samey over the years, but he is undoubtedly one of the greats.
Having said that, the early part of the show was a bit dull. But it did liven up. First when he played songs like ‘Broken Stones” and ‘You Do Something To Me”. And then when he played a bit of the Jam. “In The City”, another early song I didn’t recognise, and then “A Town Called Malice”, ever danceable. And then, and then, for the encore, “The Eton Rifles”! What a great way to end the last show of Latitude.
That wasn’t the end of Latitude of course. I wrote in my previous blog how I stayed for a couple of hours at the Lake Stage, enjoying the indie disco put on by Vinyl Vendettas. I won’t repeat the track listing here. but I will restate how it was a perfect end to the most wonderful three days of music and sheer enjoyment. It’s 1am, and a few hundred people are dancing in a field to indie and a few rock classics. It is a total celebration. Elsewhere, especially on the other side of the lake, in the woods, there are sound systems having the same effect. No-one really wants the experience to end.
I retired at about 1.30, boringly thinking about needing to get up early so we could leave on time. Our kids, wherever they were, left it a bit later. We got up early and were out of the place by 9, before the next swathe of rain hit the place. But we all felt the same as we left. Tired, exhilarated, wishing the festival could go on longer, talking about next year. Already assembling the memories.
Three days of pure bliss. In a parallel world with no rules, no obligations. Just an exhortation to enjoy.
To feel the love…
And even the mud was OK.