Alina Bzhezhinska and the HipHarp Collective at King’s Place, 25 September 2022

Alina Bzhezhinska is a harp player from Lviv in Ukraine. She studied in Poland, Germany and the US, before settling in the UK – for seven years she was a harp tutor at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow, but eventually she moved to London and became more involved in jazz music. She released a critically acclaimed debut album, Inspiration, in 2018, and has played with modern luminaries like Kamaal Williams (on his excellent album Wu Hen) and sax maestro Shabaka Hutchings. This year she released Reflections, an album which acknowledges the influences of the harpist Dorothy Ashby as well as the music of both Alice and John Coltrane.

I’d not come across her until I heard her being interviewed on Cerys Matthews’ 6 Music Sunday lunch time show a few weeks ago. It’s an excellent show by the way, featuring music from around the world and over the decades. Alina and her band, the HipHarp Collective, played a couple of songs, which I really liked, and the conversation was fascinating. It was mentioned that she was playing King’s Place, in King’s Cross in September and afterwards I bought a couple of tickets for the show. I promised my wife Kath it would be worth coming along!

The concert was scheduled for seven, on Sunday. We had a lovely Thai meal beforehand at Supawan, on the Caledonian Road. I think I’ve mentioned it before – highly recommended. The show was an opportunity to showcase the new album, which Alina and band played through in sequence, cutting the last two songs, but playing a tribute to the great saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders who died, aged 81, at the weekend. He played with so many different artists, but the Coltranes were foremost amongst them. And only last year he starred on the brilliant Floating Points album Promises, which I made my album of 2021. The tune they played for the encore was called Astral Travelling, which felt appropriate.

It was a wonderful show. A superb band, with at different times through the two sets, a string section, trumpet, saxophones, percussion, and of course the solid base of electric bass and drums. And then Alina, centre stage. In a sense her harp played the role a piano might play in a band like this normally. But, of course, it had a different feel – more delicate, dreamier. It’s such a beautiful sound, one which I associate through experience with religious services at the school where I was a governor and Irish music, often the two coming together. And of, course, in the pop world, there is Joanna Newsom, whose 2006 album Ys brought something new and distinctive to the genre.

On the more upbeat numbers the harp mostly played a supporting role – its subtle variations were at times upstaged by the drums and bass, or the soaring sounds of the sax and trumpet. Alina played a few solos of course, and it was always fascinating to watch her fingers move across the strings even when you couldn’t fully hear the sounds coming from them. But on the slower tunes, notably John Coltrane’s “Alabama” – a lament for the people of that state who were killed during the struggle for civil rights in America – the instrument really came to the fore, weaving its magical spells. The interplay with Tony Kofi’s soprano sax on that song was a thing of great beauty. It was the last tune before the interval; just before it came another Coltrane song, “Afro Blue”, with vocals from the Scottish jazz singer Niki King and some drum pyrotechnics from Adam Texeira. Towards the end of the show we reached one of my favourites, Paris sur le Toit, which has something of a hip hop beat, and definitely a feel of that great city. Alina described how she’d written the song on the Eurostar, on the way back from Paris. I think it was the first song of hers that I’d heard, on that Cerys Matthews show. There are two versions of the tune on the album, one with a jazz-rap vocal – partly in French.

Throughout both sets Alina took the trouble to introduce each song, describing its inspiration and the joy she has in making music. She avoided the topic of the Russian invasion of her country until the final applause of the show; tonight she just obviously wanted to focus on the launch of her new album, Reflections. She was clearly touched by the reception she and her band received from the audience – these must be such challenging times for her and anyone from her country, and to experience people coming together to celebrate her music must be a wonderful, if temporary antidote. In the longer term, we can only hope that creation once again trumps destruction in Ukraine.

So, give Reflections and Inspiration a listen if you get the chance. And while you’re at it delve into sounds of Pharoah Sanders, one of the great saxophonists, a man who brought real spirituality to his art. Rest in peace, Pharoah.

(The first photo below is what Alina called the “core band”, though the trumpet and saxophone played an integral part. Adam Teixeira is on drums, Mikele Montolli on bass and Joel Prime on percussion. The two violinists and cello player I don’t know the names of. Alina referred to them by first names only, so I assume they were brought in for the album launch.)

Jay Phelps on trumpet

With Niki King, who sang on Afro Blue

Toni Kofi on the soprano sax

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Soccer Mommy at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town, 22 September 2022

I went up to Kentish Town last Thursday to see Soccer Mommy for the second time this month, having seen them recently at End of the Road. They were good there, very dynamic; but I thought this would be a chance to enjoy the show in a bit more depth. Soccer Mommy is the vehicle of singer and guitarist Sophie Allison, from Nashville. You could file her under indie or singer-songwriter, and as she progresses, maybe even grunge – 2020s pop-style. I first came across her in 2018, when she released her first full album Clean. Prior to that she’d released two compilations, For Young Hearts in 2016 and Collection in 2017. Clean had a lo-fi indie sound and some trenchant lyrics about life as a young woman. The stand out track was the defiant Your Dog, but there were also some lovely, wistful melodies, and these led me back to some of her earlier songs like Switzerland, Allison and Waiting for Cars, as well as the sprightly Henry. She played a very successful show at the Moth Club in Hackney early in 2018 and in November that year I really enjoyed her performance supporting Kacey Musgraves at Wembley Arena. One of the highlights of that show was her cover of Brice Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. She imbued that song of love and frustration with a tenderness that gave it a new perspective.

Her second album, Color Theory came out in 2020. The stand out track on that was Circle the Drain, a melodic rocker that belied the despairing lyrics. I never really got into the album, though recent listens have inevitably revealed more. And this year we have a new album, Sometimes, Forever. Again, I rather skated over this one until the last couple of weeks. It’s the rockiest, most grungy album yet – a real 90s sound. I could even hear elements of The Bends-era Radiohead. But with repeated listens, you locate the melodies and realise that it’s not so different to Clean and the earlier tracks after all.

The concert at the Forum featured the new album heavily. The band have been touring Europe, reaching Britain just recently – as well as doing that EOTR show. The setlist has been the same as far as I could see; nine songs from Sometimes, Forever, four from Color Theory and just the one, Your Dog, from Sophie’s earlier music. As at EOTR, I liked the performance, the full sound, the sense that Sophie has really worked out how she wants to play live. You do lose a bit of the new songs’ subtlety in the rock sound; and I felt that had she mixed it up a bit more, not relying so much on the new songs, she might have got a more lively response from the crowd. There was a surprise – a very welcome one – when she added a couple more songs from Clean towards the end of the show: the ballad Still Clean (which she performed solo) and Scorpio Rising. They gave the audience a boost at just the right moment, and that energy flowed through the rest of the concert.

If I ever found myself giving advice to a band that is getting more popular with each album I would say, don’t give up on your old tunes. They are likely to be the ones that people are coming for. Give them some new songs of course; but letting them dominate a show won’t make people rush out to buy (or stream) them. Their memory of the show will be better if you give them the old favourites too, and that will make them more likely to listen to your new stuff. I can understand why artists want to move on, but when you are playing live I think you need to respond to your audience’s needs. This doesn’t apply just to Soccer Mommy, but just about anyone. Rare is the band whose audience laps up five new tracks in a row at the start of a concert, as happened at Radiohead’s brilliant Roundhouse concert in 2016. The rest of the set that night was rich in classics from throughout their career.

Anyway, the addition of Still Clean and Scorpio Rising made a real difference to the dynamic of the show, and the momentum was sustained by the excellent Still, newdemo and Yellow is the Colour of her Eyes (the latter being the second best song on Color Theory). The encore began almost immediately – the band had started surprisingly late (9.30) and I think they suddenly realised they were running out of time. Maybe those two extra songs were a spur-of-the-moment thing. The first song was Sophie’s most Nirvana-like song yet, Don’t Ask Me; then the Soccer Mommy anthem, Your Dog closed the show on a high. We all went away happy – especially if we’d had time to listen to the new album.

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End of the Road 2022

Back to End of the Road at last! My last EOTR was 2019. It was cancelled in 2020; and last year I was confined to the back garden self-isolating when the festival took place. So I was really looking forward to this one, especially as I skipped Green Man this year, in order to have a bit more flexibility about Edinburgh festival dates.

Cast list was Jon G, Louis and Gab and Louis’ friends Tom, Fionn and Dylan. Tom and Ffion are members of Butch Kassidy, who I reviewed earlier this year. It was good to have the youngsters around – all passionate about their music, and lively company. Jon and I generally part company with them around midnight and leave them to the secret shows in the Tipi tent and all sorts of other late night gatherings. Gone are the days when I’d be at a secret show at 1.30 in the morning, or dancing to reggae music in the Woods at Latitude at 3am; it’s all about pacing yourself when you’ve hit your 60s! A glass of wine out of the box back in the tent and off to bed, to conserve some energy for the next day…

Thursday, 1 September

End of the Road has an evening line up in the Tipi tent and on the Woods Stage – the main stage – on a Thursday. We arrived at around 3 o’clock, set things up then sat around chatting for a few hours, accompanied by a few beers. Then it was off to the first show of the festival: either K.O.G (rap with an African flavour) on the Woods stage or Joe and the Shitboys in the Tipi. Jon and I opted for Joe, on the grounds that a bit of lively punk might make a good start to proceedings. It was OK. Lots of crude lyrics and chants that might appeal to a thirteen year old – not many of those at EOTR – and a brevity to the songs that was straight from the Ramones playbook. We stayed for the whole show, which was mercifully short. Onwards and upwards!

Next up was Sudan Archives on the Woods stage. Sudan Archives is the stage name for an American artist, Brittney Parks. Her music combines electronic dance sounds with some African influences and, more unusually in this genre, the violin. Indeed, at one point she played an Irish/ Scottish jig. She was accompanied by a keyboard player, sticking mostly to electric violin and vocals herself. I liked what she was doing, but felt that the violin was a bit of an add-on really, and didn’t work for me. I daresay she would say it is integral to her sound. The best moment was a fierce bit of drum and bass towards the end of the set. Must check out how that dance/violin combination works on record.

Headliners on the Woods stage were Khruangbin. I’ve always liked their sound, and particularly enjoyed their collaboration with the singer Leon Bridges, Texas Sun, in 2020. That is a beautiful, summery soulful song. The core band is a trio, comprising Laura Lee on bass and vocals, Mark Speer on guitar and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums. They are from Houston, Texas, but draw on a range of global influences in their music. At the heart is a wonderful soulful, sometimes funky groove. I really loved the show tonight. Mark’s guitar twanged and echoed, Laura’s bass throbbed and DJ lay down a superbly spare drum beat that subtly held the whole thing together. Everything about the set was so stylish – the lighting; the way that Mark and Laura dressed, 70s style; the way they moved around, up and down the steps on either side of the ramp where the drums sat. It was really languid, and yet so funky. I got a little bit of Talking Heads’ Genius of Love at one point, and checking Setlist FM, I see that they have thrown that in before. The set lasted 90 minutes; I could happily have stayed for more. A great start to the festival.

Encore

Friday 2 September

The literature events – three talks before the music gets going – have moved home, to the Talking Heads stage, which sits behind and downhill from the Garden Stage. It’s a stage that is home to the comedy at EOTR, amongst other things. I had never been down there in all my visits to EOTR. It’s a lovely site, set into the slope, with the wooden stage at the bottom, against a backdrop of trees and a large hill behind them. All rather idyllic. I only made it for half of the second talk, with the journalist and broadcaster Kate Molleson, talking about her new book, Sound Within Sound, which is about composers across the world who have challenged classical music conventions. It was interesting, and went beyond its allotted time. It turned out that historian Matthew Green before her and musician/writer/film producer Bob Stanley after her had both pulled out because of covid. I suspect that in the days of the common cold and flu they might have soldiered on, but we live in different times.

The curse of the festival is the clashes on the timetable between lots of bands you want to see. On the flip side, there is a wonderful amount of choice. On the whole, I didn’t face too many dilemmas at EOTR this year, but there was a minor one to start off Saturday’s music. Rosali on the Garden Stage or Automotion in the Big Top? I hadn’t heard of Rosali until I listened to EOTR’s excellent pre-festival playlist on Spotify (look up EOTR 2022). I liked her bluesy Americana. Jon was keen to see Automotion though, so I went along to that. They are a young band, featuring Liam Gallagher’s son Lennon on guitars and occasional vocals. Most of the vocals are handled by the other guitarist Jesse Hitchman. Lennon wore a rather daft flying cap with very long flaps, which his father might have favoured, but there was no trace of Oasis in their sound. A lot of it was instrumental, with some of the Black Midi-style stop-starting and talk/singing. Jon thought Black Country New Road. Most of all though, it was early 70s heavy prog rock. Pretty good, but a bit lacking in light and shade. A very popular sound in the indie world these days though.

We tried a bit of south London lo-fi rap/R&B next with Keyah/Blu. I liked her sound, which reminded me a little of an artist I’ve really enjoyed in the last couple of years, Biig Piig. Quite what Keyah (if that is her name) made of playing to an audience of mostly middle-aged white people, I’m not sure, though she did talk of wanting to raise the energy level. Which, in fairness, she did as the show progressed – perhaps more young people turned up. The sound was pretty minimal, Keyah singing to a back beat created by the keyboard player, who occasionally left her console to leap around a bit. She also got the guitar out for a couple of solo ballads in mid set, which were a bit weak. I’ve been listening to some of her music as I’ve been writing this section – and it’s good. In her natural environment I think Keyah could get a real party going.

Straight over to the Woods stage next, to catch English Teacher. On the basis of what I’ve heard on 6 Music, I’d say they are one of the best new indie bands around. I’ve just read two interviews with them in which they say they aren’t a post punk band and they don’t sound like the Pixies. Well, actually… they’re from Leeds, a hot bed of post punk indie at the moment. One thing that distinguishes them from most indie is that their singer (and guitarist) Lily Fontaine is black. She addresses this in their best single so far, R&B. It has a classic Pixies slow build, before the guitars break out. As the chorus surfs the waves of guitar Lily sings, despite appearances, I haven’t got the voice for R&B. So what of the show today? In the sunshine on the main stage, at 2.15, it was good, it rocked; but both the subtleties and the full force of their music was lost a bit. On the plus side, they engaged with the crowd really well. You’d expect the singer of a band like this to say next-to-nothing to the crowd. Lily wasn’t like that at all – she came across like she was really enjoying herself. I liked that – and they ended with R&B. I’ll be looking out to see them on their next tour, for sure.

I went over to the Garden stage to see The Golden Dregs once English Teacher had finished. I was really taken by the band when I saw them at the Wide Awake festival at the end of May. The band are led by Benjamin Woods, who is from Falmouth in Cornwall. They are south London-based now, and play music which has an Americana base with an English overlay that reminds me of the likes of Lloyd Cole, Tindersticks and Gene. This time, in the sunshine, I enjoyed the performance, without being quite so engaged. The crowd were very positive though. I found my mind drifting elsewhere, while the band played in the background. That’s festivals for you: it’s a long haul.

I got back with Jon for Steam Down on the Woods stage. This is a band that absolutely demand you dance. A great pot pourri of jazz, soul, dance, African beats and more. We both took the opportunity to lie down on the grass and take it all in while having a bit of a rest! Gotta pace yourself, remember? I’m glad to say there was a big crowd at the front responding to the exhortations of the singer. There was a party going on, but we snoozed through it. And loved it at the same time. A band really worth going to see, but not a bad one to chill out to either. Not literally – the sun was blazing at the time.

Anais Mitchell was next for me, on the Garden stage. She’s a long-established performer, but the first time I heard her sing was with a band called Bonny Light Horseman in 2020. They had a song called The Roving, which I loved. She popped up again on an album by Big Red Machine, the collaboration between members of the National, Justin Vernon and Taylor Swift amongst others, last year. She released a self-titled album this year, which features a lovely song called Bright Star. And that’s what she was singing when I arrived at the Garden stage a few minutes into the set. I stayed for the rest – perfect music for a mellow late afternoon. She has a beautiful voice, which is just right for her poignant songs. An unassuming triumph.

Back down to the Woods stage next for one of the highlights of the festival – the sweet, slinky soul of Durand Jones and the Indications. They’ve changed a little since I first saw them at Latitude in 2018, when they had a very cool horn section, and a bit more of a 60s feel than now. It’s full-on 70s soul and funk now, and it is so good! The vocal duties are split between Durand Jones, who does a very good Marvin Gaye – think Let’s Get It On – and the drummer Aaron Frazer, whose falsetto takes you straight back to the likes of George McCrae and the Chi-Lites and, come to think of it, Smokey Robinson. It’s pure joy as every song unfurls – I particularly liked one of the slower ones called Is It Any Wonder? I think the crowd, which was a good size, felt the same way. Just about everyone was moving to the groove. It’s irresistible! This is a band to put a smile on your face and feel the love.

Having said that, I did dash off before the end, because I wanted to be there for the start of Skullcrusher in the Tipi tent. Possibly the most inappropriate name in music – far from being a purveyor of death metal, Helen Ballentine, she of Skullcrusher, sings delicate, introspective indie-folk songs. There’s some similarity to Phoebe Bridgers’ more reflective moments, and it’s no surprise that she has a song called Song for Nick Drake.  I first heard a song called Places/Plans in 2020, which I liked; but the tune that really got to me was Storm in Summer, which came out in 2021. It has a beautiful melody and is a bit more upbeat sound-wise than most of her work. It has become one of those songs that frequently comes into my head for no reason that I can think of – a real earworm. That’s why I needed to be there for the start: just in case she played Storm in Summer first. I needn’t have worried: she mostly played songs which I imagine are from her forthcoming debut album. Accompanied by another guitarist, she played a sequence of slow, dreamy tunes that would sound great in a darkened living room on a winter’s evening, but didn’t really work in the Tipi. I got the impression she was pretty nervous and she stayed seated for the whole show. Storm in Summer did make an appearance near the end, but in a new guise – yes, slow and dreamy! So, a bit of a disappointment, but I will definitely give that new album a go – on a dark winter evening.

After a break back at the tent, with some rotisserie chicken and roast potatoes – quite difficult to eat from a paper plate on your lap with a wooden knife and fork! – it was time for Soccer Mommy in the Big Top. Soccer Mommy is the vehicle for singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, who grew up Nashville. Her music initially fitted the indie-folk label, but over the years it has become rockier. I first came across her when she released her first full album Clean in 2018. That album, which was full of catchy indie-pop tracks, included the defiant Your Dog, which has become her signature tune. Delving into her back catalogue, I really liked some of her slower songs like Switzerland, Waiting for Cars and Allison, as well as the jaunty melody of Henry. I saw her play a sold-out show at the Moth Club early that year and she appeared at End of the Road, in the Tipi. Even better, she supported Kacey Musgraves at Wembley Arena later that year. Her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire was a highlight of that show. I haven’t been quite as keen on some of her more recent output, though I did love the strident Circle the Drain from her 2020 album Color Theory. She has a new album out, Sometimes, Forever, and that naturally featured strongly in tonight’s show. I’m not too familiar with that yet, but it didn’t matter – Sophie and band played with a real confidence and verve which bowled you along. I couldn’t help thinking how far she has come over these last four years. This was a really powerful, rocking show. There was even a bit of grunge in there. Circle the Drain sounded great early on and Your Dog received the warmest greeting of the evening. Everyone knew the words to that one! I’m seeing her again at the Forum, Kentish Town later this month – this show really whetted my appetite.

You never really know what you are going to get with Black Midi when you see them live. They set their own rules – don’t expect a tune you might know from an album to sound anything like the recorded version when it’s played live.  The band emerged in 2017 and cultivated an air of mystery at first. I first saw them play at Latitude in 2018, and was blown away. How on earth to describe them? Prog-punk-metal? One minute they’d be riffing, the next there’d be some delicate noodling; and always there was the amazing drumming of Morgan Simpson. You could spend the whole show just watching him. Over the last few years they have become stalwarts of the festival scene. Jon and Louis are both big fans; sometimes I find them a bit too much, but they are always interesting. In recent years they’ve added sax to the band, and at Glastonbury I thought they were really beginning to sound like avant-garde jazz rockers. So no surprise that they were nothing like that on the Garden Stage tonight. They were hard core, stripped back, rocking Black Midi. A mosher’s paradise. They went down a storm. A great end to the day’s music, at least for me and Jon. The youngsters had another three or four hours to go!

Saturday 3 September

I got down to the Talking Heads stage to catch the second half of the author Tom Cox’s talk. He has just published his first work of fiction, Villager, which synthesises his passion for music, nature and folklore. I liked his description of his writing process – lots of “faffing”, mulling over ideas; and then once he starts writing, it happens quickly. I can relate to that. He was followed by singer PP Arnold, who was a real force of nature. She was interviewed by author and music journalist Will Hodgkinson – he could hardly get a word in! Pat (as she referred to herself) married young and was in an abusive relationship in Texas. But providence came her way and she got a chance to audition as a backing singer for Ike and Tina Turner. It kicked off from there. Ike and Tina supported the Rolling Stones on tour in the UK in 1966, and she quit after that to pursue a solo career in the UK, encouraged by Mick Jagger, with whom she had a relationship. Her solo efforts never really took off, but over the years she sang with all sorts of stars, including the Small Faces in the 60s, Eric Clapton and Roger Waters. She also appeared in various musicals. She made some recordings with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees in the 60s and 70s, which she was finally able to release in 2017. After moving between the UK and Los Angeles, she settled in this country. She was such a great talker that she didn’t get much past the Stones and Immediate Records days in the 60s, but it was a joy to listen to her. She has recently published an autobiography called Soul Survivor, which I think I’ll have to get. And at the end of the talk, something happened that I haven’t seen at the literature events before – just about everyone stood up to applaud and cheer. Great stuff!

Jon and I avoided the temptation of see Sniffany and the Nits again – we saw them at Latitude – and wandered down to see The Heavy Heavy. I was keen to see the band, having heard their single Miles and Miles on Cerys Matthews’ 6 Music show recently. It has a lovely rolling riff and guitar work straight out of the Allmans’ songbook. Their debut EP Life and Life Only came out this year and is a good listen, if you like late 60s/early 70s melodic rock. The sounds of California, with just a touch of southern boogie for good measure. And live it was completely joyous. I loved their set from start to finish: the rolling rhythms, the harmonies, the guitar solos, the driving beats. Rooted in the past, but fresh and contemporary too. They had the crowd dancing almost as much as Durand Jones and the Indications. One of the highlights was when Georgie Fuller, who shares the vocal duties with lead guitarist Will Turner and plays keyboards, sang the soul classic Piece of My Heart. She gave it the full Janis Joplin. A wonderful moment – brought tears to my eyes. The band are about to start a big North American tour. I’m not surprised – they will absolutely lap up the Heavy Heavy on the other side of the Atlantic. For pure pleasure, my favourite show of the weekend.

 

Jon and I went our separate ways for a while after that: he to see Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan – mainly for the name! – while I went over to the Garden stage to catch a bit of country singer Margo Cilker. She was a new name to me when I heard her on the EOTR playlist. I liked her sound on record; and that translated to the live show. Nothing flash about this one: just good old country music, sung and played beautifully. Margot had a nice sense of humour in between songs too. One song had one of the best country music refrains I have heard: Crazy and died, crazy and died, everyone I looked up to has gone crazy or died. All sing along now!

Back at the Woods stage I watched a bit of the Umlauts while waiting for Modern Woman in the Big Top. I thought they sounded pretty good on the EOTR playlist, and I’ve heard them on 6 Music too.  Naturally, with that name, the music has a German electronic angle, but it has punk elements too. The band apparently met at Wimbledon College of Art. The two women who front the band are from Austria and Monaco. I thought they were interesting, but like a few other bands, including English Teacher, it’s quite hard to get anything like the full impact of their music on the main stage in broad daylight. One to research further.

Modern Woman were playing the Big Top, a step up from the tiny stage I saw them on at Wide Awake in May, and the Alcove at Latitude. They certainly rose to the occasion. They played a powerful set of jagged post punk with elements of gothic folk rock – the latter coming from the subject matter of the songs and especially band leader Sophie Harris’ singing. Add to that the wild sounds that David Denyer conjures out of his synth and violin and you have an intriguing and unusual mix. Try the 2021 EP Dogs Fighting in My Dream if you want to hear them for yourself. That includes their two most streamed songs to date; Juniper and Offerings, as well as The Eel, which has some screeching sax on it. All featured in the show. Sophie, as usual, looked very striking – not in her flowing red dress this time, but a pale blue two piece suit that glowed in the lights. This is a good band – I’ll be interested to see how they develop in the future.

After a break, during which I quite enjoyed listening to Starcrawler on the Woods stage from the tent (lots of New York Dolls in there) it was time for Irish band NewDad in the Big Top. I stuck around for about half the set. I like their swirling sound – a bit of shoegaze, a touch of Cranberries. I enjoyed them at Green Man last year, and I Don’t Recognise You was one of my most played songs of 2021. Today though, I found them a bit tame – perhaps in contrast to Modern Woman. I decided to leave about half way through, so I could see the Weather Station from the start; but soon after I’d left the Big Top I heard the opening chords of I Don’t Recognise You. So I dashed back, enjoyed the swirling chords and Julie Dawson’s singing for a few minutes more, and then left again!

I’ve not listened to the Weather Station much, but their 2021 album Ignorance received a lot of acclaim in the music press. It was an album said to be informed by band leader Tamara Lindeman’s “climate grief”, the feeling of despair and anger at where the world is heading. I gave it a listen at the time, expecting to hear something that really channelled that despair and anger; instead I heard a lot of well-crafted songs that just sounded a little bland. Nonetheless, I thought they would be worth seeing live – perhaps the amplification and distortion you get in the live environment would give the songs a greater edge.  I’d have to say that my view didn’t really change. The band were excellent, really tight. Tamara sang beautifully, but maybe too beautifully to convey that sense of anger that is there in the lyrics. I can’t really fault them and they went down very well on the Garden stage. But it didn’t really move me.

Perfume Genius was on the agenda for the gang, and apparently it was a great performance. I decided to go up early to a small stage called the Boat, which is the woods, to see Jockstrap. When I got there the place was already packed. The stage appears to be in a dip, so that when they came on most of the crowd, me included, couldn’t see them at all. A bit of a programming error by EOTR – Jockstrap could easily have filled the Big Top. I decided to try my luck back at the Talking Heads stage, where the guitarist Gwenifer Raymond was playing. All the benches were taken when I arrived, but I found myself a nice spot to the side with a good view. I spent the next 45 minutes completely captivated. Gwenifer’s guitar playing is extraordinary. How to describe? She’s Welsh, and there’s the sound of the mountains in there for sure; but there’s blues, there’s bluegrass and there is definitely flamenco. The speed of her playing at times, the double rhythms, the expressiveness, reminded me of two concerts I’ve witnessed recently: some flamenco in Cordoba, Spain, and a classical guitarist called Jonathan Prag (who I saw at Edinburgh) who draws heavily on Spanish and Latin American composers. Doing a little reading for this piece, it seems that the music Gwenifer is playing is called American primitive. All I can say that it wasn’t that primitive! The complexity, the dexterity was a wonder to behold. And there was a tone, maybe those Welsh mountains again, that took me back to side two of Led Zeppelin III, which fans of that band will remember was largely acoustic. I’d heard a couple of her tunes on 6 Music before, but Gwenifer Raymond was one of my top discoveries of the festival.

And so to the headliners on the Woods stage, Pixies. One of the great bands of the late 80s/early 90s. Pre-dating grunge, but highly influential on that whole scene – and early Radiohead too. And still one of the bands that so many others take inspiration from. The key albums are Surfer Rosa and Doolittle from the late 80s, though one of my favourite tracks, Planet of Sound came from Trompe le Monde in 1991. The band split in 1993, but reformed in 2004, and are still going strong. I saw them play at the Roundhouse in 2018 and they were outstanding. There are still three longstanding band members including frontman Black Francis. They’ve made a few albums in recent years, which I can’t say I’ve listened to, though I did like the single Blue Eyed Hexe from 2014. Tonight they had an hour and a half and a massive crowd, just waiting for the great songs. And there was a storming start, especially with Monkey Gone to Heaven and Debaser third and fourth in the set. The few minutes of those two was one of the absolute highlights of the weekend, with everyone chanting the choruses. There was a slight problem over the whole set though – quite a few unfamiliar songs, probably because not many people have listened much to those recent albums. And even on the classic albums, there were just a few tracks that stood out, at least for me. So there were some good-but-not-that-great periods during the show. And my feet were hurting from all the standing! I needed the boost of favourite tunes to keep me going. Planet of Sound did the trick late on; and then right near the end, Where is Mind? It’s a bit unfair on the band, but when they played the big hits it was brilliant; the rest of time it was OK. An hour would have been enough.

I’d been thinking about going on for a bit more after Pixies: Ross from Friends in the Big Top and Tom Ravenscroft DJ’ing at the Boat were tempting. But I was pooped. Back to the tent, shoes off, glass of wine, bed. One more day…

Sunday 4 September

I skipped the literature talks this morning in favour of a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast. Jon and I met up at the Garden stage at midday for folk singer Katherine Priddy. When I first heard her last year I assumed she was Irish, but she is in fact from Birmingham. That first song was a lovely single called True Love Will Find You in the End. I moved on to her album, The Eternal Rocks Beneath, which is a beautiful, wistful collection of soothing folk songs, with a modern beat here and there. Still sounds very Irish to me! On the Garden stage she was accompanied by a guitarist who added a subtle accompaniment to her guitar picking and a few harmonies. Katherine joked that it was perfect music for the start to Sunday, when a lot of people would be nursing hangovers from their Saturday revelries. And yes, it was music you could gently immerse yourself in. There were plenty of people lying on the grass doing just that. I loved the music, and enjoyed her introductions to the songs – a lot of them are inspired by books she has read. I left feeling mellow and ready for some rock’n’roll…

I’ve heard The Bug Club on 6 Music quite a lot. Steve Lamacq is a fan. They’ve got a song called My Baby Loves Rock and Roll Music which is just great rock’n’roll. They’d already started when we got there, and maybe they had already played My Baby… because we didn’t get to hear it. What we did get was half an hour or so of entertaining indie/punk with the kind of quirky observational lyrics that reminded me of the C86 bands of the mid-80s. I liked the refrain, If my mother thinks I’m happy then I must be happy, sung in the middle of a list of all the things going wrong in the singer’s life! The band are a trio from Monmouthsire in Wales, comprising Sam Willmett on guitar and vocals, Tilly Harris on bass and vocals and Dan Matthew on drums. I definitely like to see them again, indoors. They’re a lot of fun.

Briefly I popped into the Big Top with Jon to see Deathcrash, who Dylan had recommended. I took one look and listen, thought it was going to be very gloomy, and decided to stick to my plan A, which was to see Jake Xerxes Fussell on the Garden Stage. It was a good decision, though I’m told that Deathcrash were actually quite lively. I’d not heard of Jake until his songs popped up on the EOTR playlist and caught my attention. His American folk sound has echoes of Bob Dylan’s early work, though Jake’s voice is deeper. There’s an interesting piece on him in the EOTR programme. He is a historian of American folk music, scouring field recordings and catalogues to find songs that he can give a new interpretation. That’s very much in the folk tradition, as songs are handed down from generation to generation. Jake took the stage with just his electric guitar, and finger-picked his way through a riveting selection from his American songbook. The emphasis is, I think, on songs from the south; Jake himself is from Columbus, Georgia. One notable tune, Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing on a Sweet Potato Vine? had Jake hitting the high notes in a way that conjured up memories of Dylan. It took me a while to figure out which Dylan song it was, but it’s All I Really Want to Do. This show wasn’t a Dylan re-tread by any means, but Jake Xerxes Fussell is rooted in the traditions of his country’s music in the same way as Dylan was, and still is. Along with Gwenifer Raymond, my discovery of the festival.

I stayed at the Garden stage for my next show, having had another brief taste of something in the Big Top, this time Lee Paterson, a drum and guitar duo. The programme promised Royal Blood-style “noise rock”. It was shouty, tuneless metal to my ears. I beat a retreat and enjoyed the more soothing delights of Cassandra Jenkins instead. She had a critically acclaimed album last year called An Overview on Phenomenal Nature. Made with producer and musician Josh Kaufman, it was a response to the trauma and confusion she felt after she was due to play in the Purple Mountain band in 2019, only for the singer David Berman to commit suicide days before the tour began. The music is rooted in Americana (of the mellow sort) but has a jazziness and dream-like quality in places too. All of this was present in the live performance, along with the field recordings that are scattered around the album. I loved Cassandra’s voice and enjoyed her humorous between-songs patter too. All quite similar to the Weather Station you might say; but there was something about the music and the performance which I found more resonant. And take a listen to that album – it’s very good.

The singer-songwriter theme continued, with Jana Horn (pronounced Jayna). My notes for this one say, “self-confessional minimalism”. Jana, who is from Texas, strummed the bass strings of her electric guitar, and that was pretty much the extent of the music. Her songs were fragile constructions, imbued with a sadness. We watched about 25 minutes of the show, during which she twice told us that she had an unborn twin sibling, who was always with her. The two of them were singing, she said. It’s clearly a deep feeling that has remained with her through her life. That and the complaints about getting lost in the Dorset countryside did leave a pall of gloom over the show though. Jon and I decided to head off to catch the beginning of Ryley Walker on the Garden Stage.

Ryley Walker is a phenomenal guitarist. I saw him on the same stage in 2017 when he was new to me, and after five minutes I was transfixed. That day he and his band veered between something like Jeff Buckley on Grace and the 70s jazz rock of someone like John McLaughlin. The song I best remember is Roundabout, which just happens to be his most streamed song on Spotify. The recorded version doesn’t have the elaborate guitar of that live performance. I never really followed up on his music afterwards, although it was also a period when he had some serious alcohol and drug problems, from which he is now recovered. There was a new album in 2021 called Course in Fable as well as a collaboration with Japanese space-rockers Kikagaku Moyo – which, musically, makes sense. Today the band was stripped down to three – drums, bass and guitar. Ryley looked very different too, sporting a neatly cut mullet. He was in good, somewhat bizarre humour, which included extolling the virtues of M&S egg sandwiches and Tesco Coleslaw! He also revealed an anglophile side, paying tribute to Steve Hackett of Genesis and covering an XTC song called Knuckle Down. That wasn’t so great, but the rest of the time, his guitar playing was once again a wonder to behold. At times I was thinking Hendrix, but something more on the prog or jazz rock side is probably closer. Maybe it is Steve Hackett! One of the festival highlights.

I then went over to the Tipi for some good old-fashioned punk music, courtesy of the London punk collective The Chisel. Jon had left Ryley Walker early to get there for the start – he’s a sucker for punishment! It was amusing to see Chubby of Chubby and the Gang studiously playing guitar instead of strutting the stage and bawling out the lyrics. Jon said he did in fact sing on the first couple of songs, but it was full guitar while I was there. Singer Cal Graham did the strutting and the shouting. God knows what his throat feels like after a gig! The music was late 70s/early 80s style – more Sham 69 than the Clash or Pistols. Fairly limited, but enjoyable for half an hour. And they went down a storm. The punk spirit lives on!

The Chisel finished at six. After a break we convened with the youngsters at the bar near the Woods stage, for Kurt Vile and the Violators. I like Kurt Vile’s music, but tonight we stayed at the bar, talking for the most part. Kurt never really grabbed our attention enough to draw us towards the stage. After that there was a choice: Scalping in the Big Top or Cola in the Tipi. Scalping, from Bristol, are a hardcore electro-metal band, with an infusion of dub, which any self-respecting Bristol band must have. I liked what I’d heard on the EOTR playlist, but Louis was raving about Cola, so I plumped for them. Having said that, I could see some of the visuals in the Big Top as I walked by, and they looked impressive. Afterwards Jon pronounced it one of the best things he’d heard and seen all weekend. Meanwhile Cola at the Tipi played their post-punk indie. The band are Canadian, and formed from a band called Ought. The sound is quite dark and you can hear elements of Velvet Underground and Joy Division in there. Maybe some White Lies too. The basslines were at the forefront and relentless. I thought the band were pretty good, but I suspect some of the subtleties of their music – and the lyrics – were submerged by the live sound. Louis declared them the best band in the world – an accolade that is normally bestowed on fellow Canadians Crack Cloud! Definitely worth seeing, though I think Scalping were more of a spectacle.

Kurt Vile

Cola

That brought us to the last show – at least for me and Jon. Yard Act were due to play the Big Top at 11.15, and I might have been tempted, but events intervened, as I shall explain in a moment. Our last show was Aldous Harding on the Garden stage. Readers of this blog will know I am a fan of Aldous’ music, and have been ever since I heard her second album, Party, and saw her play a stunning set at Gorilla in Manchester in 2017. I’ve seen her a few times since then, not least at Green Man in 2019, when she had a large audience at the main stage captivated. Her music is quite hard to describe: there’s an element of folk – her debut album was very much a folk album – but it’s jazzy, poppy and sometimes downright odd. There’s a beautiful fragility about some of the songs; others get those feet dancing. She released a new album this year called Warm Chris. I’m not totally familiar with that yet, though the catchy Tick Tock was on my radar. That came quite early in the set, which drew mainly from songs from Warm Chris and its predecessor, 2019’s Designer. As usual Aldous sang some of her songs sitting down with her acoustic guitar, and others while doing her distinctive dance moves. There was a sequence of real beauty a few songs in: first Treasure and then Fixture Picture, both from Designer. Both acoustic, with subtle support from the band. I was still standing near the back with Jon and Gab at that point, but decided I had to get further forward for the rest, and made my way along the right hand side to somewhere quite near the front. It was a wonderful show, other highlights being The Barrel (in which the ferret is shown to the egg) and old favourite Imagining my Man from Party. So engrossed was I that I didn’t notice that towards the end, the sky was shot through with lightning. And, shortly after the concert ended, the heavens opened. It was the first rain of any note during the festival hours – we really got lucky, given the forecast in the days ahead.

Jon and I headed towards the campsite: the others geared up for the next few hours of entertainment. Unfortunately, that didn’t include Yard Act. Their show was cancelled due to the electrical storm. The shows in the Tipi were halted for a while, but resumed later. But Yard Act didn’t for some reason. On the way back we stopped near the cider bus, where Tom knew a few south London people who had gathered there. One of them was Sophie Harris from Modern Woman, back in red, and rather bedraggled after the rain. I had to go up and tell her how much I’d enjoyed her show. She seemed pleased and we chatted briefly about the other shows I’d seen them play this year. It turned out that all the tuning that delayed their set at Wide Awake was caused by a broken guitar string. It was a nice way to end proceedings.

We finished off the wine box back at the tent and reviewed the day – and weekend. A wonderful array of music stretched over the past four days. From Joe and the Shitboys to Aldous Harding – the ridiculous to the sublime. Some discoveries, some old favourites, and a great vibe throughout. As I write, Jon and I have already bought our tickets for next year.

Here’s to End of the Road 2023!

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All Points East festival, Victoria Park, Hackney, 28 August 2022

The All Points East festival, featuring a series of one day concerts, has been taking place in Victoria Park in Hackney since 2018. At the time it began it usurped Field Day from Victoria Park, after a ten year run. Field Day moved to Brockwell Park in Brixton in 2018 and took on more of a dance complexion than previously. It then moved to Enfield, before returning to Victoria Park in 2021 as part of the All Points East portfolio. This year, as in 2021, there were six events. This year’s headliners were: Gorillaz, Chemical Brothers/Kraftwerk (the Field Day event), Tame Impala, The National, Disclosure and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Each supported by a strong cast, spread over three large stages, as well as a number of smaller ones. BBC 6 music had a presence too, putting on DJ sets at each event.

I was away in Scotland for the first three events and limited myself to just one day, with End of the Road coming up soon. I’d not seen Nick Cave live before, and I liked the look of the undercard, with the likes of Anna Calvi, Michael Kiwanuka and Jehnny Beth performing. And then it got even better when they added The Smile – the new vehicle for Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead – to the bill. I got there with Jon G about 3.30, in time to get a Red Stripe and wander over to the North Stage, which is a large big top tent, in the style of those at all the four day festivals I go to. Jehnny Beth was starting at ten past four. Here’s what I saw during the day.

Jehnny Beth – North Stage

Jehnny Beth is the one-time singer and band leader of Savages, a full-on rock band who made two excellent albums, Silence Yourself in 2013 and Adore Life in 2016. I really liked Adore Life, especially after seeing the band’s amazing performance at End of the Road in 2016. I put it at No 3 in my albums of the year in 2016.  Since 2017, they’ve taken time out, and there’s no sign of them returning yet. One day, hopefully. In the meantime, Jehnny Beth released an intriguing and powerful solo album, To Love is to Live, in 2020. That made No 10 in my best of the year. We saw her perform at the BBC 6 music festival in March 2020, just before lockdown. It was a brilliant in-your-face show, and this was what we got today too. It didn’t take Jehnny long to be surfing the crowd, as she loves to do. It was a relentless set of bounding beats and Jehnny’s declamations. If I have one criticism it is that it lacked a bit of variation. I did miss a couple of songs at the end in order to catch all of Anna Calvi’s set, but in what I did see there was no room for some of the more reflective tunes from To Love is to Live, such as French Countryside. Having said that, if she tours in the near future I shall hope to be there – she is a compelling performer.

Anna Calvi – East Stage (the main stage)

I didn’t know a lot about Anna Calvi’s music until I saw part of her set at Latitude in 2019. I was very taken by the visceral power of her guitar playing that day, and have since enjoyed her albums, particularly Hunter. They can’t quite capture the sound of that guitar onstage, although a song like Indies or Paradise gets close. There’s a real drama to her songs, and something that occasionally brings David Bowie to mind. You could say the same about Jehnny Beth – I think they have quite a lot in common. Today’s show was as dramatic as you can be on a big stage in the sunshine in mid-afternoon, Anna dressed in black suit and white shirt against a red backdrop. And that guitar rocked hard again. With the benefit of the screens I noticed that she plays a lot of slide when she is getting her guitar to screech. I find it captivating. I would like to see her play indoors sometime, when there would be a new level of atmospherics to set against those searing solos.

Bonnie Kemplay – Play Next stage

After Anna Calvi had finished on the East Stage, I had the option of rushing over to the West Stage, the other end of the arena, to catch a bit of Aldous Harding, before rushing back for the main attraction of the day for me, The Smile, on the East Stage. There was also the 90s psychedelia of Spiritualized on the North Stage. I decided to stay in the vicinity and noticed that there was a band playing on the nearby Play Next stage, a venue for new artists. There were about a hundred people scattered around the stage, very few right at the front. The crowd seemed as diffident as the band on stage, but were responding enthusiastically at the end of the songs. Centre stage was Bonnie Kemplay, on vocals and guitar. On the first few songs I heard Bonnie was playing acoustic guitar – once she sorted out her tunings, which were giving her trouble. I thought I detected a Scottish accent as she introduced the songs, which were classic sensitive singer-songwriter style. Then she picked up the electric guitar, and I definitely got a connection with the likes of Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy. All of which is great, in my book! It was a relaxing, enjoyable interlude.

I read later that Bonnie is indeed Scottish, from Edinburgh. Last year she won the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge award for new artists. That was from amongst 10,000 entries. So she clearly has a positive future in prospect. Live, the band are a bit rooted to the spot at the moment – diffident as I noted earlier. It may be lack of experience – Bonnie mentioned that she hadn’t been able to play (live, I assume) for 18 months because of a repetitive strain injury. One to watch.

The Smile – East Stage

The Smile are the latest side project of Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood, supported by Tom Skinner from jazz group Sons of Kemet on drums. They released a seriously good album this year called A Light for Attracting Attention. It’s not Radiohead, but it could be; and in the absence of anything new from that quarter, it is a very welcome development. They played three concerts earlier this year in the round, at Magazine, which I think is near the Dome in London. There’s a video recording of one of those concerts, which is well worth watching.

The set today was mostly from the album, although there was a new song, possibly called Bending Hectic, which still sounded like a work in progress. Like Anna Calvi, the impact was lessened a bit by performing in broad daylight, but it was an intriguing, if slightly self-indulgent performance. Johnny and Thom both played guitar, bass and keys at various stages, with Johnny mostly head down as usual, face covered by the floppy fringe. At one point he went Jimmy Page and got the violin bow out to conjure unusual sounds out of his (bass) guitar. The set ended strongly with the funky bounce of The Smoke – could easily be a track from The King of Limbs  – and the clatter of You Will Never Work in Television Again. But the highlight for me was Free in the Knowledge, which has anthem potential, in the manner of Karma Police. The last thing the band would want are all these Radiohead comparisons, I’m sure; but they are inescapable. Thom did make one reference to the music not being what some of the crowd may have come for, but the set was very well-received. After all, Radiohead fans are used to change – it is a fundamental part of the band’s appeal; and The Smile feels like the next step in their evolution.

Michael Kiwanuka – West Stage/ Sleaford Mods – North Stage

I’ve got a lot of time for Michael Kiwanuka, without being bowled over by his music. I think it’s because it takes me back to a combination of the soul music and the blues rock of the early 70s. Think Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder colliding with Free and Bad Company. These are all very good things in my estimation, some of my favourite music of all time. So shouldn’t I love Michael Kiwanuka’s music, as many people do? I do like the odd song, but whenever I listen to a full album, I find myself getting a bit… bored. Anyway, I’ve been wanting to see him live for a while, having missed him at various festivals in the past. And I really liked the show he did with Jules Holland during lockdown – along with his talent and musical grounding he seemed like a very nice person.

So I went along to a very busy West Stage after The Smile, and prepared to discover the Michael Kiwanuka I’d been missing. Except I didn’t. It was very slick, the backing singers were soulful, the set looked great, he played some tasteful guitar… and after three or four songs I got a bit bored. I thought to myself, why don’t I go and check out Sleaford Mods? You know what you are going to get with those lads. So I popped into the North Stage tent and enjoyed the primitive beats and Jason Williamson’s rants for a bit. The crowd were loving it – those beats can be very catchy. Andrew Fearn, the laptop man with the can of lager, has taken to dancing around after he has pressed the right keys. Anger and jollity at the same time. I missed Mork and Mindy, which I like a lot, but enjoyed tapping a toe for 15 minutes or so. Then it was time to get a drink and find a good spot to watch Nick Cave.

No usuable photos of Sleaford Mods, I’m afraid. Some clouds instead!

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – East Stage

All Points East’s scheduling is unusual in that all the other stages finish before the headline act comes on. There’s plenty of space and good screens and sound system, so the lack of alternatives wasn’t a problem. I stood quite a way back to the side, but had an excellent view, even if Nick Cave and the band were specks on the stage. Nick Cave is an artist who I admire without ever having really got into his music in a big way. I’m not quite sure why; but seeing what I’ve been missing was the main reason for coming to All Points East today. I had a good listen to Spotify’s This Is Nick Cave playlist the other day, concluded that I was familiar with quite a lot of his best-known songs, and that after about an hour and a half I started to lose interest. There are only so many grand, doomy ballads that I can take.

And so it was with the concert tonight. It was long for a festival show – two and a quarter hours. A real feast for Nick Cave fans, a trawl through many of his greatest hits, with a few surprises along the way. I enjoyed it a lot, particularly the songs which took me into Tom Waits territory, like Jubilee Street and Red Right Hand. And what was not to like about a rendition of The Mercy Seat? Nick paraded around the stage, looking like a man who’s just taken his tie off as the party hits the early hours, a little ruffled but still stylish. He was in good humour – a nice counterpoint to the content of the songs! – and communed enthusiastically with the fans in the front rows (who’d paid extra for the privilege). The band were very slick, the backing singers adding heft to the choruses. Long-time partner Warren Ellis was resplendent with long grey beard, and emitted some strange howls from time to time. I was impressed, but also found myself thinking about the time, and the attraction of beating the crowds on the way back to Mile End tube. Is this the onset of old age? I don’t think so – that’s already happened! I had taken a look at Setlist FM and seen that they had played the same set around Europe this summer, so decided to go just after that hour and a half mark, my Nick Cave tolerance limit. That coincided with The Mercy Seat, followed by The Ship Song, two anthems to finish things off nicely. I’m sure the rest was excellent, but I ended on a high, and managed to get home in time to watch a recording of Match of the Day 2. A very nice way to end the day, with West Ham winning for the first time this season!

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A Thames Journey: (9) From Hammersmith to Westminster

Down by Battersea

In the previous episode of this story, the story of the Thames’ journey from source to estuary, we ended at Hammersmith Bridge, just as it had re-opened to pedestrians and cyclists. I published that piece last September – where have the last ten months gone? But onwards we go, from Hammersmith Bridge – still closed to road traffic – to Westminster Bridge in the heart of London.

On this part of the river’s journey it drops to the south-east, past Putney, to Wandsworth on the south side, before it begins to snake its way north-eastwards to Westminster. The length of the journey varies according to which side you travel on; on the south side it’s around ten miles; on the north side, just under nine. You can walk both; but after Putney it’s better to walk on the south side, where there is a footpath path along the riverbank much of the way. On the north side you find yourself circumnavigating private property – notably the Hurlingham Club – or walking alongside roads. Either way there is plenty to see and do – this is London.

The journey from Hammersmith Bridge to Putney Bridge is a couple of miles. When I used to cycle this length of the river, I’d usually head towards Putney on the south side, which is largely straightforward towpath, and then come back on the Fulham side. Now I prefer to walk, I mostly take the Fulham/Hammersmith option, as I’m less likely to be doing both on the same walk. It’s more varied – and has plenty of pubs if you fancy stopping for a refreshment. If your preference is for a peaceful stroll, with trees along the bank and the gentle rippling of the river against the shore, then the south side is for you.

Setting off from Hammersmith Bridge you pass the Riverside Studios, a centre for the arts, which reopened in 2018 after a major rebuild. Nearby there is a statue of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the 18th century landscape architect, who lived in the area. We are now in Fulham Reach and its new apartment blocks. I wouldn’t mind one of those flats overlooking the river, as I love the views on this stretch, particularly at twilight. On the south side it’s wilderness of sorts – the London Wetland Centre and then just downstream, behind the trees, the Barn Elms playing fields, which hosted, amongst others, the London Oratory school. My son Kieran and all his friends used to love the annual 5-a-side football tournaments there – the one time they were allowed to play football rather than rugby.

Barn Elms opposite

As you head towards Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham FC (newly promoted – once more – to the Premier League) you pass the River Café, one of London’s most popular restaurants. I’ve been there once, and yes, the food and everything else was outstanding. I tried not to think about the impact on my bank balance! There’s nothing flash about the place – it’s just really good.

River Cafe

In June last year, as we were coming out of covid restrictions, I had a stroll from Hammersmith to Putney, and was surprised to see a flotilla of boats on the river near the football ground. Maybe it’s a regular occurrence in summer, but it was the first time I’d seen it here. There’s usually more activity down by Putney Bridge. It felt good to see them, a symbol of our release.

Oddly I have never been to see a football match at Craven Cottage. Brentford, QPR, Chelsea, in West London, many times. West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham many, many times. But not Fulham, one of the nearest. No reason, really, just never happened. The ground has had a major rebuild, which is still going on. The photos below are from last year and were taken from the other side of the river, the best way to get the full picture.

Craven Cottage 2021

After you’ve walked around Craven Cottage you come to Bishop’s Park, which extends all the way to Putney Bridge. It’s a multi-purpose park: first, as you walk towards the bridge, there’s an open space where people play football, cricket, have picnics or just lie in the sun, when there is sun. In the middle is a large children’s play area, facilities for tennis and bowls and a pond; and then the more manicured gardens take over. Adjacent to the park is Fulham Palace, which has its own gardens, and is open to visitors. It was the home of the Bishop of London until the 1970s. And right at the end of the park lies All Saints Church (see below). Alternatively, you can walk alongside the river on a path mostly separated from the rest of the park by trees and bushes. This is my preferred route, looking across to the Putney boathouses and then towards the bridge. As with Fulham Reach, some of my favourite views are at twilight, which, in winter, is happening in mid-afternoon.

Bishop’s Park was opened in 1893 by London County Council, on land provided by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, now the Church Commissioners. Wikipedia tells me that scenes for The Omen were filmed here! Something I only discovered last year, because I usually walk along the river path, is a memorial to members of the International Brigade, who died fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.

Fulham and Putney are regarded as twin towns either side of the bridge. Putney Bridge tube station is on the Fulham side. There are churches on both sides; the aforementioned All Saints in Fulham, St Mary’s in Putney. St Mary’s now opens up to a café called the Putney Pantry. You can get a nice breakfast there. There’s a farmers’ market there on Saturdays.

All Saints, Fulham

St Mary’s, Putney

Peter Ackroyd retells a story of how both places got their names. Two giant sisters, building the two churches, only had one hammer. They would throw it across the river to each other, crying, Put it nigh! and Heave it full home!  More prosaically, the names may derive from landing place of Putta and the place of fowls or foul home, a muddy settlement.

The first bridge at Putney was opened in 1729, although during the English Civil War, a temporary bridge of boats had been improvised. Prior to the construction of the bridge, there had been a ferry between Fulham and Putney. Legend has it that in 1720 Sir Robert Walpole, soon to be Prime Minister for over twenty years, was hurrying back from Kingston, where he had been to meet King George I. The ferry was on the Fulham side at the time, and the waterman, who was drinking in the Swan pub, ignored Walpole’s calls. Walpole vowed then that a bridge would replace the ferry. According to Peter Ackroyd, a London MP denounced the bridge, claiming, “The erection of a bridge over the Thames at Putney will not only injure the great and important city which I have the honour to represent, not only destroy its correspondence and commerce, but actually annihilate it altogether.” MPs talking utter nonsense is nothing new.

The current stone bridge dates from 1886, though it has had a few repairs along the way. It’s not the most beautiful, and walking across it with all the traffic is not the greatest of pleasures. But the views up river both from the bridge and the boathouse shore are great. there’s one spot when you can see the Wembley arch lurking behind the trees, most unexpectedly. This where the Boat Race has started most years since 1845, something I wrote about in the previous piece.

The bridge from the boathouses

View from downstream

Looking upstream

Spot the arch

Half Moon, Putney

Putney can lay claim to being a home of democracy and individual rights in England, and, indeed, around the world. In 1647 what became known as the Putney Debates took place in St Mary’s Church, chaired by Oliver Cromwell, soon to be victorious over the Royalists in the English Civil War. The discussion centred on a manifesto proposed by the Levellers, who had gained support in Cromwell’s New Model Army. An Agreement of the People argued for a range of parliamentary and voting reforms, religious freedom, equality before the law, and the abolition of conscription, amongst other things. The Levellers were ahead of their time – Cromwell eventually executed most of the leaders. But their manifesto was an inspiration for the United States’ declaration of independence 150 years later.

On a somewhat different note, Putney was the second place I lived in London. I was in a five bedroom flat at the top of Putney Hill for a year, mostly in 1981. The local pub was called the Green Man, on Putney Common. It’s still there. Apart from the flat and the Green Man, the place I probably spent most time in was the Our Price record shop on the High Street, not far from the bridge. I was earning reasonable money for the first time in my life, and a lot of it was spent completing my collection of the likes of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder, as well as devouring the new music of the time.

But back to the river! it’s best to stay on the south side at this point, although you do have to walk along a residential road for a bit, until you reach Wandsworth Park. You can walk along the river briefly on the north side, crossing over at Putney Railway bridge, which has a walkway. Absurdly, I only realised this last year, after so many years walking or cycling past it.

Looking downstream towards Wandsworth

After the railway bridge the north side is blocked for a while by the grounds of the Hurlingham Club, one of London’s posher institutions. I don’t think it should be allowed to prevent access to the riverbank: there should be a public pathway, separated from the club’s grounds by all means. But the river is for the people! The Thames path doesn’t really get going along the river again until after Wandsworth Bridge. It then takes you past a number of new housing developments, with all the usual accompanying infrastructure, until you get to Chelsea Creek and the site of the old Lots Road power station and the pumping station. The new London super sewer is also being built underground round here. I’ve only ever walked this stretch once, preferring the south side. Once you reach Cheyne Walk though, it becomes very familiar. You do have a road alongside you at this point, but there’s an interesting walk up to Battersea Bridge, past the huge houseboats on the shore and the plush houses on the other side of Cheyne Walk – home to the rich and famous.

Hurlingham opposite

Lots Road power station

View from Wandsworth Bridge

Houseboats near Cheyne Walk

Cheyne Walk near Battersea Bridge

Wandsworth Park, on the south side, isn’t particularly glamorous, but it’s well used, and I do like the views of the river, especially at low tide.

After the park, there’s a new apartment block development called, imaginatively, the Riverside Quarter.  I can recommend a pub on the edge of the development, near the park, called the Cat’s Back. It serves Harvey’s Sussex ales, one of the few London pubs to do so. On the other side of the development we come to where the River Wandle joins the Thames, known by some as the Wandle Delta! I’m rather a fan of the river, having walked the length of it a couple of times. It rises in the Croydon area, in two places, and winds its way through south-west London to Wandsworth, which takes its name from the river. If you visit both sources, the length is about 14 miles, one of the longest in the capital. You can read my blog about the Wandle here. The mouth of the river used to be the site of the Youngs Brewery. That has now moved out of London, to be replaced by residential developments in what is still known as the Ram Quarter; but the smaller Sambrooks brewery remains in the area. It brews some very fine beers, including its Wandle best bitter. There’s a pub near the Wandle in Earlsfield called the Wandle. It serves Sambrooks beers, so you can be drinking Wandle in the Wandle by the Wandle!

On the other side of the Wandle you have to walk off river, on Smugglers Way for a short stretch, before returning to the riverside. There’s an old and popular pub called the Ship just before you come to Wandsworth Bridge. It’s a very functional bridge, which apparently was painted blue in its most recent incarnation in 1940 to disguise it from German bombers. You can’t even see that at the moment as it is being refurbished, while remaining open to traffic. The next stretch, on the way to Battersea Park, is mostly apartment blocks, but has a few interesting sights, including Battersea Railway Bridge, London Heliport and a lovely church called St Mary’s, Battersea. There’s a lot of birdlife along the shore too.

View of Wandsworth Bridge from the Wandle, 2021

London Heliport

These photos of the birds are from 2018. Wandsworth Bridge, blue in the background.

Looking toward Battersea railway bridge

Low and high tide contrasts in the next two.

St Mary’s, Battersea

Just before Battersea Park there are two road (and foot) bridges: first Battersea Bridge and then the more photogenic Albert Bridge. Battersea Bridge was opened in the 1770s, like Wandsworth Bridge, and was an equally unsuccessful toll bridge. For a while it was known as Chelsea as well as Battersea Bridge, until Chelsea Bridge was opened in the 1850s. It was neglected and became quite dangerous to cross. It was the last London Bridge to remain built of wood. Perhaps because of its position, connecting Battersea with prosperous Chelsea, and at a sharp bend in the Thames, it has been painted by a number of notable artists, including Turner, Whistler and Pissarro. On the Chelsea side there’s a statue of Whistler nearby.

Competition between bridges intensified in this part of London in the 19th century, with Vauxhall Bridge opening in 1816, Chelsea Bridge in 1858 and Albert Bridge in 1873. The Vauxhall Bridge owners had to pay Battersea Bridge compensation for loss of income and the Albert Bridge company had to purchase Battersea Bridge to keep it going. Eventually this was all resolved by a good bit of state intervention: in 1877 the Metropolis Toll Bridges Act was passed, which allowed the Metropolitan Board of Works to buy all the London bridges between Hammersmith and Waterloo and end all the tolls.

Battersea Bridge was rebuilt in the late 1880s and reopened in 1890. Trams operated on it until 1950. Its position on a bend in the river has made it a hazard to shipping, and there have been collisions throughout its history. In 1950 a coal barge hit the bridge, causing significant damage. The tram held the bridge together, but it was removed during the reconstruction. Another large barge called the James Prior collided with the bridge in 2005, causing structural damage, and a closure to all but buses until January 2006. I must admit I have no recollection of this, despite being a London resident since 1980. But I do vaguely recall the incident of the bottlenose whale, which made its way up the Thames to Battersea Bridge in January 2006. Sadly it didn’t survive, and its skeleton is now in the Natural History museum.

The original Albert Bridge has never been replaced – a rarity in London – but it has been significantly modified, with suspension added to its “cable-stay” design ten years after it was opened, and supporting concrete piers added in 1973. It was known as “The Trembling Lady” in its early days, on account of its tendency to vibrate, particularly when used by the nearby troops from Chelsea Barracks. (A similar wobbliness afflicted the Millennium Bridge when it first opened in 2000.) Because of its position on the bend in the river, it has been lit at night for some time. It was painted green between 1905 and 1981, changing to yellow at that point. In 1992 it acquired its pink blue and green hue, and new low-voltage lighting. Because of its structural weaknesses there are restrictions on the traffic that can use it, which include the “Chelsea Tractor” four wheel drive vehicles popular with the denizens of Chelsea and Battersea. In the early 70s there were proposals to turn it into a “garden bridge” for pedestrians only, but the motorists won the ensuing debate. So the short-lived (and expensive) Boris Johnson/ Joanna Lumley proposal from a few years ago wasn’t the first of its kind!

Battersea Bridge

Whistler

Albert Bridge

View from the Chelsea side

Battersea Park is a large and varied space, with sports facilities, a lovely garden area and large pond, a bandstand, children’s play area and a nice spacious path along the river, where you can’t miss the Peace Pagoda, built in 1985. From the riverside you get some interesting perspectives as you look east. The Shard lurks in the background, but looks like it’s in completely the wrong place, on the wrong side of the river. It’s those bends – it is actually further north than Battersea.

Interesting fact: Battersea Park hosted the first ever football match played under Football association rules, in 1864. And Wanderers FC, the first winners of the FA Cup in 1872, were based there.

The shifting Shard from Battersea Park

Bordering Battersea Park on its east side is Chelsea Bridge. This was first opened in 1858, and like Battersea Bridge, was soon deemed structurally unsound. Initially it was called Victoria Bridge, but was renamed to avoid the royal family being associated with its potential collapse! The bridge was demolished in the 1930s and replaced in 1937 with the current suspension bridge. It was popular with motorcyclists who staged races across the bridge. In 1970 one such meeting erupted into violence and one man was killed. Whether that signalled the end of the races, I’m not sure. On the south side the Thames path goes under the bridge and you come out to a stretch of modern apartments, which I think look quite interesting, especially when you set them against the background of Battersea Power Station, which now comes into view.

Battersea Power Station is now free of scaffolding and other works and looks every inch one of London’s most iconic buildings. Music fans will remember it adorning the cover of Pink Floyd’s 70s album Animals – complete with floating pig! I wrote about the power station and the new tube station last September. You can read the blog here . It began life as power station in the 1930s and was finally decommissioned in 1973. From then on its fate hung in the balance as a variety of proposals came and went. Finally it was acquired by a Malaysian consortium, which has restored its structure, including the four chimneys, and installed a range of apartments, offices and shops. Around it, a variety of other blocks have risen up – some are still being built – primarily for residential purposes. These and other developments in nearby Nine Elms have attracted quite a lot of criticism for ruining the character of the area, but I think it was pretty desolate beforehand. My main objection is that many of the apartments lie empty for the most part, being investments by foreign owners, rather than somewhere to live. In a city where there is an acute housing shortage, and young people in particular struggle to afford exorbitant rents, this is a scandalous waste of valuable resources – a classic example of where a market is so dysfunctional that state intervention is needed. Just like when all the bridges were bought up in the 19th century. I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d like to see rules whereby any apartment that is unoccupied for more than, say, six months every year has to be rented out at an affordable rate. No doubt people would try find ways around the rules, but something needs to be done to address the problem.

On the positive side, not only does Battersea Power Station look splendid, but an infrastructure of bars, restaurants and entertainment has sprung up around it. I’m a fan of Battersea Brewery, under the railway arches, where you can get a very nice unfiltered lager.

Shiny and new

One of the odd neighbours

This next shot goes back to 2014, I think. It’s taken from Ebury Bridge in Pimlico. The  Thames is somewhere in between. The train is heading for Victoria station.

After the power station you do, unfortunately, have to walk up to the main road, Nine Elms Lane and walk along that for a while; though you do get to see the new US Embassy, which opened in 2018. It’s a distinctive building, some would say ugly. Donald Trump hated it – the previous embassy was in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair – describing it as “off location”, “a bad deal”, “horrible” and “lousy”. Not a man for understatement, as we know.

Back on the riverside, you come to St George’s Wharf, another relatively new development. Again, a lot of people dislike this, but I think it’s pretty striking when viewed from a distance – there’s something a bit sci-fi about it. On the other side of nearby Vauxhall Bridge sits the MI6 building, decked out in a similar colour scheme. For a secretive agency it’s quite an ostentatious home – much featured (and bombed) in recent James Bond films. The MI5 headquarters, situated on the north side of the river by Lambeth Bridge, is much more discreet.

St George’s Wharf and Tower

Vauxhall Bridge in the foreground

MI6

MI5 behind Lambeth Bridge

Vauxhall Bridge must be one of the busiest in London, connecting the Vauxhall gyratory system (a driver’s nightmare) with Vauxhall Bridge Road on the north side, leading up to Victoria. The bridge was built in the early 19th century. It took five years, as different designs were considered. Opening in 1816, it was London’s first iron bridge, and was briefly known as the Regent’s Bridge. As I mentioned earlier, compensation had to be paid to Battersea Bridge, as well as the local ferry service, which became obsolete. As with many of the bridges it fell into poor condition, and was replaced by the current concrete structure in 1906.

The name Vauxhall derives from the manor of an Anglo-French noble Faulkes de Breaute, built around 1200. He eventually fell out with King Henry III and was exiled to France, but Faulkes Hall remained. It later became Foxhall and then Vauxhall. Vauxhall was mostly marshland, but from the late 17th century became the site of the Spring and later Pleasure Gardens. These were a major attraction for Londoners for a couple of centuries, until they closed in 1859. The land was redeveloped; but after slum clearance in the late 20th, a new public park was opened, and remains to this day.

I have probably walked over Vauxhall Bridge more than any other in London, as for many years I walked from Vauxhall station over to Millbank on the north side of the river, just down from Tate Britain. And then back again in the evening. In the mornings I’d sometimes stop in the small park on the north side by the bridge and eat some breakfast from Little Waitrose or Pret a Manger on the Vauxhall side. Anything to delay going into the office!  There’s a sculpture in the park by Henry Moore called Locking Piece. One morning, with the sun glistening in the water, I took a few photos of the heron on the shore. Almost looks like a black and white photo.

Vauxhall Bridge from upstream

I worked at 30 Millbank, next to Millbank Tower, for about four years until I retired in 2018.  In that time, I got to know the local pubs pretty well, mainly those in Vauxhall. Favourites included the Riverside on St George’s Wharf (modern, but nice to sit outside on a balmy evening – or on a sunny afternoon in retirement), Zeitgeist (a German bar on the splendidly named Black Prince Road), Mother Kelly’s on Albert Embankment (great range of craft ales under the railway arches) and The Rose, further along on Albert Embankment (the scene of my retirement party!). A special mention too for the Morpeth Arms on the north side, next to Chelsea Art College, where the world was put to rights with colleagues on many an evening after work.

The Rose

I worked for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority – IPSA – which was set up to regulate MPs’ expenses and pay after the expenses scandal in 2008-9. I was the policy director there from 2010 until I retired in September 2018. It wasn’t always pleasant, but we achieved what we were set up for – to make MPs’ funding transparent and clean. People still disagree with what MPs get paid and what they can claim for; but they have an important job to do, even if some of them do it pretty badly. I’ll say no more!

View from high up in Millbank Tower. Lambeth Bridge in foreground.

Millbank Tower, with 30 Millbank on the right.

Leaving IPSA for the last time!

Both sides of the river provide enjoyable walks between Vauxhall Bridge and Westminster Bridge – with Lambeth Bridge in between. On the south side you have to divert around MI6 at the moment, but then join the riverbank, with Albert Embankment gardens on your right for a while. Along the way there’s a yellow boat, permanently moored, called Tamesis Dock. If you can get a seat on the outdoor deck, it’s a nice place to have a drink. Downstairs it’s often party time. By Lambeth Bridge, you pass Lambeth Palace, tucked away behind the trees in summer. It has been the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury since around 1200. Not sure why, but I’ve never visited. One to rectify. The wall separating the palace, Archbishop’s Park and St Thomas’ Hospital from the Thames Path has taken on a new role since March 2021 as the National Covid Memorial Wall. It is decorated with 150,000 pink and red hearts to represent those who have died. It was started by families of the bereaved and attracted support through social media. People visit and write tributes to loved ones in the hearts. It’s an affecting sight as you walk the length of the wall.

Another from Millbank Tower – Lambeth Palace in foreground

The National Covid Memorial Wall

As you walk up to Westminster Bridge, the Houses of Parliament on the other side of the river loom larger. Big Ben has now been restored to its full glory, and I wandered along the river and then over to Westminster to take some up-to-date photos for this blog. I’ll end with those; but first let’s cross over to the north side for the walk up to the Palace of Westminster (its formal name). I mentioned Chelsea Art College earlier. Something of a misnomer, given that it is in Millbank. When I wasn’t walking to work from Vauxhall station, I’d be coming from Pimlico and liked to stroll across the square which the college surrounded on three sides. In the summer I’d see the students sitting on the grass and rather envy them, spending their time studying the creative arts. Often there would be exhibitions in the square, mostly the work of the students; one time there were non-melting blocks of ice lined up; another time a fascinating wooden structure called The Smile. It was designed to show new techniques for building with wood and you could look inside. It underwent a spectacular destruction when its time was up.

The open side of the square leads over to Tate Britain, one of the great art galleries we are blessed with in London. It is the home of British art, with a large permanent collection, including the largest collection of works of JMW Turner, which has its own special gallery. It’s a wonderful space, rarely busy, where you can marvel at the genius of Turner and travel serenely through his creative journey. Additionally, there are always one or two fascinating exhibitions. The most popular of recent years must have been the David Hockney retrospective in 2017; earlier this year I was very taken by Life Between Islands, an exhibition of Caribbean-British art and culture since the 1950s.

Tate Britain opposite

Christmas Lights, 2017

Heading past Millbank Tower and MI5, you come to Lambeth Bridge. Its red hue is said to reflect the colour of the benches in the House of Lords, whereas the green of Westminster Bridge represents those of the Commons. The bridge opened in 1862 and was rebuilt in 1932. It replaced a horse ferry, which operated between the palace of Westminster and Lambeth Palace. Hence the name of Horseferry Road which leads from Lambeth Bridge up to Victoria.

From our kitchen in IPSA you could look out at Lambeth Bridge with the towers of the City of London in the distance, Lambeth Palace in the foreground. It was an ever-changing scene, depending on the light. I even painted a picture of it – from a different photo!

Back in 2017 London caught the tail end of Hurricane Ophelia. It sucked in air from the Sahara, so that London was suffused in an eerie red-purple light. I took some time out from the office to try to capture the light on my iPhone. It didn’t quite record the intensity of the colour, but still made for some captivating scenes from Lambeth Bridge.

On the other side of the bridge you can approach the Palace of Westminster through the Victoria Tower Gardens. Victoria Tower is the first part of the building that you encounter as you approach from the south, with the river now flowing northwards. Today’s neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament, which provide such a distinctive landmark, are a fairly recent construct, having been completed in 1870, following a devastating fire in 1834. There have been palaces and seats of government at Westminster since the time of King Cnut in the 11th century. At this time the site was known as Thorney Island, an eyot surrounded by offshoots of the River Tyburn, which is now underground. In the same century Edward the Confessor constructed a royal palace on the site, around the same time as he constructed Westminster Abbey, which continues to this day to sit opposite the Houses of Parliament. The oldest remaining part of the Palace is Westminster Hall, which was built during the reign of King William II in the late 11th century. It is open to the public, who can wander around this part of the palace freely. It’s an awe-inspiring place, the scene of so many important moments in British history. For centuries it was the centre of the English legal system, the home of its highest courts. It was Westminster Hall where King Charles I was ordered to be executed in 1649.

Victoria Tower and gardens, when we had grass!

For many years I had a pass for the Houses of Parliament, first as a senior civil servant, advising the Lord Chancellor/Justice Secretary on various policy issues. I have sat in those cramped officials’ boxes in both Houses, desperately hoping that no-one asks a question that we can’t answer when the minister needs help!  At IPSA we were frequently “invited” to attend parliamentary committees so MPs could vent their frustrations. All part of the job, and if you prepared properly they were pretty straightforward, if unpleasant. But I have to say that I never lost the sense of privilege of being in that place, our home of democracy, for all its defects. You could feel the history.

The visual star of the show these days is of course Big Ben. The tower was designed by Augustus Pugin and was completed in 1859. In recent years it was surrounded by scaffolding as renovation work was undertaken, but in April this year the work was completed and Big Ben is now back in full effect, reclaiming its position as the symbol of London. The only problem is, the rest of the palace is falling apart. Major repairs are needed throughout the building, but for this to happen the MPs and peers will need to move out. For years now they have prevaricated – fearful perhaps that the cost of renovation will attract public opprobrium and they will forever be separated from their home of centuries.

View from Victoria Embankment

View from Parliament Square

Westminster Abbey

Dean’s Yard, at the back of the Abbey, with the World Re-imagined exhibition

And so we come to Westminster Bridge, now the oldest surviving road bridge in London. It first opened in 1750, after years of resistance and even sabotage by local ferrymen. Over time it began to subside, and it was replaced by a new bridge in 1862, around the same time as the new Palace of Westminster was emerging. It seems only right to end this journey with a photo of the two together, looking great in the August sunshine.

Next time we will be heading from Westminster to Greenwich, through the heart of old London, with lashings of the new. Here’s a hint of what is to come, taken from Westminster Bridge.

Needs no introduction!

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Sportsthoughts (170) – Premier League predictions for 2022-23

Is this season starting earlier than ever? The first game, Crystal Palace v Arsenal, takes place this Friday, 5 August. I think that’s a week earlier than last season, and presumably has something to do with the intervention of the World Cup in November/December. Something to have a rant about another time; I’ll stay focused on the PL in this blog!

Let’s start with a brief review of last season’s predictions.

Like a lot of people, I fancied Chelsea to win the league, after their Champions League victory and the addition of Romelu Lukaku to the squad. The last piece of the jigsaw we thought, a proper striker. It didn’t happen. Tuchel stuck to his fluid front three formation, and Lukaku didn’t adapt. He had injuries – and clearly wasn’t happy. Maybe Tuchel didn’t really want him. All this transpired before Russia invaded Ukraine and Abramovich became persona non grata, the club seized by the government, before being sold on to the Todd Boehly consortium. In the circumstances Chelsea did well to maintain a pretty high level of performance, and come third, 18 points behind second-placed Liverpool.

It was a season utterly dominated by Manchester City and Liverpool, City winning the league by one point, after a dramatic end to the season, Liverpool winning both cups – both on penalties against Chelsea, after 0-0 draws. Was this all very boring? No, not really – City and Liverpool were both great to watch, and both the finals were as entertaining as 0-0 draws can be. The League Cup penalty shoot-out went down to the two keepers at 10-10, with Kepa, brought on for his penalty saving prowess – non-existent on the day – hilariously ballooning his shot over the bar.

But please, we don’t want a repeat of the same teams dominating this season! That really would be boring.

Elsewhere, I overestimated the potential of Aston Villa and Leeds, and underestimated Tottenham and my own team, West Ham. My local team Brentford also did much better than I expected, though I didn’t predict them to go down. I got two of the relegation teams right: Burnley and Watford. It was sad to see Burnley go down after a few seasons punching above their weight, but they shouldn’t have sacked Sean Dyche – he might just have found a way to keep them up. Norwich were the bottom team – I thought they’d do better, after walking away with the Championship the previous season. Watch out Fulham this time!

Now for my two favourite teams: starting with the second, Arsenal. I correctly predicted fifth for them. But really, they blew a great chance to get back into Champions League football, with a couple of feeble results against lesser teams late on. So typical of recent seasons; but there’s a sense of things coming together under Arteta, with some talented young players establishing themselves. As for West Ham, seventh was a good achievement, but again, we could have done better. The lack of squad depth was our undoing towards the end. But, with the Europa League semi-final, this was objectively one of the Irons’ best seasons of all time. Add that to sixth the previous year, and huge credit must be given to David Moyes and his management team. Aaah, but we were so close to Champions League football, via the Europa League. The team seemed to freeze a bit against Eintracht Frankfurt, who were not a superior team. Inexperience at this level, perhaps. We would surely have beaten Rangers in the final. Anyway, a good season, but expectations are now raised. The only problem is that the “Big Six” continue to reinforce their squads. What chance for anyone else? And yet there are always teams that break through…

Which brings me on to this season’s predictions.

I don’t want to do it, I really don’t, but I can’t see past Man City and Liverpool for the title. The rest have an 18 point gap to make up. That could come from City and Liverpool getting fewer points, which might happen if the competition gets better; but neither side is standing still. City have taken some risks in selling Sterling and Jesus – both to potential rivals in Chelsea and Arsenal. But they have added Erling Haaland from Dortmund, a goal-scoring machine, as well as the young Argentine striker Julian Alvarez. Cue a more direct attacking approach, with Jack Grealish playing a more prominent role in his second season? Could be interesting. Liverpool have refreshed up front too, replacing Sadio Mane (sold to Bayern) with the Uruguayan Darwin Nunez, from Benfica. Like Haaland, a more conventional No 9 than his predecessor. So are we about to see a more English-style game from the top two teams? The end of the false nine? Tell that to Thomas Tuchel.

As to who will come out on top, I’ll go for City to do it again. They have just a bit more quality, especially in midfield, where they have reinforced their defensive side with Kalvin Phillips from Leeds. We always wonder whether they’ll be distracted by the so-far thwarted desire to win the Champions League. I think there’s enough depth in the squad to cope with both challenges.

The competition below the top two looks more interesting. It could be a London thing, a three-way battle between Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs, though you can’t rule out Man United coming good under ten Hag (I’m going to though, while Fred and McTominay remain at the heart of their midfield). ‘Tis the season of optimism about Arsenal, newly boosted by the arrival of Jesus and Zinchenko from Man City. They have been on great form in pre-season friendlies, beating Chelsea 4-0 and Sevilla 6-0. Is Gabriel Jesus their final piece of the jigsaw, providing the finishing that was still lacking last season? I think it could be enough to propel them into the top four, and I’m going for third. But I still think the gap between them and the top two is too wide. The question for Arsenal is so often about resilience, especially in central midfield and defence. I think the defence is now pretty sound, and in Ramsdale they have an excellent goal keeper. But what of that midfield? A Kalvin Phillips, or, heaven forbid, Declan Rice, would make all the difference. My son Kieran, an Arsenal fan, is a great defender of Xhaka, and likes Partey. I think Xhaka will always be too combustible, while Partey is injured too often. Still it will be fun to see how it all works out. Palace away will be a good first test.

Spurs have bought well in the summer, particularly in bringing in Richarlison from Everton. The thought of him teaming up with Son and Kane must be pretty exciting for Spurs fans. Lenglet is an interesting addition to the defence, while Djed Spence, who starred for Nottingham Forest on loan last season, could provide some interesting options at right back. Conte is a top quality manager and will get the best out of this team. If Son and Kane stay fit, Spurs look to be real top four contenders. They got a bit lucky last season, sneaking in at the end when Arsenal imploded; this time they will have City and Liverpool in their sights. Fourth for me.

That leaves Chelsea in fifth. I expect they’ll confound that, and grind their way into third place (yaaawwwn!). Maybe Sterling will give them the spark they lacked up front last season. Or maybe Tuchel’s system is just a bit too cautious to get the best out of their attackers. Then again, maybe Timo Werner will rediscover his goal-scoring touch, to add to his pace and work rate, which have made him a favourite with the Chelsea crowd. I look forward to keeping an eye on Chelsea’s progress after the odd three course lunch in the Harris suite, courtesy of my friend Dave!

And what of West Ham? The good news is that Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen haven’t been prised away yet. The addition of the Italian striker Gianluca Scamacca should add variety up front, and take some of the pressure off Antonio. It’s a shame that the new centre back Nayef Aguerd picked up an ankle injury in a friendly and needed surgery, but Ogbonna should be back. I’m assuming Flynn Downes from Swansea will be a back up to Rice and Soucek in midfield. I’m all in favour of picking up promising players from the Championship – Jarrod Bowen is a case in point. The squad still needs to be deeper, to cope with the inevitable injuries, especially in the last weeks of the season. Twice now there have been flirtations with the top four that have come to nothing because the squad has become too stretched. It’s not just us – Leicester have had the same problem. It’s all about the money in the end, and I’m not sure West Ham’s owners are willing to make the big step up. Maybe their approach is right – a gradual, manageable strengthening; not putting the club at risk. It’s a formula for upper mid-table stability, and West Ham’s fans should be grateful for that, after all the relegation traumas of the past. But expectations rise, and the grumbles get louder. Seventh again, with a run in the rather pointless European Conference, I’d say.

The team that could overtake West Ham and gatecrash the top six is Newcastle. Eddie Howe is slowly strengthening his squad, and bids have recently been made of Leicester’s James Maddison. That would be a real coup. The Saudi money is there for the long haul – expect Newcastle to be “Big Six” soon. It wouldn’t be the first time…

As for relegation, I’m going for Leeds, Fulham and Bournemouth. Fulham were supreme in the Championship; but have they the resilience for the Premier League? Can Mitrovic score even half as many as he did last season? That may be the key to Fulham’s survival. Bournemouth don’t look to have a strong enough squad to stay up. Nottingham Forest on the other hand, have been on a spending spree, and beat West Ham to Jesse Lingard. They have a well-respected manager in Steve Cooper. I’m predicting they will stay up and maybe even frighten a few teams, like Brentford last season. Maybe there’s a bit of wishful thinking – it’s been so long since Forest were in the top division; but many of my generation will always remember the team of the late 70s and 80s, managed by Clough and Taylor, with great affection. It will also make my friend Jon very happy if they stay up!

Leeds have provided great entertainment in the Premier League over the past two seasons, but the Bielsa magic wore off last season and they shipped so many goals. They brought the American Jesse Marsch in, and just survived on the last day of the season, by beating on-the-beach Brentford. They have spent the summer selling their two best players: Phillips to Man City and Raphinha to Barcelona. They have bought reinforcements, some of whom have played under Marsch before. It’s not terribly convincing. If I were Leeds fan, I’d be worried. Fingers crossed for them that striker Patrick Bamford stays fit this season.

There’s a case to be put that Brentford will suffer from second season syndrome, and struggle. Teams will have sussed them out. They have lost Christian Eriksen, who turned their season around last time, when they started to wobble. On the other hand they have made two good buys defensively: Ben Mee from Burnley and Aaron Hickey, a Scottish full back, from Bologna. They showed last season that they have a strong team spirit, play some good football and have an excellent manager in Thomas Frank. They need to hold on to Ivan Toney – a player I’d still like to see West Ham go for. On balance, I think they’ll be OK, but it may be tougher than least season.

So, in summary, these are my predictions for the 2022-23 season:

Champions – Man City. 2 – Liverpool. 3 – Arsenal. 4 – Spurs. 5 – Chelsea. 6 – Man United. 7 – West Ham. 8 – Newcastle. 9 – Leicester. 10 – Aston Villa. 11 – Everton. 12 – Crystal Palace. 13 – Brighton. 14 – Brentford. 15 – Southampton. 16 – Nottm Forest. 17 – Wolves. 18 – Leeds. 19 – Fulham. 20 – Bournemouth.

I got three placings exactly right last season: Arsenal (5th), Leicester (8th) and Burnley (18th). A low bar to exceed. Just as long as Man United don’t go and win the bloody thing!

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Sportsthoughts (169): England’s Euro 2022 victory

Four days to go to the start of the Premier League. Normally we can’t wait, after a few desultory summer weeks; but as I write, a day after the England Women won Euro 2022, beating Germany 2-1, do we care? Well, yes we do, but what an achievement by the England team! In front of almost 90,000 people at Wembley they beat Germany – yes, Germany! When it went into extra time at 1-1, I think we all feared penalties, and the usual outcome of those against Germany. But not this time, after Chloe Kelly poked the ball into the net, at the second time of asking, from a corner. And then the celebration – as memorable as the goal!

This England team has been impressive throughout the tournament, playing with a real verve – and discipline. They’ve scrapped when they had to: against Spain, the first half hour against Sweden and most of the game against Germany. But they have been devastating in attack too – as Norway, 8-0 losers, can attest. And 4-0 against Sweden in the semis – when they get their chances they take them. They have played with real pace down the flanks, and their midfielders have always been on the look-out for the defence-splitting pass. One of those came last night, when Kiera Walsh found Ella Toone, who then chipped the keeper brilliantly to take the inital lead. Their sense of adventure, making the best use of their substitutes, is something that Gareth Southgate might take note of, in advance of this year’s men’s World Cup.

So congratulations and respect to the Lionesses, who have inspired the nation, given us something to feel good about. My household is three women, two men. It’s fair to say that football is not normally high on the agenda for my wife and daughters, but they, like so many, have really taken to this England team. The question, inevitably, is what happens next. At the elite level, I would expect further progress – England have to be one of the favourites for the next World Cup, in 2023. But what about at the grass roots? It was notable that the England team, brilliant though they were, were not an advert for diversity. That contrasts, at the moment, with the men’s team. What’s the answer? Money: money for schools, for local clubs, for academies, for wages below the very best teams. It’s always money – put it in, with good plans, and over time the results will follow. This will depend on the government, the professional clubs, the TV companies. Will they build on this tremendous achievement? We shall see, but right now, I’m optimistic. This magnificent England team has shown what is achievable – those with the power and the purse strings now need to build on it.

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Latitude 2022

Time again for Latitude – my tenth. My first was in 2012; and notwithstanding the mud, I got the bug. I’ve been every year since then, with the exception, of course of lockdown year, 2020. Accompanied always by my friend Jon, who started the year before me, and a revolving cast of family and friends – though never our wives!

Last year was special for being the first event we could attend after the lockdown restrictions began to be lifted. I remember how weird it felt as we drove to the festival – were we really be allowed to gather again and enjoy live music? Allowed – we had been deprived of such basic freedoms, the activities that raise our spirits and nurture our creative souls; and for the most part had meekly accepted it. The new normal was retreating into ourselves, or communing online – and then slowly but surely we emerged from our shells. Some countries, some communities, faster than others. Some recklessly, perhaps; but we wanted our lives back. We knew the restrictions were necessary; but we know now how easy it is to lose our freedoms, how easy it is for the state to control us, in the face of an external threat. No wonder dictators everywhere regard the creation of external enemies and hidden threats as a crucial tool in controlling their populations.

So Latitude 2021 was the first step back into freedom. Momentarily it felt extraordinary – and emotional – as we cast aside our masks and reacquainted ourselves with the joys of live music. The south London band William the Conqueror will always have a place in my heart for playing the first live sounds I’d heard for sixteen months. There in the Trailer Park on the Thursday evening, that first guitar solo brought a tear to my eye.

One thing was starkly missing last year – the Lake Stage. This was always one of our great favourites. With the acts curated by the BBC’s Huw Stephens, it was a fantastic showcase for up-and-coming bands and artists. Its position by the arena’s main thoroughfare meant that you’d often stop by and see performances that you hadn’t planned to see. And discover some great artists in the process. That’s where I first saw Idles, whose raucous show in 2017 was followed by a massive conga into the woods on the other side of the lake! In 2019, I got myself a paella one afternoon and wandered down to the Lake Stage to see who was on. The sounds were jazzy and soulful, the singer’s voice strikingly beautiful. It was Celeste. It was so good I stayed for the rest of her show. Lots of other people did the same. She was soon to become a star.

The hope was it was a temporary absence, the result of the pandemic. But no, when the line-up was first published this year, there was no Lake Stage. Pushed out by the need for more space for sponsored bars and more food stalls. This year we had new, branded bars for gin, vodka and tequila, as well as a new wine bar, all in prime territory. We lost the Poetry Tent a few years ago; now the Lake Stage has suffered the same fate. Victims of the creeping commercialisation and gentrification of the festival. Very lucrative for Festival Republic, I’m sure; not so good for the poets, the singers, the bands hoping that Latitude could help take their careers to a new level.

Lake Stage 2018

Still, if it helps the festival to remain viable and to create an experience that appeals to people of all ages, to families as much as individuals, then you just have to remind yourself that everyone gets different things from the festival. Everyone has their own Latitude. And I appreciate the greater variety and quality of food as much as anyone. Nor do I hesitate to step into the Taphouse, now our meeting point of choice for a beer after a show. And where is it located? Bang on top of where the Lake Stage used to be!

***

Jon and I are slowly turning the Latitude experience into a week’s excursion. Last year we stayed overnight on Wednesday in a Suffolk village called Campsea Ashe, so we’d only have a short drive to Henham Park on Thursday morning. That worked so well, we decided to go up on Tuesday this year and have a day’s walking on the Wednesday. The Suffolk coast, with its long shingle beaches and nearby marshlands, is a walker’s delight. We kept it fairly simple on Wednesday: seven miles or so, first along the beach from Walberswick to Dunwich – where the cliffs are slowly falling into the sea – and back through woodland and then the marshes. Breathtakingly beautiful under those big skies.

***

We were six this year: me and Jon, Louis and Gab and Hywel and Rebecca, who’d joined us for the first time last year. I think they’ve got the bug now! Thursday was the usual mixture of setting up camp, whiling away the afternoon, catching a bit of the limited music on offer, and sitting in various bars. Jon and I chose a table outside the new wine bar as we waited for Louis and Gab to arrive mid-evening. On the site of the much-loved Danish bar, itself the usurper of… the Poetry tent.

The musical highlight of Thursday, or more precisely Friday morning, was a band called Cooks but we’re Chefs. They hail from Ireland and play a very catchy jazz funk-rap fusion that took me back to my 80s soulboy days (oh yes!). I caught them by chance, as I walked by the Trailer Park, on the way back to the campsite. I could hear dance music from a sound system and thought I’d take a peek. But as soon as I entered I could hear those jazz funk rhythms coming from the music stage. It was 11.45. I thought I’d stay for ten minutes. I left at the end of the show at 12.30. Loved it. Great music and very engaging performers. Latitude knew they were onto a good thing – Cooks but We’re Chefs were booked for a late show on the Trailer Park every night of the festival.

Friday 22 June

We started the music with a double dose of modern punk in the Alcove, now the main venue for new bands, though that was always its essential function. First up The Oozes, described as a London-based queercore band. They were new to me, but they have a dedicated following and a strong focus on gender issues. And they rocked! I loved their sound, which had plenty of punk thrash, but also some jerky, danceable beats. And then there were the screams. I did worry about the singer’s vocal chords at one point! There was a real energy about them – and they looked like they were having fun. They might be addressing some serious issues, but they clearly appreciate the value of just making a good rock’n’roll noise. I’m not quite sure why, but the Sex Pistols came to mind a few times, though the more obvious parallel would be the New York Dolls. I think it was because they were just a bit different to your average punk band – like the Pistols, and Johnny Rotten in particular, they were challenging you to react. After the show I watched them mingle with their fans – again, it was striking how much fun they were having. A genuinely engaging lot.

 

Sniffany and the Nits were next. Imagine being one of the band members and introducing yourself to someone. I’m with the Nits… Sniffany has a strident voice, and again, gender issues are high on the agenda. But the sound was a bit more conventional than that of the Oozes. Enjoyable, but a bit samey.

It was through the Woods after that, for our first visit to the Sunrise Arena – always the favourite venue. The band was KEG, one of those bands who will always be described as a bit like Squid. Similar jerky rhythms, scratchy guitars, odd time changes and bursts of trumpet or violin or whatever. Lots going on, and plenty of shouting. A very popular indie sound these days, with a clear debt to the likes of Talking Heads, Gang of Four and XTC. I enjoyed their set, which had real energy and a good dash of humour. They’ve got a song called Kids, which includes the priceless line, Daddy! I want an Itsu. Modern life, eh? Down south, anyway…

Another double in the Alcove for me next – unprecedented. First M(h)aol (pronounced male) from Dublin. More punk with gender issues to the fore – must have been intended by those curating the line-up. More Siouxsie and the Banshees than the Damned, on the punk spectrum. I liked the single Gender Studies, which 6 Music played a lot last year, and was expecting good things on the basis of that. I was a little disappointed to be honest. It didn’t get better than Gender Studies and singer Roisin Nic Ghearailt talked a bit too much. Now, the problem is usually the opposite – bands who say nothing. So, good on her for giving us a bit of context to the songs, but we probably could have done with a little bit less. Might have had time for another song.

Next was a band I discovered at Wide Awake festival in May, Modern Woman. I find them intriguing. Singer Sophie Harris, very striking in her flowing red dress, looks like a folkie; but such notions are dispelled the moment she starts banging out the post-punk chords on her white Fender Telecaster. She sings like a folkie though – a wild one. Put that together with the free jazz beats, the shards of violin and bursts of synth, and you’ve got something that sounds like Fairport Convention merged with Black Midi! I really enjoyed the set, which was over too soon. I’ll definitely be looking out for future London gigs.

It was up to the Obelisk next, for Rina Sawayama. I don’t know too much about her, but Louis and Gab are both fans. I enjoyed the show, even if that mix of dance and pop with a hint of rock isn’t particularly my thing. Having said that, I did detect a bit of Prince in the arrangements, and that will always be a good sign. Louis and Gab, who were up near the front, loved it; I think their verdict is more pertinent than mine.

The temperature was in the low 20s on Friday, a welcome contrast to the searing heat of London, which hit an unprecedented 40C on Monday and Tuesday. But it was getting a bit chilly as evening approached, so I took a break and went back to the tent to put on some warmer clothes. That added two miles to my walking tally! Back at the arena, after a very nice Jamaican jerk pork with beans and rice, I caught a bit of Maggie Rogers on the Obelisk stage – nice enough but a bit bland – before heading down to the Sunrise for Melt Yourself Down. They are big favourites of Jon’s, though he missed them for Crack Cloud – even bigger favourites. This was a party, a concoction of thumping beats, pumping saxes and chanted choruses, with a strong African influence. Not much in the way of melodies, but that didn’t really matter as we were exhorted by the singer to clap, dance, punch the air. And the crowd responded to that. It was hot, hot, hot! I particularly liked the way the two saxophonists interacted; the singer I found a bit overbearing after a while. But it was good, high energy stuff.

Melt Yourself Down finished at 9.30; it was time to get a drink and head over to the BBC Sounds Stage for the first time that day for Phoebe Bridgers. It was a shame to miss A Certain Ratio on the Sunrise, less of a shame to miss Lewis Capaldi on the Obelisk. I got to the tent with time to spare, so went closer to the front than I generally do – partly for photo purposes, but mainly because I really like her, and have done ever since I heard Scott Street from her first album Stranger in the Alps. I loved the follow up Punisher, which came out in 2020. It was a more polished work than the debut and had a profound impact on a lot of people during the pandemic. Phoebe Bridgers had become big. I watched her recent show at Glastonbury on the BBC iPlayer. It was a real triumph – she had made a particularly strong connection with the young women in the audience. Not so surprising; but it seemed like she was really speaking for them, particularly as her show coincided with the US Supreme Court’s retrograde judgement on Wade vs Roe. She returned to that subject tonight very powerfully. The set was much the same as at Glastonbury, a tour through the highlights of her career so far. Brilliantly presented, beautifully sung, with the sound of the trumpet providing an elegant embellishment. It all ended, of course, with I Know the End, Phoebe crowd-surfing as the song reached its dramatic conclusion. One of the highlights of the weekend, for sure.

Blimey, my feet hurt though, standing rooted to the spot for an hour. The problem with being anywhere near the front is that loads of people pile in at the last minute, and that space you thought you had, that clear sightline, completely disappears. You know it’s going to happen, so it’s a conscious choice. I consciously chose to hang back for the rest of the festival!

Saturday 23 July

Getting warmer, mid-20s today. Mostly sunny too – perfect festival weather. After last week though, and ten days in sizzling Spain recently, I’d learnt to seek out shade. Standing in the sun at the Obelisk, drinking fizzy Carlsberg was not the most attractive option. Nonetheless, I started the day there, catching the last few songs of Shed Seven’s set. Britpop revival – apparently the band are really popular at the moment, filling sizeable venues across the country. They certainly attracted a big crowd at the Obelisk. Can’t say I was ever a big fan, but I enjoyed hearing the likes of Going for Gold and Getting Better again. They also did a decent cover of Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds.

Over to the Sunrise after that for a couple of shows. Starting with Samantha Crain, an artist with native American heritage whose music I’ve liked ever since I first heard the wistful Kathleen and Elk City from her 2015 album Under Branch & Thorn & Tree. File under folk/Americana. She’s had a bit of a revival recently, with songs like Bloomsday and Pick Apart getting plenty of airplay on 6 Music. Musically they are a little more upbeat than her earlier work. She started her set with Bloomsday, but mostly it was gently strummed melancholy. I lay on the slope and let the sounds waft over me. An unassuming but rather lovely set.

I got on my feet for the next performance, from New York-based guitar trio Wilsen. I’d not come across them before, but the programme notes suggested that they might be that rare thing at Latitude – a proper rock band. They were, but a dreamy, shoegaze one. Which is fine by me! I really liked their sound, which had some resemblance to another New York band who I like a lot called Lightning Bug. Check out their song The Right Thing is Hard to Do – it was my most-streamed track on Spotify last year.

After catching two or three songs by Los Bitchos on the Obelisk, I decided to retreat to the Woods again, this time visiting the Lavish lounge, where the BBC Introducing stage is situated. This is usually a pretty relaxed place – they even have loads of sofas to lounge on. It was very busy this time though. I suspect this was as much the attraction of the shade as the band coming up, though the notes suggested there was a bit of a buzz around them. The band being Lilo, two women, Helen Dixon and Christie Gardener, from Winchester. The music was described as indie folk, as well as slowcore – a new one on me.  Anyway, they played a short set of enjoyable, if slight, folkie pop songs which reminded me of the early Staves, though Helen and Christie’s harmonies weren’t quite as spectacular as those of the Watford sisters. A pleasant interlude – except for the dust. The Lavish Lounge won the prize for the dustiest venue at Latitude. It got everywhere (as blowing your nose proved!). It actually made me hesitant about returning there. A bit of straw matting surely wouldn’t have been that expensive.

It was now time for the music to go up a gear, with what turned out the best run of bands of the weekend. It began with Caroline in the Theatre Arena, somewhere I’ve never been to before in my ten years of Latitude. And it was an actual theatre, indoors with seats. Luxury! Caroline are a south London-based collective who have created a sound like no other band that I am aware of. Their self-titled debut album came out in February. It is worth a listen, but live is where they really sound extraordinary. This was the third time I’ve seen them. I caught part of their set at Green Man last year, then saw them with Jon and a couple of other friends at Cecil Sharp House, near Regent’s Park in April this year. That last show was pretty amazing, but this one at Latitude was even better. In the darkened theatre, the band illuminated by simple lighting, the atmosphere was entrancing. It’s hard to describe the music, but if you combined medieval chanting, psychedelic folk, Black Country New Road, avant-garde jazz and post-punk guitar you might just get there. The band stand in a circle, or a semi-circle in this case, feeding off each other. The music proceeds in staccato bursts – you are never sure what is coming next. Sometimes the sound is eked out of the instruments, scratchy, half-formed; and then there is an explosion of sound, be it guitar, violin, trumpet, sax. Wow! I sat there, genuinely moved at the quality and inventiveness of it all. Like I said, extraordinary.

My only Caroline photo, I’m afraid!

The Obelisk could no longer be resisted for the last two shows of the day. It was starting to cool off in any event. First up was Little Simz. As I write, her 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert has been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. It must be one of the favourites to win. I’ve always quite liked her music, but in small doses. Whole albums have started to drag a bit for me. Her rapping could do with more cadence, I find. It’s all a bit downbeat, though there are moments of real invention and beauty… Well, forget all that, I thought she was brilliant tonight! Her performance was confident, engaging, humorous even. She was relaxed and was clearly relishing the occasion in front of an adoring crowd. The music was refreshing, upbeat, varied. It was an absolute delight. I’m going to have to go back to those albums and reappraise them. In fact, I can’t wait to do that. Little Simz bossed it!

And finally, headlining the Obelisk for the second time, Foals. The first time was 2013 – how time flies! I was a bit ambivalent about that performance at the time – much as I liked their first two albums, which had a strong Talking Heads influence, I wasn’t so sure about the move towards a stadium rock sound, which featured on their 2013 album Holy Fire. And while I’ve always taken an interest in their latest moves, I’ve never really listened to a lot of Foals since. Louis, by contrast, regards them as one of the best bands around. He really wanted me and Jon to enjoy their show this time, but was worried we wouldn’t. I know how he feels – I’ve been like that at Latitude with Honeyblood, Alvvays and, last year, Maisie Peters. But he needn’t have worried, because Foals produced one of the great Latitude performances. They were absolutely brilliant, the highlight of the weekend. Only Caroline came close, for me, and that was in a much more intimate environment. Foals did it on the main stage. The energy, the connection, the quality of the sound, the passion – it had everything you want from a headliner. The performance never flagged over the hour and a half. It was sharp, it was funky and then, in the encore it went into full-on, visceral rock, with Black Bull and What Went Down, before they finished with Two Steps Twice from debut album Antidotes. Singer/guitarist Yannis set us up for the encore, talking about the frustration and anger of missing out on three years of performing live. And they let it all out tonight. This show meant a huge amount to them, and we could feel that throughout. The band showcased their 2021 album Life is Yours, of course, but we had some wonderful highlights from the past, not least an epic rendition of Spanish Sahara. That alone was enough to make the evening memorable; but everything was good, and that encore… sensational!

We went for drinks in the Taphouse afterwards and exulted about Foals… and Little Simz, and more besides. Latitude always delivers.

Sunday 24 July 

A hot and windy day, with temperatures reaching 29C in the afternoon. We took it easy in the morning, though Jon made it to the Sunrise for a singer called Tina Boonstra at 11.45. I lingered over breakfast with Louis and Gab until it was time to head for the BBC Sounds Stage for just what you need to kick start the day – the guitar and drum thrash of JOHN. So-called because both band members are called John. Jon and I – that makes four of us – saw JOHN at Green Man last year, again at the start of the day. It’s straightforward stuff: pounding drums, relentless riffing, and shouty vocals from drummer John. Not a lot of variation, but a great rush of energy. I love ‘em!

It all went bitty after that, until we reassembled in the BBC tent for jazz keyboardist Joe Armon Jones at 3.25. I wandered up to the Obelisk for Tribes, described in the notes as a Camden rock’n’roll band. That sounds alright, I thought. Turned out to be fairly standard indie in the Catfish and the Bottlemen mode. After a couple of songs I decided to check out JP Saxe in the BBC tent. He’s popular in the US I think, and duetted with Maisie Peters on her song Maybe Don’t in 2020. He was OK, but I found it a bit feeble, and it was time to meet up with Gab and Louis at the Sunrise for a band called Hudson Taylor. One of Ireland’s most popular bands, the notes said. Worth a go. I’d completely forgotten that they played on the Obelisk in 2018, if I ever knew. There was a big crowd at the Sunrise. On they came, very cheery. Then they started. The singer’s whine immediately grated with me. The songs were jaunty country pop, all a bit predictable, the lyrics the most obvious rhymes you could come up with. During the third song, I said to Louis, I can’t take any more of this. He agreed; Gab was a bit more positive, but not as positive as most of the audience, who were swaying and clapping and singing along. Sometimes you just have to accept that something’s not for you, even if a lot of people are loving it. We decided to go and get a beer and relax in the BBC tent.

Hudson Taylor

Joe Armon-Jones is a great keyboard player, featuring in recent times with Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia. He makes his own music too, but is a reluctant frontman, as he told us more than once during his show. There was more of a reggae element to today’s set than what he has been doing with the aforementioned jazz bands, and much as I love reggae, I like his jazzy side better. There was plenty of that in the second half of the show, and it was a great set to chill out to – metaphorically, as the tent was heating up a bit. Jon, Gab and Louis all took the opportunity to lie down and get some shut-eye – wish I’d taken a photo! An enjoyably soporific 45 minutes.

Everyone emerged from their slumbers for the next band on the BBC Sounds Stage, the awesome Crows. Full-on hard rocking from these lads. We saw them on the Sunrise in 2019 where they were ear-splittingly loud and proud. Singer James Cox had his shirt off in no time at all and spent a lot of time in the crowd. It was a stunning performance. This time, the black T shirt stayed on and there was no surfing. But it was the same high energy rock’n’roll. Jon and Louis went closer to the front and saw members of Fontaines DC catching a bit of them from the sidelines. I’ve seen Crows described as punk. In attitude maybe; but I find their music to be closer to 70s rock and metal. Not a band I’ll listen to much at home, preferring the originals, but always great for a live outing.

I parted company with the others for my next show, first treating myself to an ostrich burger and chips with crumbly blue cheese. It wasn’t bad. It was time for Freya Ridings on the Obelisk. I quite like her music; but really, there was just one song I want to see her play. That was Lost Without You, which I think is a wonderful ballad. It first came out as a single in 2017, and it still moves me. When she played in the BBC tent in 2019 my enjoyment was marred by a bunch of young lads who turned up right in front of me just as she played the first chords of the song on the piano, chatted, took photos then left as the song finished. Aaaaagh! I needed some closure, and I got it towards the end of the set this time. Still had people walking past, going to the bar or whatever. Not remotely interested in one of the loveliest, most moving songs of recent times. Those different Latitudes. But I had space to observe and absorb. I was happy.

Jon and I then took a punt on an Aussie band called Lime Cordiale, who were playing on the Sunrise. As soon as they came on, with their bright 70s-style suits, Bee Gees/Monkees hair cuts and synchronised guitar moves, you knew they were going to be fun. Musically, they run through most of the classic pop styles. They have a nice interaction going between themselves and with the crowd. There were some humorous intros, and a rather weird German spoof, which was like British comedy circa 1980. The bassist also played trombone, which went down well with the crowd, a fair few of whom were Aussies. It was great entertainment; and I wasn’t surprised to hear that they were playing another set at the Trailer Park at midnight.

We stayed on at the Sunrise, joined by Gab and Louis, for Pip Millett. She’s one of the new generation of soul/R&B singers, which includes the likes of Jorja Smith and Joy Crookes. She’s from Stockport, on the fringes of Manchester – that will please one of my good friends Andy! I was particularly keen to see her because she is a great favourite of my two daughters, Isabelle and Rebecca. And she was excellent – when she made it onto the stage. She lost 15 minutes of her 45 minute set, as her band members waited for her to come on. I don’t know the reason for that, but she hit the groove as soon she started. She has a beautiful voice and slinky soul sound that reminded me a little of Erykah Badu at the time of her brilliant debut album from 1997, Baduizm. With some modern twists of course. I wanted to hear more, as did the crowd, who were loving it. But Latitude is ruthless on finishing times, and rightly so. I’ll definitely be looking out for her gigs in London in the future.

And that left one more show. Snow Patrol on the Obelisk was resistible, though I wouldn’t have minded catching Run and Chasing Cars, both classic anthems. (And Ed Sheeran guested, apparently.) It was a shame to miss Let’s Eat Grandma on the Sunrise; but it had to be Fontaines DC in the BBC tent. Their performance at Green Man last year was the highlight of the festival, a brilliant run through their greatest hits. Since then they have a released a new album, Skinty Fia, so of course a fair bit of that features in the new set. I’m not too familiar with it yet, so that affected my perception of tonight’s show, which, while powerful and dramatically lit, was sonically a bit messy. Even familiar tunes from the first two albums seemed drowned in a sea of guitar distortion. A deliberate move away from the short sharp sounds of their early songs, clearly; but when they played a relatively straightforward version of Boys in the Better Land towards the end, it was greeted like a long lost friend. Fontaines are a great band, and constantly interesting as their music evolves. This was a good show, but by the time we see them at Brixton Academy in November, I hope they’ve found a better balance between their punk brilliance and the more diffuse sounds they are exploring at the moment.

We mulled over this and what we’d loved about this year’s Latitude over a final couple of drinks at the Taphouse afterwards, as a hint of rain began to quench the parched earth. We might grumble a bit about the gentrification, the loss of the Lake Stage, the rather safe choices of bands on the Obelisk; but this was another wonderful festival, full of magical moments, new discoveries and re-discoveries. Latitude is still the best.

The North Yorkshire Brass Band march through the village!

Always a special moment when you cross the Writers’ Bridge for the first time.

In the Woods – Sunrise Arena in the background

Afternoon scene

A parched Obelisk, Sunday lunchtime. Tribes onstage.

Some old geezer on Thursday evening.

 

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A golden trio of concerts: Greentea Peng, Sharon van Etten, Kacey Musgraves

A golden trio of concerts indeed! All in the space of a week. Three artists whose music I love; three of the best from recent years. And all playing at rather special venues.

Greentea Peng at the Royal Festival Hall, Thursday 16 June

Greentea Peng – aka Aria Wells – is someone whose music I’ve followed closely ever since I first heard the sultry break-up ballad Used To in 2018. Her music is a languid combination of soul, jazz, rap and reggae, with a distinct dubwise inflection at times. Very much the sound of London – London in the summer, London at night. The music is a mellow pleasure; but listen to the lyrics and you hear the voice of someone who has something to say about the way things are. And she is fighting back.

Her debut album, Man Made, was released last year. There had been a steady stream of singles and EPs since 2018, but it was good to have a full long player. Put it on and just chill. I liked it a lot and made it No 3 in my albums of 2021.

I saw her play twice last year at festivals; Latitude and Green Man. Latitude in particular was a real joy – she was last on at the Sunrise Arena on the Sunday. The last show of the festival for me and many others there. It was a festival full of the sense of liberation, the first big gathering after the lockdown restrictions started to be lifted.  And to be in that crowd, moving to those languid beats, singing along to Mr Sun (miss da sun) and Jimtastic Bluesyou’ve got to fight for your right to party – felt like a new dawn.

It was no surprise to see that Greentea Peng, with her musical influences and her take on the world, was invited to be part of Grace Jones’s Meltdown festival line-up at the Southbank this year. There is definitely a line that you can trace from Grace Jones, especially those wonderful albums she made in the early 1980s with Sly and Robbie laying down the drums and bass. But the Festival Hall itself – wow! It’s a big place, an imposing arena. And it has seats! I was intrigued to see how she and her band would make the leap.

I had the pleasure of the company of my daughter, Izzy, for the show. Greentea Peng is one of those artists that unites me with all of my children, which is always a good feeling. The hall was respectably full and almost immediately the music began everyone stood up. Quite hard to sway to the beats sitting down! The show was a generous hour and a half, with some quite extended numbers taking up that time. The groove was established from the start: mellow, jazzy, with that dub feel. I did feel that it was a bit one paced at times and it dragged a little in the middle. Having said that I was delighted when she played Used To about half way through. The familiar sounds of Mr Sun and Hu Man livened things up towards the end and sent everyone home happy.

Gazing downstream from Hungerford Bridge at the lit-up bridges, St Paul’s and the City towers as we made our way afterwards to Embankment Station, I was reminded once again how much I love this city. Reflecting on the fact that I’d just seen Greentea Peng at the Royal Festival Hall reminded me even more.

Sharon van Etten at O2 Brixton Academy, Friday 17 June

When I booked the tickets for me and Jon for this show back in February, I was really looking forward to it. With the temperature close to 30 degrees during the day the main concern became not wilting in the heat at Brixton Academy! In the event, it was fine. I’d booked seats and the place was well-ventilated – one positive legacy of the covid measures.

Sharon van Etten’s music has been a constant companion for me since I discovered the wonders of her 2012 album Tramp, and, in particular, the song Give Out, which became a bit of an obsession in 2014, around the time the next album, Are We There, came out. Give Out, which I enjoyed playing on the guitar, was a song about the hope – and the fear – that exists at the beginning of a relationship. Much of Sharon’s work explored the debris of broken relationships. The songs had an inner fragility, but were often powerfully expressed. There was redemption in all the darkness, a surviving spirit. In that respect she had a kinship with the music of Bruce Springsteen, and maybe that is one of the things that attracted me to it.

She played a great show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2015. Thereafter things went quiet on the musical front for a while – she started a family, studied for a psychology degree and began an acting career. She returned to the music in a big way in 2019, with the release of the album Remind Me Tomorrow. It was a dramatic return, with a rockier sound, but the lyrics were as unsparing as usual, including about herself, never more so than on the sparse opener I Told You Everything. But the song that has risen above all the others, to become one of her anthems – perhaps the anthem – is Seventeen, a dialogue with her teenage self. Sonically, it is the most Springteenesque song she has ever written – and none the worse for it!

I saw her a couple of times in 2019: first at the Roundhouse, then at Green Man festival. She her band were on top form on both occasions. The music had a real punch. The pandemic intervened after that, of course; so this tour, accompanied by a new album, was her second return to the limelight after time away. The new album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, is another powerful work, perhaps with a return to some of the tenderness of some of her early, more acoustic albums. Reflections on life during the pandemic have clearly played a part in the compositions.

I found some time to get to know the new album before the concert, and it grew on me very quickly. Songs like Anything, Born and Come Back are destined to become real favourites, I think. Lead single Mistakes and Headspace are built for live performance; while Darkish and Darkness Fades reveal Sharon’s most fragile side, with that hope/fear thing again. All of these and a few more featured in the show – I was glad I’d taken the trouble to familiarise myself with the album. I really enjoyed the rendition of Born, which ended the main set. It follows a classic anthem pattern, starting slow and contemplative, building gradually before breaking out of the shackles. Crowd favourite Every Time the Sun Comes Up – supreme until the emergence of Seventeen – still featured, but was faster and more guitar-based than usual. I’m not sure it entirely worked, but it’s good to try out different interpretations.

I really enjoyed the encore. First we had Darkish and Darkness Fades, Sharon solo for some of it. And then, to finish things off, to lift the mood, even if the lyrics are wistfully looking back at a freer time, Seventeen. There is no escaping it now, Sharon, this is the song you will always have to play! A true anthem, an uplifting end to a captivating concert.

And why was this concert a special moment for Sharon van Etten? With a capacity of just under 5,000, Brixton Academy was the biggest headlining show she has done, as she told us with delight. I was glad to be part of it.

Kacey Musgraves at Hampton Court Palace, Wednesday 22 June

“I don’t know how they got me here,” said Kacey at one point, before going on to say how amazing and unusual the experience was, playing at Hampton Court, once the home of King Henry VIII. And yes, it is pretty weird, as well as being a magnificent venue, especially when darkness falls and the lights glow on the old tyrant’s palace.

Kath and I were there with my friend Dave and his wife Fiona, who live on the other side of the river from the palace. A lovely part of the world. We’ve been to a few shows there over the years, highlights being Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music a couple of times and, in 2019, none other than Kylie. Like Kacey this time, she was playing a warm up show ahead of an appearance at Glastonbury festival, which is back in full effect this year. This weekend in fact. I can’t wait, and I’m not even going! Watching it on the BBC is not a bad alternative.

I said Sharon van Etten has been a constant musical companion since 2014. Well, Kacey Musgraves has been even more so, if only since 2018. That was the year that her album Golden Hour was released. I played that album constantly – it became the soundtrack to my year, and I made it my No 1 in my end of year Best Of. It started to win big awards like Grammies the following year and launched Kacey beyond her country music base to pop stardom in the US. Her traction isn’t quite as great in this country, but she still has a strong following. Golden Hour was a happy album in the main, a product of her marriage. But there were warning signs. The song Happy and Sad reflected on the fact that at her happiest moments she was waiting for things to go wrong. And they did. Last year’s album Starcrossed tracked the emotions of her crumbling relationship and eventual divorce. So she stuck to country script after all, even if the music remained a subtle blend of pop, dance and country.

So we expected a good number of Starcrossed songs in the show on Wednesday. Not too many, in case it became a bit depressing. Kacey even joked about that, but she did still start with five straight from the new album. And they worked really well. First because of the musicianship; second because the audience, which was pretty youthful for Hampton Court, seemed to know the words and were singing along. Starcrossed has really struck a chord with, let’s say, millennial women – of whom Kacey is one of course. Good Wife, with its catchy, ironic chorus, stood out for me.

After the Starcrossed introduction, we moved into a Golden Hour section, starting with the title track, which I love. It covered the poppier elements of the album – Butterflies, Lonely Weekend, Space Cowboy, High Horse – but was all a lot of fun. And then it got really interesting. First she sang a cover of Elvis Presley’s I Can’t help Falling In Love With You, which is on the soundtrack to the new Baz Luhrmann film on Elvis. Then, sitting on a stool, she played a lovely acoustic version of Merry-go-round, one of the great songs from her first album, Same Trailer Different Park. A song about the hopelessness of life for many in small town America, a place from which she came herself. And after that, another cover: Fleetwood Mac’s classic Dreams. Kacey can take on Stevie Nicks any time!

The main set finished with a couple more from the new album – good, upbeat sounds. And then, first up in the encore, the song I love most: Slow Burn from Golden Hour. A song about taking your time in life, and true to my heart. Rainbow, from the same album concluded things on a lovely, positive note.  We left with a warm glow – to go with the glow from our wristbands!

Next stop for Kacey, the Other Stage at Glasto. I’ll be making an appointment with the iPlayer.

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Wide Awake Festival, 28 May 2022

Primal Scream on the main stage

Not quite summer yet, but the festival season has begun. Wide Awake festival takes place in Brockwell Park, Brixton. Nearest station is Herne Hill. It made its debut in September 2021, delayed by the pandemic. In this, its second year, the music was spread over two days, Friday and Saturday. Friday was headlined by Caribou and erred more towards dance music; Saturday mixed dance and indie/rock, with a bit more emphasis on the latter. Primal Scream were the headliners, featuring a rendition of their classic album from the early 90s, Screamadelica. I was tempted by both days, but settled for the Saturday. Primal Scream was too good to miss; Floating Points and Overmono offered some interesting electronic options; the Comet is Coming are always hugely entertaining; and I was looking forward to renewing acquaintance with Faye Webster after a few years. Of course, when making that assessment, I didn’t think about the curse of all festivals – the line-up clash. In the event that did for everyone on that list except Primal Scream and Faye Webster!

Jon G and I managed to get to Brockwell Park half an hour before the festival gates opened, at midday, so we went off to Herne Hill to get a cup of tea. We met Louis and Gab at the entrance just before 12, along with Gab’s brother Finlay and his friend Georgia. As we entered, we were all given a token for a free can of Beefeater gin and tonic. What could we do but go up to the stall and get our freebie? Made a change from starting with a fizzy lager! It was amusing to see all the early birds at the first shows, which began at 12.15, wandering around with their G&Ts.

First up were the Golden Dregs, in the big tent, sponsored by the Moth Club* – which we love – and DIY Magazine. This is a band that I’ve missed a few times at previous festivals, so it was good to catch up with them. They’re a south London-based band, but singer Benjamin Woods is from Falmouth in Cornwall, a place I know well, as one of my daughters has been at university there. His sister Hannah plays saxophone in the band, amongst other things. I’d read that they played Americana-style music, but it was rather more than that. The band all came on dressed in white and played a very slick set, with plenty of musical variety. Benjamin played a bit of guitar, but mostly just sang – or, I should say, crooned. I was getting the National, Lloyd Cole and maybe Tindersticks in the sound. Or even Gene – remember them? All good stuff and a very enjoyable start to the day’s music. I’ll be checking out their albums at home.

I split with the rest for the next show. They stayed in the tent for Crows, the ear-splitting rockers. They were amazing at Latitude in 2019, but I fancied something a little lighter at lunchtime. Katy J Pearson was on the Windmill* stage, the main arena.  I’ve heard a bit of her country-tinged pop, and really like her recent single Talk Over Town, which takes you into Angel Olsen territory. In the sunshine she started with that song, and proceeded to play a set that suited the sunny, breezy day. It got people dancing – when they weren’t taking selfies. A refreshing aperitif of a show.

Back to the big tent after that to meet up with the gang and take ourselves back to the electropop of the mid-80s. One part New Romantic, two parts Depeche Mode. With a dash of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. All the way from Brooklyn, New York, Nation of Language. Their second album, A Way Forward, had quite a lot of airplay on 6 Music last year. It was one of Jon’s favourites of the year; I never quite got round to listening to all of it. I liked what I heard, but having grown up with the originals, I didn’t feel the urge to investigate further. But, I have to say, the show was excellent, and really grew on me as it went along. The beats were so redolent of all those 80s classics that you couldn’t help but love it. The singer Ian Richard Devaney had a bit of charisma and threw himself around the stage. He occasionally picked up the guitar, and that provided some of the outstanding moments for me, particularly the last song Across That Fine Line, which is one of their best known. The guitar, with that live distortion that you just can’t capture on record, melded perfectly with the electro-beats. A dramatic end to an absorbing set.

And I’ve listened to the album since – I really like it!

I stayed in the tent for the next show, one of those I was most looking forward to: Faye Webster. The first time I saw her was in 2017, when she was supporting Julia Jacklin at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (as was Nilufer Yanya, who is also doing well). Her self-titled second album had just come out. It’s a beautiful album of bittersweet country-pop. Since then her sounds have become ever more lush, and just as poignant. Check out Kingston and In a Good Way, both songs I absolutely love. Live, her music works best in a small venue, which allows the understated melodies and the embellishments of the steel guitar to shine through. Faye’s demeanour is quite modest too, which is fine when you are close to the action; today, with a large (and appreciative) crowd the sound was somewhat overwhelmed by the buzz of chatter, which is an inescapable part of the festival experience. Having said that, I was delighted to hear both In a Good Way and Kingston for the first time live, and She Won’t Go Away, one of the highlights of the Faye Webster album. An enjoyable set, but I should have stood a bit closer to the stage for a better appreciation.

The next two to three hours were a bit of this and a bit of that. In the meantime, I managed to miss The Comet is Coming, but I’m sure I’ll see them again soon, for more of Shabaka Hutching’s amazing sax-playing. After Faye Webster I wandered down to the Windmill stage for the second half of Yard Act. They’ve been winning a lot of plaudits recently, and are appearing everywhere, but I found it all a bit wordy, and after a couple of rants from James Smith, I decided to go and get a burger. Product placement alert – Cheeky Burgers, very good quality!

Afterwards I wandered up to the small Brixton Brewery stage, open but with one of those big canopies. A band called Modern Woman (aka Mordern Woman) were about to come on. They looked interesting: a dark-haired, rather striking woman guitarist in a long diaphanous red dress; and three men, including one who had a violin as well lots of electronic kit. They looked quite Mediterranean in appearance, Turkish maybe, and I wondered whether we were going to get an interesting clash of musical styles. So I stuck around, even though the band, especially the woman, seemed to be taking an age tuning up. I’m glad I did, because the music was intriguing – a clash of sounds indeed, but folk rock and post-punk jarring guitars and violins over jagged bass lines. Fairpoint Convention meets Black Midi! And quite a lot of shrieking too. There was a sort of suppressed wildness about them. It was all over quite quickly – probably because of that prolonged sound check – but not before a previously innocuous young man just in front of me began to leap about crazily, dragging one of his friends and a few bystanders into his improvised mosh.  I moved away to keep out of it and try to focus on the music, which was reaching a frenzied climax – before it ended suddenly. All a bit surreal.

It made quite an impression me though, and I looked afterwards to see what information there was on the band online. The singer and guitarist is Sophie Harris, the violinist/synth man David Denyer, who has Armenian heritage. The band are south London-based. Of course they are! Jon and Louis later said they’d seen them at End of the Road last year, which I missed. There’s an EP from 2021 called Dogs Fighting my Dream on Spotify, which summarises their recorded output so far. I shall keep an eye out for future shows – I’d like to see more of them. I’ll try to avoid that lone mosher if he’s there though!

After that excitement, I thought I’d give Billy Nomates a go. She’s another artist I’ve not got around to seeing at previous festivals. I liked the duet she did with Jason Williamson on Sleaford Mod’s catchy single Mork and Mindy last year. What I’d heard of her own music sounded like 70s rock/soul melodies set against a modern electronic backbeat. Could be interesting live, I thought. And it was – sort of. Billy was very energetic, leaping around the stage, as the laptop pumped out the sound. I could see why she was a fit with Sleaford Mods. But it was a bit karaoke for me – onstage. The music itself was fine. I decided to go up to the Bad Vibrations/So Young stage across the way, where the delightfully-named Tropical Fuck Storm were about to play.

TFS – let’s call them that – were bound to rock, I assumed. I was right about that! They looked the part, too. After the shenanigans at Modern Woman, I was impressed by how the band were all standing in their places, raring to go, for about five minutes before they were due to start.  No-nonsense professionals. They are from Australia, and clearly know how to entertain an audience. I didn’t know any of their music, but it was easy to enjoy the riffing, the shaking heads and the general (controlled) mayhem. Judging from the crowd they also have a diehard fanbase, who were at Wide Awake to see them today. Good fun – might not listen to their music at home, but would be happy to see them again on the stage.

I left before TFS’s set ended to return to the tent for the Horrors, and to hook up again with the rest of the group. I have good memories of this band – their show at my first Latitude, in 2012, was the highlight of the weekend. They were three albums into their career, having recently released Skying. They combined Goth, post-punk, shoegaze and electropop effortlessly and had the classic rock’n’roll look, singer Faris Badwan in particular. Fast forward to 2022 and what did we get? More of the same? Not really, not for me, anyway. It might partly have been because the lighting and imagery wasn’t anywhere near as good as that Latitude show; but mainly it was the music. It all seemed like a rather turgid wall of sound to me, with some thumping beats. Where had the melodic underpinning, the brilliant guitar sound, that stylish grandiosity gone? Ten years ago… things obviously change. The band have had some successes, but haven’t really dominated the indie scene in the way that  might have been expected. A very loyal following, for sure, but I felt that something had been lost. Some of the swagger. I didn’t stay on to see if it got better in the end, as I had an appointment with some proper rock’n’rollers…

Amyl and the Sniffers don’t make any pretences. They are a straight up hard rocking Aussie punk rock’n’roll band. Almost a cartoon version of the genre. They have the feisty, foul-mouthed, female singer, the mullet-haired guitarist, straight from the AC/DC school of rock, the booted skinhead bassist – he used to have a mullet too, I’m sure – and the drummer… the bloke who holds it altogether, but no-one knows. When I first came across them, at End of the Road in 2018, I couldn’t stop smiling. They just brought back so many youthful memories of metal, rock, punk – and they were clearly having a great time. A big rock’n’roll celebration. I saw them again, at Heaven in Charing Cross a year later, and the attraction had palled a bit; but when their new album Comfort to Me came out last year, my interest revived. There are one or two terrific rocking tunes on that, notably Guided by Angels and Looking for Love. And on the Windmill Stage they gave the crowd exactly what they wanted: a big slug of no-nonsense up-yours rock’n’roll. After the gloomy dirges of the Horrors, my smile was back! Highlights included the two songs already mentioned and the old favourite I’m not a Loser – great to hear that again. Amy Taylor strutted around the stage, taking everyone on, as she always does. Rock’n’roll grew from rebellion, but it’s a reassuring presence too, these days. Forget your worries, drink some beer and punch the air. Amyl and the Sniffers are the perfect accompaniment.

One of interesting and laudable features of the Windmill stage was that there were a couple of people to one side providing a sign language version of the songs for those who might need it. I couldn’t help but wonder what they made of Amy Taylor’s language!

I caught a few minutes of Overmono in the big tent – looked like a big rave was happening inside – and then rejoined Jon and the gang for the final show, Primal Scream playing Screamadelica. On the way down Gab took issue with my dismissal of the Horrors – she thought they were brilliant and said they had played plenty of their best songs. So there you go – a bit of BBC  balance for you.

As we waited, you could feel the anticipation in the air. We were talking about who we’d enjoyed most during the day, had a group photo taken (not a selfie!) and then the lights changed and on walked Bobby Gillespie, resplendent in white suite, flanked by his band and a gospel choir. They launched straight into Movin’ On Up and the celebrations began. There was a lot of love in the crowd for this song, this album, this band – even though a lot of the audience wouldn’t have been born when Screamadelica was released in 1991. It was one of those albums which brought rock, pop, soul, dance and rave together in an unprecedented way. It set a benchmark for others in the future. The great and late, lamented producer Andy Weatherall was, of course, at the centre of it, setting the controls for the heart of the sun, as Pink Floyd once sang.

There are three big songs on Screamadelica, with everything, especially the singers, in full flow: Movin’ On Up, Come Together and Loaded. Movin’ On Up kicks off the album; the other two are bunched together in the middle, if you listen on anything other than the vinyl, which is a double album. On that Come Together ends Side 2 and Loaded begins Side 3. That makes more sense; but if you listen all the way through, the album peaks in the middle. Around that are some pretty mellow, psychedelic tracks, some ballads. How do you deal with that in the live environment? It could all be a bit anti-climactic. What Primal Scream did was to take Loaded out of the middle and put it at the end – though not the end of the main set. That did end a bit tamely – but we still had the encore.

The whole set was brilliantly put together. A lot of the songs were given quite a different reading to the original album versions. More dance beats would sum it up. That worked for the crowd, of course. The band and the choir were superb, and Bobby was ever the showman. The lighting, the backdrop, playing on the album cover for the first part of the show, made it even more spectacular. And then came the encore…

At first, just a Scots piper, playing that familiar motif from Loaded. Teasing us. A brilliant touch. And then they all came on and piled in. A triumphal rendition of an absolute anthem. The festival anthem?

And then a switch of gear. If Amyl and the Sniffers could do rock’n’roll, then Primal Scream could do it even better. If you know the band then you can guess which three they played. In order: Jailbird, Country Girl, Rocks. Just magnificent! The only issue was fending off the bodies of some pretty beefy blokes in front as they leapt around. But yeah, what a wonderful celebration – first, of a landmark album and then the best live music of all: 100% pure rock’n’roll.

Meanwhile Liverpool were playing Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Did we care? I think you know the answer.

* The Moth Club is an excellent music venue in Hackney. By day it is a military veterans’ club. The Windmill is a Brixton pub, well known for its musical roster of up-and-coming bands. I went there for the first time this April to see Enola Gay – a great evening.

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