Latitude No 7. Sunshine forecast. Quite a crowd of us going. The anticipation was building all week. Did a little bit of homework beforehand, listening to the excellent Latitude Spotify playlist on shuffle. Made a note to look out for the likes of Pip Blom, Bryde and Bodega. As ever, my good friend Jon drove (he puts the tent up too!) with three 19 year olds crammed in the back – Louis (Jon’s son), Mark and Lydia. Sympathy went out to Lydia, stuck between the the two lads for the best part of four hours. We were there by 3.30, queued for a while to get in, and headed for our usual spot. My son Kieran and his mate Adam joined us later, as did Rick and Adrienne, daughter Lucia and friend Sorrel, plus Greg and Miranda and daughter Rachel. Finally, on Friday Jon’s daughter Connie and Lydia’s sister Jess caught up with us. Full complement. Big shout out to you all!
It was 7.30 by the time we wandered over to the venue. That wonderful moment crossing over the lake, pink sheep grazing by the Latitude sign, the blue and pink canopy of the BBC Music tent poking out above the tree line. Always feel a tingle of emotion at this point. Back again – the scene of so many special moments over the years; three and a half days of escapism, when all there is to do is drink beer and watch a succession of wonderful performers, often artists you’ve never heard before, but who become firm favourites from that moment. Last year the best example of that was Catherine McGrath – I’ve seen her four times since, with number five, at the Scala coming up in September.
Thursday evening has a fair bit going on, but it’s just the warm up. Highlights were catching the tail end of a DJ set by actor Idris Elba at the Sunrise Arena in the woods, which was being filmed for a TV show, and a bluesy show at 11 in the Alcove by singer Sunny Ozell and band. Turns out she is married to the actor Patrick Stewart.
In bed – bed being a sleeping bag with a broken zip and an air bed which loses air pretty fast – by just after 1am, ready for the next three days.
Friday 13 July
Was really looking forward to Palace Winter in the Sunrise at 1.15, but caught a couple of things before that. First, I went to the Speakeasy, the new spoken word tent, to see Luke Wright perform some of his poetry. And perform is the word – he really lives it as he speaks. He was brilliant at Edinburgh festival last year, performing his piece called “Frankie Var”. His theme for this Latitude was the Poet Laureate, a post which comes up for renewal in 2019. Current holder is Carol Ann Duffy. Luke was imagining what he’d have to do to get the job. Write about the Royals, for example. He had a go at Prince Charles – a real go! As ever, he mixed stridency with humour, with a bit of sentimentality too. He has been going through a marriage break-up, and being separated from his kids part of the time is hurting. He spends a lot of time travelling between Bungay (in Norfolk) and Brighton on the south coast. He was funny about the two places though: how he felt good in Bungay because he was cooler than Bungay, whereas Brighton was much cooler than him. Some of my favourite pieces included “William Hague in a Baseball Cap”, about the fear of being left out; “Ballad of a Dog”, a tale of unaccountability in positions of power, the dog being Gordon Brown’s special adviser Damian MacBride, who trashed the reputations of Brown’s rivals, then had to resign, escaping unseen from Downing Street in the boot of a car, trapped like a dog; and “Embrace the W**k”, a defence of pretentiousness (like, in the minds of the English, being a poet!). All great stuff. He’s doing “Frankie Var” again in September. If you like poetry with a hard edge, try and catch him.
On to the music, starting with Deap Valley, in the BBC Music tent. Two women – Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards – playing guitar and drums and creating a maelstrom of pummelling blues rock. Jimmy Page and John Bonham (RIP) would be proud. I only stayed for four or five songs, as I couldn’t miss Palace Winter, but I’d love to see a whole show. They rock!
Palace Winter are one of my favourite new bands of recent times. Jon and I went along to Rough Trade East earlier this year to see them launch their new album “Nowadays”, a worthy successor to the excellent “Waiting for the World to Turn”. Their songs are laden with great melodies, swathes of electronica mixed with pounding rhythms. Aussie frontman Carl Coleman is a likeable and charismatic performer and gives his acoustic guitar a good thrashing. Dane Caspar Hesselager is imperious on the keyboards. They opened with “Proton”, with its grinding finale, featured a fair number of songs off the new album, with “Empire” a standout, and returned at the end to two of their finest tunes: “HW Running” and “Soft Machine”. Both majestic. I was willing them to get a good reception, and they did. Latitude truly up and running!
Next, it was over to the Lake Stage for a couple of shows. First Bodega, a New York band whose debut album “Endless Scroll” has been getting rave reviews. Critics describe them as art punks, which, I guess, summarises their sound quite well. I thought there was quite a lot of Parquet Courts in their sound, though they have a livelier stage presence, with singer Nikki Belfiglio jumping around with a pair of drumsticks, and one of the guitarists doing a pretty good Wilko Johnson impersonation at the end. The last song had a metronomic beat which put me in mind of DUDS. They wear grey shirts too. I’ll definitely be checking out that album.
Bodega were followed by Bryde. I thought that was the name of the singer, and she might be my singer-songwriter discovery of Latititude 2018. In fact it’s a three piece band, fronted by singer/guitarist Sarah Howells. It was a rockier sound than I expected, but I liked it. I was drawing comparisons with Soccer Mommy (the more uptempo tunes) and Angel Olsen.
Up the hill to the BBC Music tent and Hinds from Spain. Entertaining rock’n’roll with a continental inflection. I thought of Dream Wife, though the main singer, Ana Garcia Perrote couldn’t leap around quite as much as Rakel Mjoll as she also plays guitar. Rock’n’roll of a more hardcore variety was next on the bill, as we went back to the Lake Stage for Lower Slaughter Some serious riffing and a lot of shouting! Singer Sinead, resplendent with blue hair, was very angry. It was a relentless barrage of noise, and terrific with it. I’d love to see them in a place like the Scala.
After Lower Slaughter it was time for something a little more mellow. Alfa Mist in the Sunrise Arena was just perfect. He’s an East Londoner who began in grime and hip hop, but has gravitated towards jazz. He plays piano and he was accompanied by a very slick band. It all took me back to the jazz funk – the acid jazz – of the 1990s. The rebirth of cool.
Back to the Lake Stage for a bit of Sorry, a young London indie band, with added saxophone. Singer Asha Lorenz had a little bit of Ellie Rowsell about her, I thought. Then back over the main bridge to the Alcove, for a band called Wildwood Kin. I’d not heard of them, but the blurb in the programme immediately told me, Staves! Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love their music. Wildwood Kin are two sisters – Beth and Emillie Key – and a cousin, Meghann Loney. They are from Exeter and released their first album “Turning Tides” last year. Like the Staves, they are rooted in folk music, perhaps a bit poppier (I thought of Mumford & Sons) and create some beautiful harmonies. A great show, one of the highlights of which was a cover of the Stereophonics’ “Dakota”. One of the discoveries of this Latitude, for me.
By now it was about 8pm, and things got a little disjointed over the rest of the evening. I thought I’d try Tuneyards in the BBC Music tent. Didn’t much like it, so dashed back to the Alcove for the Wandering Hearts, a British country band, whose 2018 debut album, “Wild Silence” topped the UK country charts. And I’m not surprised. The moment I walked in I was struck by the beauty of the harmonies: two women, two men in communion. Lovely songs – there was one called “Nothing Happens When You Die”, which was more uplifting than its title suggests. I was loving this band, but it was all over so soon. I shall have to see them again as soon as possible.
I thought I’d go back to the Lake stage to catch a bit of Confidence Man, who sounded like fun on the Spotify playlist. I went via the loos in the woods and heard some pounding bass lines coming from the Sunrise Arena. I had to check them out. It was IAMDDB – a woman and a sound system, as far as I could see. Seeing was tricky because the Sunrise was the busiest I saw it all weekend. And most of the crowd looked like teenagers. They were going mad for IAMDBB. She raps and sings soulfully over some sparse dance beats. A classic case of less is more. The big song, judging by the reaction, was “Shame”. Fascinating. I eventually got to Confidence Man on the Lake Stage. The place was jumping. It was essentially a DJ and some dancers – and some very infectious beats. You can’t knock it.
Headliner time. Solange on the main, Obelisk Stage. James in the BBC Music tent. I plumped for an electronic artist, Makeness, in the Sunrise Arena. His music sounded intriguing in the blurb. It turned out to be quite guitar based, and he sang – I was expecting something more like fellow Scots Boards of Canada. And the crowd was tiny. It felt a bit dispiriting, so I crossed back over the lake and went to see Solange. She’s Beyonce’s sister. More straight R&B/ soul than Beyonce. Very slick and a striking stage set. But I didn’t really hear any memorable tunes. It was quite a short set too – less than an hour, when headliners on the Obelisk get an hour and a half. Jon waxed lyrical about James, so maybe I made the wrong choice. Interesting though, as Solange was an unusual choice for Friday at Latitude. Good to be spanning the genres.
One last show to enjoy on this first night. There’s a hugely popular dance night in the Comedy Arena (a new, bigger, airier structure this year) called Guilty Pleasures – all those pop records from the past you know and love. At 1am there was a band on stage – the She Street Band. An all-woman band playing Bruce Springsteen songs. What wasn’t to like? They cleared a few people off the dancefloor, but most remained and made it a bit of a party. They played for half an hour or so, and rattled through a set of Bruce classics: Thunder Road, Badlands, Hungry Heart, Rosalita, Because the Night, Dancing in the Dark, Born to Run. What fun! The day ended on a high.
Saturday 14 July
One of the consequences of the the lovely weather is that it’s impossible to stay in your tent much beyond 7.30 in the morning. Another is the dust. It’s everywhere, especially in the woods. The younger section of our group had a big night out, not getting back until 4 am. So most of them were lying outside their tents by 8 o’clock in various states of disrepair. There’s a pleasant lull in the morning – we sit around having breakfast, drinking tea, discussing the previous day’s events, looking forward to what lies in store. Easing into the day. As on Friday, I spent an hour in the Speakeasy, watching a BBC show called The Verb where presenter Ian McMillan interviews poets and writers about their muse. There was an entertaining comic duo who set topical poems to music. I didn’t catch their names. Then it was time for Durand Jones and the Indications, a band from Indiana, in the Sunrise Arena. And what a band! Old school 60s and 70s style R&B, soul and funk. Really tight, slick. Great horns – two cool guys on sax and trumpet. Durand Jones is an expressive singer, and the drummer chips in with a couple of vocals in a fetching falsetto. An upbeat, uplifting delight – a great start to the day.
Next it was over to the Alcove to see Lucia. Well, with a Lucia in our group, we had to go, didn’t we? The band are from Glasgow, and combined a punky sound with some good melodies. The singer was called Lucia, as was the band. She gave it some. The bassist looked straight out of casting for a film about the Jesus and Mary Chain (early days). The drummer had some good hair to shake about. Sharp songs, good riffs and some rousing choruses. Rock’n’roll! Shame there weren’t more youngsters there – this was music for moshing. And of course I couldn’t help but think of Honeyblood, especially when they played their last song. I wonder if they know each other.
I stayed at the Alcove to catch a bit of Jealous of the Birds, featuring Naomi Hamilton from Belfast. It was more of a band than I expected. It was OK, a bit like KT Tunstall. Couldn’t stay for the whole show, as I had to get over to the Sunrise Arena for Black Midi. This was Louis’ big tip. And they were extraordinary. It was like a combination of The Fall, DUDS, Slayer and Black Sabbath, with a bit of Let’s Eat Grandma quirkiness thrown in. Part of their music is a brutal guitar thrash, but it’s also quite intricate. And it is powered along by an amazing drummer, a young lad with dreadlocks. In fact they are all young lads – sixteen I was told. They are anti-fashion in the way they look, and they say absolutely nothing to the audience (another characteristic shared with Let’s Eat Grandma). A remarkable band. Who knows where they are heading.
Fired up by Black Midi, it was now time for one of my favourite bands at the moment, Alvvays. They were in the BBC Music tent and it was packed. That was partly because there was a “secret show” scheduled afterwards and everyone knew it was Liam Gallagher. This led to a strange atmosphere, with a mix of real Alvvays fans and a lot of bystanders. That’s a fact of festival life, but it was accentuated by the influx of Oasis nostalgists. I loved the show of course, but I was also willing them to do well. I wanted all of our lot who turned up to like them. It was a weird feeling. The band concentrated on their more uptempo songs, which is fair enough, but it meant “Ones Who Love You” got the chop. How could they? There was a lovely “Forget About Life” mid-performance, and the last three were “Marry Me, Archie”, “Dreams Tonite” and “Party Police”, so all was well. But, the people to my side were nattering away during “Archie”. I mean, how could they?!! Well, I hope they enjoyed their f****** Liam Gallagher.
As for Liam Gallagher, I just couldn’t be arsed to hang around for 45 minutes in the BBC Music tent just to watch his facsimiles of Oasis, plus a few tired retreads of the classics. Yeah, a bit cynical, I know. I really liked Oasis in the 90s, but they were of their time. Liam Gallagher is just exploiting it. If he really cares, he should stop slagging off his brother and get back together. I’d go and see that. So, off I went to get something to eat. But I had a bit of time to kill and thought, well, I could put my head in and see what Liam’s up to. I saw the first three songs, just squeezing in at the back. He started with “Rock’n’roll Star” and “What’s the Story” – pretty leaden, but still with some of their original spark. Then it was one of his new ones – a real dirge. Time to go back to the Lake Stage to see Pip Blom. They played a sprightly pop-punk. Maybe a bit samey in tempo, but definitely some potential there. I liked what I’d heard on Spotify beforehand. And talking of sprightly pop-punk, next up was The Vaccines, on the Obelisk stage. I went with Jon and Connie to this one. Connie is a massive fan. I like them, but somehow the only song I know well is “If You Wanna”, which is a great stomping rock’n’roll tune. The place was packed – as busy as I’ve seen it. Half the field was taken by the picnickers, basking in the sunshine, waiting for The Killers. Fair enough, they’ve paid their money too, but they take up a disproportionate amount of space. It’s one of the reasons I avoid the Obelisk, except for essential bands. For me The Vaccines are a bit Strokes-lite, but there was absolutely no denying how much they meant to their many fans there. The number of people – mainly women in their twenties I’d say – singing the words to all the songs was impressive. I guess that generation grew up with the Vaccines, just as Jon and I grew up with the Clash and the Jam. All part of the same family tree. So, yeah, credit to the Vaccines for putting on a great show that inspired a lot of people.
So, headliner time, and just like Friday, what to do? Succumb to the groupthink (having resisted it for Liam) and enjoy the four or five Killers songs which are great, or see Mogwai in the BBC Music tent, or go down to the Sunrise Arena to see Clark, an electronic artist who Jon and I saw in 2016 so that we could get into Thom Yorke’s secret show? Jon and I agreed to a plan where we’d do a bit of Mogwai then go to the second half of the Killers, when they’d play most of the hits. So we went to the BBC Music tent, for Mogwai and their drone rock. There weren’t a lot of people there. On they came, and launched into a wash of sound. After a few bars, Jon said, “I think I’ll go to The Killers.” I stuck around. I wanted to see what they were like live. I’ve always been a bit ambiguous about them, partly for a rather ridiculous reason that I once read an article in the 90s where they were really rude about Blur. I liked Blur. F*** Mogwai, I thought. But now I stayed, and something about those washes of sound hooked me. Each “song” carving out its own aural landscape. Truly soundtrack music. The place started to fill up too. Refugees from The Killers? I felt like we were the anti-Killers faction and our movement was growing. I stayed for the whole show and loved it. That night I made my peace with Mogwai.
It’s only pop music, I know, but sometimes these things matter, especially when you are living the music for three solid days.
The musical evening was not over though. The Film and Music Arena was hosting a reggae night, featuring Lee Scratch Perry. But before that Holly Cook was playing. Holly is the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. Her mother was a backing singer in Culture Club. She sang with the reformed Slits in the 2000s. But she has found her metier in reggae. She released an album early this year called “Vessel of Love”. It’s a lovely sound, with Holly’s sweet vocals wafting over some wonderful 70s style dubwise rhythms. And live it was just fantastic. She had an excellent band, and the bass lines just resonated. I found it completely intoxicating, and I was not alone. Everyone was dancing – even me with my sore knee and dodgy back! It was impossible to do anything else. Without question the highlight of the day – or maybe sharing the honour with Durand Jones and the Indications. The first and last – both truly uplifting.
On the way back to the tent, about one in the morning, I popped into the new super Co-op. Bought a couple of mini bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. Didn’t feel ready for bed. In the Co-op there was a disco going on, 70s style. Barry White’s “You’re the First, My Last, My Everything”. The staff at the tills were dancing, half the customers were dancing (not me this time), even the security guard was dancing. What a wonderful moment. It summed up Latitude – everyone just loving the music and the vibe. I got back to the tents, got my iPad out and cracked open my wine under the gazebo. Shortly after, Connie, Louis and Mark turned up, and we spent half an hour discussing our days. All different. A special moment.
Sunday 15 July
As has become the tradition, Jon and I headed for the Sunrise Arena for the first show of the day. Always a chillout concert, a chance to lie in the sun (or the shade today as it was so hot) and just absorb the music. This year it was Pianofield: Frances Shelley on piano and associated echoes and sways, and Matthew Bickerton on electronica and “found sound” (birds tweeting, waterfalls falling, etc). Ambient and rather beautiful music. Easing our way into the last day. We followed that with more ambience from Hannah Peel in the BBC Music tent. Marc Riley on 6 Music is a big fan and I’d always found her music intriguing. Live it was more dreamy, less discordant than I’d expected. It was good though, and from time to time she lurched into some banging electronica. At the end she sang a couple to the accompaniment of a music box, where there music plays off what looks like a roll of supermarket till paper. The first programming, I guess. The first song was a cover of a solo song by the singer in Blue Nile, Paul Buchanan; the second a version of “Tainted Love”. That went down well. A really interesting performance.
Then it was over to the Sunrise Arena for one of the most anticipated concerts of the weekend: The Orielles. A young indie band from Halifax; another big favourite of Marc Riley’s. Their sound is rooted in 80s indie, updated of course. Jangly guitar, sweet, slightly off-kilter melodies. I’m sure Orange Juice were an influence. Singer Esme Dee Hand-Halford has a lovely voice and plays a springy bass guitar. Guitarist Henry Carlyle Wade looks a bit like Bez from Happy Mondays, introduces the songs ironically and sometimes jumps around like Wilko Johnson. And he is a great guitarist. He has that echoey, crystalline sound – a lot of tremolo – and knows how to rock out. The last song, “Sugar Tastes Like Salt”, was epic. One of the best moments of the weekend by one of the best bands.
Next, I went along with the gang to see Superorganism. This band have been getting a lot of good reviews for their inventiveness, quirkiness and multi-culturalism. They started with some interesting graphics behind them, and three backing singers in multi-coloured raincoats. Adam was perceptive when he said “There’s too much going on.” The graphics, the look, the music lurching from style to style, and the daft lyrics. It started to pall for me too. The final straw was a song about prawns. Enough! I decided to go and watch a bit of the World Cup final between France and Croatia. Kieran and Adam followed. It was on in the Film and Music Arena, which has no ventilation to speak of. I watched for ten minutes and couldn’t take the heat anymore. So I missed the three second half goals. But my mind wasn’t really attuned to football. I dare say it would all have been very different if England had made the final. I only heard one half-hearted chant of football’s coming home all weekend.
It was back to the BBC Music tent, after a bit of milling around, for the awesome Idles. Blimey, if there is a band that is truly scary, it’s this lot. Their sound, especially live, just pummels you. There’s mayhem on stage. It’s very shouty and the guitars totally rock. And if you know the lyrics, they are a call to action. There’s a song called “Mother”, which was a highlight of the Latitude show, that has a line to the effect that the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich. Yeah, I get that. It was an incredible performance, an aural assault, and also very engaging. This band interact big time with their audience, especially the moshers up front. At one point a young lad was lifted out of the audience and given a guitar to play. He may have been the son of singer Joe Talbot. But what was he doing in the mosh pit? Like father, like son? An exhilarating performance, but a bit of a sledgehammer too. To be taken in small doses!
Unlike the next band. One of my absolute favourites. Wolf Alice. On the Obelisk, second to Alt-J. Alt-J?? Wolf Alice are so much better. But Alt-J are Latitude favourites. I find them a bit dull, and had no great desire to see them. Wolf Alice, on the other hand, were the band I was most looking forward to seeing. And they didn’t disappoint. I mean, if you can start with “Your Love’s Whore”, “Yuk Foo” and “You’re a Germ”, how can you go wrong? It’s not easy to rock on the Obelisk stage, but they managed it. I’m not sure how taken the picnickers were, but there was a big crowd of people really appreciating the performance. Jon and I stood on the fringe, avoiding another Vaccines, where half the time you couldn’t see because of people getting up on shoulders, or just squeezing into a barely existing space in front of you. One of the songs that had the most effect was “Visions of a Life”, which veers into 70s heavy rock. Not previously one of my favourites, but it worked in the big field. “Fluffy”, near the end, was awesome too. One thing that struck me is how Ellie Rowsell could be a role model for young women wanting to get into music, but worried about how they can be themselves. There she was tonight in a long white dress, black Doc Martens, wielding her guitar and screaming the lyrics. Controlling the moment, doing what she wants. I love Wolf Alice!
The performance did seem to finish about ten minutes early. That gave us time, though, to see up-and-coming American country artist Jade Bird on the Lake Stage from the start. She played a very engaging set, mostly quite upbeat – pretty much rock’n’roll. She has a high register, so when she hollers it’s still quite melodious. About half way through the show she started a ballad and then stopped, saying it was “too sad”. I went off for a couple of minutes, and when I got back Jon said she’d played a Bangles cover. Which one? “Manic Monday” surely. But no, it was “Walk Like an Egyptian”. Having missed it, I can’t quite imagine it in a country style. But Jon said it was good. Another artist to look out for.
Then the last headliner dilemma. I’d ruled Alt-J out, so it was a choice between electro supremo Jon Hopkins in the BBC Music tent and Japandroids in the Sunrise Arena. Both have performed at Latitude before and both were brilliant. So hard to choose! I went for Jon Hopkins, with Jon, and soon after the start, Connie, who got bored with Alt-J. Good choice! What an amazing hour. A sensory assault – even more powerful than Idles. Totally different though. Musically, it was an hour long symphony, but one which was always building to another drop – the kicking in of those reverberating bass lines. The first time it happened, with the crowd leaping with glee in response, was an absolutely spine-tingling moment. The visuals – the graphics, the lights, the dancers with their ever-changing light poles – were astonishing. The hour just leapt by. Such a mind-blowing end to an amazing three days of music. There was nowhere to go after this.
Afterwards Jon, Connie and I met up with Jess, Lydia, Louis and Mark at what we’ve come to call the Danish Bar. Kieran and Adam had gone back to London after Alt-J as Adam needed to get back to Amsterdam, where he works. A Carlsberg space, that serves Export as well as the weak stuff we usually drink, and has become a bit of a rendezvous point for people. There is a lot of dancing to 70s disco and indie classics. A good vibe. Jon and I just had a pint and left the young folk to it. We got ourselves a bottle of white wine from the Co-op on the way back and settled down to drink it and reflect on the festival. The others came back soon after, Lucia joined us, and we spent another one of those wonderful hours sharing our experiences, laughing at the many absurdities we’d encountered on the way.
It really seems to get better every year, as the kids get older and we oldies manage to hang on. We have the example of Joe, pitched in a tent nearby, who has just celebrated his 70th birthday, and is still loving Latitude as much as we do. Our circumstances will change over time, as people have new commitments; but for now Latitude remains one of the highlights of the year, a time when barriers come down and we can be ourselves. It’s good for the soul!
I’ll just finish with some general shots from around the place. There is a lot of beauty at Latitude. The music, all the arts, the people, the nature. It’s a serene spot – for 11 months of the year. What the squirrels and bats and badgers and foxes and rabbits do when we invade the woods with our pumping techno and sprawling teenagers and lary drinkers I don’t know. But I assume they claim it back for the rest of the year.
5am Monday morning. Quite a few people have left, hence the space.