Have you Heard? – (75) “Where Boys Fear to Tread’ by Smashing Pumpkins

I’m on the tube, coming back from a few beers with my good friend Paul D. Music a big topic of conversation through the evening. He is a massive fan of Neil Young, Grateful Dead and Americana, as well as metal and some old punk and rock’n’roll. Knows way more than me about the music he loves.

I’ve got a playlist on my iPod – a Nano, as my Classic has problems – with 2,500 of my favourite tunes. Needless to say, it is brilliant. But occasionally, rather than rely on the random choice, you want to pick one out. And when I want an upbeat, piledriving tune there is nothing better than “When Boys Fear to Tread” by Smashing Pumpkins. It’s off the classic double album, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”. It rocks hard. The riffs pummel; the drums bulldoze – it is irresistible. It took me a while to discover the song; but since I did it has always been one I resort to. Meeting you don’t fancy? Put this on beforehand. You are ready to take on the world.

Is this metal or grunge or rock? I’d say all, and it doesn’t really matter. It is just awesome.  Check the Youtube video, which hopefully plays where you are. Otherwise, check it out somewhere else. If you want a full-on rock statement.

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A Walk around Canvey Island

Last weekend, Kath and I and our friends Jon and Maggie took a train to Benfleet in Essex, on the Thames estuary, and walked over to and round Canvey Island. Why? you may ask – if you have heard of Canvey Island. The answer is the great mid-70s rock’n’roll band, Dr Feelgood, who hailed from Canvey Island and, in my view, paved the way for punk.

Their first album – their classic – is called “Down by the Jetty”, and I’m pretty sure that the photo on the front cover was taken on a windswept Canvey Island. The photo below is of my vinyl copy of the album (taken in the evening, hence the light blurs) which, you will notice, has a Spanish subtitle. I bought it in an Oxford second hand record store in 1977, a year or so after its release. But I knew it off-by-heart by then, having listened to it so much at school when it – and Eddie and the Hot Rods – caused some of us to move away from metal to three minute rock’n’roll roll songs. That left us ready for the Pistols, Damned, Clash, Jam, Buzzcocks and all the rest.

Left to right: buzzsaw guitarist, Wilko Johnson; bassist John B Sparks; The Big Figure on drums; and singer Lee Brilleaux.

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Canvey is an island, but only just. There’s a creek that separates it from the mainland, which is pretty narrow in places. In the photo below we are on Canvey, looking across to Leigh-on-Sea, which comes just before Southend, as you travel east. The tide was out for all of our time on the island, so it could be a bit more watery at other times.

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We stopped for a cup of tea here, just as the cafe stopped serving breakfasts on a Sunday. That worked out well later – see the black and white shots.  The Old Git, whoever he is, must surely be a Brexiteer.

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Canvey Island is known for its industrial landscapes when in fact it is mostly rural or suburban. The views you capture tend to be not so much of the island itself but of the scene looking out from it. The big beaches, sea, sky – and those refineries.

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Canvey Island’s favourite band is celebrated in this mural on the sea wall.

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Holiday caravans and industry exist side-by-side on Canvey Island.

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On the southern coast there is a seaside area which was actually rather attractive and full of people on a sunny day. The black and white effect takes you back for sure…

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This was a very good cafe where we had lunch – the Labworth.

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The Lobster Shack is the current name for a pub which was previously known as The World’s End and featured in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” as a place for smugglers.

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In the early 70s a new oil refining development was constructed, complete with vast jetty. But it was never opened and the jetty, though built, was never used. It sits there, still, today, a magnificent white elephant.

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We never did locate the jetty that was in the “Down by the Jetty” photo. We think we may have walked under it early on, thinking it would be where all the main industry was.

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The sea birds have made good use of this structure.

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More views away from Canvey. Thames estuary at nearly its widest point, at low tide.

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Beyond the Lobster Smack, on the western side of the island, you found yourself on a dyke above the channel separating it from the mainland. This is one of the clearer bits – it was the most difficult part of the walk as it wasn’t cleared and later on there was a lot of undergrowth. The walk overall, turned out to be about 18 miles. Some tired legs at the end!

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We caught a train back to Liverpool Street from Benfleet and had what was one of the most refreshing pints I’ve had for a long time – two in fact. Brooklyn lager of all things. Much needed!

To finish, back to that mural. Me (right) and Jon, in front of the boys.

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I’ve been searching all through the city,                                                                                              See you in the morning down by the jetty…

 

 

 

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lovelondonscenes 114 – Royal Academy

The latest sculpture in the courtyard of the Royal Academy, “Spyre” by Ron Arad, moves about and films proceedings in the space. Part of the Summer Exhibition, which I went to see for the first time this evening, two days before it ends! Might pop in again and then write something.

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Sportsthoughts (153) – Time for those Premier League predictions!

It’s that that time again, to try to predict the outcome of a Premier League which becomes more unpredictable with every season. Last year was the most extraordinary, with Leicester City, one of the favourites for relegation when the season started, winning the League. And deservedly so – they won in a canter by the end. You can’t just say it was some of the big sides underperforming – theirs was a sustained and superb achievement.

So the first question must be, can Leicester do it again? I haven’t seen a single pundit yet who has said yes. In fact most of them seem to be predicting that Leicester will be lucky to stay in the top half. Distracted by the Champions League, they say; lost key midfielder, Kante, to Chelsea. And weren’t very good anyway. I think the bookies’ odds on Leicester being relegated are narrower than those on them winning the League again.

I think they may surprise everyone again. Maybe not win the League, but make the top four. Yes, the Champions League will add an extra burden – but also an inspiration. They have only lost Kante, and have replaced him with a similar player, Mendy.  At least for now they have kept the two goal-scoring stars, Vardy and Mahrez. Vardy turned down Arsenal, and Mahrez is coveted by Arsenal, with the transfer window still open. But they are still there, as is the rest of the team that won the League. With, no doubt, the same spirit. Other teams will know what to expect this time, but they were a very good team last year and I can’t see why they should deteriorate markedly. So I’m going to say 4th.

The big changes in the close season have happened at the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea. All three have imported star managers: Mourinho at United, Guardiola at City and Italy’s Conte at Chelsea. Such are the spells they cast that the media can’t see beyond them for the title. Mourinho has a bit of a track record of winning the title wherever he is in his first season. It then falls apart from the second or third year, but it does suggest Man Utd are strong contenders. And they have bought big, with Pogba (absurd sum for someone who left the same club on a free transfer not so long ago) and Ibrahimovich (aging but quality and hugely confident striker). The defence has been bolstered too. But I’m not convinced at this point; I think the midfield still risks being a bit pedestrian, and the presence of Ibrahimovich and Rooney might block the progress of Martial and Rashford. But I’ll go for them coming 2nd.

For City, it’s all about Guardiola, still living off his reputation from Barcelona. He won things at Bayern, but not a Champions League. So there are questions. I wouldn’t say City’s purchases so far are that exciting, although I would love to see John Stones progress at centre back, for England’s sake. City was a slumbering giant last year. The same players are there, a year older. But the quality of previous League winners remains. If Aguero and Silva stay fit, if Yaya wakes up, the strength of the squad will win them a lot of games. The owners may prioritise the Champions League, but they’ll shell out for more players if necessary. So despite some lingering doubts, especially if Kompany stays crocked, I’m going to say 1st for Manchester City.

Chelsea had a dreadful season last year, with Mourinho parting half way through. The Italian manager, previously at Juve, Antonio Conte, has been drafted in. He will no doubt make a difference. But will it be enough to get back into that top four? With the competition, I’m not sure. Kante will undoubtedly strengthen the midfield, but Batshuayi, the other main purchase, remains a bit of a wild card. Will Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas awake from last year’s hibernation? Will the same creaky back four, another year older, be able to cope with pace any better than last year? I’m not sure. I’ll go for 6th.

And what of the glorious Arsenal? Every year I try to make a case for them winning it. They should have done, really, last season. But, as ever, they bottled it at key stages of the season. Why should things be any different this season? They have strengthened defensive midfield with the Swiss star, Xhaka. A good purchase. But at this point they are still too reliant on inconsistent Giroud up front and the defence is looking wobbly, with a lot of injuries before the season even starts. I have faith that they’ll stay in the top four through the quality in midfield, but 3rd is the best I can manage.

So, I’ve selected five of the top six places and still haven’t allocated Spurs, Liverpool and my own team, West Ham. Or indeed, the team that came sixth last season, Southampton. Just to deal with them, they have again lost a good manager and key players in the close season. I’m not sure they can keep on recovering from that. I suspect they’ll slip a bit this season, maybe to something like 10th.

Spurs had an excellent season last year, and looked nailed on for second place, until they ran out of steam at the end and were pipped by North London rivals, Arsenal. They play an attractive, pressing style, under Pochettino, but you do wonder if it is sustainable over a whole season – and the England players from Spurs were clearly wiped out during the Euros. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp appear to have a similar philosophy. Hopes are high on Merseyside that Klopp is the man to take them back to greatness, but I don’t see the quality in the team yet to do that. So 5th for Spurs and 7th for Liverpool.

As for the Happy Hammers, we are happy under Slaven Bilic, and in our new Olympic Stadium in Stratford. The future is bright. And genius Dmitri Payet hasn’t left! But the new signings only seem to add a bit of depth to the squad without really raising the quality. So with the likely revivals of Chelsea and Liverpool, the survival of Leicester, and the power of the big spenders, I can’t really see how West Ham can break into the top six. Right now, I have to predict a slip of one place to 8th. Fingers-crossed I’m being unduly pessimistic. Well, not pessimistic – I think we’ll have a good season in a hugely competitive league. And, you never know, a decent run in the Europa League.

So, in summary, my top eight is:

  1. Man City
  2. Man Utd
  3. Arsenal
  4. Leicester
  5. Spurs
  6. Chelsea
  7. Liverpool
  8. West Ham

Elsewhere, I’d expect Everton to challenge for top eight or better under Ronald Koeman, enticed from Southampton. Crystal Palace have spent ambitiously and should be top ten. And of the promoted sides, I think Middlesbrough might make an impact. I suspect the other two, Burnley and Hull, will go down, probably accompanied by Watford, who have torn themselves apart once again. Hard to get away with it every season.

Anyway, kiss of death for City! Feel optimistic, Chelsea and Liverpool fans…

And please, Hammers, don’t mess up in the lovely new stadium!

 

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Two novels with jazz

I’ve read two novels this holiday in which jazz plays a part. Sometimes subversive, always arousing emotions, inspiring the writer. When I wrote about jazz in my book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey”, I described a music that could be many things, with improvisation at its heart. Another world to the one I usually inhabit. More subtle, mysterious, spiritual. A voice without words. A beautiful scream. But music you could dance to too, and music, because of its flexibility and its range was capable of some wonderful fusions with other genres. Think of all the times music is referred to as jazzy. It can mean so many things. It might be a mellow, sultry beat, or a time signature that is just that bit different, or something that is truly spaced out. All these things denote that feeling of jazziness.

And the jazz in the two novels, while rooted in the swing of the 1930s and 40s, brings out many of those feelings.

Both books have been sitting in my to-read pile for a while. They felt right for a holiday. Sitting on the terrace, overlooking the sea, or listening to the chorus of cicadas, a beer or white wine by my side, and maybe some music, even some jazz music, on the iPod. Not too loud to annoy anyone else.

The first book was “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. One of those books you know you should have read. If it inspired Bob Dylan, you know you’ll get something out of it. I enjoyed it. Had I not known when it was written, I’d have assumed it was about the sixties. All the partying, the boozing, drugs and pursuit of girls seemed very representative of that hedonistic era. But Kerouac was actually writing about experiences mainly in the late forties. Just shows what affluence the USA already had , when most of the world was still in shock from the devastation of World War Two. I liked Kerouac’s portrayal of time and place – it made me want even more to visit some of those cities I’ve not been to, like San Francisco, Denver, San Antonio and New Orleans. But I got a bit bored with the endless desperate partying – basically lads on the piss by any other name. And while the central character, Dean Moriarty, was a life force, he was clearly also a selfish pain in the arse and in the end not that easy to sympathise with.

Dean’s empathy with jazz though, was wild and true. Jazz in “On the Road” is the music that sends the characters to new heights of frenzy and communion with the sound and the players. This was about a time that pre-dated rock’n’roll. The jazz that Kerouac celebrates is absolutely the music of black people, a music of the spirit, of losing yourself, of protest and the blues. For the white kids, no doubt, it was the music of subversion. Until Elvis came along…

The Czech writer, Josef Skvorecky’s novella, “The Bass Saxophone”, is about subversion of a different, and braver, kind. First published in Czechoslovakia in the sixties, it’s one of three pieces in the volume I read, all about Czech people living under the yolk of the Nazis. Skvorecky’s prose is fluid, discursive, quite hard to keep track of at times. Many a time a sentence will meander into a stream of consciousness before coming back to join up with the first part, which may have introduced a character, or a theme. But it’s a rewarding read. An introductory piece, “Red Music” writes of how, both under the Nazis and then the Communists, music like jazz was seen as a threat to the established order, an invitation to people to express themselves, think for themselves, and by definition, break free from the tyranny imposed on their daily lives. There’s an extraordinary set of regulations imposed on dance orchestras by one Gauleiter. This is number 3 of 10:

As to tempo, preference is to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated.

You can bet your life that the Gauleiter, or his musical adviser, was a massive jazz fan on the quiet.

But you know, edicts like this weren’t exclusive to the Nazis. You can read similar pronouncements in the Stasi museum, in Berlin, today.

And so the theme in a love story called “Emoke” and then “The Bass Saxophone” itself, is about people finding escape in music, and specifically, in the latter, jazz, as the owner of the bass saxophone turns up late to a concert of traditional music in front of the assembled German dignitaries in a Czech town called Kostelec and blasts the inexplicable, plaintive, subversive cry of his instrument through the dross that went before. The author, a young man, has been standing in for him, in bizarre circumstances, on an alto sax – he can’t handle the magnificent bass machine. He is allowed to escape as the authorities take control. But he is there in frustrated spirit with the doomed bass saxophonist.

Music, and especially jazz, is therefore a form of rebellion against the totalitarian forces. In village halls across Czechoslovakia, bands subvert old-fashioned waltzes with swing and the blues. People come from all around to enjoy it. The music of black America, in a small way, helping people to resist, if only for a fleeting moment, the joyless oppression of the conqueror. And we know those oppressors like a little bit of that Swing themselves. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that…

The subversion in subjugated Czechoslovakia is of a different, deeper quality than the anti-establishment vibes of the youngsters in “On the Road”. But in both books, the power of self and communal expression that music – jazz – can create runs deep and true.

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Latitude 2016

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Another year, another Latitude. My fifth. Three days when you shake off the daily grind and just relax, watch 30 bands, drink Tuborg and enjoy the sense of community that is all around. OK, if it rains there is a lot of mud, and you do have to sleep in a tent. But it’s worth it.

And this year it hardly rained, there were virtually no traffic jams coming up, and even the water pressure in the showers was marginally better!

We had a good gang this year. Me and Jon, his son Louis and his mate Mark, my son Kieran and his mate Adam, and my friends Shane and Ginette, dipping their toes into festival waters for the first time. And a few other friends around. We don’t spend a lot of time with the boys, who follow a different daily cycle. But from time to time our music choices overlap, or they might have a recommendation that we follow. And the morning is always a time to catch up, as no-one can sleep on in a tent once the sun comes out.

So, onto the music. Rather than plough through every band I saw, I’m going pick out ten highlights, plus another couple of crucial events. Then I’ll mop up a few other bands . Only bands: I saw nothing else all weekend, despite the tremendous variety on offer. There is just too much good music.

Starting with the best.

Chvrches – Obelisk (Main Stage), Saturday

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Chvrches were awesome. Second on the bill to The National. We saw them in the i-Arena, when they were just emerging, in 2013. I took to them pretty quickly that year, and have loved them ever since. And how they have changed, live. Lauren used to be pretty static, grasping her mic leads tight. Her vulnerable voice and stance on stage was a beguiling contrast to the blasting synths, especially of “Lies”. But all that has changed. Lauren never stops moving, except for the slot when Martin Doherty takes over the singing. Black dress swirling, arms aloft. Dynamic and engaging.

Just like the music. On Saturday night it packed a real drive and power. The set was uptempo – even “Tether” was dropped – with a focus on the second album and the poppiest ones from the first. Chrvches have honed their stagecraft through extensive touring, and a lot of festivals. They know their festival audience. Younger than usual, especially the front few rows, looking for an excuse for a bit of moshing. And they got it, all the way through. The bass did more than rumble. It bulldozed out of the speakers. I stood quite close (not quite in mosh territory) and that bass shook every bone in my body!

The atmosphere was electric. Exhilarating. Hard to pick out a highlight as the whole show was a highlight. I was impressed that the kids seemed to know all the words; they weren’t just jumping up and down to the bass kicks. Maybe Chvrches are now cracking that younger audience.  That way true stardom lies. And Lauren Mayberry is a star. No longer just the indie heartthrob.

But keep that indie spirit Lauren!

Slaves – BBC 6 Music Stage, Friday

Slaves have previous at recent Latitudes too. Two years ago they played the Lake Stage in the early evening sunshine. It’s quite hard to make an impression as people bask in the sun, or pass by to other places, but I remember being struck by the vehemence of their two man guitar and drum rants. Jon and I saw them last year on the NME Awards tour with Palma Violets, Fat White Family and The Wytches, and they were rousing. And now, second on the bill to Grimes, they were mindblowing. Basic, but unbelievably powerful. Punk, thrash, hardcore. How Isaac Holman keeps it up on drums and vocals – shouting – beats me. These guys are true to their Kent roots, but also really receptive to the audience. There was a real humility in Isaac’s words as he described their first Latitude experience and their appreciation of where they were now.

And then we had Harvey from Kettering! One lad at the front was obviously giving it some with his dancing, so they invited him on stage and he absolutely rose to the occasion. Bossed it! It was funny, heartwarming and in the true spirit of rock’n’roll.

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That’s Slaves for you. You probably wouldn’t want to listen to them on record too much, unless you are a young and angry man. But live they are life-affirming.

The National – Obelisk Stage, Saturday

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The National had a hard act to follow in Chvrches, but they did it with aplomb. And respect (see below). They headlined in 2011, the first year Jon went (I followed in 2012). Singer, Matt Berninger, had a lovely story about the band’s bond with Latitude. In 2011, the band were at a crucial juncture, short of money and equipment. Latitude making them headliners in 2011 transformed their finances and helped them make a tour of the UK. They borrowed equipment from the Cold War Kids on the night. It went well and the rest is history. On Saturday, the bond, the mutual respect, was there for all to see. A wonderful set, full of rich, plaintive but warm songs, soaring guitars, fantastic lights and graphics and Berninger his usual un-rock star self. His current look is of a rather long haired university professor I thought. But he can sing and move a crowd. It was an inspiring set and featured three lovely moments for me, as well as that story about 2011.

First he duetted with no less than Lauren Mayberry on the beautiful “I Need my Girl”, from the latest album, “Trouble Will Find Me”. Not some cheesy harmonies (though that might have been nice too) but sharing the verses. Lauren sang beautifully, and the mutual respect is clearly strong. A wonderful moment.

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Second, just the marvellous “Pink Rabbits”. It’s taken me a while fully to get The National, but the first song to knock me out was “Pink Rabbits”. It’s a tortured lost love song (one of many) with lyrics on one level obscure, on the other conveying perfectly the mood. I’ve quoted this before, but I’ve never tired of this quartet, which sums up the hopelessness so well:

You didn’t see me I was falling apart – I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park – You didn’t see me I was falling apart – I was a television version of a person with a broken heart.

I know the lyrics so well, having learnt them to play the song on the guitar. So it means a lot to me, and I think the bloke standing next to me thought I was a bit weird belting them out! But I was living the moment.

And then the last song, when Matt turned the mic towards the audience and everyone (including all the band) sang “Cry Baby Cry”, actually known in Berninger-land as “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. Of course it was! A great and genuine moment of communion in the warm Saturday night air. We were blessed that night, until later, with perfect weather. As good as festival nights can get, I would say. Probably the best headlining act I’ve seen at Latitude, although there have been many excellent ones before.

These were the three standout moments, the ones that will be remembered for all time – with a fourth to come after the bands. But on to the next band in my ten.

Courtney Barnett – Obelisk, Friday

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I wondered how Courtney Barnett, with her grungy rock’n’roll, with lyrics to take notice of, was going to come across on the Obelisk on a Friday afternoon, just after British Sea Power had disappointed even Jon, a massive fan, with a somewhat underpowered set. I was left to enjoy her set on my own as everyone else was heading, quite reasonably, for Christine and the Queens. And, by all accounts, she was one of the hits of Latitude. But you have to stay loyal. I love Courtney’s music and I felt the need to support her. So I went quite close to the stage – it wasn’t difficult. And I’m pleased to say she rocked! One of the few who did over the weekend. This was a festival dominated by electronic sounds, which is fine, because that is where the cutting edge is these days. And there is a young crowd that needs to hear their own music, not just a load of stuff to keep the oldies happy (there is plenty to do that by the way).

I’m a bit useless at remembering Courtney’s song titles, notwithstanding the distinctiveness of the lyrics (a problem I have with many bands), but highlights, inevitably, were “Depreston”, “Avant Gardner” – the closing song – and the awesome “Pedestrian at Best”. Put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you!

Proper rock’n’roll, I cried to myself, as I joined in the accolades. The spirit of Nirvana wasn’t much to be seen at Latitude, but Courtney Barnett kept it alive.

Let’s Eat Grandma – Sunrise Arena, Friday

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The Sunrise Arena is the new name for the i-Arena, in the woods. The sponsor, the Independent newspaper, went bust and has a new owner. Sponsoring Latitude obviously isn’t in the business plan. The Sunrise Arena is the place where Jon and I will always start the day if there is nothing else we are desperate to see, and the place we always return to, to discover amazing new music. It’s also the place where most of the crucial DJ sets happen after the concerts finish. Our Latitude spiritual home.

Let’s Eat Grandma are two local 18 year olds – Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, from Norwich – who, you will know, if you read my review of them from a few weeks ago, play an intriguing mix of sounds which take in prog, electronica, dance, Kate Bush, Bjork and who knows what else. The recorder features. It’s great stuff – maybe not for everyone, but they really won over the Sunrise crowd, third on, on a Friday afternoon. They don’t engage with the audience yet, but that will come. I think they are exceptional and will go far. They have a new album out, “I, Gemini”. It will be mostly the live set and is well worth a listen. Not a discovery for me, as Jon put me on to them earlier; but one of the most exciting I saw on the Sunrise Arena this year.

Pumarosa – Sunrise Arena, Saturday

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What I said about the Sunrise above is why we went to see Pumarosa first up on Saturday. The programme blurb mentioned Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and, bizarrely, in that company, The Cocteau Twins. Having seen them, it all made sense. They were excellent. They played with a confidence and scope that tells me that they are destined for big things. Maybe influenced a bit by the appearance of the singer and guitarist, Isabel Munoz-Newsome, I immediately thought Wolf Alice, and something in their sound kept that thought there. Maybe not quite as many poppy choruses yet, but great guitars, big sounds and some singing that definitely brought memories of Patti and Polly Jean. Good, good band. Staying for the whole of their set meant I missed most of Rat Boy in the 6 Music tent, so they can’t make the top ten. But Pumarosa were my discovery of Latitude 2016.

Roots Manuva – 6 Music Stage, Sunday

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After a pretty lively Saturday which resulting in getting to bed at about 4am, Sunday was a bit soporific at first. Jon and I enjoyed some mellow shows at the Sunrise Arena to start, of which more later. But basically we lay on the grass and took in the music in a chill-out style.

Roots Manuva got us back on form!

If you don’t know Roots Manuva, he’s probably the UK’s premier rapper, with strong roots in reggae, dance and British culture generally. He’s been making awesome sounds for years. He took hold of the 6 Music arena and turned it into a cauldron of rhythm and dance. The bassline- like Chvrches and few others – went straight for the solar plexus. Initially, I was planning to stay for 15 minutes and then go to see The Lumineers – a popular folky outfit, a bit like Mumford, I think – as I’d not heard them before. But I couldn’t. Roots Manuva was so good. He didn’t do my favourite, “Again and Again”, but he finshed with his awesome “Witness (1 Hope)”. Altogether now, Witness for fitness…

Lonely the Brave – Lake Stage, Saturday

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Another completely new one for me. Kieran’s friend, Adam, from university, is obsessive about them. They play a muscular rock, with big riffs and choruses, which remind me most of some of the early 2000s bands like Snow Patrol. But a bit more dynamic. The Lake Stage is a hard place to get people going in the afternoon, but they managed it. They’ve been going for a while and have even supported Bruce Springsteen. So Americans may respond better – and the European continent. But I think they have a good future. Their singer just needs to put himself a bit more upfront. They have a charismatic guitarist – he needs a rival. I’m sure it will happen. I will certainly be exploring their albums. Top of my Spotify homework list!

Mura Masa – 6 Music Stage, Sunday

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This was a recommendation from Kieran. When I listened to his music (he’s Alex Crossan from Guernsey) on Spotify, I thought a more dancey James Blake. Live, with a girl singer, I thought Disclosure with some more leftfield beats. Either way, they are recommendations from me! The singer did a bit of irritating exhortation of the crowd to respond more, even as the kids at the front were leaping about in mid-afternoon. I thought it was a good reaction, and by the end it was buzzing. Mura Masa comes from a different musical world to mine, but there is overlap, and I could appreciate the brilliance of his sound without thinking I loved it. He will be big, no doubt.

New Order – Obelisk Stage, Sunday

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Of course I have got to include New Order! The last signature show on the main stage. A show which featured “True Faith”, “Temptation” and the iconic “Blue Monday” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in the last half hour. The Dads were rocking! But lots of other people too. I was with Shane and Ginette and we just missed Jon, who was near us. He is a massive fan. I acknowledge the greatness without getting misty-eyed. But that last sequence was worthy of a Latitude finale. Overall the show had great sound, lighting, and, like The National, superb graphics. The band are not strong personalities on stage, so the presentation was key. The bass of Tom Chapman, replacing Peter Hook, took centre stage, as it does with New Order and Joy Division. He was good.

I can’t say I didn’t look at my watch during the first hour, but the wait was worth it, with the string of classics at the end. Some of the greatest indie music ever.

Other bands who made a mark

On that restful Sunday start at the Sunrise Arena, I wallowed in the ambient jazz piano of Lambert, complete with impala mask. Rumours were it might have been Nils Frahm, and you could see hear it in the piano if you wanted to.

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Then Holly Macve, from Yorkshire, sang some beautiful country ballads. Her voice was tremendous. The songs reminded me a bit of torch song era k.d.lang, but Holly’s voice took us to different places. One to explore. And Cloves, from New Zealand, had a style that could take her into Ellie Gould territory. Later on Sunday at the Sunrise we saw a Norwegian band, Highasakite, who had great melodies and some big choruses. I really liked a song which I think was called “The Last Supper”. Kiran Leonard, on the Lake Stage, Saturday afternoon, drove all my friends away with his howls, but I find him engrossing, and he plays a spectacular guitar. Marc Riley, from 6 Music, adores him.

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Sunrise Arena would have been his natural home. Bleeding Heart Pigeons, from Dublin, had a great guitarist too, though he hasn’t made his mind up whether he wants to be Hendrix or The Edge, with a Bono to provide the melodies, yet. I couldn’t quite make my mind up about John Grant, at the Obelisk, before Chvrches, on Saturday. Most people I talked to loved him. I find him just a bit contrived, with the music forced to fit the words. But I see the appeal. Also on the Obelisk on Saturday a bit earlier were Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. They played an excellent set of good old fashioned American R&B that was very much in the spirit of Van Morrison in the 60s and good old Southside Johnny. Could have done with a bit more volume though.  Flamingods, first thing we saw on Friday (Sunrise Arena of course) played an energetic mix of percussive, funky, Latin, hard-rocking, anarchic beats that made me think of a Mexican Fat White Family. And finally Grimes. Could easily have been in the ten. Would be top of most people’s choices, if they saw her. After Slaves, another sonic assault, and visual too. Dance beats rather than hard rocking. But in the same camp. Only when she spoke did the squeakiness come through. I’ve never paid that much attention to her music. I think it’s a brilliant version of the type, but maybe not my thing ultimately. But I can’t deny it was an awesome show.

The other two highlights

First up on Friday, in the Film and Theatre Arena, comedian and commentator Adam Buxton paid a tribute, mostly based on YouTube videos, to David Bowie.

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It was heartfelt and very funny at times, especially some of the comments he’d dredged up from YouTube. Like the bloke who complained that Bowie dying had ruined his birthday. The show was book-ended by clips of Bowie doing “Jean Genie” and “Heroes”. Both emotional moments. The show brought out the love we have for his music, but also the humour in anyone’s situation. Masterful. Thanks to my colleague Annabelle (who was at Latitude too) for recommending it. Otherwise I would have been at Augustines – and I felt just a bit guilty about missing them. But you have to make difficult choices at a festival sometimes.

Finally, one of the great Latitude moments. David Rodigan’s journey through reggae, and all its relatives, at the Sunrise Arena. From 1am on Sunday morning to 3am. It was meant to be Friday, but no matter. Suggs was on at 11 pm, Saturday. He was disappointing – didn’t seem to know his way round the console and played a list of 70s and 80s disco any of us could have done. At least at the start. I left and went down to the Button Down Disco, an indie treat in the Comedy Arena, for about an hour. Then I returned to the Sunrise. Jon was still there. We watched from the back while jungle took its turn (it’s roots were in ragga) but then I just had to get involved. I immersed myself in the crowd – most unusual! – and found myself slowly moving forward. I just love reggae, and Rodigan is the master. He took us through so many phases, with heavy doses of Ska and Bob Marley near the end. Rightly so. The singing, the celebration, was exhilarating. God knows what I was doing there really, but I left at the close and made it back to the tents just after the boys, who had all been there, though I didn’t see them. Well beyond my bedtime, and it took Roots Manuva to get me going the next day, but it was one of the most memorable Latitude moments. Don Letts has provided them in reggae many times. He had a set on early Monday morning. I skipped it this year after Rodigan, but I’ll be back next year.

I’m sure I – we – will be back next year.

Like David Rodigan would say, Give me a signal for Latitude!

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Massive Attack and Elvis Costello live, July 2016

Not together, but two of my all-time favourite artists played in London this month. Massive Attack opened the British Summer Time series of live concerts in Hyde Park on Friday 1 July. Elvis Costello and the Imposters played the Roundhouse on Wednesday 6 July.

I was there!

Two very different artists, but they had something in common at these two shows: they were both trying to find ways of addressing the self-destructive craziness that has overwhelmed Briatin – or should I say England? – these last few weeks. With more to come, sadly.

I saw Massive Attack earlier this year at Brixton Academy. It was an awesome show: atmospheric, bass reverberating, the beauty of the songs vying with the sometimes rather gauche, but powerful sloganeering. An event. You can read my scattergun review here.

I expected more of the same at Hyde Park, but maybe even more spectacular lighting to compensate for the inevitable loss of atmosphere playing in the open air, on a rather damp and chilly English summer evening. That didn’t really happen, and while the show was good, I was left slightly underwhelmed. The slogans were there, with more focus on Europe and the implications of the British vote to leave the EU. But they were all a bit obvious. And the lights were unambitious by today’s big show standards.

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And the music? Again, a bit of a lost opportunity. They dug out an old song, “Eurochild” from the excellent “Protection” album, which they hadn’t played for over 20 years. A lament for the vote. And the emphasis throughout was on peace and harmony. And old colleague, Tricky, was brought back for one song. Reggae singer Horace Andy, who has embellished so many of Massive Attack’s great tunes, was literally wheeled out – in a wheelchair, as he has a broken leg – for one song, the mighty “Angel”. The band missed his fragile tones, which are such a lovely counterpoint to the power and darkness of the music. There were great versions of “Risingson”, “Inertia Creeps”, “Safe from Harm”, and a magisterial “Unfinished Sympathy” for the encore. But momentum was lost in the middle when they gave their good friends, Young Fathers, the stage for four songs. Now I like Young Fathers and they know how to put on a good show, but this interlude just didn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

So, yeah, of course it was good. My friends Jon and Shane were pretty enthusiastic about it. But I guess I hoped for a bit more from one of the great bands.

And then we had Elvis. And the Imposters, which was actually two thirds Attractions, with the inimitable Steve Nieve on any number of keyboards and Pete Thomas, ever-reliable on the drums.

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Elvis back with a band, after all the solo shows and the talk. And back to a version of his early self – intense, visceral, biting, angry. A man of few words, but an uncompromising stare through the shades. And rocking like I’ve never seen him before. On a rocket-powered version of “Beyond Belief” he played a lengthy solo that Neil Young or Robin Trower would have been proud of. “I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea” got similar treatment.

The setlist drew heavily on the 70s and early 80s catalogue. The best era, though he has never stopped doing interesting things. The era when he had something to say about the state of the world. And it wasn’t pretty viewing through Elvis’s eyes.  What he had to say was often brutal, vicious, but the tunes were so good, the music ever-mutating. And tonight, back with his greatest foil, Steve Nieve, he told us what he was thinking about the state of Britain and the world. Through his songs. “Sunday’s Best” (which segued into The Beatles’ “Polythene Pam”), “Oliver’s Army”, “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding?”, “Green Shirt”, “Night Rally” (with blazing searchlights), “Pills and Soap” and, of course, the ever poignant “Shipbuilding”. Elvis sang the latter with just a restrained piano accompaniment from Steve Nieve. It really was a cry for help, a plea for change. He remarked that he’d hoped that he wouldn’t still be feeling he had to play it. But he probably always will.

Yes, this was what the media love to call a return to form. A delve back into the classics, but with a purpose. Entertainment, but not just that. A howl of anger at what is happening, from the man who dissected the crumbling 70s and brutal 80s better than anyone. Much more allusive, subtle, than Massive Attack. And more effective for that. I love ’em both, but Elvis won hands down this time around.

Music speaks volumes.

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