My fourth Latitude – and Latitude’s tenth. 17-20 July 2015.
Another Latitude, another few days off shaking off the shackles of work and responsibility, and just enjoying the music, the arts, the Tuborg, the vibe. A new stage to look forward to this year. Other Voices: an established small festival from Dingle in the south west of Ireland, showcasing a range of folk and other interesting sounds.
As usual, I went with my friend Jon, my son Kieran and Jon’s children, Connie, and for the first time, Louis. We made good time for lunch in East Bergholt, where Jon’s parents live, and embarked on the last leg up the A12 to Henham Park, near Southwold. Usually takes an hour or so…
Five hours later – or was it six? – we finally got to the Latitude parking area. The traffic jam from hell. You could spend fifteen minutes stationary, progress 400 metres, then stop for another fifteen. There was no reason other than really heavy traffic, and one junction that required stopping to let cars in from the right. We heard the same half-hourly news stories on repeat, got intimate with the British open golf and test match cricket, practically lost the will to live. We got there at about 8 pm, mind-numbed.
But within an hour or so the tents were up and we were ready to roll.
There were a few bits and pieces on Friday evening. Jon and I ended up watching a comedian interviewing a comedian in the Literature tent. Stuart Goldsmith and Charlie Baker. Charlie was revealing about his craft, his anxieties and his self-criticism. An engaging person; and he had a show at 11 in the morning the next day. I went. Enjoyable, but a bit easy, relying on audience participation and showing off his singing voice. In fairness, it was a family show on a Friday morning; but it reminded me of something he said about himself the night before: “You haven’t worked hard enough.”
We started – where else? – at lunchtime in the i-Arena, with an all-woman punk band called Dolores Haze. When the Latitude line up was announced, I hardly recognised anyone on the i-Arena list. That’s not a problem, as the selection is always so good – an education. But this year I mugged up on Spotify in advance, and Dolores Haze were one of those bands that were definitely on the to-see list. The songs headed towards Siouxsie territory – a bit faster – and there was lots of shrieking. I thought they might be Japanese, but they turned out to be Swedish. Live they looked pretty Goth, in regulation black. The riffs were sharp. They didn’t smile when performing, but were likeable between songs. And they gave Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away” a good going over. Ones to watch.
Another band described as punks in the past are The Districts, from New York. We saw them in the 6 Music tent. I’d describe them more as good American rock’n’roll, with some roots in punk, and some screaming guitar that put me in mind of the Horrors, or even War on Drugs. After a short break, when I ventured into the poetry tent, we were back to 6 Music for Unknown Mortal Orchestra. A band getting a lot of plaudits. You could see why. I thought they’d be more electronic – perhaps I was thinking of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – but they were more a slick,tuneful rock/pop band, of the sort that the Antipodes excel in producing. UMO are from New Zealand. Not totally my thing, but I enjoyed it.
As for that poetry, I heard (and watched) two artists, part of an afternoon compared by a Norfolk poet called Luke Wright, who, I think, has been involved with Latitude from the start. He gave us a few of his own works; one filled with disgust about the last train home from Liverpool Street to Norwich. You could relate to it. The first performer was Sophie Rose, who acted out an internal dialogue between the anxious and the ambitious, the dreams and dashed expectations, the desire for independence and the security of a boyfriend, however unsatisfactory. Everyday life. The second, John Osborne, had performed at every Latitude. Again locally-based, his observations on the minutiae of life were funny, bewildered, acute. I loved his poem about a boy called Michael Jackson (“can you moondance?”) and one called “Kylie Internet Dating”, which reflected on a recent newspaper story about Kylie Minogue’s recent split with her boyfriend. What if she was on an internet dating site? Would she respond to John?
After the event the poet was selling his recent collection, “Most People Aren’t That Happy Anyway”. At £10 it was not much more than a couple of pints of Tuborg! I bought it.
After Unknown Mortal Orchestra, we went over to the i-Arena and caught the last 15 minutes of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. As you can imagine they sounded a bit psychedelic and a lot like Hawkwind. I then went over to Other Voices to see Rozi Plain, who had released a single called “Actually” which I liked. In the Cate le Bon mould. The Irish compere seemed to be going on a bit, telling us the entire line up for the three days at Other Voices. That was because Rozi Plain had not arrived. Like the rest of us, she got stuck for hours on the A12. Eventually, her performance was postponed. So I headed back to the i-Arena for one of the shows I was really looking forward to: Genghar. They’re a London indie band, with some sharp guitars and singer Felix Bushe singing in an eerie falsetto. I really liked their song “Powder”, all woozy vocals, searing guitars and an unusual chord shift on the chorus. Their debut album is full of great songs, like “She’s a Witch”, “Dizzy Ghosts” and “Heroine”, which has an REM bass line that jumped out at me when I first heard it on 6 Music. Anyway, they didn’t disappoint; it was a storming performance with “Dizzy Ghosts” and “Heroine” opening and “Powder” and “She’s a Witch” closing. Best indie band of the festival.
Then it was back to Other Voices to see This Is The Kit, a folky band whose music I’d heard on 6 Music and really liked. Led by Kate Stables, with none other than Rozi Plain on bass. They’d all been stuck on the A12 together. Kate was clearly still a bit shaken by it all – they could easily have missed the gig, and you don’t want to miss a show at Latitude. But what a performance. Beautiful, misty folk-based songs, Kate starting with a couple of solo pieces, with just her banjo. She has a beautiful voice. The band then took the sound into some interesting places, with guitarist Neil Smith adding some striking electric guitar, all reverb and echoes. Great stuff all round. I’ve got their latest album, “Bashed Out”, but I’ll be exploring more.
Getting together with Jon again, I saw the last bit of Public Service Broadcasting. He was very enthusiastic – I didn’t see enough really to take a proper view, but they pack a lot of interesting stuff into their sound. We then went back to the i-Arena to see the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They’re a New York punk-pop band who haven’t quite taken off here, although they seem to have all the ingredients. The melodies are strong, the rhythms in a grand New York tradition: Ramones, Strokes, etc. We chilled out on the grass with a beer at the back of the arena and just took in the sound. Kieran joined us. I was pondering what has held up big success. Maybe too pop for punk and too punk for pop. Caught in the middle, and not enough image to force them through. Good band though.
Finally, on Friday, the first of many dilemmas. Alt-J headlining on the Obelisk or Jon Hopkins, electronic maestro, in the 6 Music tent? I’ve never been a big fan of Alt-J. Don’t dislike them; just find the music doesn’t really go anywhere. But Kieran really likes them, so I went along for the first half of the show. Live, it was strong. The slow beats worked well in the open air, the beats reverberated and the light show was arresting. It went down really well. At 10.15 I dashed down to the 6 Music to see the phenomenon that is Jon Hopkins. The show was awesome. The sounds, the beats, the light show. All extraordinary. In-yer-face. One of the experiences of the weekend. Some similar things were to come…
Then it was time for some post-concert drifting. Jon and I tend to go our separate ways and occasionally bump into each other at the same things. There is so much going on. I quite enjoy chilling a bit at the Lavish Lounge – which is open air. BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction has a residency there and you can hear some interesting sounds from around the world. This year it moved away from its lakeside position and Into The Woods. I’d forgotten that and went back to the old place. It wasn’t there, but a thing called Solas was. I wandered to the far end of the space and heard some funky eighties sounds. They were in a little space called My House and everyone was dancing. It was packed. There was a band, whose heads I could see – enough to make me observe that they looked like the Doobie Brothers, or the Allmans – playing some incredibly slick eighties grooves. A long workout of Edwin Collins’ “A Girl Like You” was going down. Brilliant. The sounds continued in a similar vein. I lurked outside for twenty minutes or so, just drinking in the music. One of those unexpected delights you get at Latitude.
There was another at the Lavish Lounge when I finally made it. Don Letts was into his DJ set. When I arrived he was playing Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”, but soon the reggae kicked in. Phenomenal, as always. There was a brilliant ragga version of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved”, all about yardies, and a couple of great reggae covers: Tracey Chapman’s “Fast Car” and, bizarrely, Nirvana’s “Lithium”. Reggae can do anything!
I got back to the tent just after 2 am. I felt like I was leaving early. That’s what it’s like in those woods.
Got up surprisingly early – about 8 am – and managed to get a shower before the queues really formed. They have showers, so can’t complain about that, but the water pressure is about as low as it can be before they don’t work at all. I guess it’s a good incentive not to linger. Sympathies for all the women – the queue is horrendous. Must take an hour to get in.
Jon and family were going to see Tom Robinson in the 6 Music tent at just after midday. I said I might join them after looking in at the literature tent, where Hanif Kureishi was giving a talk on creative writing. When I got there he was reading a story. Something said to me, you need music. So off I went. On the way to the 6 Music tent, I went past the Lake Stage and heard the unmistakeable sound of Bob Dylan. It was a young guy who looked like Bob Dylan circa 1965 and sang like Bob in ’63. It sounded great. I stayed and missed Tom Robinson. No-one knew who he was – he wasn’t on the bill. One woman said he was called “Trevor”. Sounded implausible. I still am none the wiser, but will have to find out!
Next thing I saw was a young duo on the Lake Stage, called Frett. Some friends of Jon’s were camping near us. They were very well-organised and we popped round there each morning for a chat and a cup of tea. Their daughter and her friend were talking about this band called Frett. Quite like Ed Sheeran they said. Ed Sheeran was on everyone’s lips because he’d done a surprise show, late at the i-Arena. Part of the 10th anniversary celebrations. As the rumours spread, crowds started to turn up, but barriers had been put in place. Jon’s friends’ daughter and friend had got in, and Louis also. They were dead pleased – Ed Sheeran is the ultimate these days. I’ve never really got beyond “The A Team”, which I liked. My girls saw him at Wembley Stadium recently. He fills Wembley Stadium!
Anyway, I stopped by for Frett and thought they were pretty good. Electronics as well as guitar, and some adventurous guitar too. More Ben Howard than Ed Sheeran, I’d say. Not a big crowd, so a way to go, but you could see them doing it.
Then it was heavy duty rocking in the 6 Music tent with Drenge. They’ve moved on from 2013 when I saw them early on the i-Arena. Then it was just guitar and drums. Now they have a bassist as well and they are ever more metal and rock’n’roll. The relentlessness of their sound reminded me of none other than Motorhead. They just need a song as good as “Ace Of Spades”. Quote of the weekend from vocalist and guitarist, Eoin Loveless: “Phenomenal tea…”
Next up was another artist I’d been looking forward to seeing: Nadine Shah, at the i-Arena. I really liked her track, “Stealing Cars”. She has quite a deep voice, and at first, I’d thought it was Morrissey. That put it in my my mind that the band must be from Manchester. Wrong – she’s from Sunderland. It was a good show. Easy comparisons are Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, mixed in with some of the languid sounds of the Velvet Underground. Maybe even a bit of that melancholy but beautiful strand of music represented by Mazzy Star and Keren Ann in my world. Intriguing.
After a lovely veggie paella from Paellaria and a bit of Marika Hackman, returning to the i-Arena with a bigger, but just as dreamy, sound as last year, we were off to one of the anticipated highlights of the weekend: Wolf Alice in the 6 Music tent. They’ve got a bit of everything that makes a great indie band: screeching riffs, pounding beats, catchy melodies and choruses, rocking rhythms for the mosh – and a striking singer. Ellie Rowsell. It’s pop music. You can’t deny the importance of an iconic singer. Ellie Rowsell has that something. My notes say Siouxsie Sue meets Debbie Harry. And the sound: Horrors meet Blondie. Melodies and big riffs, which come across especially well live. This is a seriously good band.
I don’t go much to the main stage, the Obelisk, that much, unless its’s essential. It’s a totally different experience to the 6 Music tent or i-Arena, which are enclosed, and in the latter’s case, close up. Even the Lake Stage in the open air, gives you a degree of intimacy. The Obelisk is good for the day trippers, families (as long as it isn’t raining). Until it gets dark for the headliner, it usually feels like a lot of people are there for the picnic. Close to the stage you get the diehards of course, but I just find it a bit soulless. Unless, of course, someone like James Blake comes along and blows the place away even on a sunny Sunday afternoon (see 2013). But Saturday evening offered Laura Marling, James Blake and Portishead. I had a quadrilemma (if there is such a word) for the Saturday headline spot. Portishead on Obelisk, Vaccines in 6 Music (the kids’ choice), Clark on i-Arena (electro awesomeness), and the wonderful Unthanks on the Other Voices stage. For most of the time I was thinking Unthanks, because I love their new album so much: although there was a nagging feeling that seeing Portishead on the big stage was something I ought to do. But late on, Jon and I decided on Clark, for reasons I’ll describe in a moment.
Laura Marling didn’t really make an impact in the sunshine. I like her music, but it drifted by. She would have been much better off in the 6 Music tent. James Blake, as ever, took on the open air obstacles and pumped up the bass. Soulful, jazzy and those beats that shake it all up. One new piece upped the dance beats. It was a great concert again, although he was essentially doing much the same thing as a couple of years ago.
And then Clark. Jon missed Jon Hopkins, and this was the next best thing. In fact, musically, it was as good. There was less space for amazing lights at the i-Arena, but the graphics enhanced the beats. It was a relentless hour of pulsing, hammering electro. Truly absorbing.
There was another reason for picking Clark. The rumour abot a 12.30 slot at the i-Arena was that it would be Thom Yorke. Of Radiohead! We reckoned if we were already in the venue, they wouldn’t kick us out. That wouldn’t be a Latitude thing to do.
We were right.
We saw Thom Yorke.
But first, we had an hour of rap from the Four Owls. Now, I like rap, always have; but this was in-yer-face call and response stuff. A bit karaoke. After 15 minutes it began to pall. It was giving me a headache by the end. I took a Neurofen – my rucksack is well-equipped. Like Jon said, Neurofen rap!
Thom was meant to be on at 12.30 until 2 am. After that there was DJ EZ, who is a big name in dance. Kieran was hugely up for that. The computers and graphics screens were set up – we knew we weren’t going to get “The Bends” – and Thom and his mates shambled on at 12.45. “This will be experimental”, he said. And something like, “The machines will talk”. Except, right at the beginning one of them didn’t work. People got restless. But when it got going it was good – in an unpredictable Thom Yorke way. Dominated by hard beats, with some warbling vocals and strummed guitars and bass which were either mixed down or just couldn’t compete. I think the music was mostly off his new solo album, which I’ve never got around to buying, as it’s only on obscure channels. Perverse old so-and-so, Thom Yorke. Put the bloody thing on iTunes! Still, we love him for it.
It was all fine until about 1.45. Then the security guards must have started letting in the kids for DJ EZ. Quite a few had obviously been there for Clark, but the new influx were that bit more inebriated. And very tall! Suddenly there was no room at all. I heard one “Who is this guy?”, but mostly, being Latitude, people were respectful. But because he started late, Thom went on after 1.50, cutting into DJ EZ’s set up time. He didn’t finish until 2.15. But who tells a world superstar to cut his set short because the teenagers want to dance? But you know, he should have. Maybe he didn’t realise how the dynamics were changing. Jon and I eventually retreated from our spot, which was becoming pretty suffocating. I didn’t want to leave before the end, but I wanted it to end. It was a relief when it did. We left and picked up a cup of tea on the way back to the tent. A cup of tea! Sitting there at 3am drinking a cup of tea, recovering from the Thom Yorke gig!
Yeah, but at least I can say that I was there…
Sunday looked like a day which could go anywhere. Obviously I had to see the Manic Street Preachers and Noel Gallagher on the Obelisk at the end of proceedings. Manics because they had so many great tunes; Noel because he might just play a few Oasis classics. His High Flying Birds stuff is OK, but a bit mediocre compared with the heyday.
If in doubt, head for the i-Arena…
Beaty Heart kicked off proceedings with some Vampire Weekend-style sounds. It was pretty good. I liked the bass lines and shimmering echo. By the end, I was thinking, this is really good. I was even getting a bit of Foals. Another to watch.
Jon then went off to meet his kids for lunch. I stuck around for Duke Garwood. A brief listen on Spotify had told me it was good swamp blues; but nothing prepared me for how good it was live. This was one of my discoveries of the weekend. Duke Garwood himself played a phenomenal guitar, erupting with reverb and echo like Robin Trower at his best. The sounds were slow and mellow with this amazing guitar all over it. An acoustic/electric, with Duke stroking the strings like he was in love with them. There was a supporting guitarist and drummer, whom Duke called his brother. That could be literal, or maybe not. Just a fellow traveller maybe. They looked like three guys from the south of America – long hair, beards, cowboy boots. The music gave me Trower, Neil Young – and JJ Cale. I just loved it. The song titles were classic early 70s: Mellow Lady, Heavy Love, Hunted Woman, Honey In My Ear. The pace was catatonic – it was just that guitar washing over everything. It was so American.
I checked on Wikipedia today when I got home. He’s a multi-instrumentalist from Kent! Well, there you go. Britain and America come together when it comes to rock. All I know is that I need to see a full Duke Garwood live performance as soon as possible.
Jon got back for Admiral Fallow, which was OK. Had the Mumford sound, which is so popular with the youth, and reminded me a bit of the likes of Deacon Blue. We then went to Other Voices for Eaves. A lad from Leeds called Joseph Lyons. Publicity references Nick Drake, Tim and Jeff Buckley, amongst others. That’s a big call. He looked like he could be a guitarist with Lynyrd Skynyrd; but I have to say, I thought he was really good. I could hear the reason for all those references. Lovely music, just the man and his guitar. He did another set at the Lake Stage later. I walked by that and he had a band. Less impact I thought. Marketing him as another James Bay? Dilemma – go for the authentic feel or the one that will make the money? Most will go for the latter.
I had a bitty time for a while after. A bit of singer-guitarist Charlie Cunningham on the Lake Stage as I had some food; Susanne Sondfor at the i-Arena, who was a bit too grandiose for me; Young Fathers bashing out their rocking rap on the 6 Music stage – very successfully.
Then I took a punt on Rat Boy, on new band stage, The Alcove. What a choice! They were brilliant. I’d guess they were 17 or 18, from the London suburbs, and that they have absorbed punk, rap, the Streets amongst others. The riffs were just perfect. The energy phenomenal. There was a lot of moshing at the front – may have been their school friends for all I know; but it was the best rush of energy I experienced all weekend. I could hear Pistols and Clash riffs, Beastie Boy chants, The Streets rhyming. Don’t think there’s an album yet, but I’ll have to hear it. I came out of that half hour of about ten, twelve songs, which they rattled through, feeling uplifted. The spirit of rock’n’roll.
I like Warpaint, and I looked in on them on the Obelisk – the wrong place for them. 6 Music the right place. They were good; but I wanted one last shot at the i-Arena, for Jack Garratt. The blurb in the Latitude handbook, with his Frank Ocean and Jack White influences, sounded interesting, and he’d sounded good on Spotify too. Good call! Place was packed out. People really responding to what I thought was a combination of James Blake keyboards and Prince rocking guitars. He looked like a Hoxton hipster and some of the crowd did too. I was wondering why I’d never heard of him until a week ago. He was emotional and genuinely appreciative of having such a big crowd. Occasionally I thought the guitar and beat box didn’t quite connect – he was doing it all himself. Maybe he’ll need to take the James Blake route and get a sidekick; but I was impressed.
And then I did have to go and pay my dues to the Manic Street Preachers and Noel Gallagher. The Manics rattled through all of their best songs and a few newish ones. The sound wasn’t great and the sun hadn’t started to set – both diminished the impact a little. But I loved hearing “Motorcycle Emptiness”, “Your Love Is Not Enough”, “If You Tolerate This”, “Everything Must Go”, “You Love Us” and last song, “Design for Life”. Memories!
Noel started with a slew of recent songs – and they worked. The lights and graphics enhanced the experience. He got arsey about the apparent Guardian readership of Latitude audiences and told the Suffolk people they were all farmers. No need, but that’s him. Chip on the shoulder. He couldn’t quibble with the reception, even for his less well-known songs. And for us Oasis nostalgics he did the business: “Talk Tonight”, “Champagne Supernova” (oh yes!), “Whatever” (quite a Liam song), “Half the World Away”.
And then, the last song. “Don’t Look Back In Anger”. Lighting up the night air. Everyone singing. Nothing else united the Obelisk audience like this. Whatever you think of Noel Gallagher, he has written a few anthems. A special moment.
And that was the end of the concerts. Time for some dancing!
I love the Lake Stage area on a Sunday night. Bashing out all kinds of music which everyone just gets down to. No worries about being cool. This year it was 60s soul and rock’n’roll with a few more modern things thrown in. It worked. People, dominated by the youngsters, were all just dancing. Even I was! A wonderful vibe. I started to tire at about 1am (I did OK!) and headed for the woods. Lavish wasn’t my thing at that moment, but the mighty Don Letts had started his reggae on a little slope by some cinema screens, just like last year. I hadn’t intended to stay for long – but those rhythms are so infectious. I called it a day at about 2.15. I got a cup of tea on the way again and sat outside the tent, looking up at the stars and mulling over the weekend’s events. So many great experiences and discoveries, as ever. Stepping out of that working life, all the normal responsibilities and obligations, and just sharing the vibe with thousands of people. A vibe which is about creativity, love of music, all the other arts, and just having fun. Taking time out from the grind. Renewal.
Is that a bit over the top? It’s just a festival. You’ve got to camp. Rough it a bit. What’s so great about that? Well, it’s all part of the experience. Each year gives me new energy – and so many new things to explore and enjoy.
I think I might be back next year!