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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!