Latitude No 8 for me; No 9 for my friend Jon G. We were a smaller group this year, but Jon’s daughter and son, Connie and Louis were with us, along with another friend of mine, Shane, and Jon’s friends Rick and Adrienne. We set off quite early and were pitching tents by 3.30. But not in the same place as the last few years – a huge area normally used by ordinary campers (ie, the ones only paying £200 for a ticket) was fenced off for the use of camper vans and caravans and families. Festival Republic have obviously decided that they can make more money from these groups, so to hell with the rest of us! We were able to secure a reasonable spot, but it got very cramped as everyone poured in. I suspect this will be the dominant theme in the customer surveys this year, and hopefully the organisers will have a re-think. Never a good idea to take your core customers for granted.
But the music – the reason we were there – was as good as ever, if not better. It seemed more varied than ever. There was plenty for the pop fans and youngsters – George Ezra, Loyle Carner and Sigrid, to name three – but so, so much more. Some old favourites, some new favourites and some great stuff that was unknown to me before Latitude. Which is exactly how you want it.
So, is what happened at my Latitude. Which, as I’ve said before, is different to others’ Latitude. And my Latitude didn’t include George Ezra, so sorry if you are a big fan of his, as many people are. Not my bag. We’ll take it day by day as usual. Not much to say about Thursday, so let’s go straight to Friday.
Friday 19 July
The first band I saw today was The Teskey Brothers. They were on the Sunrise Arena, and played to a pretty big crowd. They are an Aussie band – the first of many – and play good old-fashioned 60s soul and blues. They do it very well; the singer (one of the two brothers) has a great soulful voice, in the Otis Redding/ Sam Cooke mould, and some of the guitar had a real BB King feel to it. All good! From there it was over to the re-named BBC Sounds tent for Kero Kero Bonito, a young band from London, who played bouncy pop-rock. I then went solo for my one excursion this year to the Speakeasy to see the poet Luke Wright, a Latitude perennial. Fresh from touring with Dr John Cooper-Clarke, a kindred spirit, he was his usual mixture of trenchant social observation, sharp humour and dramatic delivery. His poem where the only vowel allowed was “u” was amazing – really clever and crudely funny. It’s fair to say that “u” may be the most guttural of the vowels! There was some sentimentality too, about his son, now eight, whom he doesn’t see enough of, post-divorce and being on the road a lot. He wears the hurt on his sleeve, and in his writing. He ended on his brilliant defence of prententiousness, “ Embrace the Wank”. His delivery on that one is extraordinary. I recommend seeing Luke perform if he is ever in your vicinity. You don’t have to be a poetry geek to enjoy it. It is the performance that brings the words alive.
Next up was Anna Calvi, on the Obelisk, the main stage. For some reason I’ve never really heard her music. But I was hugely impressed, especially by her guitar sound, very raw. The songs live, were visceral, and the bass lines pounded. It was a tour de force, and I will definitely be giving her back catalogue a proper listen. After that it was back to the BBC Sounds tent for Jenny Lewis. She’s an American singer, much admired in the music press. She sang with a band called Rilo Kiley for a while. They made some great music. West Coast rock, but with some astute lyrics. They made three or four songs which have pride of place on my Car Songs playlist, along with one of Jenny’s solo pieces, “Just One of the Guys”, which I love. I’m less enamoured with her new music, which I think dominated the show. It was good but not great, and I moved on before the end, to catch something completely different…
Bloody hell, Crows! Sunrise Arena. What an utterly awesome noise they made, and what a show too. Singer, James Cox, spent half his time in the audience. Pile-driving riffs and ear-splitting distortion. All played with a smile, too. Not sure I’ll spend too much time listening to the records, but live, I will definitely want to see them again. One of their last songs was “Chain of Being”, which Louis ranks as one of the songs of 2019. I can see why. One of the most exhilarating performances of this Latitude. And if that wasn’t enough, next up was The Murder Capital, who had been so impressive at Citadel last weekend. The smaller Sunrise stage, cramped their movements a little, but they still had that aura about them. This lot really mean business. I prefer the faster, punky songs – there was one rather tedious dirge midway through the set – but the show as a whole was once again very powerful. And if I want to, I can see them again at Green Man and End of the Road. I expect I will.
The variety of Latitude then came to the fore, as the next thing on the agenda was Freya Ridings. I know it came out in 2018, but “Lost Without You” is one of my favourite songs of 2019. It’s so beautiful – a tried and tested theme, but sung so movingly. Because of that song, which was a big hit last year (unbeknown to me) the BBC Sounds tent was packed to the rafters. She was overwhelmed by that, quite emotional. The whole set was immaculate. “Castles” and “You Mean the World to Me” were other standouts, but of course “Lost Without You” was the one. I had a tear in my eye as Freya began, though the mood was soon punctured by a group of young lads who moved in front of us, talked and jousted, took a video and then buggered off! Thanks lads. Festival life – you deal with it.
It was early evening and getting a bit chilly, so I went back to get my jeans on, and a fleece. I got back to the Obelisk to catch the last few songs of Loyle Carner. As I arrived he started up “Loose Ends”, a recent single which I really like. Jon and I saw him in the afternoon at Field Day a few years ago, and it was a bit repetitive. He’s much slicker now, and really had the big crowd on his side. The youth were out in force for him, including the young kids, many of whom bounced up and down on parents’ shoulders. Made getting a decent photo impossible, but it was a lovely atmosphere, even in the rain which had crept in. Like Stormzy at Glastonbury, he declared it the greatest moment of his life. He finished with one of his first ever songs, “No CDs”, harking back to the days when it was a struggle to get anyone to listen. A touching moment in a triumphant performance.
And then, to finish the evening off, another remarkable performance. Primal Scream in the BBC Sounds tent. This was an hour of pure joy – a greatest hits show by a band that was pioneering in the 1990s and also really knows the meaning of rock’n’roll. They kicked off with “Moving on Up” and followed that with “Jailbird”, and you just knew this was going to be special. The band were tight, and Billy Gillespie looked cool in pink suit and shirt. The performance of “Loaded” midway through the set was epic, and gave me a shivers-down-the-spine moment. The great songs just kept coming: “Higher than the Sun”, “Swastika Eyes”, “Country Girl”, “Rocks Off” and an imperious “Come Together”. Just magnificent: best show of a terrific first day; one of the best Latitude shows ever.
Oh, and Connie said George Ezra was fantastic!
Saturday 20 July
What a day! And it started with the band that I love more than any other these days: Honeyblood. Stina and Co were playing the Obelisk at 12.15. I bored my gang into submission and they all came along. I did wonder how many people would turn up, and I so wanted them to be a success. No worries – there was a decent crowd and they responded enthusiastically to a set which gave the first album, “Honeyblood” a good airing, as well as putting the emphasis on the rock’n’roll. Stina and the band looked great and played with real confidence. “The Third Degree” got a positive reaction from my lot, and the consensus was that the whole show was pretty good. “Sea Hearts” got things off to a rousing start. Early songs “Biro” and “Anywhere but Here” were nice additions to the set they played at Citadel. New songs “Glimmer” and “She’s a Nightmare” showed their live worth; first album classics “Super Rat” and “Killer Bangs” went down really well and there was the storming finish you always want to see: “Babes Never Die” and “Ready for the Magic”. A perfect start to the day. And there was a bonus round the corner…
We stayed on at the Obelisk to catch the stars of Sunderland, The Futureheads. I’ve always quite liked their jerky indie beats. “Decent Days and Nights” was a good song, and their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” was a quirky delight. They started the show in good form; but after three songs the music stopped. An electrical storm was approaching and there was a power down. I used the opportunity to wander down to The Alcove, with the intention of seeing a jazz-funky duo called Project Karnak. I’d heard a really good track called “Temple” on Latitude’s Spotify playlist. On the way down there was something close to a hailstorm. In the Alcove I hung around for about half an hour before a band called Heron Dance came on. They were good, but not Project Karnak! I never did see them.
The Danish Quarter, or Danish bar as we call it, arrived a couple of years ago when Carlsberg took over from Tuborg as monopoly supplier of lager to Latitude. It’s all there is, so you drink it. The bar itself is a good meeting point and there’s a great atmosphere in there at times, especially late at night, when people get dancing. Luke Wright had earlier had a dig it it as a tipping point in the commercialisation of Latitude, for it ousted the Poetry tent, which was merged with the Literary tent and re-named the Speakeasy. The Speakeasy is excellent, but the number of poets getting a chance to perform at Latitude has dropped dramatically. That is a real shame. But the Danish bar delivered a real treat for me today, as Stina from Honeyblood played a solo set at 4.30! I’d seen her do this before, at Leith Theatre in Edinburgh last year, at the Hidden Doors festival. Her songs work well in the context. As Stina put it, the angry songs – and there are plenty of those – become sad songs. The set overlapped with the earlier full band show, but we had a couple of different ones from the first album: “Bud” and “Fall Forever”. That first album obviously means a lot to her; and its rawness and simplicity is ideal for live performance. It was an intimate set, especially once the security guard had relented and let us move close up – at Stina’s request. The place was full and she received a great reception. She looked delighted to be doing it, which was good to see. And she is talking about taking the Lonerblood show on the road. Hope it makes it to London.
I then dashed over to Solas, in the woods opposite In the Woods, and by the lakeside where the pink sheep graze. It’s a chillout area with a small stage, which puts on up-and-coming and a few left-field acts. Shane, Jon and I saw one of those late on Friday night, which was an absolute shocker – the Intergalactic Republic of Kongo. Avoid at all costs, unless you like being abused for not dancing by a man with a Messiah complex! I’ll say no more. But I was at Solas on Saturday afternoon for Maisie Peters. I was rather hoping the power down earlier might have delayed her show a little, so I could see all of it, but I don’t think it had been, and I caught half of it. I’ve been listening to her songs a lot recently, having been put on to her by Line of Best Fit magazine earlier this year. They are simple love songs mostly, lost or found. Maisie herself describes them as emo girl pop. They aren’t exactly written for people like me, but she has a beautiful voice and they are lovely tunes. She’s getting pretty popular and sold out the Scala recently. I had a ticket for that, but didn’t go in the end, which I rather regret now. Anyway, she was just singing her most recent single “Favourite Ex” when I got there, and I did hear my favourite song “Feels Like This”, which is up there with Freya’s “Lost Without You” for me. The sound was a bit thin and I felt her vocals weren’t mixed up enough; but it was good to see how she performs live. A bit to develop, but she has the advantage of some very good songs that speak to her generation.
On the way to the Sunrise for a couple of shows, I stopped off at the Lake stage, to catch a bit of Hull punk band Life. They were lively, and Nadine Shah, who had been on in the BBC Sounds tent earlier, guested on the last song. Seemed like an unlikely combination, but she was having a lot of fun. I wished I hadn’t dawdled around Solas for a bit after Maisie Peters as I think I might have enjoyed seeing a bit more of Life. Over to the Sunrise, first up was Ider, who are fronted by two music graduates, Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville, from Falmouth University, which I have an interest in as one of my daughters is going there in September. I’d not heard of them before, but really liked their sound. It’s essentially modern dance-pop, enhanced by some pounding basslines and some rousing choruses where the excellent harmonies of the two really come to the fore. My predictions of who is going to be big are rarely right, but I see a successful future for Ider. Hope it’s not the kiss of death! One of the discoveries of this Latitude.
And then it was more noise. A very big noise, generated by the awesome Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, or Pigs x 7 as they are commonly known. They make songs – songs? – that resemble the architecture of their native Newcastle: dark and foreboding and with a certain magnificence. A big blast of raw power, with singer Matt Baty howling over the riffs. God knows what he is singing. They come from the school of Black Sabbath, bulked up for the modern age. As much punk as metal, but a brutal combination of both. Like Crows, but even heavier! And so it proved live. It was a phenomenon. At times it feels like the chords are being wrenched out, like having a tooth extracted with no anaesthetic! At first I thought it was a bit ponderous (like Sabbath can be) but by the end I was won over. They finished with “A66”, which I know and rather like. It’s about a road up north. Any more than that I can’t tell you. It was pretty wild. An experience I may repeat at Green Man and End of the Road – if I can take it.
Reeling from Pigs x 7, we staggered back to the Danish bar for a drink, then went up to the Obelisk, to see the first of the two headliners, Stereophonics. They stepped in to replace Snow patrol, two of whose members have neck injuries. I’d not seen Stereophonics before, so was quite looking forward to it. They’ve got a fair number of songs I like, without my ever having been a big fan. And they put on a good, slick show. An hour and 40 minutes tested my patience a little, but I enjoyed the acoustic interlude, which included an excellent “Handbags and Gladrags” (which I remember principally as a Rod Stewart song, though his was a cover version too). And all the hits were there: my favourites being “Have a Nice Day” and “Just Looking”. Jon got his favourite, “Dakota” right at the end.
For us, Stereophonics were just the warm up though: because now it was time for Underworld. One of the great electronic groups of the 90s and 2000s. Core members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith. I particularly loved their 90s albums, “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” (great title), “Second Toughest in the Infants” and “Beaucoup Fish”. And of course they are responsible for the great British anthem “Born Slippy” with its infamous cry of lager, lager, lager! I’d not seen them live before, but was expecting great things. And I was not disappointed – it was truly amazing. An extraordinary confluence of massive beats and dazzling lights, washes of synth and huge drops. The place, under the night sky, was ablaze. The crowd, silhouetted against the lights, arms aloft. Karl Hyde pranced around, submerged in dry ice, his vocals as disembodied as ever. “King of Snake” was a highlight, but the moment of moments was at the last, of course. As soon as the opening motif of “Born Slippy” echoed from the speakers, the place went ape. And lager, lager, lager truly was a spiritual experience! More shivers down the spine throughout. At the end we were all exhilarated, on a high. This was as good as the live concert experience can get, the moment when the Obelisk, which is often so annoying – with all the picnickers, people talking, showing off, paying scant attention to the music – came into its own. A large scale arena for a large scale phenomenon. There was only one thing to do at the end: go back to the Danish bar, drink some lager and talk about it!
Sunday 21 July
No chillout at the Sunrise to start of the musical day this year, so we went along to see Let’s Eat Grandma in the BBC Sounds tent. They’ve changed a lot over the last year or so. The new album is a lot more mainstream dance-pop than the first, though it retains some quirks. And when they came on stage they actually spoke! Which they continued to do throughout the set. That first album and the tracks that got us all interested, like “Deep Six Textbook”, “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” and “Rapunzel” have all been axed, but there were some interesting moments; and the tribute to their friend Billy Clayton, who died quite recently, was touching. They played along to a track of him singing. I enjoyed the show, mainly because it was interesting to see a young band developing musically. But I missed the earlier originality.
After that we wandered up to watch a band called Palace on the Obelisk. It was a lovely sunny day, after the mixed weather of Saturday, and the music of Palace chimed with the mood. Jaunty indie-pop, with chiming guitars and some nice solos. I heard elements of Two Door Cinema Club and Vampire Weekend in the sound, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Another band to explore further. They were followed by a real discovery on the Lake stage. Both Louis and I were enthusing about a song called “Bad Blood” by Working Men’s Club. I’d heard it a few times on 6 Music. The Fall clearly an influence, but guitar motifs which were more out of the Only Ones’ or Strokes’ songbook. Live, the look and intonation of the singer Sydney Minskey-Sargeant was definitely Mark.E.Smith, but the music was extremely varied, some of it heavily electronic, some guitar thrash and one that had strong undertones of Joy Division. We were all pretty excited about this band. Looking forward to hearing more from them.
Back to the Obelisk next for Pale Waves, one of Connie’s favourites. They are a Manchester band, with an interesting look. Singer/guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran both favour Goth, while the bassist and guitarist are classic indie boys. The music, with its big choruses, reminded me of a lot of 80s stuff – Cyndi Lauper sprang to mind for some reason – and Heather’s voice had a warble which was similar to the sadly departed Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. The songs were classic teenage angst and in my notes I wrote Goth pop. It got a great reaction from the crowd – this is clearly a band going places.
Afterwards, in the BBC Sounds tent, I watched a little of Sons of Kemet, one of the high tempo jazz bands that are a bit of a trend at the moment. Sons of Kemet featured the obligatory wild saxophonist and a tuba player who was in effect playing the bass lines. Louis was enthusiastic about them. I was so-so, but another of the ilk was to come later. Read on. I got myself some food and sat on the grass/dust by the Lake Stage to eat it. At this point a soul singer called Celeste came on. She sounded good. After I’d eaten, I ventured forward and caught her show properly. She and her band were excellent. She had a great voice and the band played a cool accompaniment. It reminded me a lot of the music I used to love in the 80s and the 90s – the likes of Anita Baker, Erykah Badu and, yes, Sade. Two songs near the end stood out for me: “Love is Back”, which had a great sax solo, and a lovely balled called “Strange”, with just Celeste and the pianist. There was a lovely, simple lyric which I noted down: Isn’t it strange, how people change, from strangers to friends, from friends to lovers, and to strangers again. Check out Celeste – she has soul.
And that brings me to one of the shows I was really looking forward to. Julia Jacklin in the BBC Sounds tent. I love her new album “Crushed”, as I did her first “Don’t Let the Kids Win”. I was so looking forward to her playing “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, my favourite track of the year so far. And she did, five songs in, just after Louis had left! But Rick was there. I loved it – such a beautiful, moving song, and two wonderful guitar solos, which I just wish were longer. Then it could be a real Neil Young-style epic! Julia likes to start her shows with something downbeat. Not sure why. So it had to be “Body” from the new album. I was OK with it – it’s a great song. I wonder about the uninitiated. The set was a nice mix of old and new, with plenty of her higher tempo songs like “Pool Party” and the new track “Pressure to Party” which is about feeling obliged to have fun after you’ve just split up and would rather wallow in your misery. A classic Julia Jacklin theme, which also features in the song that followed “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, “Turn Me Down”. It’s a song of two parts, and in the second there is a real cry of anguish. It takes a lot of singing I should think, and is really affecting. Those two were one of the highlights of my Latitude, for sure. Another of the top songs from the new album, “Head Alone”, had the added interest of a guest vocal from fellow Aussie Stella Donnelly. And the two of them reappeared during the next show at the same venue, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. I like their music on record; a rumbling Americana, which has some resemblance to The War on Drugs. Live, I found it lieable, but a bit samey. So halfway through I went off to get myself some more food, before another of the shows which I was most looking forward to.
Yes, it was time for the very wonderful Chvrches. They were on the Obelisk, second on the bill, just like in 2016 when they played one of the greatest shows I have seen at Latitude. Since then we have had a new album in 2018, “Love is Dead”, and a lot of the songs came from that. I’d put it third amongst their three albums – it’s a very accomplished electro-pop piece, but with less of the edge and variety of the first two, particularly the debut “The Bones of What You Believe”. My two favourite songs, “Lies” and “Tether”, have long been ousted from the set, though “Sink”, “Recover” and “The Mother We Share” survive – the latter always one of the closers. The show was a dazzling display, with Lauren Mayberry wearing a translucent dress that almost looked like a wedding outfit. You wouldn’t wear the black platform boots down the aisle though. Unless you were a Goth, I suppose. “Get Out”, from the new album, was a great opener, and set the tone for most of the set. They had obviously thought about the audience and said, we’ll play all our dance tunes. And it worked a treat – but left me wanting a bit more light and shade. I loved “Clearest Blue”, and “The Mother we Share” is always an uplifting moment. And I won’t quibble – you have to play for the moment. So, a triumph; but I’m looking forward to seeing them in Princes Gardens in Edinburgh on 11 August. Back in Scotland – will they go back to their roots a bit more? I hope so.
We skipped Lana del Rey on the Obelisk and Slaves in the BBC Sounds tent (seen them twice now, which is enough) and headed down to the Sunrise Arena for the headliners there, The Japanese House. (Except there was a late night show too…read on). Connie went off to the Lavish Lounge, also in the Woods, to see a not-so-secret show by Pale Waves, given that Heather had announced it at the Obelisk earlier! Japanese House are Amber Bain and band. She played in the BBC 6 Music tent in 2017 and I enjoyed that. Back home I downloaded all her EPs. They were mostly mellow songs with electronic beats and twin-tracked vocals. So I expected more of the same in the darkness of the Sunrise. In fact it was more guitar-based and Amber Bain, who is the Japanese House really, shared the vocals with her keyboard player to give the echoey effect. The show had a nice vibe. Amber was very grateful that we were there rather than at Lana del Rey and at one point played a little tribute to “Video Games”, which segued into “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. Unless it was actually her own song “I saw You in a Dream”, I’m now saying to myself. Well, whatever, it was good! As was the whole show, which had a dreamy quality despite the prevalence of guitars. A chance to chill before what was coming next…
The Comet is Coming! My God, they were amazing! We all knew “Summon the Fire” from radio plays, but live, what a performance! I was amazed there were only three in the band. Keyboard player Dan Leavers, drummer Max Hallett and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. They make such a big noise. Over the hour I don’t think there were more than three or four pieces, but what is not in doubt that “Summon the Fire” was early on and was incredible. The beats pumped out by Dan were awesome and Shabaka’s sax was just a force of nature. Coltrane squared! The whole performance was an intense experience: the flashing lights, the hardcore techno beats and the rampant sax. It was the jazz Underworld! How Shabaka kept going, given the breath you have to put into the sax, I don’t know. Dan went crazy on his keyboards, and Max had his mega drum solo near the end. An hour was enough, especially so late on, but wow! It was brilliant, and summed up the wonder of Latitude. The press write about the Obelisk headliners, but meanwhile this stuff is going on. All those comments about genteel middle class Waitrose shoppers are so much bullshit if you acknowledge the whole experience. Mine is focused on music. Others go for the spoken word, film, comedy, cabaret, whatever. It isn’t just about George Ezra, Stereophonics and Lana del Rey, though there is nothing wrong with them. They are crucial, and give us all the space to enjoy what we like.
As we did every night, we went back to our tents via the Co-op, with its disco music blaring – I’d love to see this happening in the South Ealing store! – and bought provisions, usually including some South African white wine. Then we sat around chatting about our days until it got cold and we felt tired. It was a lovely end to each day, and something we will always remember.
Was the music of Latitude 2019 the best ever? It feels like it right now, but you need time to reflect and place it in the canon. But for sure Underworld, Primal Scream, Honeyblood (x2), The Comet is Coming, Julia Jacklin, Chvrches, Ider, Maisie Peters, Freya Ridings, Celeste, Working Men’s Club, Pigs x 7, Crows and The Murder Capital will be making the case, along with all the others I’ve enjoyed this year.
We’ll be back in 2020!