Yesterday we would have been crawling up the A12 to Henham Park in Suffolk, for the start of the latest Latitude festival. It would have been my ninth and Jon G’s tenth. But like so many things, it had to be cancelled this year. Maybe not so important in the grand scheme of things, but I will miss it over this weekend. It was one of the highlights of the year, not just for the great live music and other arts, but for the whole vibe. Everyone doing their own thing, but coming together too, in shared celebration. From 16 to 60, and all ages in between (and beyond). It has always felt like a community.
I won’t have a festival to report on this year, so I thought I’d look back over the past eight years and pick out some highlights. I’ve focused on the live music, though some of the most memorable moments have been in the early hours, after the music has stopped on the main stages. The reggae sets from Don Letts and David Rodigan in the Woods – his show in 2016 was one of the greatest moments of all – the pumping beats in the Sunrise Arena and the Woods, the Guilty Pleasures disco, the Lake Stage sound system banging out indie, pop and dance classics whatever the weather. And, in recent years, the impromptu discos in the “Danish Bar”. And then, if the weather is OK, getting back to the tent with a bottle of white wine from the Co-op (where people dance to disco classics as they shop) and reviewing the day’s events with whoever is still up. Love every minute of it!
So, here goes: 50 Latitude memories, in slightly fuzzy focus. Flashing lights, lots of heads in front of me and pictures taken with a small digital camera or my iPhone are my excuses!
Bon Iver, Obelisk Stage (the main stage), Friday. You might have expected Justin Vernon to be more comfortable in the i-Arena, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing his heartfelt songs, but he and his band put on a big stage show. For my 17 year old son Kieran it was the highlight of the weekend.
I was very excited by the Staves’ wonderful harmonies in 2012. They are sisters. Their first album, Dead & Born & Grown was just out. They were singing a song called Wisely & Slow in this photo. i-Arena, Saturday.
The Horrors‘ goth rock tour de force was probably the best show of the weekend. Moving Further Away was truly epic. Word Arena (the main tent), Saturday.
Ben Howard went down a storm with the youngsters on the Obelisk, Sunday. I loved his dextrous, percussive guitar playing.
Honourable mentions to War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, Wooden Shjips, Django Django, Daughter, We Are Augustines and Paul Weller, who treated us to a few Jam classics at the end of his show. We Are Augustines played what I thought was one of the greatest rock’n’roll shows I’d ever seen; but getting a decent picture was impossible. They were back in 2014 as Augustines…
It was a bit muddy in 2012. It’s never been quite like that since.
Benjamin Francis Leftwick was new to me, but I liked his wistful folk sound. Lake Stage, Friday.
Japandroids headlined the i-Arena on Friday. A two piece – drums and guitar – they rocked incredibly. An exhilarating show.
Trans Europe Express! Kraftwerk were amazing on the Obelisk, Saturday. 3D images erupted through the evening sky.
James Blake’s soulful, disjointed electronica is the definition of night music. And yet it captivated a huge crowd at the Obelisk on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Honourable mentions: Chvrches were just emerging, with their debut album due soon after. They attracted a crowd that overwhelmed the i-Arena. No chance of photos, but you could tell they were going places. And Drenge rocked on the same stage on Saturday. Ed Blaney’s Ultimate Bowie tribute act at the Outdoor Theatre was pure joy. Disclosure and Foals were both good, but not as brilliant as I was expecting.
Weather report: complete contrast to 2012. Same path in this photo. Those shorts have since been ditched!
The Acid, featuring Aussie Ry X, were astonishing at the i-Arena on Saturday. Woozy melodies backed by punching electronic beats. Starkly original.
Bombay Bicycle Club had the youth vote on the Obelisk, Saturday. Reminded me a little of a 70s American new wave band called The Feelies, as well as Vampire Weekend.
Nils Frahm, i-Arena Saturday. An absolute keyboard/ electronica genius. His music was a really exciting discovery. Have seen him a few times since. Always captivating.
And so to the best run of bands in my time at Latitude, on the Sunday. Parquet Courts – Eagulls – Fat White Family – Augustines – War on Drugs. Two venues, so you couldn’t catch the full show of each band. I did stay for the whole of Parquet Courts, at what was now the BBC 6 Music stage. New York new wave, updated. Loved their album Light Up Gold. They were brilliant – and very arsey.
Didn’t see much of Eagulls, but caught the first few songs of Fat White Family at the i-Arena. They were wild. I’ve played around with this photo a bit, but not much.
Rushed back to the 6 Music stage for Augustines. Another magnificent show. An element of Springsteen and a lot of rock’n’roll. Singer Billy McCarthy lives for his music.
And then the War on Drugs, featuring their brilliant album Lost in a Dream. I was lost in a dream watching this. A very moving dream. One of the great Latitude concerts, maybe the best. Adam Granduciel, singer and lead guitarist, suffers, and it all came out in his magnificent guitar playing.
Honourable mentions: East India Youth, Cate le Bon, Bondax, Marika Hackman, The Bohicas (rock’n’roll!), Damon Albarn, headlining the Obelisk on Saturday amid an impressive lightning storm, Julia Holter, closing the i-Arena on Sunday with a haunting set.
Gengahr had just become my favourite indie guitar band with their debut album “A Dream Outside”, and their set at the i-Arena on Friday showed why.
There was a new, one-off stage along the lake this year called Other Voices. This is the Kit’s beautiful, off-kilter folk was just perfect for the venue on Friday afternoon.
Jon Hopkins finished off proceedings in the BBC 6 Music tent on Friday with a sonic and visual assault on the senses that was truly exhilarating.
I’d never heard of Duke Garwood before, but after his brooding guitar masterclass at the i-Arena on Sunday, I had to hear more. JJ Cale meets Robin Trower.
Rat Boy at The Alcove on Sunday was a pure energy rush in that space where rap and punk collide. There was moshing!
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds were pretty good, with some imaginative lighting; but things really took off when Noel pulled out the Oasis songbook. There was a magisterial Champagne Supernova and a truly anthemic Don’t Look Back in Anger to finish the show. Obelisk, Sunday.
Honourable mentions: Nadine Shah, Wolf Alice (brilliant in the 6 Music tent on Saturday – no chance of photos), Warpaint, James Blake, Jack Garratt (the new James Blake!), Thom Yorke’s late “secret” set, which was overwhelmed by the kids waiting for DJ EZ, Manic Street Preachers rather grudgingly working their way through their hits.
Norwich teenagers Let’s Eat Grandma played an intriguing mix of prog, pop and dance as only their generation could. Sunrise Arena – changed name this year – Friday.
Aussie Courtney Barnett knows how to rock and writes intriguing lyrics that are both highly personal and amusing. She energised the Obelisk crowd on a sunny Friday.
Punk, thrash, hardcore and lots of shouting. How the two members of Slaves keep it going, I don’t know. This was primal rock’n’roll, an awesome experience – but not one to repeat too often! 6 Music tent, Friday.
One of the greatest Latitude moments for me. Chvrches, second on the bill at the Obelisk on Saturday. I went down near to the front – I wanted to experience this one properly. It was exhilarating. Hi-energy electro-pop and some rib-crushing basslines. Lauren Mayberry transformed from the rather tentative performer of 2013.
Top of the bill the same night, The National. Their songs are about introspection, but they have become anthemic. The light show and backdrops enhance the experience. AND Matt Berninger sang a duet with Lauren Mayberry on “I Need my Girl” – what else?
Pumarosa were my discovery of the festival this year. A big sound that had shades of PJ Harvey and Patti Smith, as well as Wolf Alice. Honey, with its searing guitar and environmental angst, soon became one of my favourite tunes of recent years. Sunrise Arena, Sunday.
Roots Manuva woke everyone up on Sunday afternoon in the 6 Music tent. Reggae, rap, dance, the London streets – it’s all in there. And some thumping bass lines. You cannot keep your feet still to this music. Altogether now, witness for fitness…
Honourable mentions: Lonely the Brave, Mura Masa, Kieran Leonard, Lambert (Nils Frahm in disguise?), New Order – when they launched into the hits. And not forgetting David Rodigan’s reggae odyssey in the early hours of Sunday morning – a wonderful communal experience, the best of Latitude.
A year of new favourites for me, starting with Julia Jacklin from Australia, whose debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win was a wonderful combination of folk, Americana and heartfelt pop. A live show honed to perfection by months of touring. BBC Music stage, Friday.
Catherine McGrath, a young country singer from Northern Ireland, played The Alcove on Friday afternoon and was delighted that anyone had turned up! Her music was Taylor Swift as much as Kacey Musgraves and she had a very engaging between-song patter. I’ve seen her play live in London many times since.
I wasn’t too familiar with The 1975, but my lot were, so I went along to the Obelisk on Friday for their headline show. I liked the Prince-style sheen to their songs, and singer Matt Healey had a bit of style – as did the stage set. Good modern indie-dance-pop.
My favourite new favourite band, Honeyblood played the Sunrise on Saturday. The set was pared down to the rock’n’rollers from their brilliant two albums, Honeyblood and Babes Never Die, and got a good sized crowd rocking. I was proud of them!
If you want brutal rock’n’roll, Idles are your band. This was their first appearance at Latitude, on the Lake Stage, Saturday. It was pretty wild – this is an early shot when they still had all their clothes on. It all ended with the band leading a posse of teenagers in a conga over the bridge and into the Woods!
More new favourites: Goat Girl, from South London. They have a scuzzy, loping sound with bursts of punk riffing, and no-nonsense lyrics about the state of the world. PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth and Fat White Family are all in there. This was a big gig for them and they responded magnificently.
Honourable mentions: Japanese House, Shame (it was them or Idles for a photo), BEAK>, Slotface, Cabbage, Declan McKenna, Twin Peaks (fantastic straight ahead punk/rock’n’roll), Jack Garratt (stepping up to the BBC Music tent), Tom Grennan, Ward Thomas (more UK country-pop), Girl Ray (another new favourite), The Magic Gang. Disappointments: Mumford & Sons (expected); Fatboy Slim (unexpected).
Palace Winter are an Aussie/Danish band with strong melodies, swirls of electronica and pounding beats. Two albums in, they played a powerful set taken from both at the Sunrise on Friday.
Durand Jones and the Indications played some great 60s and 70s-style R&B, soul and funk. They were slick, they were tight, they were rousing. They hail from Indiana. Joyous, uplifting music.
Black Midi were still a riddle wrapped inside an enigma when they played the Sunrise in 2018 (on Friday). Their music is very distinctive, melding prog, jazz rock, punk and psychedelia. Or something. Best of all is the incredible drumming of Morgan Simpson – a whirlwind of beats. We came away from this one thinking, wow, what was that?
I used to think Alvvays were from Sweden, such was their way with melody. They are in fact Canadian. You could call their sound power pop. They’ve written some genuine anthems, like Archie, Marry Me and Dreams Tonite. They played a triumphant gig at the Roundhouse earlier in the year. This one was great, but slightly marred by a preponderance of Liam Gallagher fans in the crowd, waiting for their hero’s “secret” show. BBC Music tent, Saturday.
Holly Cook played a lovely set of old school reggae in the Music and Film arena late on Saturday night, heavy with the sounds of dub. Verily music to chill to, after a hard day’s gigging.
I loved The Orielles’ set on the Sunrise, Sunday. A young band from Halifax, they have updated the sounds of 80’s indie, with Esme Dee’s mellifluous vocals and pulsating bass lines and Henry’s crystalline guitar. The last song, Sugar Tastes Like Salt, gave him a chance to rock out – it was truly epic.
Wolf Alice absolutely bossed the Obelisk stage on Sunday. They were great back in 2015 and have just got better and better. They know how to rock and they know how to write a good tune. Their latest album, Visions of a Life, is a bit heavier than the first, My Love is Cool, but it came alive on the big stage.
Another year, another Jon Hopkins extravaganza in the big tent, to finish Sunday’s proceedings. As awesome as before, if not more so. Based this time on recent album Singularity. That is a masterpiece; this was mind-blowingly good.
Honourable mentions: Hinds, Lower Slaughter (very angry!), Lucia, Alfa Mist (cool jazz, out of grime and hip hop), Sorry, Wildwood Kin, Wandering Hearts, Confidence Man, She Street Band (all woman Springsteen tribute band – huge fun as part of the Guilty Pleasures night in the Comedy Arena), Pip Blom, Mogwai (finally got them), Idles (even more pummelling indoors), Jade Bird.
I didn’t know Anna Calvi’s music too well. I always thought she was a fairly bland pop musician. Wrong! This show, early Friday on the Obelisk, was sensational. Her guitar-playing was visceral. I know her music now.
Crows were completely new to me. They made an awesome noise. Pile-driving riffs and ear-splitting distortion. Singer James Cox did a lot of crowd surfing, even though it was just the Sunrise on Friday afternoon.
Primal Scream played their hits, and what hits they are! The Screamadelica stuff, the rock’n’roll. Bobby Gillespie natty in pink suit. Absolutely joyous.
Honeyblood were first on the Obelisk on Saturday. They played with verve and had attracted a decent-sized crowd by the end. Third album In Plain Sight added to the catalogue, but you still need Ready for the Magic to finish! Stina went on to play a solo set in the Danish bar in the afternoon. That was great too – though swelteringly hot under the perspex roof.
Quite possibly the greatest Latitude concert of all. Underworld came on after headliners Stereophonics on Saturday night and blew the place away. The beats, the lights in the night sky, and lager, lager, lager!
Julia Jacklin was back, on the BBC Music stage, Sunday, and better than ever. Armed with her new album Crushing, and my favourite song of 2019, I Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You. Fellow Aussie Stella Donnelly made a guest appearance.
Chvrches returned too – Sunday on the Obelisk. The emphasis was on their high tempo pop, especially from latest album Love is Dead. It was a party, with Lauren dressed for the occasion.
And finally, not for the last time in this festival season, the amazing The Comet is Coming, featuring the indefatigable Shabaka Hutchings on saxophone. In the darkness, on the Sunrise stage, it was an incredible end to an incredible festival.
Honourable mentions: so many! The Murder Capital (who were the very best at End of the Road later in the summer), Freya Riding (Lost Without You so moving!), Loyle Carner, Maisie Peters, Life, Ider, Pigs x7 (as loud and overwhelming as Crows), Palace, Working Men’s Club (a new band to watch), Pale Waves, Sons of Kemet, Celeste (who has made a real name for herself since, with the lovely ballad Strange), the Japanese House (rockier than before). I’ve sneaked in another photo below, from when Nadine Shah joined Life on the Lake Stage. Sums up the fun to be had at Latitude.
I have to pay tribute to the poet Luke Wright too. I’ve seen him plenty of times over the years at Latitude. He lives locally. He usually comperes some of the poetry as well as performing his own material. It’s quite brilliant – searing social observation, excoriating about politics, sometimes quite personal – he’s divorced with two children – and often crudely funny. He does these amazing pieces where only one vowel is allowed. In 2019 it was “U”. It must be the rudest vowel! He is an astonishing performer – it’s poetry with beats and rhythms. Drum and bass made from words. As much at the heart of Latitude as all the music.
So, that’s my eight years of Latitude. Let’s hope I’ll be back to celebrating another brilliant festival in 2021.
I’m thinking of a place, and it feels so very real…
A great War on Drugs song. Resonant today…