Latitude 2018

 

Latitude No 7. Sunshine forecast. Quite a crowd of us going. The anticipation was building all week. Did a little bit of homework beforehand, listening to the excellent Latitude Spotify playlist on shuffle. Made a note to look out for the likes of Pip Blom, Bryde and Bodega. As ever, my good friend Jon drove (he puts the tent up too!) with three 19 year olds crammed in the back – Louis (Jon’s son), Mark and Lydia. Sympathy went out to Lydia, stuck between the the two lads for the best part of four hours. We were there by 3.30, queued for a while to get in, and headed for our usual spot. My son Kieran and his mate Adam joined us later, as did Rick and Adrienne, daughter Lucia and friend Sorrel, plus Craig and Miranda and daughter Rachel. Finally, on Friday Jon’s daughter Connie and Lydia’s sister Jess caught up with us. Full complement. Big shout out to you all!

It was 7.30 by the time we wandered over to the venue. That wonderful moment crossing over the lake, pink sheep grazing by the Latitude sign, the blue and pink canopy of the BBC Music tent poking out above the tree line. Always feel a tingle of emotion at this point. Back again – the scene of so many special moments over the years; three and a half days of escapism, when all there is to do is drink beer and watch a succession of wonderful performers, often artists you’ve never heard before, but who become firm favourites from that moment. Last year the best example of that was Catherine McGrath – I’ve seen her four times since, with number five, at the Scala coming up in September.

Thursday evening has a fair bit going on, but it’s just the warm up. Highlights were catching the tail end of a DJ set by actor Idris Elba at the Sunrise Arena in the woods, which was being filmed for a TV show, and a bluesy show at 11 in the Alcove by singer Sunny Ozell and band. Turns out she is married to the actor Patrick Stewart.

In bed – bed being a sleeping bag with a broken zip and an air bed which loses air pretty fast – by just after 1am, ready for the next three days.

Friday 13 July

Was really looking forward to Palace Winter in the Sunrise at 1.15, but caught a couple of things before that. First, I went to the Speakeasy, the new spoken word tent, to see Luke Wright perform some of his poetry. And perform is the word – he really lives it as he speaks. He was brilliant at Edinburgh festival last year, performing his piece called “Frankie Var”. His theme for this Latitude was the Poet Laureate, a post which comes up for renewal in 2019. Current holder is Carol Ann Duffy. Luke was imagining what he’d have to do to get the job. Write about the Royals, for example. He had a go at Prince Charles – a real go! As ever, he mixed stridency with humour, with a bit of sentimentality too. He has been going through a marriage break-up, and being separated from his kids part of the time is hurting. He spends a lot of time travelling between Bungay (in Norfolk) and Brighton on the south coast. He was funny about the two places though: how he felt good in Bungay because he was cooler than Bungay, whereas Brighton was much cooler than him. Some of my favourite pieces included “William Hague in a Baseball Cap”, about the fear of being left out; “Ballad of a Dog”, a tale of unaccountability in positions of power, the dog being Gordon Brown’s special adviser Damian MacBride, who trashed the reputations of Brown’s rivals, then had to resign, escaping unseen from Downing Street in the boot of a car, trapped like a dog; and “Embrace the W**k”, a defence of pretentiousness (like, in the minds of the English, being a poet!). All great stuff. He’s doing “Frankie Var” again in September. If you like poetry with a hard edge, try and catch him.

On to the music, starting with Deap Valley, in the BBC Music tent. Two women – Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards – playing guitar and drums and creating a maelstrom  of pummelling blues rock. Jimmy Page and John Bonham (RIP) would be proud. I only stayed for four or five songs, as I couldn’t miss Palace Winter, but I’d love to see a whole show. They rock!

Palace Winter are one of my favourite new bands of recent times. Jon and I went along to Rough Trade East earlier this year to see them launch their new album “Nowadays”, a worthy successor to the excellent “Waiting for the World to Turn”. Their songs are laden with great melodies, swathes of electronica mixed with pounding rhythms. Aussie frontman Carl Coleman  is a likeable and charismatic performer and gives his acoustic guitar a good thrashing. Dane Caspar Hesselager is imperious on the keyboards. They opened with “Proton”, with its grinding finale, featured a fair number of songs off the new album, with “Empire” a standout, and returned at the end to two of their finest tunes: “HW Running” and “Soft Machine”. Both majestic. I was willing them to get a good reception, and they did. Latitude truly up and running!

Next, it was over to the Lake Stage for a couple of shows. First Bodega, a New York band whose debut album “Endless Scroll” has been getting rave reviews. Critics describe them as art punks, which, I guess, summarises their sound quite well. I thought there was quite a lot of Parquet Courts in their sound, though they have a livelier stage presence, with  singer Nikki Belfiglio jumping around with a pair of drumsticks, and one of the guitarists doing a pretty good Wilko Johnson impersonation at the end. The last song had a metronomic beat which put me in mind of DUDS. They wear grey shirts too. I’ll definitely be checking out that album.

Bodega were followed by Bryde. I thought that was the name of the singer, and she might be my singer-songwriter discovery of Latititude 2018. In fact it’s a three piece band, fronted by singer/guitarist  Sarah Howells. It was a rockier sound than I expected, but I liked it. I was drawing comparisons with Soccer Mommy (the more uptempo tunes) and Angel Olsen.

Up the hill to the BBC Music tent and Hinds from Spain. Entertaining rock’n’roll with a continental inflection. I thought of Dream Wife, though the main singer, Ana Garcia Perrote couldn’t leap around quite as much as Rakel Mjoll as she also plays guitar. Rock’n’roll of a more hardcore variety was next on the bill, as we went back to the Lake Stage for Lower Slaughter Some serious riffing and a lot of shouting! Singer Sinead, resplendent with blue hair, was very angry. It was a relentless barrage of noise, and terrific with it. I’d love to see them in a place like the Scala.

After Lower Slaughter it was time for something a little more mellow. Alfa Mist in the Sunrise Arena was just perfect. He’s an East Londoner who began in grime and hip hop, but has gravitated towards jazz. He plays piano and he was accompanied by a very slick band. It all took me back to the jazz funk – the acid jazz – of the 1990s. The rebirth of cool.

Back to the Lake Stage for a bit of Sorry, a young London indie band, with added saxophone. Singer Asha Lorenz had a little bit of Ellie Rowsell about her, I thought. Then back over the main bridge to the Alcove, for a band called Wildwood Kin. I’d not heard of them, but the blurb in the programme immediately told me, Staves! Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love their music. Wildwood Kin are two sisters – Beth and Emillie Key – and a cousin, Meghann Loney. They are from Exeter and released their first album “Turning Tides” last year. Like the Staves, they are rooted in folk music, perhaps a bit poppier (I thought of Mumford & Sons) and create some beautiful harmonies. A great show, one of the highlights of which was a cover of the Stereophonics’ “Dakota”. One of the discoveries of this Latitude, for me.

By now it was about 8pm, and things got a little disjointed over the rest of the evening. I thought I’d try Tuneyards in the BBC Music tent. Didn’t much like it, so dashed back to the Alcove for the Wandering Hearts, a British country band, whose 2018 debut album, “Wild Silence” topped the UK country charts. And I’m not surprised. The moment I walked in I was struck by the beauty of the harmonies: two women, two men in communion. Lovely songs – there was one called “Nothing Happens When You Die”, which was more uplifting than its title suggests. I was loving this band, but it was all over so soon. I shall have to see them again as soon as possible.

I thought I’d go back to the Lake stage to catch a bit of Confidence Man, who sounded like fun on the Spotify playlist. I went via the loos in the woods and heard some pounding bass lines coming from the Sunrise Arena. I had to check them out. It was IAMDDB – a woman and a sound system, as far as I could see. Seeing was tricky because the Sunrise was the busiest I saw it all weekend. And most of the crowd looked like teenagers. They were going mad for IAMDDB. She raps and sings soulfully over some sparse dance beats. A classic case of less is more. The big song, judging by the reaction, was “Shame”. Fascinating. I eventually got to Confidence Man on the Lake Stage. The place was jumping. It was essentially a DJ and some dancers – and some very infectious beats. You can’t knock it.

Headliner time. Solange on the main, Obelisk Stage. James in the BBC Music tent. I plumped for an electronic artist, Makeness, in the Sunrise Arena. His music sounded intriguing in the blurb. It turned out to be quite guitar based, and he sang – I was expecting something more like fellow Scots Boards of Canada. And the crowd was tiny. It felt a bit dispiriting, so I crossed back over the lake and went to see Solange. She’s Beyonce’s sister. More straight R&B/ soul than Beyonce. Very slick and a striking stage set. But I didn’t really hear any memorable tunes. It was quite a short set too – less than an hour, when headliners on the Obelisk get an hour and a half. Jon waxed lyrical about James, so maybe I made the wrong choice. Interesting though, as Solange was an unusual choice for Friday at Latitude. Good to be spanning the genres.

One last show to enjoy on this first night. There’s a hugely popular dance night in the Comedy Arena (a new, bigger, airier structure this year) called Guilty Pleasures – all those pop records from the past you know and love. At 1am there was a band on stage – the She Street Band. An all-woman band playing Bruce Springsteen songs. What wasn’t to like? They cleared a few people off the dancefloor, but most remained and made it a bit of a party. They played for half an hour or so, and rattled through a set of Bruce classics: Thunder Road, Badlands, Hungry Heart, Rosalita, Because the Night, Dancing in the Dark, Born to Run. What fun! The day ended on a high.

Saturday 14 July

One of the consequences of the the lovely weather is that it’s impossible to stay in your tent much beyond 7.30 in the morning. Another is the dust. It’s everywhere, especially in the woods. The younger section of our group had a big night out, not getting back until 4 am. So most of them were lying outside their tents by 8 o’clock in various states of disrepair. There’s a pleasant lull in the morning – we sit around having breakfast, drinking tea, discussing the previous day’s events, looking forward to what lies in store. Easing into the day. As on Friday, I spent an hour in the Speakeasy, watching a BBC show called The Verb where presenter Ian McMillan interviews poets and writers about their muse. There was an entertaining comic duo who set topical poems to music. I didn’t catch their names. Then it was time for Durand Jones and the Indications, a band from Indiana, in the Sunrise Arena. And what a band! Old school 60s and 70s style R&B, soul and funk. Really tight, slick. Great horns – two cool guys on sax and trumpet. Durand Jones is an expressive singer, and the drummer chips in with a couple of vocals in a fetching falsetto. An upbeat, uplifting delight – a great start to the day.

Next it was over to the Alcove to see Lucia. Well, with a Lucia in our group, we had to go, didn’t we? The band are from Glasgow, and combined a punky sound with some good melodies. The singer was called Lucia, as was the band. She gave it some. The bassist looked straight out of casting for a film about the Jesus and Mary Chain (early days). The drummer had some good hair to shake about. Sharp songs, good riffs and some rousing choruses. Rock’n’roll! Shame there weren’t more youngsters there – this was music for moshing. And of course I couldn’t help but think of Honeyblood, especially when they played their last song. I wonder if they know each other.

I stayed at the Alcove to catch a bit of Jealous of the Birds, featuring Naomi Hamilton from Belfast. It was more of a band than I expected. It was OK, a bit like KT Tunstall. Couldn’t stay for the whole show, as I had to get over to the Sunrise Arena for Black Midi. This was Louis’ big tip. And they were extraordinary. It was like a combination of The Fall, DUDS, Slayer and Black Sabbath, with a bit of Let’s Eat Grandma quirkiness thrown in. Part of their music is a brutal guitar thrash, but it’s also quite intricate. And it is powered along by an amazing drummer, a young lad with dreadlocks. In fact they are all young lads – sixteen I was told. They are anti-fashion in the way they look, and they say absolutely nothing to the audience (another characteristic shared with Let’s Eat Grandma). A remarkable band. Who knows where they are heading.

Fired up by Black Midi, it was now time for one of my favourite bands at the moment, Alvvays. They were in the BBC Music tent and it was packed. That was partly because there was a “secret show” scheduled afterwards and everyone knew it was Liam Gallagher. This led to a strange atmosphere, with a mix of real Alvvays fans and a lot of bystanders. That’s a fact of festival life, but it was accentuated by the influx of Oasis nostalgists. I loved the show of course, but I was also willing them to do well. I wanted all of our lot who turned up to like them. It was a weird feeling. The band concentrated on their more uptempo songs, which is fair enough, but it meant “Ones Who Love You” got the chop. How could they? There was a lovely “Forget About Life” mid-performance, and the last three were “Marry Me, Archie”, “Dreams Tonite” and “Party Police”, so all was well. But the people to my side were nattering away during “Archie”. I mean, how could they?!! Well, I hope they enjoyed their f****** Liam Gallagher.

As for Liam Gallagher, I just couldn’t be arsed to hang around for 45 minutes in the BBC Music tent just to watch his facsimiles of Oasis, plus a few tired retreads of the classics. Yeah, a bit cynical, I know. I really liked Oasis in the 90s, but they were of their time. Liam Gallagher is just exploiting it. If he really cares, he should stop slagging off his brother and get back together. I’d go and see that. So, off I went to get something to eat. But I had a bit of time to kill and thought, well, I could put my head in and see what Liam’s up to. I saw the first three songs, just squeezing in at the back. He started with “Rock’n’roll Star” and “What’s the Story” – pretty leaden, but still with some of their original spark. Then it was one of his new ones – a real dirge. Time to go back to the Lake Stage to see Pip Blom.  They played a sprightly pop-punk. Maybe a bit samey in tempo, but definitely some potential there. I liked what I’d heard on Spotify beforehand. And talking of sprightly pop-punk, next up was The Vaccines, on the Obelisk stage. I went with Jon and Connie to this one. Connie is a massive fan. I like them, but somehow the only song I know well is “If You Wanna”, which is a great stomping rock’n’roll tune.   The place was packed – as busy as I’ve seen it. Half the field was taken by the picnickers, basking in the sunshine, waiting for The Killers. Fair enough, they’ve paid their money too, but they take up a disproportionate amount of space. It’s one of the reasons I avoid the Obelisk, except for essential bands. For me The Vaccines are a bit Strokes-lite, but there was absolutely no denying how much they meant to their many fans there. The number of people – mainly women in their twenties I’d say – singing the words to all the songs was impressive. I guess that generation grew up with the Vaccines, just as Jon and I grew up with the Clash and the Jam. All part of the same family tree. So, yeah, credit to the Vaccines for putting on a great show that inspired a lot of people.

So, headliner time, and just like Friday, what to do? Succumb to the groupthink (having resisted it for Liam) and enjoy the four or five Killers songs which are great, or see Mogwai in the BBC Music tent, or go down to the Sunrise Arena to see Clark, an electronic artist who Jon and I saw in 2016 so that we could get into Thom Yorke’s secret show? Jon and I agreed to a plan where we’d do a bit of Mogwai then go to the second half of the Killers, when they’d play most of the hits. So we went to the BBC Music tent, for Mogwai and their drone rock. There weren’t a lot of people there. On they came, and launched into a wash of sound. After a few bars, Jon said, “I think I’ll go to The Killers.” I stuck around. I wanted to see what they were like live. I’ve always been a bit ambiguous about them, partly for a rather ridiculous reason that I once read an article in the 90s where they were really rude about Blur. I liked Blur. F*** Mogwai, I thought. But now I stayed, and something about those washes of sound hooked me. Each “song” carving out its own aural landscape. Truly soundtrack music. The place started to fill up too. Refugees from The Killers? I felt like we were the anti-Killers faction and our movement was growing. I stayed for the whole show and loved it. That night I made my peace with Mogwai.

It’s only pop music, I know, but sometimes these things matter, especially when you are living the music for three solid days.

The musical evening was not over though. The Film and Music Arena was hosting a reggae night, featuring Lee Scratch Perry. But before that Holly Cook was playing. Holly is the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. Her mother was a backing singer in Culture Club. She sang with the reformed Slits in the 2000s. But she has found her metier in reggae. She released an album early this year called “Vessel of Love”. It’s a lovely sound, with Holly’s sweet vocals wafting over some wonderful 70s style dubwise rhythms. And live it was just fantastic. She had an excellent band, and the bass lines just resonated. I found it completely intoxicating, and I was not alone. Everyone was dancing – even me with my sore knee and dodgy back! It was impossible to do anything else. Without question the highlight of the day – or maybe sharing the honour with Durand Jones and the Indications. The first and last – both truly  uplifting.

On the way back to the tent, about one in the morning, I popped into the new super Co-op. Bought a couple of mini bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. Didn’t feel ready for bed. In the Co-op there was a disco going on, 70s style. Barry White’s “You’re the First, My Last, My Everything”. The staff at the tills were dancing, half the customers were dancing (not me this time), even the security guard was dancing. What a wonderful moment. It summed up Latitude – everyone just loving the music and the vibe. I got back to the tents, got my iPad out and cracked open my wine under the gazebo. Shortly after, Connie, Louis and Mark turned up, and we spent half an hour discussing our days. All different. A special moment.

Sunday 15 July

As has become the tradition, Jon and I headed for the Sunrise Arena for the first show of the day. Always a chillout concert, a chance to lie in the sun (or the shade today as it was so hot) and just absorb the music. This year it was Pianofield: Frances Shelley on piano and associated echoes and sways, and Matthew Bickerton on electronica and “found sound” (birds tweeting, waterfalls falling, etc). Ambient and rather beautiful music. Easing our way into the last day. We followed that with more ambience from Hannah Peel in the BBC Music tent. Marc Riley on 6 Music is a big fan and I’d always found her music intriguing. Live it was more dreamy, less discordant than I’d expected. It was good though, and from time to time she lurched into some banging electronica. At the end she sang a couple to the accompaniment of a music box, where there music plays off what looks like a roll of supermarket till paper. The first programming, I guess. The first song was a cover of a solo song by the singer in Blue Nile, Paul Buchanan; the second a version of “Tainted Love”. That went down well. A really interesting performance.

Then it was over to the Sunrise Arena for one of the most anticipated concerts of the weekend: The Orielles. A young indie band from Halifax; another big favourite of Marc Riley’s. Their sound is rooted in 80s indie, updated of course. Jangly guitar, sweet, slightly off-kilter melodies. I’m sure Orange Juice were an influence. Singer Esme Dee Hand-Halford has a lovely voice and plays a springy bass guitar. Guitarist Henry Carlyle Wade looks a bit like Bez from Happy Mondays, introduces the songs ironically and sometimes jumps around like Wilko Johnson. And he is a great guitarist. He has that echoey, crystalline sound – a lot of tremolo – and knows how to rock out. The last song, “Sugar Tastes Like Salt”, was epic. One of the best moments of the weekend by one of the best bands.

Next, I went along with the gang to see Superorganism. This band have been getting a lot of good reviews for their inventiveness, quirkiness and multi-culturalism. They started with some interesting graphics behind them, and three backing singers in multi-coloured raincoats. Adam was perceptive when he said “There’s too much going on.” The graphics, the look, the music lurching from style to style, and the daft lyrics. It started to pall for me too. The final straw was a song about prawns. Enough! I decided to go and watch a bit of the World Cup final between France and Croatia. Kieran and Adam followed. It was on in the Film and Music Arena, which has no ventilation to speak of. I watched for ten minutes and couldn’t take the heat anymore. So I missed the three second half goals. But my mind wasn’t really attuned to football. I dare say it would all have been very different if England had made the final. I only heard one half-hearted chant of football’s coming home all weekend.

It was back to the BBC Music tent, after a bit of milling around, for the awesome Idles. Blimey, if there is a band that is truly scary, it’s this lot. Their sound, especially live, just pummels you. There’s mayhem on stage. It’s very shouty and the guitars totally rock. And if you know the lyrics, they are a call to action. There’s a song called “Mother”, which was a highlight of the Latitude show, that has a line to the effect that the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich.  Yeah, I get that. It was an incredible performance, an aural assault, and also very engaging. This band interact big time with their audience, especially the moshers up front. At one point a young lad was lifted out of the audience and given a guitar to play. He may have been the son of singer Joe Talbot. But what was he doing in the mosh pit? Like father, like son? An exhilarating performance, but a bit of a sledgehammer too. To be taken in small doses!

Unlike the next band. One of my absolute favourites. Wolf Alice. On the Obelisk, second to Alt-J. Alt-J?? Wolf Alice are so much better. But Alt-J are Latitude favourites. I find them a bit dull, and had no great desire to see them. Wolf Alice, on the other hand, were the band I was most looking forward to seeing. And they didn’t disappoint. I mean, if you can start with “Your Love’s Whore”, “Yuk Foo” and “You’re a Germ”, how can you go wrong? It’s not easy to rock on the Obelisk stage, but they managed it. I’m not sure how taken the picnickers were, but there was a big crowd of people really appreciating the performance. Jon and I stood on the fringe, avoiding another Vaccines, where half the time you couldn’t see because of people getting up on shoulders, or just squeezing into a barely existing space in front of you. One of the songs that had the most effect was “Visions of a Life”, which veers into 70s heavy rock. Not previously one of my favourites, but it worked in the big field. “Fluffy”, near the end, was awesome too. One thing that struck me is how Ellie Rowsell could be a role model for young women wanting to get into music, but worried about how they can be themselves. There she was tonight in a long white dress, black Doc Martens, wielding her guitar and screaming the lyrics.  Controlling the moment, doing what she wants. I love Wolf Alice!

The performance did seem to finish about ten minutes early. That gave us time to see up-and-coming American country artist Jade Bird on the Lake Stage from the start. She played a very engaging set, mostly quite upbeat – pretty much rock’n’roll. She has a high register, so when she hollers it’s still quite melodious. About half way through the show she started a ballad and then stopped, saying it was “too sad”. I went off for a couple of minutes, and when I got back Jon said she’d played a Bangles cover. Which one? “Manic Monday” surely. But no, it was “Walk Like an Egyptian”. Having missed it, I can’t quite imagine it in a country style. But Jon said it was good. Another artist to look out for.

Then the last headliner dilemma. I’d ruled Alt-J out, so it was a choice between electro supremo Jon Hopkins in the BBC Music tent and Japandroids in the Sunrise Arena. Both have performed at Latitude before and both were brilliant. So hard to choose! I went for Jon Hopkins, with Jon, and soon after the start, Connie, who got bored with Alt-J. Good choice! What an amazing hour. A sensory assault – even more powerful than Idles. Totally different though. Musically, it was an hour long symphony, but one which was always building to another drop – the kicking in of those reverberating bass lines. The first time it happened, with the crowd leaping with glee in response, was an absolutely spine-tingling moment. The visuals – the graphics, the lights, the dancers with their ever-changing light poles – were astonishing. The hour just leapt by. Such a mind-blowing end to an amazing three days of music. There was nowhere to go after this.

Afterwards Jon, Connie and I met up with Jess, Lydia, Louis and Mark at what we’ve come to call the Danish Bar. Kieran and Adam had gone back to London after Alt-J as Adam needed to get back to Amsterdam, where he works. A Carlsberg space, that serves Export as well as the weak stuff we usually drink, and has become a bit of a rendezvous point for people. There is a lot of dancing to 70s disco and indie classics. A good vibe. Jon and I just had a pint and left the young folk to it. We got ourselves a bottle of white wine from the Co-op on the way back and settled down to drink it and reflect on the festival. The others came back soon after, Lucia joined us, and we spent another one of those wonderful hours sharing our experiences, laughing at the many absurdities we’d encountered on the way.

It really seems to get better every year, as the kids get older and we oldies manage to hang on. We have the example of Joe, pitched in a tent nearby, who has just celebrated his 70th birthday, and is still loving Latitude as much as we do. Our circumstances will change over time, as people have new commitments; but for now Latitude remains one of the highlights of the year, a time when barriers come down and we can be ourselves. It’s good for the soul!

I’ll just finish with some general shots from around the place. There is a lot of beauty at Latitude. The music, all the arts, the people, the nature. It’s a serene spot – for 11 months of the year. What the squirrels and bats and badgers and foxes and rabbits do when we invade the woods with our pumping techno and sprawling teenagers and lary drinkers I don’t know. But I assume they claim it back for the rest of the year.

5am Monday morning. Quite a few people have left, hence the space.

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Faye Webster at the Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell, 5 July 2018

Faye Webster is a singer-songwriter from Atlanta, Georgia. Her music is a lovely mix of country and 70s soft rock (think Fleetwood Mac or even the Eagles) with a dose of indie in the attitude. Faye is also a photographer and in with the rap community in Atlanta – I think she has provided guest vocals on a few songs. So not just your standard singer-songwriter. I first came across her when I went to see Julia Jacklin at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last November. She was one of two support acts. I checked a video of her singing a song called “Alone Again” and loved it. So, for once, I made sure I was there to see both the support acts. My love of her music started there.

At that time she was promoting her second album, “Faye Webster”. It was a beautiful, wistful collection of songs, in the style I described just now. I made it No7 in my 2017 albums of the year and still play it a lot. It’s an album to chill to. Lose yourself in the mellow grooves, the sweet melancholy. Highly recommended.

So when I saw she was playing a show in London I had to go. My friend Annabelle agreed to come along. She enjoyed Soccer Mommy earlier this year, and there are similarities. The Slaughtered Lamb is a bar/restaurant in Clerkenwell, and it has a music venue down below. A large lounge with a bar, basically. It had an intimate feel, and we managed to get a table right at the front. There weren’t a vast number of people there – maybe 50 or 60? – but it was enough to create a nice atmosphere. Faye had a few followers there, including her parents, so it was an enthusiastic group.

Faye was accompanied by just her pedal steel player, who she calls “Kippy” (I think). He gets some lovely sounds out of his instrument – a mellifluous addition to Faye’s fragile vocals and sparse guitar. A dreamy sound, which was enhanced by being so close to the action. Every fret position, the look in the eyes, the grimace or the smile. Intimate, and really quite moving. First song was “Alone Again” – still my favourite. It was followed soon after by a lovely version of “What’s the Point”, which did bring a tear to my eye. Most of the favourites from “Faye Webster” got an airing, plus a couple of older ones, and two new songs, which sounded great. Strangely she didn’t play “She Won’t Go Away”, which might be her best-known song; but I guess you sometimes just don’t feel like playing what everyone expects.

It was a truly wonderful hour of music. Afterwards I passed by Faye and had to tell her how much I’d enjoyed the show and the album. Annabelle had walked on, then turned back and arranged a photo! As a man in his fifties, I don’t overstay my welcome, but yeah, I got a photo! It’s below with a couple of other shots. I didn’t take too many, because we were so close. I didn’t want to distract her or Kippy. We went back upstairs and had a glass of wine. Kippy came by and we had a chat with him too. Said how the new ones had hardly been rehearsed. He has the skill to improvise on the pedal steel. A talented musician.

I do hope Faye has more success. She’s doing well, but there are a lot of good artists out there. I was hooked as soon as I heard her. I hope more and more people feel the same. Give her album a try.

 

 

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, 30 June 2018

Bruce Springsteen has made the music which has been the most important to me over the course of my adult life. Not always the thing I listen to most, especially these days, but the music I always come back to. My love for his music began in earnest with the release of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in 1978. The music on that album, full of despair, anger, love, redemption spoke to the 19 year old me in a way that nothing else had done before, from the moment I heard “Racing in the Street”, lying in bed, in the dark, stuck on an RAF camp during the holidays from university.  I was lucky enough to be at Oxford, doing well, lots of friends, enjoying my football, beer and discos. But I was still angry, maybe even depressed. That’s hindsight, but I think I still felt a bit out of place, lacking the social ease of some of my contemporaries; and was frustrated with my own shyness and inarticulacy with the women I liked. Yeah, typical teenage angst – I got over it. But Bruce helped me a lot. I could lose myself in “Darkness” and its predecessor, “Born to Run”.  I could celebrate the songs with my friends, but there was something about them that I kept to myself. My own Bruce story.

Over the years I went back to the fantastic first two albums – “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ” and “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” – immersed myself in “The River” (no pun intended), railed against “Born in the USA” for appealing to the yuppies before realising later how good it was, and stuck with him through all the years when he didn’t always seem to be doing anything new, but always released albums with tracks that came to have great meaning for me. Songs like “Tougher than the Rest”, “If I should Fall Behind”, “Highway Patrolman”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”. And when Bruce reacted to the appropriation of the song “Born in the USA” by triumphalist politicians by stripping it down to its anti-Vietnam war essence and playing it as a visceral blues, it became just about my favourite song in the canon. I have a story for each of these songs, and I told them in my book “I Was There – A Musical Journey“. Bruce got more coverage than any other artist in that book (though Bowie crept across more chapters).

In 2016 Bruce published an autobiography, inevitably called “Born to Run”. Equally inevitably, it was a searing, brutally honest account of his life: the impact of his family and, especially, his father; the inspiration he took from music from an early age; his desire for control; his hopelessness in love; his depression and more besides. It was a moving, inspiring account. Then it was announced that he would be performing a one man show on Broadway: singing songs, telling stories about his life. A limited run in 2017, to start. How good would that be, I thought to myself, never thinking I would get a chance. Then I got a chance.

The run of shows was extended, initially to the end of June 2018 (it’s now running until the end of this year). And my friend DC got offered some tickets by an American friend. I had the chance to go. But this was when I was contemplating early retirement, and hadn’t figured out the finances. So the cost of the ticket, flights and a few days in New York felt like a self-indulgence too far. And I turned down the offer. DC and Tony went. They loved it. I felt a pang of regret. But I felt I had done the right thing.

At work I eventually delayed my retirement to this September, worked out it was affordable. And Bruce extended the run again. My colleague Matthew had a ticket for 30 June, which had been due to be the last show. He likes the big events, so wants to go to the new last show. And he offered me his ticket for June. That second chance! I couldn’t say no…

6.30 pm, 30 June. I’m walking in the New York heat from the 47/50 Sts Rockefeller subway station  on 6th Avenue, over to West 48th off Broadway and the Walter Kerr theatre. The venue for “Springsteen on Broadway”. I’m feeling a sense of anticipation, but also apprehension – about what, I’m not sure.  Will I get in?  How will it feel when music has been mostly about Honeyblood, Kacey Musgraves, Lindi Ortega, Taylor Swift for me this year? How will I react? I don’t want to be a blubbering wreck. It isn’t about me. It’s about Bruce. It’s his story, not mine. I have avoided drinking all day – don’t want to feel tired, I want to stay in control. I’m on my own in this magnificent but still unfamiliar city (only my third brief visit). I get to the theatre and look up at the billboard. I feel a sense of awe. How did I get here? I take some photos on my iPhone, and queue up. They let me in! It’s cool, air conditioned. I have a great seat, in the stalls. I get some white wine – hideously expensive. I settle into my seat. The audience is well-heeled. Hardly surprising, with the price of the tickets. I look over at the stage: spartan, dark brick walls, just Bruce’s piano and mics, some boxes and a lot of monitors. I visit the “rest room” – it’s a 2 hour 20 minute show, no break. I get back to my seat and soon the lights go down. Bruce wanders on with an acoustic guitar and with no fanfare starts to tell a story, the same one as in the book’s introduction, about how deep down he’s a chancer, a fraud, the one who got lucky. But yeah, through hard gigging, musical talent, and that break, which everyone needs.  He introduces the young Bruce, the kid from Freehold New Jersey, and launches into “Growin’ Up”.  There is a tear in my eye – just a small one. Just an acknowledgement of my sense of wonder at being here tonight.

The show isn’t a narrative of Bruce’s whole life and career. Rather, it’s the story of his family – his often troubled family – and how they made him what he is, what his music is. And a celebration of some his greatest inspirations – his 1+1 =3. For me, the most moving song of the evening is the second, “My Hometown”, last song on “Born in the USA”, the album I dismissed at first. Bruce at the piano, after telling the story of his early life and beginning on his his troubled relationship with his father. That story continues, and leads to “My Father’s House”, off “Nebraska”, Bruce’s darkest album. As he switches to his mother, Bruce assures us it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact the story of his mother and her sisters, the Italian side of the family, is one about the love of life, giving it everything, whatever the circumstances.  He sings quite an obscure song called “The Wish”, off an outtakes box set of CDs called “Tracks”, which came out in 1998. Bruce aficionados will have it – so do I! It tells the tale when his mother bought him an electric guitar, even though she could barely afford it. That gift set him on his way.

The family roots established, Bruce goes on to his desire to escape the confines of Freehold and New Jersey. To move from being a local star to someone they’ve heard of in New York. Cue “Thunder Road” and the “Promised Land”. The real deal. Songs that are central to what Bruce Springsteen is about. Throughout the show Bruce has some good lines in self-deprecation, like how the man who was born to run now lives 10 minutes away from his first home in Freehold. But he doesn’t do false modesty either. He knows he has a gift. And when he jokes that I made New Jersey, he probably also means it.

The story of “Born in the USA” comes next: how Bruce read a book by a Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, “Born on the Fourth of July”, then met the man by chance. That led to a visit to veterans in Southern California, men who had lost limbs, jobs, loved ones, maybe even their sanity. Bruce himself managed to dodge the draft, having been summoned to a recruitment centre. He says, poignantly, I often wonder who went in place of me… someone did. And plays a brutal, raw, sliding blues version of the song, like nothing I’ve heard before. He howls the words with no accompaniment. An excoriating rejoinder to the politicians who want to distort the message purely to America is great. For me, this is the outstanding moment of the show.

“Ten Avenue Freeze Out” features Bruce on ambling, jazzy piano as he pays a lengthy tribute to the Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011. The audience responds with joy. And then from one soulmate to another: his wife Patti Scialfa joins Bruce on stage and they duet on “Tougher than the Rest” and “Brilliant Disguise”. Bruce on piano for the first, both of them on guitar for the second. A truly moving interlude.

It gets serious again for “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “The Rising”. Bruce prefaces them with a statement of support for all the people who are fighting back against Trump’s appalling immigration policy and the separation of children from their families. I saw a news story on the local New York TV station about how 327 of these children had wound up in New York, some with little or no documentation. Getting them back with their parents may prove impossible. It’s shocking to see a great nation, a beacon to the world, behave like this. “Tom Joad” is a song about people at their lowest point; “The Rising” offers hope. At the time it came out, that hope for renewal, recovery, was for New York, recovering from the trauma of 9/11. Bruce doesn’t mention that tonight.

Now we are into the home run. “Dancing in the Dark”, with Bruce giving his guitar a good thrash, prompts the most celebratory response of the evening. It’s the only Bruce song you can really dance to (unless you can jive), the most streamed on Spotify. And yet the lyrics are full of frustration and self-loathing. The irony of pop, eh? The song segues into “Land of Hope and Dreams”, another riposte to the Trumpian hate-view of the world. Bruce’s last story gets spiritual. The return to his roots – literally. There used to be a large tree in the yard where he first lived. He spent a lot of time in its branches, lord of all he surveyed. It’s gone now, cut down to make way for a car park. But Bruce describes how some roots have survived, how he took the soil by those roots in his hand and how he felt the spirits of friends and family, long gone, all around him. And then he declaims a version of the Lord’s Prayer. A bit of me says, steady on now Bruce, let’s just worship rock’n’roll tonight, but the power of those words coming from his mouth is enough to overcome the scepticism. In Bruce we believe!

And then it’s “Born to Run”… hooray! Had to be the last song didn’t it? Turned inside out by Bruce on his acoustic guitar, but still “Born to Run”. Living the dream. And tonight was living the dream. Two hours twenty just flashed by. I’m still processing it as I write this on the flight home. How did it compare with that night in 2013 at Wembley, when he played the whole of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in one go? Well that was a blub fest – and it wasn’t just me. But that was back to those memories of being nineteen – and we’d had few beers. So they don’t compare, except to say that they will both stay in the memory to the day I die.

Redemption in music. No-one does it like Bruce Springsteen.

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Taylor Swift at Wembley Stadium, 22 June 2018

Last night I took a break from my usual musical fare of indie, country and old favourites and went for a pure pop experience – Taylor Swift at Wembley Stadium. Why, you may ask. Why not, I might reply. Actually, the reason is simple – I really like her latest album “Reputation”. Like anyone with any interest in music, I was familiar with Taylor Swift’s best known songs – “Shake it Off”, “We are Never Ever getting Back Together”, “Blank Space”, that sort of thing. When my daughters were a bit younger (they’re now 19) they liked her music, and so there was a bit on my iTunes. Chance for a sneaky listen! What I heard I thought was good, and I could see and hear the appeal to the target audience, but I found the music just a bit too shiny and tinny to listen to a lot. And of course Taylor was always in the news, having a spat with some celebrity or other. So when “Reputation” came out I read about it with interest – the Guardian took it pretty seriously, if I recall. But the catalyst for actually listening to the album wasn’t the reviews or the publicity. It was Catherine McGrath, the Northern Irish country singer who I like a lot. She often posts videos on her Facebook page of her singing covers of songs she likes. And she did a version of “Gorgeous”, which is one of the catchiest songs on “Reputation”. I thought, I like this, must listen to the original. And I liked that too, so I listened to the whole album, and what I heard was the perfectly designed, state-of-the-art pop album. With great melodies, rousing choruses, pounding beats, rumbling bass lines, and an interesting narrative. You can be cynical about wealthy pop stars bemoaning their lot, but Taylor Swift does it with style, makes her trials and tribulations interesting. I particularly liked “Delicate” – my reputation has never been worse… possibly an exaggeration!

So, when I read about the tour, I thought, let’s do it. Tickets weren’t cheap, but what the hell, it will be a spectacle. And it sure was! She was doing two nights at Wembley, and the show on Friday wasn’t a sell-out, but the stadium was 90% full. No shortage of atmosphere and anticipation. The age range was quite mixed – it’s fair to say most of the people of my generation in attendance were there with their kids, or even grandkids, but the teenies were in no way the majority. I’d say the twenty and thirty-somethings dominated, with a gap in the late teens – a bit like my girls, who’ve moved on to better, cooler things (at least for now). I managed to persuade Kath to come, the seats were comfortable (not that we were able to sit down much once the concert got going) and it was easy to buy a beer – the queue for the Pick’n’Mix sweets was longer!

So the scene was set.

There were two entertaining support acts: Charli XCX, who was very bouncy, and Camila Cabello, who I was impressed by. She had her banging anthems, but mixed it with Latin rhythms and some powerful ballads. She had a great voice. Absolutely the kind of music we used to hear in the discos of Cala Gogo on the Costa Brava in years past. A rival to Shakira perhaps.

And then the build up to Taylor’s grand entrance. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett playing, and then the inevitable opener, “…Ready for It?”, first track on “Reputation”. That was followed by the defiant “I Did Something Bad” (which went down really well) and the gorgeous… “Gorgeous”. What a start! Songs from “Reputation” dominated the album, and they were greeted like old favourites. The set was pretty amazing at times, the costumes and screens ever changing, and there were a lot of snakes! Signifying something on Taylor’s mind, no doubt. Surrounded by them in the world of showbiz, I guess. There were two stages halfway down the pitch, as well as the main stage, and Taylor sang and danced on both in the course of the evening. She was transported in mid-air to and from them. There was a lot going on! She sang part of “Delicate” in a gilded cage suspended over the audience, after telling one of her heartfelt stories – no doubt the same every night, but done with sincerity. That was followed by perhaps the highlight of the show, with the most reaction from the crowd. “Shake it Off” of course, where she was joined by Charli XCX and Camila Cabello. No trick missed in this show.

The exuberance of “Shake it Off” was followed by Taylor picking up an acoustic guitar and going back to her country roots. A nice reminder. One of the songs she sang was a stripped down version of “So it Goes” off “Reputation”, which I really liked.  Later she sat at the piano and sang a lovely version of the come-down closer on “Reputation”, “New Year’s Day”. It ain’t all brash dancing, big beats and inflatable snakes!

She played for two hours too, which was more than I would have expected. I think she genuinely wants to give something back to her audience and she did that and more. I really enjoyed the show – the music was brilliant, it was a huge spectacle, the atmosphere was great, especially when all the wrist bands lit up as darkness fell, and she really means it. What more could you ask for?

A magnificent evening – so glad I bought those tickets on a whim, after a couple of glasses of wine one night!

I took a load of photos. Here are a few. Hopefully they convey a sense of the occasion.

 

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lindi Ortega at Komedia, Brighton and The Garage, London, 12 and 14 June 2018

Lindi Ortega, as regular readers of this blog will know, is my favourite country artist. She doesn’t come to the UK all that often, so I decided to go to  a couple of the shows on her latest tour, which is promoting her new album “Liberty”. It’s a great album, by the way, with a Wild West twang to it, in homage to spaghetti westerns and Quentin Tarantino. As well as Lindi’s usual themes – mostly grappling with the dark forces in her mind, but also with its happy moments, notably the lovely and potentially anthemic “Lovers in Love”. That one reflects her happiness in her recent marriage, I think.

The first show I went to was down on the south coast in Brighton, at the Komedia. I made the same visit a couple of years ago, when she was on her previous tour, because I couldn’t make the London gig that time. This time I was just being greedy! I like Komedia as a venue – a basement below the cinema/theatre in a cool part of Brighton. On Tuesday it was only about half full, which I was surprised about, but there was still a good atmosphere. It meant I got a bit closer up than usual. The set was a nice mix of old and new. It started with a few from the back catalogue: “Dying of Another Broken Heart”, “Angels” and “Demons Won’t Get Me Down, and then maybe my favourite song of all, even now, “Tin Star”. If music wasn’t running through the blood in my veins… And then “Lovers in Love”. Not much of a singalong from the crowd, but I had a go!

(Photos are a bit fuzzy as I only had my iPhone 5S with me. I need an upgrade!)

As ever, it was great to hear new songs performed live. Really does bring them to life. I loved the rendition of “Pablo” – Lindi in great voice – and a very feisty “You Ain’t Foolin’ Me”.  And in a three song encore, the classic Lindi song,  “Cigarettes and Truckstops” took its turn. Up there with “Tin Star”.

A wonderful show. Quite pared down: just Lindi, ever faithful guitarist “Champagne” James Robertson, and drummer, whose name I didn’t catch, (he was good). Bass lines played by James simultaneously on his guitar, using tuned-down strings. Keeps the cost down, I guess, and James did it brilliantly. I initially thought there must be some pre-prepared tracks, but a later exchange on Twitter confirmed that wasn’t the case. It’s all real time.

On to London: The Garage, Islington, in north London. With a friend from work (lone groove in Brighton). A bigger venue and a bigger crowd. More varied too: younger, more women. It’s London (though I love Brighton too). The set list was the same, except that new song “Liberty” was replaced by the title track of the previous album, “Faded Gloryville”. And what a great addition that was. Lindi was excellent in Brighton, but I felt she was lifted by the London crowd. Last gig of the UK tour too. There was a different level of energy and verve. She talked more, smiled more. James rocked more. For both gigs, Lindi often left the guitar to James and just put everything into the singing. And she was in really good, dramatic voice.

Two brilliant concerts, which I’ll remember with great affection.

And, as a nice little postscript, we got to meet Lindi at the end. I told her I thought she was the best country singer around. Well, why not? It’s true!

And for anyone interested, here’s the setlist. “Bang, Bang”, a tribute to Tarantino, was originally sung by Nancy Sinatra and is the same on this playlist.

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jehnny Beth and Simon Armitage at King’s Place, 9 June 2018

Last Saturday Kath and I went up to King’s Place, near King’s Cross, to hear a fascinating discussion between Jehnny Beth, the singer with the band Savages, and the poet Simon Armitage. It was facilitated by Radio 4’s John Wilson, and the topic was the relationship between poetry and music. It was part of the Poetry and Lyrics festival, which took place over Friday and Saturday.

I was tempted to go and see this because I admire both artists. Simon Armitage is a renowned English poet, who writes beautifully and poignantly about changing times, changing relationships. Jehnny Beth is a truly amazing performer live, as her band, Savages, piledrive through the riffs and beats. They were spectacular at End of the Road in 2016.

Jehnny (not her real name) is French, although she lived in England for 12 years before recently moving back to Paris. Savages are on hold for now, while she pursues a series of other projects, including poetry. She said that she discovered poetry as a teenager, when an English teacher spent time at her school – and she fell in love with him! She said that, to her, the language of poetry is English – quite something for a French person to say! Simon Armitage spoke of “hating words”, a provocative statement, which was about how poetry lays you bare – everything must come from the words, and sometimes those words aren’t adequate enough to express what you really want to say. That, of course, is where music comes in. Jehnny Beth’s words may be simpler and more repetitive than poetry, but she has the power of the music, of live performance, to express her passion.

There was a discussion about whether Bob Dylan should have received the Nobel prize for literature, whether his lyrics were poetry. Simon Armitage was adamantly in the No camp, to my surprise, given his love of music (I was pleased to hear him namecheck Prefab Sprout, as well as the inevitable Joy Division). He claimed Dylan’s lyrics wouldn’t stand scrutiny in his university creative writing classes. Perhaps not, though why not? I guess they have the context of the music, to give them some of their meaning. But I would still call some of them poetry. Simon admitted that he was being a bit of a shop steward for “proper” poets. Can’t have rich musicians stealing their prizes from them! An interesting stance, but I found it narrow-minded. Jehnny Beth was conciliatory, acknowledging how music supports and uplifts words. She spoke of how her brilliant song “Adore”, from the album “Adore Life”, was inspired by a poem called “Shame” by American poet Minnie Bruce Pratt. It’s taken from a volume called “Crime Against Nature”, which Jehnny found in a San Francisco bookshop. She likes to choose random volumes of poetry, because the subject looks interesting, or there’s a good cover. “Shame” is about Bruce-Pratt’s own experience of realising she was lesbian and having to leave her children to make a life with her new partner. Jehnny read part of “Shame” and then her lyrics to “Adore”… is it human to adore life? It was powerful stuff.

Jehnny also read some of her new poems – rather tentatively. I suspect she felt like she was being judged by Simon Armitage, in the same way as he deconstructed Dylan. There was a real vulnerability in her voice. But she got through it. Pretty brave really.

Simon read a piece which was a hybrid of poetry and lyrics, called “Zodiac T Shirt”. It was about summer holiday love, and had some lovely, wistful lines, on repeat, like a song. He also played some music in which he intoned a poem over the top. It didn’t work for me: there’s not enough light and shade in his voice. It needed someone like John Cooper Clarke to bring it alive. Good that he’s trying, though. It’s all art.

My favourite story of the evening was from Jehnny Beth. She described an awful tour when Savages were supporting the Vaccines. They were in Bridlington, on the Yorkshire coast. The crowd was laddish, making crude, sexist remarks, some of which Jehnny didn’t understand at the time. She probably would have waded into the crowd and thumped someone otherwise. She disliked Bridlington. The gloomy grey skies, the rain, the mother feeding her young child greasy fried food on the seafront. When I was in Bridlington I thought of death. Now there’s a phrase for the Bridlington tourist board!

Two fascinating artists, different as chalk and cheese, but both exploring that interface between poetry and lyrics, verse and music.  Brought together with style and grace by John Wilson, a superb interviewer. An inspiring evening.

Posted in Art, books, theatre, cinema, Music - concerts, lists, reflections, Poems | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

All Points East Festival, Victoria Park, 2 June 2018

all points east festival

Saturday before last, I went over to Victoria Park with Jon G and his son Louis to the All Points East festival. All Points East has usurped Field Day and a number of other festivals from the park this summer – presumably after a re-tendering of the slots by the  Tower Hamlets council. Field Day has relocated to South London and is focusing even more on dance. All Points East, in fairness, has picked up the baton from the festivals it has replaced, and has held a string of events with some strong line ups from across the genres. The headliners on 2 June were The National and The War on Drugs – a dream team!

I got there about six; Jon and Louis went for the early shift. The sun was shining and the beer was flowing. When I met up with them, Warpaint were about to come on to the North Stage, the second biggest. War on Drugs were headlining that one. I do like Warpaint, but their music kind of drifts by in the open air. They deal in soundscapes rather than arresting melodies – it’s entertaining but doesn’t really get a crowd going. The exception was their last song, “New Song”, from their most recent album “Heads Up”. That had a real tune and shook people out of their summery torpor.

There was a bit of a gap until War on Drugs, and I’d noticed that there were a few bands lined up to play a place called the Jägerhaus, which was promoting Jägermeister, the sort of drink to be avoided at 7pm at a festival! To my surprise and delight Gengahr were on at seven. And Pumarosa at 8.20! I was sorely tempted to go to both, though decided in the end that as the main band I’d come to see was War on Drugs, it would be perverse to skip part of their show. Decisions, decisions. Anyway, we got into Gengahr and found ourselves in a small, barn-like space, with room for no more than 150 people. And on came Gengahr onto the tiny stage, and they played a riveting, high energy 35 minutes set. Eight songs, with more from the first album than the latest. An edited version of the recent Koko show. We stood about four rows back, really feeling the energy. And had a chance to study the guitar playing of both John and Felix. Loads of the great tunes, including “Heroine”, “She’s a Witch”, “Before Sunrise” and the closer, the awesome “Carrion”. Most Gengahr songs allow the opportunity at some point for a real guitar wig-out live, and they sure wigged-out! Just brilliant. My one good ear was ringing a bit at the end as we were so close to the speakers; but hey man, it’s rock’n’roll.

The War on Drugs were great – of course they were. Adam Granduciel to the fore – singer and lead guitarist. And his guitar, those solos that sing and cry, are a central part of the appeal of the music to me. They enhance the sense of melancholy that pervades the songs, but also lift them up. And the song right now that does that for me more than any other is “Thinking of a Place”. A magnificent, moving piece of music. So, of course, they didn’t play it!  They didn’t play “Thinking of a Place”! The song above all other songs on the latest album. Oh well. The set was really good, concentrating pretty heavily on “Lost in a Dream” (though, sadly without the title track). And naturally the highlight was an extended, recast version of “Under the Pressure”. “Red Eyes” roused the crowd too, and there was a lovely version of “Eyes to the Wind” at the beginning. On a warm, sunny day, Adam was wearing a red waterproof top. The epitome of uncool. But he still made that guitar sing. I loved the show, although I was always waiting for that song. No regrets about not going to Pumarosa. I wonder if they played “Honey”…

(Black and white photos are camera shots of the big screen).

Then it was over to the main, East Stage, for The National. I am learning to love this band. It was a band I knew I should like, but I had a lot of catching up to do. And I did what you do in this day and age. I heard individual tracks I liked, put them on the playlist and didn’t invest enough time in the whole albums. The only albums I’ve really got on top of are “High Violet” and “Trouble Will Find Me”. And there are so many good songs on them. My greatest favourites are: “Pink Rabbits”, “Demons”, I Should Live in Salt” and “I Need my Girl” from “Trouble Will Find me”; and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and “Terrible Love” from “High Violet”. We did get “Terrible Love” and “I Need my Girl”, though not this time, in the latter case, with Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches, as happened at Latitude in 2016. And there was an unamplified singalong of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” at the end, though that was only for the people at the front really. For us, it was a distant, though fetching echo.

It was a great show though. The band as a whole are pretty low key, but singer Matt Berninger is a real character, and he featured most of the time on the big screens. (I still think he and football manager Jurgen Klopp must have been separated at birth.) The lighting and backdrops are always interesting, and the songs are impressive even when you aren’t sure whether you know them or not. As it happens, it was quite a greatest hits selection, which all true fans would have known. One nice surprise was the guest appearance on a new song called “Light Years” by two of The Staves, Jessica and (I think) Camilla . And Adam Granduciel came on towards the end for a couple of songs. This was the fourth time I’d seen The National live, and I think I might just have made the breakthrough now.  Now for those early albums…

With the Staves.

After that it was the long traipse back to the other side of London, but it was definitely worth the effort. A great day of music. Highlights? Probably Gengahr, “Under the Pressure”, “I Need my Girl” and “Light Years”. We’ll be back next year, I’m sure.

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Leave a comment