I hate to start talking about such a fantastic event with a whinge, but hey, Latitude organisers! Yes, you Festival Republic! Great idea to open up the arena for early arrivers on the Thursday night, but next year, could you actually have stuff on please?
Aside from a handful of events in the smaller arts arenas, there was very little going on, so it was surely no surprise that everyone would try to push their way into Tom Jones‘ intimate performance in the woods. The fact that the randy old goat ignored shouts of ‘Sex Bomb!’ for an hour to play his awful new album is irrelevant, there were thousands of people milling about with nothing to do.
Right that’ll be the negative comments just about done with I think.
I hadn’t been to a festival that wasn’t 95% focused on music before, so it was refreshing to find such an emphasis placed on comedy at Latitude. First up was the worryingly-titled Phill Jupitus Improv Show. For me, improv comedy can go either way, but thankfully Buzzcocks’ chief fatty was joined by a number of seasoned pros from the days of Whose Line Is It Anyway for some audience-fuelled capers including Richard Vranch-On-The-Piano, who it turns out is pretty bloody funny as well as a talented musician. Hairy Canadian Craig Campbell and comedy rapper Doc Brown (not half as bad as that sounds – he’s toured with De la Soul) keep the laughs coming, but finally it’s time for some music.
The Kissaway Trail are a Danish six piece who probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Arcade Fire. They’re a pleasant enough listen, but, like their most recent album, are a little one-paced and my attention has wandered towards the end.
Much better are Here We Go Magic, strangely playing the main stage to an unsurprisingly tiny crowd. They cheerily go about their business, regardless and Casual and Collector from their new album are particularly easy on the ear. Luke Temple just looks delighted to be here.
Here We Go Magic's Luke Temple
Back in the Word Arena, there are beards and riffs aplenty for Black Mountain‘s appearance. They draw heavily from last album In the Future and fans of that record shouldn’t be disappointed by how new material sounds, i.e. lots of widdly guitars and funereal vocals.
Spoon, while huge in the States, have had little impact here, so again the main stage feels like odd place to plonk them, but at least they manage to get some of the crowd of middle class families to their feet. Got Nuffin from latest album Transference has been heard in telly spy caper Chuck and gets a rousing reception, but you suspect Britt Daniel is used to a bit more from festival audiences. “Thank you for that polite response” is about as good as his chat gets.
Spoon on the Main Stage
Meanwhile, young Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss is having a few problems with hecklers, unimpressed with his delivery but a few sharp ‘your Mum’-style put-downs get a rousing reception and the crowd are quickly back on his side. No such problems for David O’Doherty performing amusing ditties on his miniature keyboard. One such musical anecdote is about accidentally texting the person who the text is about (we’ve all done it, right?) and ends with a verse about him receiving a text that said “I thought David was rubbish tonight, his new material’s shite”. If I had his number I would have accidentally texted him about how genuinely funny he was.
Folky poppet Laura Marling was clearly born to play Latitude, and fittingly, it’s a huge crowd that turn out to see her in the early evening sunshine. She’s outrageously talented and the last few years have been pretty massive for her, including two Mercury nominations. She could probably have farted the national anthem for half an hour and this crowd would still have loved it, but thankfully she opts to strum out some melodic loveliness instead.
Latitude’s third stage is stashed away in a forest and, despite the wee walk to get there, is a fantastic setting for music. The serene location contradicts the noise that Tokyo Police Club have brought, however. Running late and having to catch a ferry in an hour, they play a frantic set stuffed full of new songs like Breakneck Speed and Boots of Danger. It’s not all new stuff – early tune Nature of the Experiment whips up a moshpit which doesn’t stop until the closing Your English is Good. Possibly the band of the day so far.
I rather like the cut of Everything Everything‘s jib and they’re headlining the Lake Stage (for new bands). They’re certainly the biggest name on today, and manage to draw a decent crowd for their off kilter indie pop. They’re going to be huge and I’ll probably hate them in a year, but were pretty good in this relatively intimate setting.
2010 seems to have been The National‘s year, announced to headline the Word Arena, even before the critically and commercially acclaimed High Violet was released. The set kicks off quietly with Runaway before kicking into a brilliant Mistaken for Strangers and it becomes clear just how many incredible tunes they now have in their canon, with Squalor Victoria and Fake Empire provoking mass singalongs and air punching.
Matt Berninger is no longer just one of America’s finest lyricists, but now one of its greatest frontmen too. In the two years since I last saw them he’s been transformed into one hell of a performer, rolling round the stage during a deafening Mr November. It’s a stunning set and brings a great day of music to a close.
As with Friday, the comedy gets started nice and early, and the day kicks off with a stream of up and coming unknown acts, the pick of which, dorky student Ivo Graham and funny-looking Frenchie Eric Lambert, deservedly get the nod from the judges to come back and do it again the following day.
Ardal O’Hanlon is clearly a much bigger name and I’ve been a massive fan since his days in a dog collar, so it was something of a dream fulfilled to see him do stand-up in the flesh. His patter still has shades of Irish satire (priests!!) but many of his witty tales now revolve around leading an almost-normal life in Ireland including a family meeting to ‘decide what to do about Mammy’. Ardal voted to let her in.
Josie Long‘s ‘Essex astronaut’ routine was a bit of a slog, so with the music kicking off it was time to see School of Seven Bells in the Word Arena. It’s been a few years since Ben Curtis ducked out of Secret Machines to form this dream-pop outfit with the Dehaza sisters and they seemed to have perfected a faintly Cocteau Twins-y aura. Windstorm stands out amongst the new material, which isn’t a huge departure from Alpinisms but they at least now have a live drummer in tow.
I knew very little about John Grant ahead of the festival other than a mate’s tip-off that he was decent so I toddled along to catch his main stage set. For the uninitiated, I’d say he’s heavily influenced by Rufus Wainwright with a dash of Bonnie Prince Billy, sharing a lyrical playfulness with both. There was a consistent sense of loss and bitterness woven into his words, so I think his dog may have run off or something.
Dominic Holland keeps things ticking over in the comedy tent before cheeky Scottish foetus Kevin Bridges takes the stage. He’s not to everyone’s taste but I can’t help but laugh at the guy, at the same time being unnerved by his youth. I could relate to plenty of his tales too, but I’ll refrain from repeating them to spare blushes (mostly mine…).
Keeping up the Caledonian theme, Food From Argyll have pitched up hundreds of miles from home, conveniently right beside the Word Arena where one of Scotland’s other finest exports are playing – Frightened Rabbit. They’ve had quite a year and while some have grumbled about the quality of The Winter of Mixed Drinks compared to The Midnight Organ Fight, there are still plenty of great songs on the album. They’re on top form today and Scott Hutchison is visibly chuffed that none of the youngsters dancing down the front are Scottish, although a little worried that some of their songs may not be suitable for young ears. Unsure why? Then you haven’t been listening to Keep Yourself Warm properly. Fantastic as ever.
Sketch troupe Idiots of Ants (think the name’s odd? Put the emphasis on different syllables) have been playing the Edinburgh Fringe for years and it only takes a few minutes in the Cabaret Arena to work out why they’re so enduringly popular. Quickfire, vaguely rude and very, very funny.
Back in the Word Arena, Noah and the Whale have pulled a sizeable crowd in. Last year’s The First Days of Spring was a critical and commercial success and they’ve taken giant steps as performers since they underwhelmed the Connect crowd in 2008. Granted, back then they only had one half decent song and Five Years Time does get an airing tonight, but it feels like the weak link in a set which opens with the majestic Blue Skies.
The Horrors are next and while I loved their Primary Colours album from last year they’re somewhat lacking in stage presence. The power and volume of the songs just about carries them through and Sea Within a Sea is a work of genius.
Closing down procedings in the Word Arena are the xx, another London band, freshly – and deservedly – nominated for the Mercury prize earlier this week. They open with the ghostly, spidery Intro (as you do) and roll out most of the songs from their debut with Crystalised and Islands following quickly. They can certainly carry it off live and Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim trade sensual vocals throughout. However, with a single album under their belt, it does feel like the gig is too much too soon, not unlike tiresome harpie Florence and the Machine headlining the main stage on Friday night. It was a gamble by the organisers to put the xx on this pedestal but the band certainly gave their all.
But wait… there’s more! Taking to the Lake Stage, hours after any other band playing there had finished was Gaggle. “Who?” I hear you ask. Who indeed. Gaggle are a stunningly dressed , ahem, ‘gaggle ‘ of young women performing classy pop – with 18 lead vocalists. Yes, it’s gimicky, yes listening to them on record would be missing the point, but they provided a mesmerizing focal point for late night entertainment before the stage turned into the indie disco of your wildest dreams.
Some of the Gaggle girls at work.
Once again, the day started on an amusing note with The Early Edition hosted by Marcus Brigstocke and Andre Vincent. Regulars at the Edinburgh Fringe, much of the slot was taken up with baiting the right wing press (Rod Liddle in particular) aided by Jupitus, a just-up Rufus Hound and Carrie Quinlan. With the whole hour based around five comics riffing off each other, it occasionally felt a little strained, but much merriment was found in trying to summon local resident Geoff Hoon by impersonating vuvuzelas. Altogether, now: “Hoooooooooooooooooooooooon………”
Yesterday’s best new acts then returned and Ivo Graham played up to the muso crowd by comparing safe sex to compiling a Massive Attack compilation (you always need a bit of Protection) and has some acute observations on the music line-up, not least one-album acts at the top of the bill spreading themselves thinly over a 90 minute set. It certainly sounds like Flo’s 10 minute version of Dog Days Are Over was one to avoid.
Cutie Holly Walsh is a fine addition to any line-up but again, the music was beckoning. First up: The Antlers. Word of mouth clearly still works as a means of getting music fans interested in a band. With next to no press and limited record company funds at their disposal, they still draw a big crowd, suggesting that overwhelmingly positive reviews for last year’s Hospice album have done them plenty of favours. Bafflingly, no Sylvia in the set but Two sounds as mighty as ever.
The Antlers - they're very deer to me, etc...
Steve Mason playing the Film Arena didn’t make any sense at all until he ambled on stage and announced that after playing a few acoustic tracks he would be showing a film about the 1980s miners strike. With the penny having firmly dropped, he and a musical chum strummed out a couple of numbers including the beautiful title track from this year’s Boys Outside album. The film was an amateurly shot piece called Only Doing Their Job which illustrates the poor treatment of striking miners and their tense relationship with the police. Poignant stuff.
I really ought to hate Mumford and Sons. They’re extraordinarily popular for a start, demonstrated by the fact that approximately 98% of the festival have turned out to see them play an early main stage slot. But I just can’t help but love them – they’ve brought the banjo and double bass back to the charts for the first time since around 1958 and gloriously sunny tracks like Sign No More and Little Lion Man are perfect for the scorching weather.
And from one extreme to the other, it’s back to the Lake Stage where up and coming young Scots Mitchell Museum play to a tiny but appreciative crowd. Lead singer Cammy McFarlane ensures the audience are crystal clear about who they’re watching, announcing on several occasions that they are not the Mitchell Library, the Michelin Man or Joni Mitchell but “MITCHELL MUSEUM!!!” A vinyl copy of their album is waved around enthusiastically and I resist a cry of “‘mon the Mitchell Library!” in fear that it might end up somewhere painful. Musically there’s whiff of psychedelic pop about them and they’ve plenty of energy. Top album tracks Warning Bells and Tiger Heartbeat are played with gusto and a straight-faced cover of MIA’s Paper Planes lures in a few more passing punters.
It’s a short walk to the Word Arena for NYC Afro-synth-poppers Yeasayer who cram a lot into their short slot, keeping chat to a minimum. The electro direction on this year’s Odd Blood has rubbed off on older material with fresh arrangements for 2080 and Wait for the Summer taking them to a new level. We could have done without some of the cod-rock posturing though.
Yeasayer blind the Word Arena
With the limbs starting to tire it was a trek to the forest-set Sunrise Arena for Jack Barnett’s These New Puritans. As strong live as they clearly are, and a woodwind duo now very much part of the band, they come across just a little bit too po-faced and chilly for such a lovely outdoor setting. Much more appropriate were The Pains of Being Pure At Heart who have managed to bang out a hell of lot of material in the last year. Their debut album was a near-masterpiece in fuzzy three minute pop songs about teenage lust and tonight’s new tunes demonstrated absolutely zero progression. But to coin a phrase, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Sigur Rós frontman Jonsí was never a must-see for me, not having heard his solo album and (correctly) predicting that nary a note of Victory Rose music would be aired. Defying my expectations, however, he’s awesome. The last time I saw Sigur Rós play they stared at their shoes for the whole gig but the wee fella truly came alive here, clad in a bizarre get-up that at one point included an Indian headdress. His voice is still amazing and that solo album now merits investigation.
Finally – and at this point the weekend has started to feel really long – it’s time for Grizzly Bear in the Suffolk twilight. Their beautifully arranged songs are faultlessly executed and the crowd reception is rapturous. They announce that it’s their “last show for a long time” and here’s hoping that the follow-up to Veckatimest is on their minds. For now though they send weary campers back to their tents with While You Wait for the Others floating round their ears.
Overall, Latitude is a triumph. The crowd are light years away from T in their attitude, and aside from a couple of unsavoury, well-publicised assaults (completely out of character for the event) it’s a safe haven for music fans. I mean, how many festivals have you heard of, where you have to fight your way through rows of buggies to escape Belle and Sebastian?
If I had a complaint, it would be that a lot of the main stage acts lacked in pulling power, if not necessarily quality. I’m also far from convinced that Florence and Vampire Weekend are big enough or experienced enough to headline even a medium-sized festival, not that I went to see either, right enough.
But I’m seriously considering a return trip next year and I’d urge you to join me.