They say big things come in small packages. They be right.
Having only ever experienced the mother of all festivals, Glastonbury, (day tickets to Leeds and the chalet-inclusive comfort of ATP don’t count), the young whipper snapper in Suffolk had much to compete with.
And, with a tagline ‘One day all festivals will be like this’ emblazoned across its banners, Southwold’s Latitude, was hardly underselling itself.
And after a smooth-as-you-like four and a half hour drive, set to the tunes of the new Grails and HEALTH records, it was easy to understand why.
Parking up, we were mere strides to our camping area (no SAS hike across a hillside galaxy ala Glasto) and with one airy swoosh of our arms our tent was up and with the sun beating down (a pretty much permanent fixture all weekend) we were away.
The sights unfolded quickly; pixies in the woods replete with elven ears, the trademark psychedelic sheep decorated in pink, green and violet idling on lustrous green embankments, log-cabin stages set among the leafy woods and art-encrusted trees, an illuminated bridge with floating floral lakeside lanterns and then the many stages (literature, theatre, poets corner, cabaret, comedy, and of course a plethora of music tents and arenas). Yes, this felt very good indeed.
With the music well underway, and a small luncheon consumed, we stumble across Nick Talbot, aka Warp’s folkie post-rocker Gravenhurst in the Uncut arena.
Like on record, Talbot dallies with Talk Talk and his restrained melancholy is as equally alluring as it is delightfully unsettling, but live he lacks the backing umph to truly capture your senses. He needs drums. We needs DRUMS.
There was no shortage of beats, hollering or indeed mania when Gordon Anderson, lead chonger with The Aliens bounded on to the main Obelisk Stage. With a Sitting Bull-style head-dress and jetpowered heals he scissor-kicks, commando rolls and generally engages in all forms of tomfollery as the remaining ex-Beta Banders plough through the cosmic and the absurd, gradually transforming nodding heads into swaying bodies and gleeful giggles. The kraut-inflected groove of Robot Man a particular favourite.
The delicate thunder of Leicestershire’s Kyte is perfectly suited to the glistening sun which beats down onto the back of our necks as we watch beneath the Lake Stage – perhaps the greatest success of all the stages during the course of our stay, with The BBC Introducing-endorsed platform showcasing a multitude of first-rate new bands.
Exploring, we stumble across Michael Nyman, playing to a packed throng in the Music & Film Arena, but his wintery, spidery tinkling on the keys set to otherworldly footage hardly sets the pulse racing and we leave just as his signature tune from The Piano is kicking in.
What we need is Ross Noble. What we find is a mammoth gathering and around 200 hundred yards between us and the entrance to the comedy tent. Here we discover the major letdown to Latitude’s scheduling. By placing the various big comedy players (Bill Bailey, Frankie Boyle and Noble) in the mid-afternoon slot they command huge audiences and up against relatively new artists, it is nigh on impossible, should you not wish to queue for several hours in advance, to get a look, let alone hear, the comedians in question.
Ross Noble (blurry Jesus figure, left) and friends
Despondent, we grab an early tea – a bowl of tikka, naan and pilau rice hits the spot, when a lady opposite points, ‘There’s Ross Noble‘.
‘Yeah‘, we nod, ‘He’s on in the comedy tent.’
‘No, right behind you…’
Turning around we’re greeted to the quite remarkable sight of a barrage of bodies stampedeing their way behind a Jesus-like Noble who careers past our bench and off into the distance. We later find out Noble led his minions to a hotdog stall whereupon they queued up. Presumably for quite some time.
Fit to burst we carry our beers (you leave a deposit for plastic beakers with your ale, hence a virtually litter free site) and our stomachs to take in new tracks by Howling Bells. Juanita Stein is as foxy as ever but their goth-garage stomp still fails to truly win me over.
Fairing far better are the chaotic and truly wonderous sights and sounds of Liverpool’s a.P.A.t.T; a ramshackle collective sporting all manner of clobber (athletic vests, angel wings, cowboy jackets and capes), unified by their colour – white. The sextet are quite literally barnstorming; all jumbled time signatures – double bass, accordian, violin and all the usual elements get the treatment – and furious instrumentals they’re brilliantly uncategorisable. But that’s surely their point; they’re anarchic pop of the purest form and it is a joy from beginning to end.
The same can’t be said for Gideon Conn who sounds like a special needs kid with a GCSE in how to make your first demo. Julian Cope‘s well past the demo stage but, after much piddling around with the sound set up, he still emerges to a whistling cacophony of noise which is more bad, than good bad. He throws in some Teardrop Explodes oldies and a fair few of the mums seem to bob their heads but we’re quickly making a dash for the Go! Team, who brighten up the greying sky as Ninja high-kicks in her arresting outfit. It’s hard to see where the Brighton ensemble will go next as the entire set strikes of over-familiarity, but for now it’s the perfect accompanyment to good vibrations aplenty.
Stopping off to take in some break-dancing on the lake, we weave in and out the sardine-packed Sunrise Arena as everyone-whoever-wanted-to-be-in-Skins-but-didn’t-get-past-the-casting-couch has gathered for Crystal Castles.
Music of the Spheres
The humidity is visible, whirling around outside. And sadly, for the most part, Alice Glass and Ethan Kath are not. Every now and again, a black bobbed hair-do boings into eyeshot but for the most part we’re blinded by the flourescent wave of limbs and giddy teenage vigour. Alice Practice in particular turns the tent into some kind of mutant electro knees up with flying glosticks whistling through the fug. Once again it’s a triumphant mess of glitch and glam for the duo.
It would be fair to say it’s been a long time since Franz Ferdinand produced anything which stirred the soul, but tonight there’s a mere smidgeon of magic. Sure there’s the cartoonish bore of Do You Wanna which we have to contend with but a smattering of newies slotted besides early career highs of Take Me Out and Michael rouse a certain something. Nick McCarthy‘s incessant choppy guitar lines are in themselves a mini marvel.
The loose afro-funk of Amadou and Mariam recalls The Stone Roses in their element and for a brief minute the strains of Something’s Burning – that great lost One Love B-side – is replicated, oozing and undulating out of the Uncut Arena. Alas, our eyes and ears are quick to wander and off we trot to capture the incredible neon blue illuminations swirling round the lake.
Post midnight madness finds us listening to scattering poets spewing forth words at the speed of lexicography while another over-zealous type rants about the modern ill of ‘inconvenience.’
Purely by chance we leave and stumble across a personal literary favourite, Irvine Welsh, reading from his new book Crime. It’s a rare treat to hear the filth pouring from the creators hole and every indecent detail is magnified by Welsh’s gesticulations and thick Leith drawl.
Post-reading we fire a question (summat about taboos – annoyingly, while thinking up a worthy effort all we could hear was Francis Begbie‘s voice shouting ‘yee wee radge hun’) before the Scot indulges with an answer regarding paedophilia.
Truckers of Husk
More than fulfilled we get the bevvies in and a night of drunken lunacy is brought to a fitting climax dancing amidst the gnomes and disco balls outside the wonderous Disco Shed.
Does exactly what it says on the tin
Hardly surprising, but Saturday morning felt all fuzzy round the edges but what better way to start than with a relaxed paddle (the French-looking oarsmen doing the paddling, obviously) in a gondola around the lake. With the sun once again smiling, there surely was no better place to be.
Kicking back on the lake
After digesting crepes, home-made pork and leek sausages, copious amounts of coffee and the odd milkshake we’re all set for a bit of new-band thrill-seeking. Kicking proceedings off are Mersey oddballs Wave Machines.
Similarly to their Scouse contemporaries a.P.A.t.T they prove a revelation; not nearly as off-the-wall, yet equally enchanting, Wave Machines blend dextrous harmonies, tight hooks and a blustery racket all the while decked out like Dickensian pimps – their sinister masks only adding to the general state of glorious confusion. Finale Punk Spirit has everyone singing.
Better still – and contenders for new band of the festival – are Welsh math-rock outfit Truckers of Husk who not only send the security apoplectic by inviting half the crowd on to the stage for a final singsong, but the gathering dozens are equally in hysterics on completion such is their winsome intricacies and infectious riot.
A rain break forces us to take shelter in the Cabaret Arena where we indulge in a spot of burlesque. Unfortunately we’ve missed our host (a rather tasty brunette) and on show is a dodgy 40-something whopper dressed as a cat. His tale recounts a failed Cats (the musical) performer who is buggered by someone with a name not hugely dissimilar to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
This wouldn’t be half as bad were it not for the truly woeful attempts at humour and the reenactment of said buggering – complete with liquid secretions.
We hastily make a move and catch the altogether more sobering I Am Kloot. Miserable Mancs they maybe but it’s quite lovely stuff. With the rain speckling, we catch the end of Sebastian Tellier who underwhelms before The Coral remind us of the gazillion hits they’ve somehow managed to serve up in what seems like no time. Again, they’re hardly top of our must-sees for the weekend but the likes of Simon Diamond, Pass It On, Goodbye and In The Morning provide welcome cheer.
A wander into the woods reveals more of Latitude’s hidden treasures as Evi Vine transports us into a world of hushed dissonance and haunting echo. With just eight people (including us) watching you’re at once aware of the mini delights on offer and quick to wonder what on earth we are missing behind the foliage over the other side of the lake.
But there’s very little time to ponder; armed to the hilt with our evening swag, we bound down to catch the fading minutes of deus’ monster avant-rock; shame really as they sounded great.
As do Elbow, albeit at the other end of the scale. Opening up with the majestic clarion parps of Starlings, they’re every inch a captivating talent as grizzly bear Guy Garvey beams and conducts the collective through wave after wave of provocative, blissful beauty. Standout arrives in the shape of Mirrorball, all twinkling percussion and swirling guitar lines as the crowd in unison repeats every line – ‘We kissed like we invented it…‘
With the dark descending there was only one thing for it: epic evil prog Mars Volta-style. Attending a Volta gig is like being invited to a one-off, never to be seen again event and tonight is no different; a 25 minute plus rendition of Goliath reduces the ears to rubble as Omar Rodriguez wanks off into the stratosphere, chords ejaculating into the ether, facial muscles strained beyond recognition and music so far gone you either dance like a nitwit or are rooted to the spot in sheer adulation. Then there’s the ‘new’ drummer Thomas Pridgen a beast so athletic you’re almost convinced he has eight arms. Made of lead. And powered by a military air base.
For nearly two hours they blast through the majority of their new LP and sprinkle it with former glories including a whacked out Viscera Eyes which sees Cedric Bixler pinging his mic stand back and forth with his lead before a bout of speaker stacks ends with him bukerooing off the drum riser. It is nothing short of breathtaking.
Following this is close to impossible and despite their best efforts Sigur Ros – with Jonsi rocking the Edward Scissorhands meets Cuckoo look – are anti-climactic. PopplagiÃÂ° is their characteristic closer and it retains its powerful beauty, but there’s something more needed to reignite the excitement following the herculean Volta.
More late night shenanigans follow, but with the midafternoon Sunday drive (Monday. Work. Ballache.) lingering at the back of our minds an earlier night is in order. Probably for the best, as we rise, breakfast and amble up with a clear head for the adorable Joanna Newsom – Latitude’s jewel in the crown.
Almost as if she’s been transported in from Planet Faerydust, Newsom is the personification of magic – infectious smile, hypnotic gaze, naive yet assured banter and storytelling flourishes few can match. A large crowd have gathered, and many seem uncertain as to what they’re watching but all remain utterly quiet and transfixed by Newsom’s delicate harp-finger-picking and dancing piano movements – and even when she manages to forget the words and completely balls-up Sawdust & Diamonds the crowd is in hysterics as they attempt to assist her with the words. In the end she abandons it in fits of laughter before launching into a captivating Peach Plum Pear.
With the strains of Fields fading in our ears we limber down to the exit safe in the knowledge that our first Latitude certainly won’t be our last.
Photos: Peter Guy and John Appleyard