As the lightning snapped and the torrential rain thrashed at the precise momentDamon Albarngreeted Blur cohort Graham Coxon to the stage to power through the beautiful gospel infused anthem ‘Tender’, the message was clear; there is nothing quite like a little bit of meteorological adversity to enhance festival atmosphere. But more of that later.
For this SupaJam scribe, Latitude has already earmarked its place astheessential festival of the summer (outside of Worthy Farm). It is the perfect marriage of size, scale and scope; new and old, music and other. The festival itself has swollen with some speed from the 20,000 launch year capacity back in 2006 to the 35,000 of current accommodation.
We are pleased to report that it was one of the best yet. This is said not without some thought and consideration to the problems that besieged the organisers. For one, there was the broad criticism that greetedLily Allen’s replacement of Two Door Cinema Club’s sick note excusal from their headline set. On top of this, there were flight delays that causedJames’ Saturday afternoon main stage slot to be reallocated to early Sunday and to the confines of the BBC6 Music tent. There was also a cancellation byMilky Chancewho were due to play the Alcove stage and a malfunctioning server that meant that the SupaJam-championed Pulp film couldn’t be screened. In spite of all this, the festival still triumphed.
The imposing Obelisk stage played host to a crowd pleasingPaul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott(they formerly of the Beautiful South) early on day 1. Celebrating the release of this year’s punchyWhat Have We Become, they came to the festival with both a sense of purpose and to celebrate their collective history. Heaton even found time to venture into his own Housemartins back catalogue for an ecstatically received ‘Happy Hour’, ‘Me and the Farmer’ and ‘Caravan of Love’. They unified thesun drenched masswith sing-alongs to spare, including a wondrous ‘Don’t Marry Her’ and ‘Carry On Regardless’ and even the recent ‘DIY’. They showed those present what a wonderfully wry (and very English) wordsmith Heaton has always been. Speaking of a wordsmith, their departure beckoned the arrival ofBilly Bragg, who was (quite rightly) greeted like a hero.
He immediately tossed off (no pun intended) the sordid observations of ‘Sexuality’, before showcasing such nuggets as ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’ and Tooth and Nail’s‘Handyman Blues’. His is a master class in lyrical potency and between song banter; both equally and simultaneously erudite and funny. A joy to witness and a privilege to watch.
Over on the Lake stage, we caught the Huw Stephen’s endorsedSpring Kings. What a wonderful unit they are too; full of boisterous energy, they come on like the love-child of the Clash, the Libertines and Palma Violets. If you’re thinking that many bands have that kind of melting pot of influence, here’s what sets them apart; they have the added gift of melody, throwing out one catchy feedback drenched chorus after another to an, admittedly, relatively small – but certainly engrossed and very vocal – crowd.
They even had the foresight to include some plaintive and jazzy saxophone breaks, courtesy of their lead guitarist, Pete Darlington’s father, Steve. By showcasing such a broad musical dexterity, they certainly appear to have a strong canvass to build upon. Ones to watch.
Rudimental, the special guests positioned in the secret spot on the main stage,surprised the attendees in the early evening and subsequently pummelled away with their efficient, but characterless, poppy dance blend.As received wisdom insists, if you don’t have anything positive to say, best not say anything at all. We’ll leave that there…
Anna Calvidelighted on the BBC6 Music stage. Murmurs from those who saw her maintained her as a festival highlight 3 days later (an eternity in the alternate universe that is the festival-time zone). Why she isn’t playing to bigger crowds and on bigger stages is a loss to us here at SupaJam. One of the finest and most complete talents to emerge on the British music scene in the last few years.
We return toLily Allen’s headline slot. Would she be able to prevent a tidal wave of hostility and abuse from indie, guitar-loving Two Door acolytes? Well, she could actually. In tacit acknowledgement of her role as stand-in, she even threw out an early set cover of ‘Something Good Can Work’. With little prep time, the rough edges of the rendition were there for all to see, but the gesture was welcome. In terms of her own stuff, it was a relentlessly upbeat set. Sometimes, the material skirted a little too close to the David Brent/Doc Brown parody of ‘Equality Street’, but she more often than not managed to strut just about the right side of semi-detached, stylish, witty lyrical repartee. She was a genuine surprise overall.
Her strongest tool remains her words, but her voice stands up better than expected. The cover of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ is gleefully welcomed by most, but it remains a little artistically redundant. She brings nothing new to the song, apart from memories of consumer-driven Xmas advertising campaigns. By and large though, as she rounds matters off with an exuberant ‘Fuck You’ and ‘Not Fair’, it’s hard to deny her particularly English and irreverent brand of song isn’t just a little bit potent. Certainly, the crowd thinks so. By the mid-point of the set, they are chanting ‘Lily, Lily’, causing a bashful Allen to remark upon the gesture. All in all, her performance was far from the damp squib the naysayers warned. Allen snatched victory from the jaws of Twitter sniping defeat. Fair play.
This was the day the thunder storms really struck.
Over on the main Obelisk stage, the time spent in the company of the glorious harmonies ofFirst Aid Kit, managed to enchant newcomers and enrich the opinion of the acquainted. They even found time to throw in complimentary covers, such as Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)’ before finishing off with the wistful ‘Emmylou’.
Their melodious, gentle sway soothed the sun-kissed crowd and provided a gentle warm-up forBombay Bicycle Club; a band who find themselves treated as cherished veterans despite not containing a band member over the age of 24 -such are the vertiginous heights scaled by the band from the moment of their inception.
They played a career-spanning set, albeit minus 2010’s acousticFlaws, which remains ostracised from the band’s live performances. The stylistic chops and changes are not as glaring in the live arena as they are on record, and the band dig deep to bombard the huge crowd with groove and texture. Whether or not they can scale the final hurdle to the status of festival headliner remains to be seen. That said; their canny knack of writing infectious hooks shows no signs of abating.
By the timeDamon Albarnarrives on stage, the moon is well and truly out and the expectant festival crowd sit wondering how far Albarn will go to entertain them off the back of one solo album. Initially, cards are kept close to his chest, as he opens with ‘Lonely Press Play’ and ‘Everyday Robots’ before reaching back in time for a brace of Gorillaz tracks, led with ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ through to ‘Kids With Guns’. It is soon apparent that he will happily raid tunes from all across his career. The Good, the Bad & the Queen get an airing with ‘Three Changes’ and ‘Kingdom of Doom’. One of the most striking details of the night is that the new album holds up so well up against his older compositional fruits. Throughout the set, he exudes the energy of an excitable child, throwing his arms up and down, pacing the stage and soaking in the affection thrown in his favour. By the time he reaches the end of his main set, he has concluded with a piano take ofThink Tank’s ‘Out of Time’ and the raucous Blur B-side (to Beetlebum) ‘All Your Life’.
Encouraged by the demands for an encore, Albarn re-emerges to perform a solo piano take on ‘End of a Century’. It’s a stunning moment and a pertinent reminder of the timeless potency of the 20 year-old Parklife material. With this finished, he remarks, ‘You see, some Blur songs I can play on the piano. Others, I can’t do without the person who wrote them with me.’ Out comes Graham Coxon. It is then that the heavens open and all present have to contend with Mother Nature’s power shower. In some way, the rendition of ‘Tender’ and the subsequent jubilant take on ‘Clint Eastwood’ is enhanced. Rounding off the slot with two moreEveryday Robotstracks, ‘Mr Tembo’ and ‘Heavy Seas of Love’, it is fair to say that Albarn has confirmed, if it were in any doubt, just how worthy of a headline position he is on his own terms. A national musical treasure came and conquered.
Jameseased a heaving tent into their set with the slow atmospheric rumble of ‘Top of the World’ on the final day of Latitude. The fact that they would go on to play a set devoid of big hitters like ‘Laid’ or ‘Sit Down’ and still manage to move a festival crowd to the point where you felt the roof of the tent might fuck off completely says a lot about the strength of the material and the strength of the performances.
They are unable to sate the loud demands for an encore, but the multitude could be heard muttering words of positivity all around post-set. James probably ended up as a festival highlight for many and (re)discovery for most. Exceptional.
George Ezrafollowed almost two hours later in the same tent and also played to a full house. He almost seemed as surprised as we were. Not that there’s anything wrong with his laconic fifties-indebted shuffle, but more the fact that it’s struck a chiming chord with so many. Still, he shows signs of a blossoming talent hitting fertile strides and performs well and with commitment.
Over on the main stage, ex/erstwhile Pretender,Chrissie Hynde, embraced the familiar with faithful run-throughs of radio staples ‘Back in the Chain Gang’, ‘Brass In Pocket’, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ and ‘I’ll Stand By You’, which was lapped up by the sizeable crowd that had come to meet her. For almost the entirety of the set, she wasaccompanied by a shirtless audience member who was clearly off of his face on something or other and pranced about. As Chrissie quipped, ‘it’s the longest I’ve had a man stick around in a while’. To be fair to her, some of the new material lacks the weight of her classics, but the shadow of her past is cast formidably high and long.
In her wake,Haimtake to the stage. It is in no doubt that they are a talented set of sisters, but their music is so in thrall to others that it feels more than a little gimmicky; veering on pastiche. The vocal tics that mark many of their songs sound as though they are trying to sing through hiccups. Plus, when they do veer off of the 80s pop track, they end up re-writing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’. They are very much of the ‘now’ but show little sign of becoming anything other than a footnote in time. Maybe time will prove this writer wrong, but as a musical doctor might utter, the signs aren’t particularly promising.
The BBC6 music tent evacuated at a speed usually reserved for fire alarms afterClean Banditfinished up their high-octane set.Lykke Liwas to follow, but it would appear that almost the whole festival wished to descend onto the main stage forthe Black Keys(who ended up playing anEl Camino-heavy set. Disappointing for old fans, for the sight of the two huddled together for the bluster of their early rough n’ ready blues is evidently a sign of the past. Not to say that their latter material isn’t worthy; it is just like everything in life, a little balance is good).
Lykke Li plays to a modest but passionate crowd and accordingly dips and delves into her 3 album catalogue. With a set list similar to SupaJam’s previous review earlier on in the tour, there is little new to report, although she is showing signs of being in a better place psychologically. There is less of the visceral anguish on show than that exposed previously at Shoreditch’s Village Underground. This is generally more upbeat but no less impassioned. A performance from a power with which to be reckoned.
And that is that.With a slow trudge through the muddy pathways of Henham Park, the masses basked in the giddy glow of cultural and musical indoctrination. This had been a Latitude festival of blistering heat, bible-worthy storms and thrilling content. We’ll see you next year Latitude. May you take a well-deserved rest. You rocked us hard and entertained us relentlessly. We’ll raise a glass to your continued health and we can’t wait to see you same time, same place, next year.