Yesterday we posted Part One of Paul Brown’s Latitude Diary. It only seems right that Part Two should follow…
After a scorching hot Friday, it’s no major surprise that it starts pissing down on Saturday. A bit of rain shouldn’t really throw a pair of North-East residents off-kilter, but we still spend the morning drifting around trying to work out what to do with ourselves. Our amblings take us into the Literary Arena where we catch an unexpectedly fascinating talk from Antarctic explorer Henry Worsley, before we encounter the endearingly shambolic amateur stand-up of BBC 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny. He might not be a professional comedian, but he’s still hilarious, with his analysis of the lyrics of Roy Orbison’s ‘I Drove All Night’ proving particularly funny
After sampling the culinary highlight of the weekend, the mainly Geordie-manned Pizza to the People van, we squelch down to the Word Arena and accidentally catch the tail end of Villagers‘ overwrought soggy Bright Eyes impersonations. Thankfully, The Walkmen quickly dispel that sour taste. Coming on like an angrier version of The National, it’s surprising they never quite grew into megastars. They’re excellent today, and although the crowd only really come to life for the band’s spiky albatross ‘The Rat’, their entire set is electric. British Sea Power‘s set straight after is just as impressive. They’re British treasures now, four albums in and still delivering effortlessly weird cult-pop, leading to an outbreak of foliage-waving which will continue sporadically throughout the weekend.
Throughout the afternoon, efforts are apparently being made to make the Waterfront stage safe for the English National Ballet, and it eventually proves fruitful as they perform two excerpts from Carmen and Don Quixote. I’m a philistine when it comes to this stuff, but it’s a nice interlude which is played out to a sizeable and appreciative crowd on both sides of the lake. We follow the ballet with Echo and the Bunnymen, whose set is impressively bolshy, and surprisingly vital for a band who first formed thirty-three years ago.
Our final performance of the day is Foals, who pack out the Word Arena with their final show of the Total Life Forever promotional run, although that probably still means a depressingly large number have plumped for watching Nutini practicing his bizarre and risible melange of Rod Stewart and UB40. Back to Foals, though, I’ve thought for a while that Total Life Forever in theory makes for a more fascinating recording than a live performance, but tonight the band bring it to life in sparkling fashion, making its songs into urgent, danceable feasts in the same vein as the material from Antidotes. Foals prove to be the best band we see today, and I’m pretty excited about what material they’re going to come up with for their third album. Exhausted, damp, but exhilarated, we return to the Muso’s tent, ready to do it all again one last time tomorrow.
The early part of Sunday is as aimless as that of Saturday, as we try to occupy ourselves before our first diary engagement at the Lake Stage for Sea of Bees. Our travels take us on a walk through the Faraway Forest, where we see a snatch of intense tragic drama (no, not two drunk children arguing, an actual play in the Outdoor Theatre). Things don’t really cheer up when we nip into the Literary Arena to be greeted by a pretty interesting bit of maudlin Christian-based literature/drama in the form of The Sunday Service. It’s followed by an excellent interview by Karl James with Stuart Maconie and Danny Dorling, which sees the pair discussing modern Britain. Dorling’s views are interesting, but Maconie is the undoubted star, oozing wit and warmth without ever having to resort to militant ‘speak as we find, God’s own country’-style Northernism.
Sea of Bees’ performance is as gorgeously kooky as we’d hoped for. Perhaps wisely she cuts back on her usual (and endearing) rambling stories, squeezing more songs into her half hour, which seem to go down well with those who huddle under the Lake Stage’s protruding roof for shelter from the rain. Her fantastically mental vocal, recalling a more akward Martha Wainwright is one of the weekend’s most enduring highlights. At a loose end after Sea of Bees, we catch a bit more ballet from Sadler’s Wells’ company on the Waterfront, before The Heartbreaks‘ provide the best surprise of the day with half an hour of brilliant guitar pop.
The Lake Stage’s afternoon line-up contains some pretty hotly-tipped new artists today, and one of the strongest of those is Clock Opera. Watching their set, you can feel the tinglings of something special beginning to happen. If they can keep up the standard of their ‘Belongings’ single with future releases, then a hell of a lot of people will be falling in love with them soon. Once Clock Opera finish, we nip across to catch what remains of Everything Everything‘s set in the Word Arena. They’re in full swing when we arrive, and while they might be slightly tough going on record (it’s the voice – if I’m in the mood it’s brilliant, if not it’s unbearable), the energy of their live performance carries them through.
Another Latitude act who I occasionally struggle with is Alan Carr. It’s a surprise to see him at Latitude, a sentiment which apparently extends even to him as he questions what the fuck he’s doing here. His set is basically about nothing at all, but it’s still a strong slice of major-league comedy. A lot of it boils down to his physicality, and it’s a lesson to young comedians to play to your strengths. If you’re an odd-looking chubster with a funny voice, then just make it a feature. Carr seems to have done okay from it. Preceding him in the Comedy Arena is Nathan Caton, whose charismatic discourses on West Indian grandparents, Lactose intolerance and Tinie Tempah are more than funny enough to cover up for a Ryan Giggs joke that dies on its arse.
Sunday’s definitely winding down at this stage, and all bar the youths are starting to flag. Lykke Li brings us back to life in dazzling fashion, though. Her performance on The Word Stage really does defy belief. Her record paints her as a victim of love gone wrong, but tonight, she turns it full circle, becoming a seductive, dark-cloaked she-devil. ‘Sadness is a Blessing’ in particular is a proper Festival Moment, recreating the lush instrumental as a huge bit of choral pop music, in which lines like “Sadness is my boyfriend” become the most defiant of fuck-yous. Mrs Muso’s and I leave the Word Arena more than a little bit in love with Lykke, only for Suede to go and steal back a fair chunk of our adoration.
Suede’s reunion has been an source of enormous excitement to me in particular, because the Manics and Pulp are probably the only bands to have meant more to me in my lifetime. So you can imagine how absolutely thrilling it is to see the years have been much kinder to them than they have to me, and when they launch into a gut-ripping ’The Drowners’, it’s like I’m 16 all over again. Brett’s clearly genuinely delighted to be there, and he struts and pouts around the stage like a Jagger who never lost his looks. They can even get away with dropping two b-sides (‘To the Birds’ and ‘Killing of a Flashboy’) into the set. At a bloody festival! And people are singing along exactly the same as to ‘Metal Mickey’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’! Only Oasis in their prime could have got away with that. It’s an absolutely incredible performance, and it all feels pretty emotional by the end, with the only negative result being that we can’t really fully concentrate on James Blake‘s lush-sounding set at the Lake Stage afterwards.
On the whole then, my first Latitude is a marked triumph. The weather is managed as well as you can expect, with most of the muddiest splashpoints being occasionally covered with woodchips, and the toilets are maintained as well as can be. Every set we see is brilliant, and while I might overplay the drunk kids a tad, I’m probably just jealous of their youthfulness, because the crowd is almost entirely good-natured. As a chap who likes his grub, I’m dismayed by the pricing of the food, but it’s offset by the awesome choice and good quality of what’s on offer. Latitude, I’ll be back soon.