Tucked away in the flat lying pastures of rural Suffolk, I almost stumbled upon Latitude by surprise as I was driving there in the sweltering summer afternoon. Bunting and banners lined the tight country roads, and soon we saw groups of backpack-clad festival goers making their way into the remote Henham Park woods. A relatively small affair as festivals go, Latitude sets it self apart through it’s wide variety of events and activities that include poetry, dance, drama, comedy and film, all of which are never side-lined for the main line-up.
Punk legend turned solo sensation, Billy Bragg, was warmly welcomed onto the Latitude main stage in the sweltering heat by the largest crowd of the day so far, and immediately launched into his classic sing along number ‘Sexuality’. Yet this proved to be a misleading opener, as the majority of the set was foot-tapping exercise in Americana, featuring a heartfelt cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Dead Flowers’. The crowd (myself included) enjoyed the theme, and closer of ‘New England’ almost felt like a reward on behalf of Bragg for bearing with him up until that point.
Editors was next on the bill, before Latitude, I last saw Editors at Reading 2013, where I was less that impressed by the band’s sound, attitude and on stage effort. Whether that was just a thing of the moment or not, the band came onstage this time with all the confidence in the world and opened with an atmospheric rendition of their old classic ‘Sugar’, swiftly followed by fan favourite ‘Munich’. The performance was tight, and front man Tom Smith exuded a charisma that carried the visual aspects forward.
We were sat by the mainstage practically melting in the afternoon sun when we encountered perhaps the best act of the entire festival: Tinariwen. A possè of forty thieves-esque musicians clad in traditional desert Arab robes, they hypnotised the Latitude crowd for the hour they were onstage with a sublime blend of blues and African folk music (I was later informed that the particular genre is called ‘Taureg’) that featured oriental vocal harmonies and a constant groove, successfully winning the hearts of the dazed midday crowd whom gave the band a standing ovation as they left the stage.
Booker T. Jones, the legendary blues man was well anticipated as he strode onstage and launched into a slow jam that featured the man himself jumping smoothly between organ and guitar. Booker T spoke to the crowd as if they were his dinner guests; briefly explaining the history of the songs and then going on to execute them with veteran coolness. A huge highlight was an extended jam of ‘Green Onion’.
Easily attracting the biggest crowd of the weekend so far, Bombay Bicycle Club, put on a perfectly indie spectacle that avoided all the obvious clichés and instead had us dancing the night away. Frontman Jack Steadman was the ultimate reluctant frontman; a nervous but knowing smile broke out between songs as he crooned out the huge hits of ‘Shuffle’ and ‘Always Like This’. The musicianship was almost flawless – special mention must go to drummer Suren de Saram.
Topping Saturday night’s bill, Damon Albarn was greeted by an electric crowd whom had been loyally waiting for his turn to rock the stage. A potentially challenging task was before him; how could such a well-known artist blend his melancholy solo stuff into a set that should include the best parts of Blur and Gorillaz? Whilst I feel that he did not entirely achieve the right balance, I give him credit for trying. Whether you’re a fan of his solo stuff or not, you have to admit that it exposes Albarn in a more personal way than anything before, thus the show was almost a cycle of discovery for the singer, whom trotted through a handful of his own recent songs at a time before cracking out the likes of ‘Kids With Guns’, ‘O Green World’ ‘Out Of Time’ and ‘All Your Life’, which were naturally better received. The encore however was fantastic, as Albarn was joined by the East London Gospel Choir, Grime legend Kano and his old band mate Graham Coxon for uplifting renditions of ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ‘Tender’, which ended the set on a nostalgic and semi-triumphant note.
Like myself, you could of well thought that Tame Impala were the saviours of Rock ‘N’ Roll when you first heard their debut album around three years ago now. It was a mixture of Beatles psychedelic and modern indie rock and it was exciting, for a while. I had almost forgot about Tame Impala until they climbed the stage as the penultimate headliners of Sunday night, and as I walked away from their set I nearly forgot about them again. This is not to say that they were bad. By all means, they ploughed through their songs with a strong degree professionalism that I admired, but that is all they did. There was not a single stand out moment for me that made me spoil my sweaty festival underwear, and afterwards I felt as if I had been cheated of some great experience that was implied through the band’s brilliant music.
Tycho were perhaps my favourite act of the whole weekend, they made me look at music (and myself as a musician) in a completely new and refreshing way. Coming from the post-rock genre, Tycho had around him three other lads on respective instruments, and I felt as if the figure himself was masked underneath the music. Ethereal synth patterns wove themselves around staccato guitar lines that were driven by Rory O’Connor’s ever-changing rhythms, creating a truly futuristic and sublime sound which spoke for itself. A truly amazing experience, I would highly recommend Tycho to any music fan out there.
The Black Keys: ahh finally, the big names of the weekend. Not being much of a Black Keys enthusiast myself (in the sense that I simply haven’t explored them), I was eager to learn about the band in the best way possible: seeing them live. The blues duo pulled off a strong performance with a variety of their work, from the more recent popular songs such as ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ and ‘Lonely Boy’ to older songs such as ‘Tighten Up’, ‘Howlin’ for You’ and ‘Next Girl’. This added a much-needed layer of depth to a set that came dangerously close to sounding like much of the same thing, and the encore of acoustic grower ‘Little Black Submarines’ successfully moved the already passionate crowd. However as I watched the band I could smell the tension between the band members, whom barely acknowledged each other the entire time, something that may have gone amiss on average punter yet came close to ruining a well-rehearsed, tight volley of songs.
Images from Digital Spy, Carys Lavin, Sydney Bernstein, eFestival