Disclaimer: I went to Latitude as a paying customer, not as a journalist. I had no press or photo passes, no special access. Just a tent, a camera, a notebook, over 20 litres of cider and a handful of close friends. This is just one look in thousands at a festival that is like no other, just my personal experiences. To see even more pictures from all three days of the festival, then head on over to my Flickr page.
I wake up at my girlfriend, Sarah’s, house at half past eight on Thursday morning. We are panicking and buzzing in equal measures as we rush around to catch our ride on time. In Jack’s car, we read Cosmopolitan Horoscopes to get a measure of what our fortunes will be over the next four days. On arrival, we join the wrong queue, then find the right queue, then wait for about half an hour until we get to the gate. Our first pleasant surprise of the festival is seeing Ben and Josh waiting to check our tickets: they’ve been volunteering with Oxfam all summer to get a free festival or two, and we greet them before getting our wristbands, lying about how many glass bottles we have with us and beginning our epic trek to the Yellow campsite, the campsite of dreams. What could be up to an hour passes as I have a minor breakdown whilst trying to carry a ridiculous amount of alcohol, but eventually we find a spot big enough, so we sit down to rest, start drinking and wait for our friends to arrive. Let me introduce you to them, because the quality of festivals are defined as much by the quality of the people you’re with as by the bands and the weather: From left to right: Ed, Ben, Beez, Sarah, Laura, Ellie, Hayden, Hannah, Jack, Vicky, Josh, Ash and Ian. We are a cheery bunch, fond of adventuring. Our campsite expands in to a large circle, the alcohol begins to flow and we set to having a look around. On entering the arena, we are bombarded with people wanting to cover us in things, and I buy a Gaslight Anthem shirt and spend a little while drunkenly asking people if they’ve heard the ’59 sound coming through on Grandmamma’s radio, but I’m not sure if they understand me.
We also investigate the Mexican Hammock Company stall, and from then on, the night gets a little hazy. Friday morning. We are woken up by Julia shouting. She is still drunk, and angers a few people who eventually forgive us and let us share their beef jerky. The security aren’t happy, though, and come over and tell her to shut up, which lets us get a couple more hours rest before we emerge from our tents for a liquid breakfast, to fill all the free condoms we received with milk, and make necessary tent repairs after last night’s thunderstorm.
We head off in to the arena to see The Early Edition, with Marcus Brigstocke and Andre Vincent at the ever jam-packed Comedy Tent.
We sit out in the rain and watch Marcus phone a woman named Debbie, who was advertising for a job in the newspaper, and offer her £100 to come and be on Sunday’s Early Edition. Then we listen to Mitch Benn play a song about Pagan Police Officers investigating a scratched car in Ipswich. They’re a lively bunch, typical of the sort of middle class vibe that permeates all of Latitude – starting the day with being snobby about the newspaper, even when you’re at a music festival. They leave me with a smile on my face as Sarah and I head off to watch Teitur.
Occasionally jarring, but usually rumbling and forceful, Teitur’s brand of Alt-Country often descended in to huge Post-Rock climaxes and drew a pretty big crowd, which was probably due not just to his rising popularity, but because he and his band were the first band of the festival. In his soft voice, of which English was not the first language (which can make for a wonderful singing style), Teitur pushed the songs forwards on a sometimes-bowed guitar, backed by keyboards, a stand up bass, accordion, and some amazing glockenspiel solos. Perfectly pleasant and an enjoyable way to kick off the festival, but Sarah thought otherwise: she though the lyrics were awful, with too much whining about how no girls liked him. If you’re inclined to ignore the lyrics at times, though, give Teitur a fair chance, because he’s worth it. We then head over to the Literary Arena – Gavin Osborn is playing in a couple of hours, and there’s nothing we particularly want to see until then, so we figure we may as well pass the time somewhere that has nice cushions. We settle in with the sound of jazz records leaking in from outside to hear Emma Kennedy read from her book, The Tent, The Bucket and Me.
Her book is one of those ‘Memoirs About A Particular Subject’ things that everyone seems to be doing these days, from Musical Memories to Doctor Who obsessions and Kennedy is chirpy and entertaining, reading candidly about disastrous family holidays she took when she was younger. The two most interesting things about her set, though, is that it is translated in to sign language and that she hands out free toilet paper with the cover of her book stamped on it. Compere Wil Hodgson then stalls for time as the next performers get ready, rambling on in freeform rants about Wrestling, Skinheads and My Little Pony, and is an odd spectacle with his pink hair, Care Bear tattoos and easygoing Yorkshire charm. He keeps us entertained until an instalment of Robin Ince’s Book Club, which runs throughout the festival to, well, showcase things that Robin Ince likes, I guess. Gavin Osborn hops up on stage, guitar in hand, and proceeds to win himself a bunch of new fans, with songs about being over thirty and attempted robberies at Burger King.
Gavin Osborn
With all of his songs taking on the form of stories or rants that are often genuinely laugh out loud funny, Gavin Osborn could be called the Comedian Frank Turner – the two have similar voices and similarly simple acoustic tunes, just very different subject matter. When he invites his violinist onstage, the songs are given a little extra depth and made that little bit more lovely. Listen to Gavin Osborn and make him the star he deserves to be; he has two albums out and they’re both brilliant. Unfortunately, the mood is killed when Robyn Hitchcock gets up on stage. He’s supposedly an underground legend, one of those guys who slowly grows old and releases a bunch of albums without actually progressing anywhere, but gaining a cult following of mostly middle aged people who first saw him play in their local when they were teenagers.
Robyn Hitchcock
Making a show out of everything he does, including plugging in his guitar, Hitchcock is not quite as funny or weird as he thinks he is, but tries a bit too hard at both of them. He does, however, earn the occasional laugh, and his songs are interesting in that he’s far more influenced by older styles, giving him a much more 60s and 70s vibe than the majority of singer songwriters around at the moment. We leave the tent and stop in the sun by the Lake Stage for the moment. Curated by Huw Stephens, it is supposed to showcase up and coming bands, and usually is being host to something interesting at any one time. Huw has misfired this time, though, as we arrive during The Brownies’ set, a messy Gossip/Yeah Yeah Yeahs wannabe act with plenty of energy but nothing good to throw it at, whilst the singer struts around, posing and letting out off-key yelps in an embarrassing fashion. Fortunately, before too long, it is time to meet up with Ed, Ian, Ash, Vicky and Beez for of Montreal at the Obelisk Arena, the main stage of the festival. Whilst I have never been a big fan of the band on record, their live show is spectacular, full of weird and wonderful delights. With the guitarist entering wearing a dress and a giant feather boa and Kevin Barnes carried in by men wearing red skull masks, the surprises didn’t stop. Tiger masks, shoulder rides, pigs, spandex-wearing men in mullets starting knife fights, gas masks, dance routines and much more keep our attention as the sun comes out and the crowd start moving to a selection of the band’s most immediate, urgent and fun tracks. Songs that are heavy on the synthesizers are the most fun, and set us off dancing to the jittery beats. Whilst I find a lot of of Montreal’s albums to be too inconsistent and weird, the material they played was much more accessible in a live setting, which could, to be honest, be down to their new record being slightly less inventive than their best work. They manage to get in a good mix of stuff from a number of albums in their short set, though, and were easily one of the festivals highlights. We fight our way through the impending avalanche of hipsters (a phenomenon we will experience again throughout the festival) flooding in for Ladyhawke and head back to the camp for a drink or two, where we are confronted by another, far more terrifying, more dream-haunting Hawk.
To be honest, I never dared ask how it got there. Moving on: we prove once again how easy it is to sneak drinks in to the arena with the simple help of pockets, hoods and bags, and head for Regina Spektor. I manage to separate myself from everyone I am with out of pure excitement (I love Regina’s second album, Songs, it’s a long time favourite) and end up not too far from the front. Cello and Violins flesh out the songs and drums lightly push the rhythm onwards as Regina holds court at her piano and, for a while, with a guitar. Fortunately, they are not too intrusive, as I often hate it when my favourite solo artists start adding full bands to their performances and albums.
Regina Spektor
Although her set is lovely and I really enjoy it, I had a few gripes: first of all, she does not play enough of her early material. Samson is the only offering from Songs, and I am surprised at the absence of Poor Little Rich Boy as I’ve always thought of it as the song that made her. Also, the crowd, at least the crowd around me, is actually pretty rude, spending most of their time talking through her set. They pause, obviously, to take pictures of themselves and sing along to the single that got them in to her, before carrying right on with the talking. I know it sounds snobby, but like full bands, popularity and the hipster fans it brings can quite easily ruin my favourite musicians for me.
Regina Spektor
Anyway, Regina is still charming and magical and, bizarrely, ends her set singing without any instrument as her backing ‘band’ play a lively country song. How odd. I spend half an hour or so wandering around trying to find my friends, and failing. I meet two kids who are desperately trying to get drunk on Vodka and Red Bull before Pet Shop Boys hit the main stage, and I decide to join them instead of worming my way in to the Uncut arena to see Bat For Lashes (A mistake, the sounded great as I wandered past later, and Beez, Ian and Ash all rated the performance as among their favourites). The Boys come out from behind a massive screen of cubes dresses as colourful robots and sputter to life with a bunch of songs that are nowhere near as interesting as the three or four hits that everyone is waiting to hear. The Pet Shop Boys are far from made to be a live band, and their set falls flat on its face – they have no presence and no energy and, as a result, the crowd reflects this in their similarly lifeless stance.
Pet Shop Boys
I know, I get it, the whole faceless, mechanistic vibe is their whole image, but it just doesn’t work on a massive stage. There’s no human element, no warmth, nothing to connect with, so despite the fact that there are massive projections and that the wall of cubes eventually gets dismantled to support backing dancers, I leave after the first of the hits (Go West, for anyone that’s interested).
Pet Shop Boys
As I walk back to the camp, I stumble across a stage that I don’t think was around at last year’s festival: The In The Woods Lavish Lounge. It’s exactly that: a little living room setup with a stage and a bunch of comfy leather chairs and sofas. Hannah, Hayden, Ed and Ellie are sat watching a band called Yeah Sparrow, so I sit and join them.
Yeah Sparrow
They play solid, acoustic driven garage rock, with their own material broken up by a cover of a Bat For Lashes song for those who, like me, couldn’t get in to see her, and they close on a fantastic rendition of Dancing In The Dark (by The Boss, for those not in the know). They are playing somewhere in the festival at least once a day, but unfortunately I never stumble upon them again. Keep your eyes peeled yourselves; they’re well worth checking out. I then head over to the cabaret tent, where I encounter a ten foot tall Bavarian named Hilda, performing under the name of Wanderlust, who screeches, swears and swings puppets around as she tells a story of how she was cursed to live her life as a ridiculously tall person. Oh, yeah, and she also made us put up a giant tent within a tent.
This was the only time I looked in on the cabaret tent, which was a shame, as there tends to be some pretty weird and wonderful goings on. I would have stayed to see the end of the show, but the Music and Film tent was calling out to me, as Jeremy Warmsley was performing a set of Tom Waits and Daniel Johnston covers. I am reunited with various friends at about half eleven, and we settle in and swap stories of what we have seen until Warmsley and his band takes to the stage.
Jeremy Warmsley
Waits and Johnston, whilst widely regarded as lyrical geniuses, can be incredibly alienating from a musical point of view: for example, I have always personally had particular trouble seeing what all the fuss about Daniel Johnston is. It is interesting and refreshing, then, to see a band do a good job of adapting a selection of their songs to make them a little more accessible. However, Goin’ Out West, as one of Waits’ most famous songs, was a little redundant in that respect, but still perfectly enjoyable. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any really old Daniel Johnston material – I would have loved to hear Chord Organ Blues, or some of his other early organ stuff, but ah well. It was a great set, and I’m kind of curious now to find out what Jeremy Warmsley’s own stuff is like, if he is so heavily influenced by these artists. Next up was Turin Brakes, playing an acoustic set. For some reason, some boards with some kind of advertising on them were placed at the front of the stage, obscuring the band from view, which prompted most people to shout at them to knock them over, but inspired about twenty or thirty people to actually stand up like, y’know, it was a proper gig instead of just sitting on the floor (more about this later!). There was then a clash, as those sitting yelled and threw stuff at those of us leaning against the barrier, but we persevered in our ignoring them and enjoying the band until everyone else joined us in standing unity. The whole sitting down thing is another telling factor about Latitude’s relaxed middle class vibe. Even after midnight, when pretty much everyone must be moderately drunk or high, people are still determined to stretch out on the floor and lounge around.
Turin Brakes
Anyway, with two acoustic guitars and an upright bass that was often bowed to gorgeous effect, Turin Brakes have a brilliantly thick, weighty sound that is perfect for a late night session. They spend much of the set playing new songs before caving to requests for earlier hits, and, along with the rest of my friends, who have dropped out throughout the performance, I end up skipping the end and going to bed because I’m practically falling asleep against the barrier.