“The best weekend Ever”. It’s not often you start a review with a quote like that, but Latitude delivered that and more and showed the way forward after the last 16 months. 40,000 were in attendance and it was exhilarating and liberating. There were a few adjustments around the site with wider walkways and access and the tents opened up to allow for more circulation of air otherwise not too different.
The nearly entirely British line-up consisted of new, emerging, established and so called ‘heritage’ artists. There was of course withdrawals due to positive tests (artists were apparently being kept in separate bubbles back stage) but Melvin Benn appeared to have plenty of artists on standby to fill gaps as they arose . To get in you had to provide evidence of full vaccination on the NHS app or proof of a negative lateral flow test 48 hours before entry.
This all seemed to work and although it was initially disconcerting walking into the site with thousands of unmasked folks but it soon felt fine and normal, and you remembered this was how things used to be. Whilst vax certificates are controversial, I cant see how for big events (at least in the short term) these can be avoided as a condition of entry. Anyway, onto the weekend
First up were the Goa Express opening the Sunset Arena. Plenty of guitars and harmonies. Lots to like and worth a follow up. I caught the tail end of Mr Jukes and Barney Artist on the BBC sound Stage Tent and they had clearly kicked up a storm.
Maisie Peters played an enjoyable set on the Obelisk Arena having been locked in her bedroom for the last two years. The tunes were enjoyable and poppy with the best banter from someone claiming to be her mum and that she had taught her to play the guitar. After Maisie there was time to catch some amazing dance on the Waterfront stage by TRIBE//RISE
Beabadoobee wowed a large crowd with her scuzzy/grungy guitar tunes. I finally caught up with the Staves (probably the only Americana act of the weekend) and was wowed by the sisters harmonies and tight band They drew a large and enthusiastic crowd with a highlight being the title track good woman from their recently release album. Like many bands they were blown away by having an audience to play to and react to
Mabel is an act you will love or hate. Pure dance, R & B pop and one hellava show. A giant silver M backed her on stage and with a brilliant band, backup singers and dancers and routines it made for a huge spectacle . As she said it was banger after banger and I for one did not regret foregoing Squid It was show time!
Latitude was made for Wolf Alice to headline on Friday night. The festival has a long history of giving acts their first headline slot. Arcade Fire, The Maccabees, the National ,Alt J ,Vampire Weekend to name a few. The band started tentatively with Smile from the excellent new album and slowly built the set up. The strength of Ellie Rowsell’s vocals really shone through and it was fascinating to see her taking the lead vocal role (sans guitar) effortlessly.
The band worked through favourites old and new before finishing on the anthemic Last man on Earth. They even managed a snatch of Waiting for the man.It was beautiful and the rapport and love between band and audience was clear. ‘There are no words’ were Ellies’ words and no one would disagree. Magnificent moment!
A large audience turned up for Supergrass on Saturday. Gaz Coombes and co have aged well and they went down well as they tore through their set including Caught by the Fuzz, Moving,, Alright and Pumpin on your stereo. Following them was Sports Team who have one of the most enigmatic front man in years. Sports team produced a superb album last year and the fear was that maybe their time had come and gone. No worries on that score. They had the crowd in their palms as they ripped through their most popular tunes as the said lead singer crowd surfed and joined the huge mosh pit that had quickly formed. A big success and not too much modesty!
The beauty of most festivals that you get to see acts you wouldn’t necessarily normally get to see. I had been tipped off about Joel Culpepper and for me it was a real highlight of the weekend. An amazing R & B singer with huge presence and an amazing band with two backup singers. It was hot and sweaty as he stripped to his waist and the Alcove was full and rocking as Covid was completely forgotten about by both band and audience as he played most of his album released the previous day, Sgt Culpepper . A mixture of styles, It was ridiculously good with allusions to Prince and made even better by a guest appearance by Tom Misch for two numbers. It was over all too quickly, receiving a huge and noisy ovation, repeated as the crowd filed out and could see the band backstage winding down.
Damon Albarn drew a huge crowd on the WaterFront Stage arriving on a punt with his band and played a set drawing on his soon to be released new album and a backlog of material from his solo career, the Good Bad and the Queen ,Gorillaz and Blur, it was enjoyable if a little downbeat at times! Highlight of the set Melancholy Hill
The Chemical Brothers drew the biggest crowd I have ever seen in the Obelisk (main) arena with most of the festival audience there. It was an audio visual feast ( think 3D Kraftwerk on speed!) and a proper festival experience . The heavens opened for the only time of the weekend and we were treated to both real spectacular lighting across the sky and videos as they worked through their classic tunes. Once seen never forgotten.
The audience went absolutely mental , the classic tracks were played and the beats dropped and the bass went through you. Not bad for effectively two DJs on keyboards. If you have never seen a chemical brothers show you should put it on the gig bucket list.
The last day beckoned and what better start than a rock star set at 11.30 in the morning from Strictly, comedy and heavy metal champion Bill Bailey. The arena was again full as people obviously wanted to make the most of the last day of their maskless freedom. His set veered through old favourites including the cow bells rendition on Stairway to Heaven and honker horns accompaniment for Enter Sandman. Like many acts he was blown away with the size and enthusiasm of the audience
Self Esteem replaced Billy Marten and Rebecca’s project appears ready for take off even if she claimed they were under rehearsed. The drummer had an appropriate skin cover ‘ keep lyrics uncomfortable’. The songs from the new album all sounded strong and were performed and danced in routine by Rebecca and three backing vocalists. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon. Highlights included In time and The Best and of course she played her recent hit I do this all the time. This will be a lovely tour to catch if you can in the Autumn.
The Vaccines were a ‘surprise’ Act in the BBC introducing tent. I found myself drawn into the edges of the packed tent to enjoy the sight of a crowd going mad and the band playing a few new tracks but mainly the indie classics which we all know, it was again very emotional for both band ( their first gig in three years) and audience.
Sunday afternoon belonged to Rick Astley. A wonderful performance including his hits and the whole set was flawless which is more than could be said of the Kaiser Chiefs where Ricky Wilson appeared to have partaked in more than just the atmosphere and was incapable of keeping hold of his mic.
Segueing these classic acts was Anna Meredith. Another artist who could not believe an audience in front of her she played a mixture of tracks form Varmints and Fibs before finishing on a magical cover of the Metallica classic Enter Sandman ( which she introduced by saying she hoped np one else had done at the festival or she would like a right nob!- no one mentioned Bill Baileys cover done just 3 hours before)
Nubya Garcia kicked off with the title track from the Mercury nominated album Source, the musicianship of the band and her sax playing throughout the set was on such a high and intense level it felt very special. I am pleased to see she has been given her own proms night at the RAH in August.
Bombay Bicycle Club were joint headliners and the set drew heavily from their album that came out just before the pandemic with a sprinkling of tracks from throughout their career. It was a crowd pleasing set with a massive audience which was encouraged to go on shoulders for the penultimate track Carry Me. It was a wonderful sight! It was now getting to closeout time and I chose to go and see Greentea Peng. An eclectic mix of psychedelia soul and dub was the perfect way to round out the weekend.
Overall a marvellous weekend. It was a real pleasure to see all these artists live and the interaction with audiences was a joy to behold. Latitude is still a wonderful festival and although it was a monitored test event 40,000 people had a ball will be back next year. It felt safe and to date no one I know who went has had any subsequent issues. I hope that applies to everyone who went, and we can reclaim our festivals and live music. I would also say a special thank you to all those who made Latitude possible including all the support staff whether backstage or across the site.
Si also attended the final day of the festival on the Sunday:
The overwhelming and overriding thought as we tramped across the vibrant Latitude site was simply how NORMAL everything felt. Barely a face-mask in sight and with sun shining, beer in hand and the sound of the thud and hum that only a festival can produce, it was as if the Almighty had been holding the pause button for 18 months.
Perhaps the only giveaway was the beaming smiles on the faces of every performer, a literal expression of the delight and excitement they felt, playing in front of a live audience once again. Self Esteem ooze happiness anyway and it was here in abundance on the face of Rebecca Taylor and her band as they played songs old and new, the whole troupe joining in the highly choreographed moves, performed to perfection (well almost perfection; their joyous giggles at their mishaps just adding to the joyous feel).
Rick Astley continued the feel-good vibe in the sunshine, reminding us why we’re never gonna give this up. We wondered whether we might see more temerity in people’s behaviour at the inside venues but as we made our way toward the Big Top for The Vaccines (a little late after an extended beer stop) it was evident the crowd was already spilling out the sides of the vast marquee. We squeezed inside and were happily reminded just how many great tunes this band have.
Back to the Big Top tent after a breather for Anna Meredith who provided the most mesmerising set of the day, drawing plentifully on her two stand out albums ‘Varmints’ and the more recent ‘Fibs’. The Kaiser Chiefs on the Obelisk Stage were predictably riotous but midway through their set we were drawn back to the Big Top where Nubya Garcia gave us sax-soaked tunes with Daniel Casimir playing double bass that went through us in a way that no electric bass can.
A highlight back at the Obelisk Arena was Bombay Bicycle Club’s set. With confetti cannons aplenty the band exhibited their whole catalogue across latest album ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ and the 12-year old ‘I Had The Blue But I Shook Them Loose’. ‘Carry Me’ saw more streamers blasted across the crowd and children on shoulders, kids and parents in glorious harmony grinning from ear to ear.
A wonderful ease down to our day came at the small Sunrise Stage from Greentea Peng. Along with full band, Aria Wells stamped her personality on the performance, the soulful songs on her ‘Man Made’ album taking on a more upbeat vibe.
And so back to the tent. Yes it had felt incredibly normal - we slotted effortlessly back into the festival groove. The only thing we’d forgotten is just how utterly tiring this stuff is; but worth it unquestionably!