Latitude 2010

Posted on July 20, 2010

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As news spread round the country that Latitude Festival at Henham Park in Suffolk had been the scene of two rapes, many of the revellers at the festival remained happily oblivious. Once they discovered what had occurred in the campsites they agreed with those that heard the news earlier that the ugly events were entirely out of keeping with what had seemed a friendly and good-spirted festival. Let us hope that those that committed such obscene acts on unsuspecting women who had previously been enjoying themselves are caught and punished.

In the build-up to the festival the forecast had been gloomy, with showers and gails predicted. Our luck held, however, and in the end the only downfall occurred early on the Saturday morning when everybody was safely in their tents nursing cruel hangovers. Those that managed to pitch tent early (and there were few, thanks to major problems on the rail network) and avoid the temptation of swilling most of their pre-bought lager while it was still cold were treated to an intimate gig from the great Tom Jones on the In The Woods Stage. Those of us less quick off the mark were to be disappointed, with the tiny arena full to capacity within minutes. Not one to let people down, Jones was to reappear in the main Obelisk Arena at midday on Saturday.

Florence: needs some new material (Pic: Jessica Gilbert)

After a Thursday night of getting our bearings and frequenting one or two of the many bars on site (ridiculous prices were compounded by the necessity to pay a deposit for use of plastic glasses), Friday kicked off in relaxing style in the Poetry Arena before being briefly enlivened by Here We Go Magic (**), who persevered well but were ultimately dwarfed by the size of the stage on which they played. The same fate was to befall Hockey (**), who saw ‘Song Away’ and ‘Too Fake’ welcomed enthusiastically by the crowd but fell victim to the general mediocrity of the rest of their back catalogue. The biggest crowd of the afternoon was reserved for Laura Marling (***) at the Obelisk Arena. Unexpectedly, Marling and her voice were able to raise to the occasion on such a huge stage. Wild Beasts (****) added a dose of weirdness to proceedings from the Word Arena, with a crowd divided between committed fans and those experiencing the band for the first time esconsed in songs like ‘Hooting and Howling’ and ‘All the King’s Men’. Girls (***) drew a surpringly large crowd at the intimate Sunrise Arena in the woods, though whether or not people were there to see them or merely avoid Richard Hawley is open to debate. The National (*****) have surely produced one of the albums of the year in High Violet and there live act, also featuring songs from previous efforts, is as enthralling as their recorded offerings. From the first chords of ‘Anyone’s Ghost’ through to the final emphatic cries of ‘Mr November’, The National and particularly their lead singer Matt Berninger, who gives the misleading impression of timidity as he almost hides behind the microphone, are truly one of the bands of the monent, and it is a travesty that their star does not shine brighter throughout the musical world. After stumbling out of the big top tent in awe and wonderment, there is just time to catch the last few moments of Florence and the Machine (**), who were once the next big thing but are now badly in need of new material.

After the early morning hangover was obliterated by the hammering poetry of the impressive Laura Dockrill, Tom Jones (***) really got Saturday underway in the Obelisk Arena, but the novelty of seeing the man himself wore off when it emerged he did not intend to play any of his more famous tunes but instead stick almost exclusively to songs from his new album Praise and Blame. The Hundred in the Hands (****) will have been unknown to most but surely will not be for much longer after a stirring set at the Sunrise Arena left most of the departing crowd making a mental note to keep an eye out for them in the future.  After a quick beer break at the tent it was time for Frank Turner(****) who was predictably excellent, loosening up the large crowd at the Obelsik Arena his lively folk-punk style. Frightened Rabbit (****) brought some dark romance to the Word Arena, with songs from third studio album The Winter of Mixed Drinks thrilling an audience that by the end was so engrossed that it might almost be considered to be a cult following. The band were visibly chuffed. James (***) proved one of the surprises of the weekend. Clearly aimed at older festival-goers, hits such as ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ nevertheless managed to appeal to younger members of the audience, and the band clearly revelled in their success. Rich Hall (****) entertained a packed Comedy Arena with his barbed witticisms, and provided a welcome break opportunity to sit down just as the alcohol began to kick in. Crystal Castles (***) were to shatter this relative calm into thousands of pieces. Clearly an acquired taste, the band nonetheless attracted a big crowd, in part because of their raucous brand of music but mostly due to the onstage antics of vocalist Alice Glass, who spent more time crowdsurfing than she did singing. The set was to descend into chaos when Glass punched a male fan in the face, after he had allegedly groped her. After that storm came a greater calm, with The xx (****) proving to everyone why they have garnered so much attention over the last year. This resulted in a difficult choice, and ultimately a tiring uphill jog, for those that also wanted to catch the first live performance in almost four years from Belle and Sebastian (****), who drew a brilliant reaction from a crowd depleted in numbers by the popularity of The xx. Regardless, it is certainly good to have them back, and it was like they had never been away as hits like ‘I’m a Cuckoo’ and ”Step Into My Office, Baby’ filled the Latitude air.

The Antlers (***) brought in Sunday with a jaunty set that suggests their new album may well be worth checking out, before a trip to the Obelisk Arena to see if Mumford & Sons (***) could pull off a main stage appearance in front of thousands of fans. The jury remains out, the size of the gig perhaps ultimately proving too much of an obstacle for the band’s folk-pop songbook. The crowd, though, stubbornly sung along and one cannot avoid getting the impression that there is more to come from this band. Down on the Comedy Arena, the thoughts of Andrew Laurence (****) are almost as dark and demonic as his appearance, yet the thin, sickly Laurence earned a rowsing reception from the crowd when he ended a very impressive half an hour set. Few of the people to be found loitering at the Obelisk Stage shortly afterwards will have been there to see Dirty Projectors (***) but the band went some way to enhancing their reputation with a lively and interesting set that defied the hot weather and the malevolence of the crowd. Mark Watson (**) might be a nice guy, and his presentational style of climbing down into the crowd to perform was a nice touch, but his set a little light of jokes to gain too much of a laugh, with many sloping off for a quick drink or nap before the evening’s entertainment really got going. Those that stayed were rewarded by being able to see the first UK appearance of Emo Philips (****) for eight years. His bizarre appearance, ridiculous voice and falsetto fantasy combined to make the performance a real treat for anybody that had made the effort, especially as Philips took great pleasure in mocking the occasional whisper of Temper Trap that snuck into the tent from the Obelisk Arena. Yeasayer (****) served to wake weary limbs, with a crammed Word Arena enthusiastically greeting songs from most recent album Odd Blood. The Word Arena, for the first time all weekend, became a dancefloor, with a bruising set establishing Yeasayer as one of the bands of the weekend. No rest for the wicked, however, and it was straight over to catch The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (****) in the Sunrise Arena, whose breezy pop-punk was perfectly housed in the relaxed atmosphere of the forest-based arena. A brief glimpse of Jonsi (***), sporting full Indian headwear, was enough to confirm that he has more than enough to command a crowd as a solo artist but also to make one pine for the return of Sigur Ros. The weekend was brought to a close by the predictable excellence of Vampire Weekend (****), who proved to any doubters that for them there is no such thing as ‘The difficult second album’.

With its mix of established acts and exciting new ones, a refreshing rediscovery of poetry, literature and theatre, and a population of 35,000 that makes you feel part of something yet not dwarfed by it, Latitude 2010 was a much friendlier, happier place than news coverage suggested, and it would be a shame to let the disgusting occurrences in the campsite overshadow that in the popular memory.

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Posted in: Experience, Music