The attempt by Festival Republic to establish and market Latitude as a safe and family friendly festival took several steps backward this weekend. The horrific reports of two alleged rapes on the site, the partial collapse of the canopy structure over the Sunrise Arena stage (pictured above before collapse) on Friday afternoon, and Crystal Castles lead singer Alice Glass throwing punches at a member of the crowd during their Main Stage set on Saturday evening all spoilt what was otherwise a good natured and friendly vibe. It highlighted the fact that despite festivals ethos of love, peace and harmony, such events can be high risk environments.
Under sunny skies girls waltzed around the site wearing flower and leaf headdresses, people relaxed in deckchairs by the now famous multicoloured sheep adjacent the lake, whilst the cream of Central St Martins and Chelsea graduates displayed fashion shows. Despite a few regulars grumbling that the site was even busier than years past, that there was a more boisterous teenage element present (lured no doubt by acts such as Florence and the Machine, Crystal Castles and Vampire Weekend) and that the toilets were still the disgustingly smelly long drop types, overall Latitude 2010 still had a significant amount of chilled goodwill at its heart.
The ‘quiet opening’ on Thursday night got underway with a special midnight set in the middle of the woods by Tom Jones, performing songs from his critically acclaimed album Praise & Blame. With a full to capacity crowd and delayed by technical hitches, Jones arrived on the small stage to ask “Can you hear me OK?” and received a roar of approval in reply. However as his set progressed a significant portion of the crowd grew restless shouting for Sex Bomb and Delilah - hits that Jones had no intention of playing. This was no nostalgia trip, but an opportunity for Tom to display the essence of his talent - his remarkable voice; a soft mix of Presley and Cash - going back to his roots. With a band including Ethan Johns of Kings of Leon and Laura Marling production fame, that played upbeat rock n roll and gospel tinged ballads, Jones may not have delivered a typical crowd pleasing set, but for those who were prepared to listen with an open mind, it was sterling stuff.
The Sunrise Arena is a beautiful fern lined clearing in the woods, covered with a tent-like canopy for shade and shelter. It provided a safety related incident on Friday. Following well received sets from local acoustic singer songwriter Mathew P and the indie-folk-rock of Kurran and the Wolfnotes, a small lunch time crowd were waiting for country singer Delta Maid, when one of the heavy central support poles to the canopy dislodged and kicked out, falling to the floor, presumably from wind force pressure. Luckily because the space was relatively empty nobody was hit or hurt. With the canopy now partially collapsed security were quickly on hand to clear the area and the public asked to leave, the stage closed for the time being.
Over at the Lake Stage local band These Ghosts drew a young home crowd to witness their brooding, epic and passionate guitar anthems. “You are the most beautiful people. Thank you for making this the best day of our lives,” their overawed lead singer proclaimed in a believable way. Next up the sensual eyed ex-Pipette and every geeky indie boys pin-up poster girl Rose Elinor Dougall took the prize for biggest stilettos of the day. Her songs reference late 80’s / early 90’s indie and Casio keyed 50’s film noir. Come Away With Me sounded not dissimilar to The Sundays, the intro to Start / Stop / Synchro hinting at Broadcast. Less commercial than The Pipettes, these songs are likely to be significantly longer lasting.
The Lake Stage continued to push out varied new bands all afternoon. The bobble hat wearing welsh surf-guitar instrumentalists Y Niwl got a varied crowd dancing. Their sound may be obvious with it’s 60’s Hammond organ and garage-twang guitars, but it was perfect for the glorious sunshine - it wouldn’t have been at all surprising to find Quentin Tarantino running down the hill in Bermuda shorts signing the band up for his next film soundtrack,
“This is my sister, she spat water on my groin,” a member of Yuck announced from the stage. It certainly made a change from the standard “Are you having a nice festival / good time,” question that virtually every band used all weekend as their conversation piece with the audience. Squalling guitars, whiney vocals, fuzzy shoe-gazing pop, Yuck have got indie-rock-like-it-used-to-be down to a fine art and are appealingly good. They’re starting to give The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart a run for their money.
Gold is her name and it seems that Gold is her colour - for Alice Gold had either overdone it with the fake tan or has gone a few rounds sunbathing. Looking more like a Jordan wannabe than a rock star she belted out her MOR rock-pop with a big pair of lungs, to a small crowd of curious onlookers most of whom were passing by on their way to buy food or drink.
Sarah from The Good Natured first came to our attention as a bedroom-demo keyboard lass back in 2009. Now playing as a three piece band she’s ditched the keyboard, relying instead on a backing track. Displaying a girlish nervousness between numbers, her performance was entirely composite and confident during the songs themselves. She prowled like a hotpants and black eyeliner wearing tiger, thrusting her arms towards the crowd, throwing the microphone lead around her neck and dropping to her knees to sing in her strangely captivating flat tones. Sarah is certainly playing at being a ‘proper’ pop star, but possesses a darker edginess. Fortune Teller was a hooky swirling danceable beast and Your Body Is A Machine a deeper scratch below the surface.
The scratch becomes a darker wound with Esben and the Witch. The Brighton trio were primitive, experimental and powerful, the reverb laden female vocal more than ghostly, the drums, thrashing guitars, electronic beats and pulses of ambient noise not for the fainthearted, but all spectacularly good. One of the highlights of the afternoon at the Lake Stage for those who like their music a little eerie.
New bands led to more established artists on the main stage and then The Word sponsored 6,000 capacity tent, as day turned to night.
Laura Marling’s second album I Speak Because I Can may be bolder than her debut but would her songs transfer in the huge open space of the main stage, known as the Obelisk Arena ? The answer is yes, her hushed folk sound and quality musicianship only being slightly spoilt by sound bleed from the booming Wild Beasts set from The Word stage. Devil's Spoke and Rambling Man were authoritative and passionate, and when unadorned of her backing band she bears fruit with songs of beauty. Not so much the shy or humble girl she once was, Marling even engaged in some between song banter and got the crowd to accompany her on a whistling solo.
In the Word Arena Richard Hawley was un-typically quiet in between songs, which he finally explained was due a bout of bronchitis. Despite this however his lovelorn melodies were timeless and wonderful, particularly during Tonight The Streets Are Ours which was so romantic that if babies haven’t been created to its sound, there’s something tragically wrong with the world.
It’s left to The National to send folks back to their tents with the best set of the day. It’s powerful, weighty and intensely euphoric. Matt Berninger’s baritone is imposing, the bands music almost overwhelming, layered, lush and hugely emotional. They start with the slow build of the exquisite Runaway, and by the time they reach Bloodbuzz Ohio and Fake Empire grown men are on the verge of weeping. Mass singalongs occur. It’s that good. It’s that exhilarating. It’s moments like these that make you realise that, in the moment, music is that important. The National are now challenging Radiohead as the worlds best rock band. Even bigger stages surely beckon. Very special and the perfect way to end the first day.
Latitude 2010 Day 2 and Day 3 review posts will be published daily this week.