Latitude 2012 – best weekend of the year so far
Latitude, a great deal of it, is exactly what we gave ourselves. Four days of no work, no kids, no house, no internet, no TV, no radio, no telephone, no newspapers and no worries. We left our lives at the gate and entered a wooded world of painted sheep, music, comedy, poetry and literature. Pitched the tent in the sunshine then wandered in for some tasters in the Film & Music tent. Sure it rained during the night but no worries - I quite like the sound of rain from inside a dry tent.
Day 1: Friday
Paul Mason – Meltdown of establishment
The BBC seems to suck the lifeblood out of journalists turning them into D-list celebs, rather than serious commentators. After giving a talk at the BBC a couple of years back, I walked to Shepherd’s Bush tube with the person who trained their TV newsreaders. She secretly called the course ‘The Egos have Landed’. But Paul Mason is one of the few BBC journalists I’ll listen to for real analysis.
Mason’s different – a northerner and far from madding posh boys and girls at the Beeb, who are clearly part of the problem, not the solution. So he’s not scared to attack the establishment, which he sees as being in meltdown due to increased transparency. They were always like this; greedy, rapacious, self-seeking robbers who protected themselves through secrecy. But the genie is out of the digital bottle and they’re being exposed for what they always were – liars and cheats. His prognosis was interesting – this game ain’t over. Transparency will continue to expose the wrongdoing and people will get angry – very angry. Strong stuff, although when mentioning the media he was curiously non-critical of the BBC, long a source of protection for the establishment. Good talk but I’m off as I’m really here for the music.
Opener for the day was a juicy, young US band called the Givers with two bouncy lead singers. First time listen for me and set me up for the day, followed by First Aid Kit, the fresh-faced Swedish duo who do a country-rock thing. But it was Glen Hansard who sang his bluesy-Irish heart out and got us all up a gear. Amadou & Miriam was not my cup of musical tea but what came next, the tiny tornado, Janelle Monae, was astonishing. The hooded, booted, caped crusader danced and sang like a demon. You could say a bit too slick and theatrical but that’s would be petty because that’s exactly what it is. Gave Metronomy a miss as I don’t like chest-lights and find the music – well… metronomic.
Liked him then and after this performance like him even more, the self-effacing Lloyd Cole rattled out some brilliant tunes from his considerable back catalogue, and a lovely cover of the Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes. A bit plumper and greyer but in fine voice. Fatuamata Diawara brought some needed colour and African beats to the day then Yeasayer gave it their all, although why they allow their guitarist to sing is beyond me, as the lead singer’s better by a mile.
Why do music critics get all catty on Lana Del Ray? Her voice is vulnerable, haunting and utterly beautiful. Some of the songs on Born To Die are masterpieces of melodic melancholy – Born To Die, Blue Jeans, Video Games, Summertime Sadness, National Anthem. This performance was something else – dark and intense. She was nervous, stopped for a ciggie mid-set but the crowd adored her, for good reason – she’s so damn good.
Flume, Stacks and Skinny Love are as good a trio of songs as anything that’s been written this last decade. But I fear, after this performance, Bon Iver’s really a recording artist. I last saw him in a concert hall, with good acoustics and it was memorable. Here, the big, new sound seemed a bit flabby. Didn’t matter though, I still love these songs.
Caught the Disco Shed on the way back, literally a shed with a full light show, smoke machine and hearty tunes for late night revellers, then fell asleep in our even smaller, two-man tent to the distant strains of the silent disco crowd’s rendition of ‘Ooh Ooooh, My Sex is on Fire’. Great end to a full day of funky fun.
Day 2: Saturday
Bumped into the small and perfectly formed Pat Nevin outside the Literary tent and had a good chat about Scottish football before he went backstage to chair a debate on football and literature. This turned out to be a great session. The Literary tent was packed and Pat chaired it with skills and good humour. Alan Bissett gave a great reading from his novel but before he started he had a go at the audience for being Middle England, middle class and unnaturally clean for Festival goers. He had a point! A good, varied debate on racism and homophobia but didn’t get to the real reason for footballs almost universal popularity and role in many cultures. My own view is that people love football for the same reason they love Latitude – they want a transformational experience that lifts them out of their ordinary lives.
Full house for the physics-meister Prof Brian Cox but it became quickly apparent, given the unusual gender mix, that many here were more interested in biology than physics. Poor Professor John Butterworth, the other more senior and important physicist, was seen as irrelevant by the younger girls, who clearly see Cox as science-totty. To be fair to Cox, he didn’t shy away from the task of sticking to the science, the scientific method and the intricacies of funding, even though some in the audience were wilting. But this was the interesting bit, when he moved beyond the simplistic analogies to explain the Higgs-boson field into real particle physics and the way they proceed by a process of elimination and the a mixture of posited models and surprises that arise from the data. At the end, Cox was mobbed by young girls for his autograph, a bit like a Hadron particle in a collider.
Popped down for a poetic interlude to see Don Paterson (Scottish poet) but he had been replaced by Simon Armitage, who doesn’t seem to know his own poems and read them all from his book (this is performance Simon, not watching you read like a child at primary school). Rain and Mist were topical, and good, but my interest waned on the self-referential ‘Poet’s Christmas Party’ stuff.
Over the bridge on the lake, you get to the iArena through the woods, where you literally step into the tent from the magic of a forest and the even more magical Django Django. Someone recommended this band to us before we came (thanks George) and I can’t begin to describe how original they sound. Poppy, catchy, clever and danceable – happy, happy music brought smiles out on everyone’s faces, including the sizeable crowd in the woods. Jackie and Jan were right down the front, two women in their fifties, dancing away like pixies.
Our friend Alan McKusker used to manage Rumer in the days when we had to pay for her lunch in Food for Friends, as she was skint, so it was good to see her pop up as a famous guest singer. But I could have done without Daryll Hall – whose songs just reminded me of the past I’d rather not remember. Nostalgia’s not always pleasing. SBTRKT was awash with bass seeking clubbers, but the kids with the big bag of white powder next to me were too distracting, so I was off back into the daylight. Michael Kiwanuka lulled me into a calmer mood with his slow, brooding songs. He then plunged into Jimi Hendrix’s Waterfall!
Does anybody NOT like Elbow? To hate Elbow you’d have to descend into the adolescent habit of disliking a band just because everyone else likes them. Just give yourself up to enjoying some great songs, by some nice people, sung on a stage set against a backdrop of trees, as dusk turns to darkness, with a few fireworks thrown in. We sang our hearts out.
Where else would you get a tent rammed with a couple of thousand teenagers, with as many outside, for a poetry event – at midnight? Think on this next time you accuse young people of illiteracy or a lack of interest in the ‘arts’. They may not be interested in your ‘art’ because they have their too busy creating and listening to their own ‘art’. We watched the bearded one, not only do his poetry, but give a real performance, ad libbing and, unexpectantly, being showered with coins (after saying he’d like a coin or two for all the free downloads of his album). This was both hilarious and dangerous as pound coins were bouncing off his head.
He put most of the older, daytime poets to shame by; 1) recognising that this is PERFORMANCE; 2) NOT READING his poems from a book with coloured post-it notes marking the right pages; 3) being real and genuinely pleased that you’ve turned out to see him. Not that he pandered to the audience, responding to a request to down his drink in one, with “I’m a 31 year old man …I’m not downing my drinks in one at a festival!’ He started with the brilliant Indiction and ended with Letter from God. If you haven’t heard of him, check out ‘Indiction’ on YouTube.
On the bridge over the lake a huge balloon hung and drifted like the moon, with a dancer suspended. It was surreal and serene. Love surprises
Eventually hit my tent floor like a man who fell to earth without a parachute and fell asleep to the laddish banter from the circle of 20 tents a few yards away, one of who dressed up in an seven-foot, flesh-coloured cock for three straight days – that takes balls.
Day 3: Sunday
Got to love breakfast in the sun on the grass among cheery, festival campers. The only bad news was not having any bacon, as there any nothing more tantalising than the smell of sizzling bacon when you’re camping.
The debate on ‘Are the Theatre & Church places of political dissent?’ When Giles Fraser, former Canon of St Paul’s asked the audience whether the Church was a significant force in radical dissent, the audience literally laughed. To be fiar Mark Ravenhil, of the RSC, was hoest enough to admit that thatre was next to irrelevant these days in dissent. Curious debate as the answers to the question were obvious from the start.
A scarlet clad Rufus Wainwright crooned away and brought out the sunshine but I’m weary of the wailing. Never heard of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros but will never forget this set. Edward broke the first unwritten rule of Festival performance by jumping into the crowd during the first and not the last song. He had clearly taken something ‘substantial’ but the band kept it in order and delivered a series of beautiful melodic tunes. Warm and uplifting start to the day. Alabama Shakes make a big bluesy noise and the lead singer‘s a belter – this was turning into a great afternoon.
Gil almost lost the ability to breathe during David O’Docherty’s story about his dad smuggling back a paella pan from Spain, on a Ryanair flight, by hanging it around his neck beneath a trenchcoat. Introducing a surprise guest, he put his finger to his imaginary earpiece, and announced regret that Shakira has had a problem in getting to Latitude. Her unlikely obsession with his body was hilariously surreal.
Not really here for Simple Minds nostalgia but I grew up listening to this stuff and it was good to see Jim Kerr still alive and kicking, although a little less springy. The gestured moves remain but he now looks as though his invisible wellies are stuck in some invisible mud.
Ben Howard may be man of the moment but I found the dipped head and relentless strumming a bit predictable, so decamped to something down the hill I’d never heard off - M86. Glad I left the acoustic Howard as this French lot, named after a galaxy apparently, hammered out loud tunes that made me dance involuntarily for a full hour. Another great find.
And so to the Paul Weller finale, the Modfather’s unique, lank and grey haircut continues to amuse but he can knock out tunes till the sun goes down - and rises. This was our last night and we walked back in the dark, in the shallow mud, to the strains of Stanley Road. What an experience. Gratitude to Latitude – the best four days of the year so far.