Latitude 2008 @ Henham Park, Suffolk, 18-20 Jul
The road to Suffolk is a long one coming from Scotland, but that's not to say Latitude Festival, now celebrating its third year, doesn't merit the miles. Billed as 'more than just music', the festival delivered on its promise: Festival goers were treated to an impressive breadth of activity and a relatively compact festival area, it was refreshingly easy to make the most of the experience, from morning...to the following morning. And, yes, a lot of that was music.
Highlights of the weekend's performances included unlikely candidates for the main stage Seasick Steve and Joanna Newsom. Steve's hobo-cum-bluesman attitude - and anecdotes - charmed the audience and his sound (with accompanying drummer, and sometimes washer board and harmonica) filled the field with blues-rock buzzing. Newsom, on the other hand, performed solo early Sunday afternoon on her trademark harp, though she debuted to the sizeable audience on piano a number of unreleased tracks. Her set, though, could've been the stuff of a musician's nightmare: During one of her more epic compositions, Newsom came to a complete stop, admitting she'd forgotten the words. While an artist less personable than the pixie-ish folk songstress would've been met by jeers, her audience cheered her on, with shouts of "We love you" thrown in. This scene, in a sense, encapsulated the atmosphere of the festival as a whole: Surrounded by a beautiful landscape, with initiatives such as reusable cups and rubbish composting helping to keep it beautiful, the crowd seemed abundant with positivity.
Despite on-and-off rain and sometimes crowded venues, there wasn't much to witness in boorish behaviour. Even when Bill Bailey filled the comedy tent to capacity, with a run-off of hopeful spectators crowded around the area to view the act on television screens, seated patrons didn't antagonise standers too much. A few pleas of 'sit down' and the situation was righted. Bailey then went on to raise everyone's spirits with a medley of predominantly musical comedy. Interesting to notice as well was the presence of younger folk around the premises: Of the crowdsurfers during Crystal Castles' fantastically raucous set, not one could have been over 18, and there was even a toddler in attendance, swaying on her father's shoulders, getting a first taste of eight-bit electro.
Other acts drawing a younger crowd included new wave revivalists Black Kids – fresh off a number five chart debut with Partie Traumatic – and twee folk darlings Noah and the Whale. Of course the headliners drew the largest cross-section of festival attendees, with Franz Ferdinand pumping out hits from their two LPs in grand fashion, adding to the mix a smattering of material one can only assume will appear in a forthcoming release. On Saturday, Sigur Ros matched their masterfully orchestrated sound with an aesthetically pleasing stage set up that included floating, glowing orbs and a marching band. The Icelanders delivered a powerful set, and it could be argued they might've been a natural for closing the weekend as a whole, switching places with Interpol, whose Sunday set was a tough act to follow after Grinderman’s full-throttle breakdown.
Earlier in the day, The Twilight Sad lit up the main stage, showing their loud and spacey guitar sounds, and distinctly Scottish vocals, could transmit just as well in a crowded field as the clubs of the north. That wasn’t the end to the haggis-fueled rock armada, though, as Glasvegas (interview here) – anticipating the August re-release of Daddy’s Gone – tore up the stage in the Uncut arena, while energised Auld Reekie folksters Broken Records, math rock wizards Errors (interview here) and Malcolm Middleton (interview here), each drew in curious listeners to their weekend performances.
Other artists sneaking in during the early hours of the day or on the ‘new music’ stages to deliver inspired performances included Micah P. Hinson, Texas troubadour touring in support of the beautifully rendered And The Red Empire Orchestra; Those Dancing Days showcasing their retro pop-rock charm; indie-dance eccentrics Bearsuit; and Atlantan dirty rock proprietors Black Lips.
At the end of the day, though – by which is meant after midnight readings by Irvine Welsh, endless cabaret and theatre performances, water-mist light shows and DJs in the woods until way past bedtime – Latitude leaves one satisfied, yes, but also a little regretful about missing acts (Blondie – next time) and events, due to such an impressive selection.