Review: Latitude Festival 2012

‘More than just a music festival’ is Latitude’s now-famous phrase, drawing attention to its wonderfully diverse and eclectic blend of poetry, literature, cabaret, music, comedy, film, theatre and art. Its middle-class roots can be easily forgiven thanks to its delicious falafel stalls, free Marks & Spencers ‘Percy Pigs’ and cleaner-than-ever toilets, whilst the festival’s gorgeous river-setting brings extra fun to late-night shenanigans, with the ‘In The Woods’ and ‘Faraway Forest’ areas offering secret DJ-sets and hidden entertainment.

It was TFFT’s first time at Latitude, a festival now into its seventh year and quickly becoming the increasingly-cool younger sibling to the always-brilliant Glastonbury. Moreover, with the Eavis’ taking time off this Summer, Latitude has to be a front-runner for 2012’s Festival Of The Year.

Though it is clearly ‘more than just a music festival’, we were predominantly there for the music…and my goodness did the lineup deliver. With the musical-genius that is Justin Vernon at the helm, Bon Iver were the obvious highlights of the opening night, turning the Obelisk Arena into an outdoor cathedral, and giving an incredibly powerful performance. Delivering the added anthemic roar of the second, self-tiled album and the Blood Bank EP was done with perfection by the 10-man setup, whilst tracks from For Emma, Forever Ago were performed with the right amount of elegance to ensure none of the magic was taken away from the stripped-back songs. Earlier in the day, many of the festival campers had woken up from their hangover-haze to Vernon and co. soundchecking, with the likes of Holocene and Flume being our alarms for the morning…possibly the finest wake-up call I can recall!

Opening that Friday, Cold Specks had given a heartfelt, soul-reaching performance on the beautifully positioned i Arena, which included a rather unexpected cover of  ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’! Over on the main stage, the Söderberg sisters, aka First Aid Kit, gave another sterling performance, getting everyone in the party mood by kicking off the set with King Of The World, and playing numerous tracks from the recently-released album, including Blue and Emmylou. They were then followed by the delightfully polite and humble Glen Hansardperforming songs from his fantastic new record Rhythm And Repose and being joined onstage by the drummer from Bon Iver. The Antlers also gave a decent performance, highlights being I Don’t Want Love and a slow version of Two taken from the album Hospice.

Though the morning sky was tainted by black clouds and unwelcoming signs of rain, by the afternoon, the sun was blazing down on Saturday’s festival-goers – most likely coaxed out with the knowledge that Elbow were soon to be gracing us with their presence. The day began with one of our favourites, Sharon Van Etten, opening the Word Arena with her stunning and emotional voice, playing tracks from her three albums, including the amazing and recently-released Tramp. After a catch-up with Sharon herself, TFFT then wandered on down to The Lake Stage to catch another favourite, Sam Airey. Though this was only his fourth gig with a full band, their beautiful arrangements and his confidence on stage helped gather a large and deserved crowd despite the pitter-patter of rain at the this outdoor amphitheatre.

 

Saturday also played host to one of the best new voices we’ve heard for a long time, an act who was befittingly welcomed by an enormous crowd, to help end a phenomenal week that saw her debut album be released and then reach number four in the charts. Lianne La Havas’ voice is nothing short of extraordinary, with her performance of Gone being a highlight of the entire weekend. Josh T Pearson followed, with his regular blend of dirty jokes and 10-minute songs, made up of superb guitar skills and heartbreaking lyrics; whilst over at the i Arena, The Staves delivered their beautifully crafted harmonies with perfection, leaving the crowd in high hopes for their upcoming debut album.

Saturday evening then welcomed an array of talent, starting with the infectious tones of Michael Kiwanuka, a man thoroughly enjoying the deserved recognition of his soul-folk sounds. Morever, nobody could deny that Kiwanuka and his band were the coolest bunch to play the  main stage all weekend…very dapper indeed! Richard Hawley then followed, though only on wheels, being pushed by Guy Garvey, having recently broken his leg. This however did not stop him giving a sterling performance and even poking fun at his situation – ‘Before I left the house, my wife said, ‘Good luck, break a leg.’ She who must be obeyed!’ 

Laura Marling took to the Obelisk Arena prior to Elbow’s incredible headline show. Despite my desire to always give her top-marks, this was really not her finest of performances. It wasn’t the song-choice, or her lack of banter with the crowd. It was just that large festival stages don’t seem to give her music justice. Of course she’s a big name and she’s bound to play on these kind of platforms, however her best shows have always been indoor, in intimate venues, where people are there to enjoy her music, rather than get pissed and chat while she strums her guitar in the background. Maybe it’s just me, but it just didn’t seem right. What did seem right and completely bang-on however, was Elbow’s headline set. Nobody can deny Guy Garvey of being the face of friendly Britain and crowd-pleaser of the decade, and accompanied by four of the most original and talented musicians around, Elbow can’t put a foot wrong at the moment. I won’t go on and bore you, but this one of the most enjoyable 90 minutes of my life…and I’ve seen Man United beat Arsenal 8-2!

The final day had a lot to live up to. Luckily, we had the likes of Daughter, Lucy Rose and Ben Howard to help ‘shake off a heavy one’. Moreover, we had the damn fine voice of Brittany Howard. Back in May, I had the great fortune of seeing the Alabama Shakes in a small church room in Manchester; embedding their soulful, powerful, South-American blues in our heads and letting it leap and bound in our eardrums. Though on a much larger platform, the Shakes did not fail in delivering once again, giving another mesmerising performance on the main stage at Latitude. Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros then followed, bringing a whole bunch of fun to the party. One of the best shows of the weekend, Sharpe jumped around with venom, both on the stage and in the crowd, bringing a huge grin to everyone involved. Their single Home once again becoming an anthem for the day.

Over at the i Arena, Daughter took to the woodland stage, being welcomed by an enormous crowd. So much so that I had to join many eager-fans with singing along to our feet, as we just couldn’t catch a glimpse of the lovely Elena Tonra and co. above the excited Sunday congregation. This was easily one of the highlights of the weekend, as they played tracks from a number of Daughter’s EP’s, including her latest record, The Wild Youth. One cannot wait much longer for the debut album. And, whilst Tonra was firing on all cylinders amongst the greenery and the bark, St. Vincent was also providing festival-goers with an astounding performance over on at The Word Arena. Annie Clark is always a safe bet for a good show, and once again, she pulled it out of the bag. It actually came as surprise that she was so far down on the lineup.

The evening of the final day was setting in, and, after a lovely little chat with Lucy Rose, TFFT made their way to the Lake Stage to watch her play. Despite worrying about competing with the main stage, which just so happened to be hosting the equally brilliant Ben Howard, Rose gathered a large and rightly-deserved crowd, to see her perform tracks from hotly-anticipated new album, Like I Used To. Perched on her small wooden stool and surrounded by a band of great talents like always, she provided another quality show – Lines and Bikes being particular favourites. A word must be given to Huw Stephens as well, for providing an excellent light show! 

 

Catching the last couple of songs from Ben Howard, we were very excited to see Elena Tonra (Daughter) join him on stage for Black Flies, before he threw himself into set closer and all-round brilliant track, The Fear. Despite several technical problems, which had apparently occurred earlier in the set as well, Howard shook off the pressure of his biggest show so far and went off stage to deserved rapturous applause. Finally, it was Sunday night headliner time – a toss up between Paul Weller, Herman Dune and Wild Beasts….Unfortunately, the parents in me took over, and we stuck with Weller. Not the best way to end such a great festival, and probably the only mistake of the weekend, but still, he did play Town Called Malice!

One hell of a good weekend, crammed with beautiful music, people, nature and the arts….Latitude, we will be back next year for sure!

Dom Kay

Photos by Andy Sheppard