Ah, Latitude. Don’t ever go changing. Returning to the Suffolk grounds of Henham Park for the 5th
consecutive year, all things needed to make a festival ‘special’ seemed to be in place. A strong line up, beautiful weather, and reasonably priced food stalls are the bedrock for any successful festival, and over the weekend of the 14th-17th July, Latitude Festival demonstrated the very best of all three features.
Due to my dedication to the teaching profession, I didn’t actually make it into the festival until early Friday evening, with the first act being the spell-bounding (and seemingly the band of 2016) Christine & The Queens in the BBC 6 Music tent. In a tent that was fit to bursting, Heloise Letissier, accompanied by a select crew of dancers, mesmerised and wowed the Latitude audience, with the biggest cheer of the set coming after ‘Tilted’. The minute-long applause seemed to catch Letissier off-guard, and prompted her to declare Latitude a “very special show”. For Augustines, who followed shortly after, their set was a pulsating race through 9 of their tracks, including versions of ‘Are We Alive’ and ‘Book of James’. 45 minutes flew by, and showed just why the band are held in such high regard by their fans.
After a break for dinner, this writer found a place towards the front of the Obelisk Arena for the arrival of the latest in first time festival headliners, The Maccabees. Having first seen them touring Colour it In nearly ten years ago, and subsequently in shows for every album since, this felt like a ‘special show’. A packed crowd knew the words to every track, with the biggest singalongs coming for ‘Something Like Happiness’, from 2015’s Number 1 album Marks to Prove It, and ‘Toothpaste Kisses’, the ode to young love taken from the aforementioned Colour It In. With a confetti cannon firing red and white confetti into the crowd in the encore, the whole gig felt like a celebration, and proved that The Maccabees deserve their entry into the musical ‘big leagues’.
As the dawn broke on a gloriously sunny Saturday, thoughts turned to the day ahead. An optimistic stroll to the banks of the Lake Swimming saw a queue that stretched and curved back towards the entry bridge, which postponed this writers’ dip into the water for a further 24 hours. The disappointment of this was tempered somewhat by the comedy of New Zealander Rose Matafeo, who provided 30 minutes of excellent observational comedy. This was quickly followed by the dry, sarcastic wit of Frenchman Marcel Lucont, who teased and lightly mocked the crowd through the readings of their ‘gripes and moans’. With jokes far too explicit to repeat, Lucont had the crowd in stitches, and deserves a higher billing in the comedy world.
John Grant had the coveted Saturday tea-time slot, and for the proceeding hour had the (hot) crowd dancing and grooving to ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, ‘GMF’ and ‘Snug Slacks’, before culminating in a disco version of ‘Disappointing’ which included some shapes being busted by Messrs Grant himself. It was then a short sojourn over to the Literature tent to hear Mark Watson talk about his new novel, The Place That Didn’t Exist. Watson battled with the sound of Chrvches, faux-admonishing them for playing their ‘hits’ whilst he was trying to talk, and rather than talk about the book at length, Watson instead provided some very funny comedy via some excellent audience interaction.
Watson’s set finished in time for the start of The National, with their second headline set in 6 years. With no new record to tour, the band played loose with their setlist, providing the fans in attendance with the airing of 5 new tracks, the best of which was ‘The Lights’, an up-tempo rock track in the vein of things found on Alligator. Having thanked the festival for “saving the band”, Matt Berninger launched himself into the crowd for ‘Terrible Love’, providing a ‘moment’ for the fans whom he weaved in and out of before being pulled back onto the stage. Their set ended as many National sets do, with an acoustic version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’, the microphone pointed at the crowd, conducted by Berninger, and sung back with heart and conviction. This might have been a set of a band with nothing to promote, but it was played as if they had everything to prove. A special gig by a very special band.
With the festivities on Sunday cut short due to work commitments on the Monday, this writer did enjoy sets by Michael Kiwanuka and Laura Mvula, the former focusing on his very good new record, ‘Love and Hate’, and the latter warming the hearts of the crowd through her latest LP, The Dreaming Room. With the time then to leave the festival for yet another year, reflections were made on what had been a superb start to the Summer. Latitude might not be the biggest festival in the musical calendar, but it surely is one of the best. ‘Till next year, Latitude.