First night: Easy like Friday evening... Latitude festival basks in heatwave

It is not the most Radio 4-friendly of rock festivals

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Bloc Party closed Latitude’s first night with winning relish. Their early post-punk influences have been digested into something more dance worthy, and two unreleased songs suggest a confident future.

"Montreal" is a limpid song of separation, while "Make It Count" is woozy dance music till Russell Lissack’s guitar kicks it up an exhilarating gear, rapped by Kele Okereke with a singer’s strength. The green laser latticework which crosses the sky during "Ares" doesn’t pretend to compete with the 3-D spectacular expected from Kraftwerk on Saturday. But Bloc Party, who’ve never previously moved me, sound modern and fit for most company tonight.

Latitude is the summer’s most tasteful festival, sometimes to a fault. With Kraftwerk primed for a rare headlining set tonight, they already have a musical event most other festivals would kill for, in a bill that also includes Mercury-winners Alt-J, Yo La Tengo, Grizzly Bear and last night’s headliners Bloc Party.

The most Radio 4-friendly of rock festivals isn’t, though, noted for wild thrills. And with the Suffolk rail network in meltdown, Henham Park is still curiously empty by late afternoon. With the sun burning down, rock music is being used to sunbathe and sleep to.

That’s not a response John Grant is familiar with. His Pale Green Ghosts may be the album of the year so far, a heartbreak record of focused, gorgeous fury.

There’s a touch of Phantom of the Opera as he sits opposite the keyboardist to pull pulsing club beats from the controls. It’s not a bad comparison, for a man similarly afflicted by self-loathing and lost romance, and equipped to express it with a baritone both operatic and conversational. But even Leonard Cohen duetting with Nina Simone would struggle to penetrate this crowd with their pain, on such a somnolent afternoon. So Grant turns the beats up and lets us bake.

Wandering away across a field from Grant’s heartbreak disco, its fading beats are replaced by the wry hard-luck tales of I Am Kloot, over on the main Obelisk Stage.

“This song is about drinking and disaster,” their singer-songwriter Johnny Bramwell deadpans, of “To the Brink”. So are all their songs, really. Accordion and saxophone make this one sound like an English chanson for a struggling saloon-bar philosopher. “Proof” goes one better, as Bramwell sings: “Hey, could you stand another drink? I’m better when I don’t think.” But Bramwell shares his Manchester soul-mate Guy Garvey’s ability to find wry satisfaction at the bottom of the glass. He leaves the crowd lazing in the grass wearing gentle smiles.

Over at the i Arena, Deptford Goth, aka Daniel Woolhouse, is offering his own downbeat tales. With just his keyboard and a cellist, his plaintive voice and music gradually swell. There’s plenty of applause, in a tent where intriguing, up-and-coming talents have been booked throughout the weekend. But once again, the heat mitigates against deep reactions to such a bleak talent.

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, adds welcome, awkward unpredictability as the sun lowers. “It’s up to you to be your own hero,” she sings on “Nothin’ But Time”. Being on stage seems hard enough for a woman for whom stage-fright is second nature. Mumbling between songs, she leads her excellent band in raggedly exciting rock’n’roll that sounds dissatisfied and unfinished.

Richard Thompson, playing at the same time in a tent nearby, would have loved it. Ramrod-backed and gimlet-eyed, on “Tear-Stained Letter” he gives a very English demonstration of how to wring feeling from an electric guitar. As the sun sets, Latitude begins to warm up.