Latitude Festival, Southwold, Suffolk
All points of the musical compass
Tuesday 22 July 2008
In its three-year lifespan, Latitude has gone from being a boutique event and a reasonably well-kept secret to a major date on the festival calendar. With its "more than just a music festival" motto – it also hosts theatre, comedy, poetry and film – it's the sort of thing you can take the kids (or their grandparents) to, and plenty of people do just that.
A day at Latitude is more civilised than at any other festival. You could begin with a spot of theatre from the RSC, the National, the Royal Court or the Bush Theatre, whose comi-tragic compilation of break-up scenes, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, was especially popular. Then it's on to see the novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi in conversation with Miranda Sawyer – both good value despite raging hangovers.
You could drop in on Bill Bailey's comedy set, or hear a verse or two of performance poetry, before even thinking of seeing any bands. And that's if you weren't lucky enough to secure a seat in the Radio 4 tent, the hottest ticket of the weekend.
Last year's festival benefited from perfect weather and a bill that had some urgency to it – Arcade Fire, for instance, were very much the band of the moment. This year, there were scattered showers and a trio of coffee-table headliners (Sigur Ros, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol) who have only released one album between them in the last year.
That said, Sigur Ros's Saturday night set was the ornamental centrepiece of the weekend. Over the years, Iceland's finest have perfected their formula for a euphoric crescendo, and they demonstrated it over and over again in a glorious show, full of all the bells and whistles (and brass and strings and lights and snow machines) now available to them as a major international act.
On Friday, Franz Ferdinand's note-perfect performance lacked added value. What sounded like a greatest hits set was interrupted by a couple of promising-sounding new tracks, though they didn't exactly smack of the Afrobeat influences the band have hinted at in interviews. Instead, Franz were upstaged by the Malian duo Amadou and Mariam and their band, playing next door in the Uncut Arena. Their jumping African blues-rock made them the hit of the night.
Interpol, wrapping up the festival on Sunday, had the worst of the weather, but at least the rain matched their gloomy, doomy rock.
Elsewhere, London's youthful "anti-folk" scene was well represented, with Johnny Flynn, Emmy the Great and Jeremy Warmsley all playing the suitably pastoral Sunrise Arena (it's out in the woods) on consecutive days. Flynn and his band the Sussex Wit are the more accomplished musicians, but Emmy the Great's deceptively dark lyrical conceits – disguised by butter-wouldn't-melt melodies – make her an intriguing proposition.
Golden Silvers – the winners of this year's Glastonbury New Talent competition – played a sparsely populated Uncut Arena on Saturday afternoon. They do a good line in Elvis Costello-influenced indie-pop, with rhythm-heavy instrumentation (bass, drums, keyboards) brilliantly balanced by three-part vocal harmonies.
Seasick Steve's blend of blues and anecdote is fast becoming a festival staple, and with good reason. A bluesman with a compelling back-story, he can do remarkable things with a plank and a piece of string. Martha Wainwright's stunning Friday performance contained a spot of festival serendipity – duets with Fyfe Dangerfield from Guillemots and the eminent beatboxer Shlomo.
The hirsute Sébastien Tellier looks like his namesake and fellow Frenchman, Sébastien Chabal, but sounds like an electro Serge Gainsbourg. His sadly curtailed set must be the only one of the summer to contain a Eurovision Song Contest entry – and very popular it was, too. Joanna Newsom's Sunday lunchtime show was a superb tonic to anyone recovering from a night of excess, and the crowd clapped politely even when she mislaid her lyrics – no beer-chucking here.
While it may have been a bit chillier and more crowded than in previous years, Latitude's village-green vibe is still a treat. Here's hoping it stays that way.
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