Yeah yeah, Latitude. I know. But I’ve small children and have to work the weekend of the Green Man, so it’s either this or another long weekend at Centre Parcs. This is both cheaper and better for my mental health. Food’s better too. If this account looks light on bands it’s both because the line up ain’t got that much depth (Tom Jones played twice and the headliners don’t really bear thinking about) and cos a lot of the time is spent doing genuinely entertaining activities in the kids field, or trying to improve their minds with unfortunately highly smutty opera in the woods or peering through foliage to watch some bloke from the Royal Ballet springing around in shaggy britches.
But every so often I win and, despite everything, win big. Even on the Thursday night I mange to catch Robert Forster playing a couple of his cleverly constructed acoustic tunes in the Literary Tent. Which he was in ‘cos he was also promoting his book on the Rules of Rock ‘n Roll, being something of a music journo now. This includes his struggles with reviewing the latest AC/DC album (which he wasn’t keen on). I’m one of a handful of oldies who drift over to see him afterward. I tell him I like AC/DC despite being a longstanding Go-Betweens fan. He’s polite, but clearly unimpressed.
Fast forward then to Friday night (blissfully unaware of all nastiness at the event until we read about it in the paper at on the Monday). The Word tent had a great triple header with Wild Beasts, Richard Hawley and The National hot on each others‘ heels. Wild Beasts have in their favour two absolutely belting vocalists who make much better sense live (on record there’s a much finer line between unusual vocal stylings and "putting on a silly voice"). Their tunes (sprinkled liberally with hints of the 80s from Orange Juice to early Simple Minds) translate to a verging-on-a-stadium-sized venue well, sacrificing some of their recorded oddness to the atmosphere. Richard Hawley following is in slightly subdued form – due, it turns out, to bronchitis. Festivals aren’t the best place anyway for his brand of club-style banter. So out go the ballads and the subtler moods of the recent album and the rockier tunes and crown pleasing singles are dusted down, his band unleashing tightly controlled mayhem to highly enjoyable effect.
I’ve seen The National before and though they were good I‘d left slightly underwhelmed. No danger of that this time out. Matt Berninger and co were superb. Impassioned, going from harsh to gentle and back, they’re bursting with all the life that is subtly restrained on record. It’s helped by a sizeable following treating the songs from Boxer and High Violet like singalong classics. All the National’s albums are slow burners which take a while before suddenly revealing their genius. This was the point when High Violet blossomed for me – when every song sounds like you’ve been listening to it for years you know that a record’s got its hooks in. It’s pretty special when a band can craft a superb set without playing much from their breakthrough record (Alligator lends only a couple of songs, though Mr November in particular makes the crowd go nuts). A reminder to anyone who’s spent too much time at small scale indie-schmindie gigs of late of just how good a proper rock concert can be.
Saturday was a bit sparse so thank goodness for Standard Fare. Wide-eyed and slightly fazed by being there at all they still turned in a magic wee set of indiepop par excellence. They have a burgeoning collection of excellent songs – rising above the indie mass with quirkily expressed tales of relationships full of slightly bitter or weary humour and Emma Kupa’s wearily desperate vocal. Hopefully the Latitude experience will convince them that they do actually belong in this sort of company and they’ll really make a go of it. Other than that I half heard Teeth while catching up with someone we hadn’t seen in a decade. Their shouty, thumping electronica has all the engaging quirkiness of the Lovely Eggs and might be similarly brilliant in short doses and irritating in long ones. And for the couple of songs we managed to catch The Horrors looked like they got the balance just right with their goth rock, properly brooding and atmospheric.
Sunday brought Kristin Hersh both reading from her forthcoming memoir and playing a short set. You always approach it with a bit of trepidation when one of your favourite artists branches out. But the extracts are clever, suitably intriguing and just plain funny (even the bit about being hit by a car). Playing later in the Word tent (a bit sparely attended at first – Mumford and Sons having hoovered up the biggest crowd of the weekend at the main stage, there’s no accounting for taste…) you can see that the ways she talks about her songs as independent entities isn’t just flummery. Fixed on the stage, she does seem genuinely to be channelling rather than performing them. And I’d forgotten just how fabulous and how many million miles from a folky with a guitar she is. Her voice switches in a trice from hoarse loveliness to the harshest scream going. Just as I was musing that I couldn’t think of another artist of such consistent brilliance without any stand out songs, she finishes with Your Ghost. On a boiling hot day I get a shiver down my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck literally stand up. Wonderful.
Finally, in the best decision of the weekend I decide to leave Charlotte Gainsbourg to her own devices and hit the woods to see These New Puritans instead. When a band takes to the stage with a basic set up of two percussionists, a range of tricksy electronic equipment and a pair of bass clarinets (I think, it’s been a long time since I filled out my Observer book of the Orchestra) to go with a seldom used guitar, your interest has to be piqued. And they were impressive – a tightly regimented but impressionistic mix of dance and tribal rhythms overlaid rock, electronic and classical sound and choruses. Genuinely artistically ambitious, they are what lots of other bands are cracked up to be and aren’t – with a serious presence live that goes beyond their records.
So amongst everything that’s one band reconfirmed as a favourite, one artist rediscovered and one new passion. Beats the flume at Centre Parcs.
Matt Hopkinson appears courtesy of http://www.soundsxp.com