Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Latitude... or Cinch presents a test event

Latitude sign
It's thirteen years since I first went to the Latitude Festival, three years since I last went. A lot has changed in that period, and Latitude didn't happen last year for obvious reasons. It was back for 2021 though, as a government-approved test event... which meant full capacity, no face masks and no social distancing! All of which felt a bit weird, if I'm honest. Latitude has changed a bit too, I think - it is still a multi-disciplinary festival, but music dominates more than ever - that's a shame, much as I love the music, because the variety of content is what has always made Latitude so special. It's got bigger too - when I first went, capacity was a little over 20,000; it's 40,000 now. And sponsorship? Since when did Latitude become "Cinch presents Latitude"? As in, Cinch the used car retailer whose ads are fronted by the distressingly ubiquitous Rylan Clark-Neal... to the extent that his made-up face gurned down at the main stage crowd from the jumbotrons between acts? I guess it is progress, but it, like the loss of some non-music stages, jarred with me. What has progressed well is the festival app: when I last went, in 2018, the app was terrible and a physical programme was still an essential purchase; this year, I still bought a programme but didn't use it once - the app was near perfect. Other changes? Well, for the first time since 2009, Mrs New Amusements came with me... and for the first time ever Master New Amusements came too. This would change the festival experience in several ways, some foreseen, some surprising. But anyway, enough general rambling: here, in the manner of my old festival diaries, is what I got up to. All crappy photos can be embiggened with a click.

Friday:

  • The Kids' Area. After the long trek in from the day ticket car park, proving our COVID test status (proof of two jabs for adults, negative lateral flow test for kids), getting our wristbands and finally getting onto the main site, our first stop was lunch by the waterside and the Kids' Area, mainly to get Master NA (who still wasn't sure what to expect) on-board with the whole idea of a festival. The Kids' Area has loads of great activities for the younger festival goer, but we were a bit disappointed to see that some were fully-booked by 1pm, not just for Friday but for the whole weekend. Still, there was a tent set up with a variety of musical instruments for kids to try, so Master NA and I sat down and had a guitar jam, which was nice.
  • The Trailer Park. Next we worked our way up to the Trailer Park, a wooded area that was home to an assembly of steam-punk sculpture; I particularly like Carantula, a small hatchback that had been given eight legs and loomed large over visitors to this area. There was also live performance, though we arrived just as a seemingly very popular act ended.
  • Esther Freud : The Listening Post. The fact that there are no longer separate book and poetry tents was slightly offset by the size of the sole replacement, The Listening Post - so big, in fact, that only the most popular authors will fill it, I'd say. It wasn't full for Esther, which is a shame as she spoke well about her latest novel I Couldn't Love You More and her writing process.
  • Jessica Fostekew : Comedy Arena. Whilst the rest of the New Amusements clan had a bit of a breather, I popped into the Comedy Arena to see who was on, and it was Jessica. She had a nice routine about gender stereotypes, on how "to grow a pair" (of balls) is to be strong, and how "to be a pussy" is to be weak. She also took aim at Boris Johnson, guaranteeing a good reaction from the left-leaning, liberal Latitude crowd. And on meditation, Jessica offered the line, "If you've got time for meditation, you're not the one who needs meditation," which, at the time, I felt was worthy of noting down.
  • Colin Macleod
    Colin Macleod : Sunrise Arena. Colin is a part-time crofter, part-time singer/songwriter from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He and his band trade in an agreeable, if slightly unremarkable, brand of Celtic folk rock, maybe with a twist of Americana; unremarkable maybe, but perfect for mid-afternoon in the woods. A lot of the songs seem to have isolation or separation as their theme, not surprising given Colin's remote home and lifestyle. An affable, easy-going frontman, at one point Colin quipped "I've been stuck on an island for two years," to which someone in the audience, as quick as a flash, replied, "So have we."
  • Before Breakfast
    Before Breakfast : BBC Music Introducing Stage. One of the best things about Latitude, or indeed any large festival, is the joy of a serendipitous find. Example: after Colin, we wandered up to the In The Woods area (where I found the best, and cheapest, cup of tea I had all day) and the adjacent BBC Introducing stage, where Sheffield's Before Breakfast were on. Not your average girl band, Before Breakfast feature voice, piano, cello and bass. Close vocal harmonies are clearly important to their sound, as is the strength and performance instincts of their lead singer, Gina. Brush My Hair (and tell me that you love me) seems a very representative track, if you're interested.
  • The Snuts
    The Snuts : The Sunrise Arena. NA Minor and I headed back to the Sunrise Arena next, to take in The Snuts. I'd heard a fair bit about them, mostly from the periodical emails I get from Parlophone, but I was completely unfamiliar with their music <<insert traditional comment about being old and parochial here>>. And what a great surprise they served up! Their lively sound, light show and between-songs interaction (especially from fast-talking frontman Jack Cochrane) all suggest they could, perhaps should have been playing a bigger stage. Whatever, the Sunrise Arena was rammed for this. Definitely worth further investigation, I shall be starting with their chart-topping debut album WL (which apparently stands for West Lothian, from whence they come). This was my personal performance highlight.
  • Women's Prize for Fiction : The Listening Post. We then scooted back to rejoin Mrs NA in the book tent, where a panel session on the Women's Prize for Fiction was in full flow. We'd missed a fair bit of this, obviously, but as an aspiring author I still found the later questions on writing process to be interesting, as well as the book recommendations.
  • Stephen Fretwell
    Stephen Fretwell : The Sunrise Arena. I was really keen to see Stephen, and I wasn't alone - the Sunrise Arena was even more packed than it had been for The Snuts. I think, judging by their reaction, that most of the crowd were long-time fans too. One man and an acoustic guitar is a lot to fill an arena, even one as compact as Sunrise, but Fretwell was equal to the task. Run, familiar to even non-fans thanks to Gavin & Stacey, provided a bit of audience singalong, whilst calls from the audience for the sublime Emily and New York were both granted. Ironic, really, that Stephen apologised for dropping the f-bomb between songs, mindful of kids in the audience, and then ended with New York, with its "Fuck what they say..." chorus. Long-time readers may even recall that I made New York a Clandestine Classic, back in the day, so I was especially glad to hear that get an airing. I may have had a bit of a moment.
  • Secret Artists live podcast : The Listening Post. I left the clan getting henna patterns done and went off to see John Osborne, but got there early enough to catch the tail-end of Annie McGrath doing her Secret Artists podcast live. The gist of this seemed to be that Annie would be in conversation with a guest - in this case, comedian Sophie Duker - whilst they both painted their interpretation of a given title or theme. What I saw of this was fun. Probably not fun enough to make me subscribe to the podcast, but fun nonetheless.
  • John Osbourne : The Listening Post. I've read two of John's books, Radio Head and The Newsagent's Window, and enjoyed both (especially the latter, which is Dave Gorman-esque, in a good way), but he was reading poetry at Latitude, dipping into his previous collection No One Cares About Your New Thing and promoting his new collection, Supermarket Love Stories, in which the poems are aisle-themed. He's excellent, funny, insightful, self-deprecating. I met him briefly afterwards, to buy a copy of No One Cares... and was pleased to see poet Luke Wright emerge from somewhere to give him a hug, before turning to then greet and hug comedian Mark Watson, who just happened to be strolling by. Oh, the author's life I will never lead...
  • Mabel
    Mabel : The Obelisk Arena. I'll be honest, before this I was sceptical - had Mabel done enough, I wondered, to warrant being the penultimate act on the main stage? Would she even be anywhere, I uncharitably hypothesised, if she was not Neneh Cherry's daughter? Well, I still think those are valid questions, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. We were only there as a nod to Master NA's youth, and it's telling that the Latitude crowd noise was more of a scream than a roar, but Mabel put on a really dynamic, lively show, augmented by a well-drilled dance troupe. And she can really sing too, even if it was sometimes a bit Beyonce-lite for my taste. She finished with her bigest hits (ahem, as far as I know), Tick Tock and finally, with confetti canons unleashed, Don't Call Me Up; even parochial old dinosaur me was able to join in with the chorus for that.
  • Wolf Alice
    Wolf Alice : The Obelisk Arena. And so we came to the reason I had bought day tickets for Friday rather than over the weekend. I had seen Wolf Alice play the same stage three years ago, but here they were headlining, and with a new, more mature album to promote. I was excited. Unfortunately, the rest of our little party were less enthralled, finding the band too loud and a bit too strident. Also, NA Minor was starting to flag - it had been a long day on our feet, and we'd covered a lot of ground. The bottom line is that we moved on after twenty minutes, just as Ellie and the band were starting to get on to the new material. What I can tell you is that the new song I heard was darker, slower, less strident... very promising.
  • Hot Chip
    Hot Chip : BBC Sounds Stage. I remember when this used to the BBC 6Music stage ...grumble, grumble, old, old, progress, progress... Anyway, I hoped that a blast of Putney's finest, and the spectacle of a large crowd bobbing up and down in a giant tent, would reinvigorate the New Amusements ensemble. It didn't, sadly, and we lasted a song and a half, which is a shame because the band looked to be warming up nicely. NA Minor is not even at high school yet though, and this was a step too far for him, on a long day - he didn't want the crowd, or the volume, or the chest-vibrating bass. We bailed out, and like the good dad I am I didn't even moan about it. Not aloud, anyway.

And that was that. Because we set off on the long walk back to the car park nice and early, we even beat the traditional queue of departing day-ticketers, so that was a bonus. But what to make of Latitude 2021? Seventeen months since my last gig, it felt great to be there, even if a little surreal to be amongst such a large crowd of people, and with not a face mask in sight. COVID did have an impact though, with some acts having to cancel at the last minute: Fontaines D.C. and Arlo Parks both had to scrub from the Saturday line-up, after positive test results.

Also, I bristled somewhat at the inevitable commercialisation and sponsorship that is creeping into this, my favourite festival, and the inevitable attendant mainstreaming of the line-up... but it's still a grand day out, even though I didn't get to see everything I would have liked: I didn't see any theatre or film shows, for example, and missing the bulk of both Wolf Alice and Hot Chip seems wasteful at best. Going with my family made it a very different festival experience... my last four visits have been alone, and that's great for seeing exactly what you want to see, but it does make it hard to share the experience. This was better, much better. Master NA proclaimed it a brilliant day. I hope we are all there next year.

Wolf Alice at Latitude 2021
Wide shot of Obelisk Arena headliners Wolf Alice

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Sounds familiar

Remember around the New Year, when I was trying, with very little success, to purge some CDs from my collection? Well, I came across a number of magazine cover-mounted CDs, and a whole load of subscriber-only discs from when I was joined at the hip with Q magazine. These were always a mixed bag, but nearly always had one or two gems on. Anyway, on listening again to these CDs (for the first time in 10+ years, in some cases), one or two tracks stood out enough for me to research them online. Here's one such: Naked in the City Again was side 1, track 1 on Hot Hot Heat's 2002 debut album Make Up the Breakdown. And it's alright, listen:

Now I don't know much abou Hot Hot Heat other than that: (a) they came from Vancouver; and (b) they had a not-so-good name. But something about this track stuck with me - not that it's life-changingly brilliant, but that is sort of reminded me of something else... something I couldn't immediately put my finger on. It came to me eventually though: Burning with Optimism's Flames is a track from my favourite XTC album, Black Sea. And whilst not exactly a template for Naked in the City Again, there's certainly something in the tempo, the rhythms and the vocal delivery, especially during the verses and middle eight. See what you think...

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Monochrome

Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon's surface 52 years ago today, at 2:36 AM GMT... about now, in other words. Still boggles my mind that we havn't been back for fifty years. Anyway, that's all the excuse I need for a bit of The Sundays, and the voice of Harriet Wheeler. From their third album, this recalls Harrier's memory of staying up as a child to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Lovely, isn't it?

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Catching up / emptying boxes

Had a weekend of tidying up and sorting through old boxes of paperwork here at NA Towers. All kinds of interesting ephemera came to light. One such object was a museum brochure, advertising the forthcoming exhibitions and events for Summer 2007 (yes, I'm a hoarder). I'd hung on to it because I really liked the photograph on the front cover, which was lifted from a touring exhibition of contemporary photography from the Victoria & Albert Museum, due to arrive that May. It's untitled and was shot by Corinne Day, for Vogue. Here it is.

Corinne Day's untitled photograph of Kate Moss, for the Vogue fashion story 'Under Exposed', 1993

Now, as you might expect, I have no interest in Vogue magazine, or fashion shoots; I don't have an especial interest in Kate Moss either. But blimey, this photograph struck me (beguiled me, perhaps), enough to hang on to the aforementioned museum brochure for, what, fourteen years, all the time thinking, I must do something with that picture, sometime.

So here I am, doing something, albeit the something in question is just me parking a photograph I like and commenting on the fact that I'm a hoarder who squirrels things away, just in case.

To flesh this post out a bit, here are some links:
Corinne Day | The Vogue feature in full | A blog post on how the shoot was (probably) lit | The photo at the V&A

There, I've done something with it. Guess I can (reluctuantly) put the brochure in the recycling bin now...

Monday, 19 July 2021

More new to NA... and I'm not dead yet

I don't hear much new that I like. I know... parochial, yadda yadda... dinosaur, yadda yadda... guilty as charged, on all counts.

But I'm not dead yet. Heard this on the radio, and quite liked it. Not sure how it will stand up to repeated plays, mind, being so lacking in variations. But now and again... yeah, I think this is alright. I don't know anything about Snapped Ankles. I do know that the rhythm of this, when it starts up, makes me think briefly of Love Missile F1-11 by Sigue Sigue Sputnik, albeit it in a different key.

Anyway, here's the song; just don't overplay it...

Friday, 16 July 2021

Blue Friday: Seasick, Yet Still Docked (cover)

I seem to be developing a habit of posting about songs by He Who Shall Not Be Named, without writing about him. Here's another.

I dont think Alain Whyte gets the credit he deserves. He was Steven's chief (though not exclusive) songwriting partner and lead guitarist from 1991 to 2007, far longer than one John Maher. In that time, he was responsible for large swathes of solo career highpoints Vauxhall and I and Your Arsenal, as well as the comeback albums You Are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors.

In researching this post, I also just learnt the surprising fact that Alain has also written with Kelis, Cheryl Cole, the Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown, will.i.am and Madonna! Who knew?

Anyway, Alain has a YouTube channel on which he features new original material, as well as one-man-and-his-guitar versions of his old boss's songs. It's definitely worth exploring, especially if you're able to separate SPM from his music. Here's one such song, beautifully played (guitarists, if you're like me you'll enjoy the left-hand being in shot throughout). Seasick, Yet Still Docked is a lament for the unloved/unloveable, and gets me every time. "Wish I knew the way to attract the one I love ... there is no way."

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Music Assembly: Gayane ballet suite (adagio)

Hitachi CED player
In about 1983, I won a competition in Look-In magazine. The prize was a CED player and two excellent films: Logan's Run and 2001: Space Odyssey. Not a bad haul for a 12-year old, and a pretty mature selection of films. Being a sci-fi fan, I had already read Arthur C. Clarke's novel of 2001 and, if memory serves, had seen Kubrick's film once on television. But this gave me my first chance to watch, and re-watch, Stanley's masterwork on demand.

A quick point of order on CED players: Capacitance Electronic Discs were analogue video discs that were played not with a laser, but with a stylus! Essentially, they were very high capacity records. They were also a short-lived format, overtaken by VHS and Betamax somewhere between their invention (1964) and actually hitting the market as a consumer product (1981). These discs couldn't be handled - they came in a rigid plastic sleeve, which you inserted whole into the player, whereupon the disc would be extracted and you could withdraw the sleeve. I can still hear the droning noise of it all loading up. I think I may still have the player somewhere, along with the films and a CED of Goldfinger that I picked up later. I hope I do, anyway, it's probably quite collectable now. But I digress: back to 2001.

Although Kubrick had commissioned a score from composer Alex North (who had previously worked on both Spartacus and Dr Strangelove), he later rejected it in favour of the temporary soundtrack he had assembled himself from existing classical pieces. Stanley subsequently explained this choice in an interview, saying, "However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time?" Ouch! But anyway, Kubrick's soundtrack is how I first came to hear the adagio from Aram Khachaturian's Gayane ballet suite. Used in the film to great effect, this achingly sad piece perfectly reflects the isolation and loneliness, the separation of a long space flight. So perfectly, in fact, that it was later referenced in the soundtrack to Aliens, to reflect a similar mood.

There are other more famous pieces in the 2001 soundtrack; indeed, the use of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra has become iconic, a shorthand pop-culture reference and oft-parodied. Likewise, the inclusion of Ligeti's choral works brought a whole new audience to that composer's work, a fact that certainly softened his initial displeasure to his music being used in an edited, modified form. But, for me, the haunting, contemplative strings of Khachaturian's adagio bring the film to mind as much, if not more, than all of the rest. It is simply beautiful.

Here it is in context...

...and in full.