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

8 comments:

  1. Glad you had a good time, and it's great that these events are back! On the subject of Wolf Alice - I've seen them twice in tiny Welsh venues. Each time I thought they were very good, but they just didn't blow me away like I think they should have. I really don't rate the new album either - I'm mystified by the fuss made about it. I want to love Wolf Alice, but I find myself getting further and further away from them...

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    1. That's interesting. When I saw them three years ago, I was really impressed. This time though, I was neither under- or overwhelmed... and that in itself left me disappointed.

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  2. So glad you got to go this year - and brilliant that you had the company of your family too. I can only imagine how strange it must have felt to suddenly have so many people around and no masks/distancing. (My god. how weird that it's that which seems strange now and not the other way round...) You know, I hadn't even twigged the 'Cinch' thing. I kept seeing it on Latitude-associated things I'd read and just sort of assumed, without giving it too much thought, that it was some new tagline, or something to do with it being a test event - hadn't even considered the company/advertising! Hmm... yes, this is what it's come to, and it jars with me too. Although I do have a soft spot for Rylan. But at the same time wouldn't want to see his face beaming down at me super-sized. His teeth must've been almost blinding!
    I loved seeing Wolf Alice there in 2018, interesting to read your thoughts here, and The Robster's too, I haven't delved into their new album yet. And I must give the Snuts another try - I've only heard one track by them, once, and it didn't grab me, but I should investigate more.

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    1. I've listened to a fair few Snuts tracks since the weekend, and my conclusion thus far is that they are better live than on record! But then I've only listened to old EPs and demo tracks so far, not the much-lauded debut album. So we'll see.

      I get that a festival of this size must be hideously expensive to operate, so commercial sponsorship must make sense, but personally I'd rather add a fiver to the cost of every ticket and have no sponsors.

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  3. A fine review Martin, of something few of us have experienced for a long time. Glad you got to go with the family this time.

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  4. At the time when I saw this was running I thought it was madness, but in comparison to Lolapalooza's 100,000 it's a garden fete. Commercialisation is a necessary evil I think for promoters at this point, they must be on their knees financially.
    It's really good to hear the family experience worked well until later on, think it will reap rewards later on when theyoung 'un can be a bit more autonomous and go raving off by himself!
    amyblue.co.uk

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    1. Welcome. And yes, necessary evil is probably right.

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