Saturday 29 July 2023

A Latitude encore

Latitude stripes
Yes, they dye the sheep pink...

Sigh. It's a scarcely believable fifteen years since I first went to the Latitude Festival, a more plausible two since my last visit. A lot has changed in that period - 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 seems to get bigger every year too - when I first went, capacity was a little over 20,000; it's more than 40,000 now. And sponsorship? Barclays were all over this year's event. A necessary evil, I guess. Still, I got to go, just for the day, and since neither I nor Mrs Amusements had seen Pulp live back in the day, it was Friday we plumped for. Amusements Minor also came along for the ride. So in the manner of my festival diaries of yore, here's what we saw...


  • Ed Byrne at Latitude 2023
    Ed Byrne : Comedy Arena. Delays leaving home and then a queue at the gate meant we missed local band Ikarus and a recording of Radio 4's Loose Ends. So, after a quick sandwich lunch, the first act we saw proper was comedian Ed Byrne. He didn't disappoint. Sure, some of the material felt a bit safe, a bit easy - parenthood, marriage, vasectomy - but then he's 51 now, so what should we have really expected? What was evident though was just how much of a seasoned pro Ed is - his timing is impeccable, his ad libs precise, his reading of the audience spot on. This felt like a comedy masterclass at times and I would later reflect that his set was part of my Latitude Top Three.
  • Line Garden at Latitude 2023
    Lime Garden : Sunrise Arena. After Ed, we schlepped across the site to what remains my various music stage, the Sunrise Arena, at the far end of the woods. Lime Garden are an all-female four-piece from Brighton who sound like they've consumed a lot of Elastica, Sleeper and Echobelly growing up. This is a good thing. Not so good were the technical issues the band had at the start of their set, to wit: "Can I get a lot more SPD in the front monitor?" I gave the bright-haired singer's slightly inaccurate vocals the benefit of the doubt on that basis, anyway. She has a stage presence though: introducing the song Popstar, she explained that it was about not wanting to work, before noting that if there were any sugar daddies in the audience, she was listening...
  • The New York Brass Band at Latitude 2023
    The New York Brass Band : Trailer Park. After a quick but much-needed cup of tea, it was a short walk through the woods to the Trailer Park to see The New York Brass Band. That's "a new brass band from up north" rather than from across the pond, by the way. What can I tell you, their big, lively sound in a very compact setting proved popular from the off. Unlike the rest of the Amusements clan who, I think, would have preferred a less densely packed audience, I would happily have listened to this for a bit longer. But then TNYBB launched into a Toploader cover (you can guess which one) and that was me done too.
  • The Beths at Latitude 2023
    The Beths : BBC Sounds Stage. After a mosey around the family area and the Faraway Forest, we made our way up to Latitude's second stage, an enormous tent named, this year, after BBC Sounds. I was particularly excited to see The Beths and, having conducted a bit of a sales pitch in the days leading up to the festival, so were the rest of the Amusements clan. Lucky for me, then, that the Kiwi indie darlings didn't disappoint. As they walked on a giant fish inflated at the back of the stage (a nod to the sleeve art from their most recent album), and then the band launched into Future Me Hates Me. For some bands this might have set too high a bar but The Beths were more than capable of maintaining that standard for the entirety of their hour-long set. For me, the band are at their best when lead singer and principal songwriter Elizabeth makes full use of her vocal range, effortlessly switching from high to low - it elevates them above other bands that, on paper, might seem quite similar. And although it's not often noticeable, I do like it when a vocal is sung with an honest accent (the chorus of Best Left becomes "bist lift to rot" in Elizabeth's hands). Other observations? Recent album opener Expert In A Dying Field was the penultimate track here, and sounded excellent. Mrs Amusements was dancing by this point, to Amusements Minor's, well, amusement. Oh, and The Beth's drummer looks very like my boss, but I digress. Either way, The Beths were a real highlight for us all, and were part two of my Latitude Top Three.
  • Bleach Lab at Latitude 2023
    Bleach Lab : The Alcove. Mrs Amusements took a time-out at this point, preferring to sit on a fallen tree and read a book whilst The Boy and I squeezed into the back of The Alcove (a big marquee in the woods) for this. Mutterings in the crowd beforehand were all about dream-pop and shoegaze, which was exciting. And sure, listening to their Bandcamp I can see how those comparisons get made. But live? Well, the vocals lacked the ethereal qualities I associate with those genres. Musically, well, I'd say the guitarist has listened to a lot of Johnny Marr, but then haven't we all? Where we were stood, there were an awful lot of teenage boys too, attracted, I would venture, by vocalist Jenna Kyle rather than by any sudden predilection for dream pop. But again, I guess we've all been there. Whatever, this didn't do much for me, disappointingly (I'd enjoyed what I'd heard from them in my pre-festival research), so after two songs we left and scooped up Mrs NA.
  • Luke Wright : The Listening Post. To be honest, we were all starting to flag a little bit by this point, so got to the next venue early for a bit of a sit down, which is how we came to catch the tail-end of poet Luke Wright. This was a nice bonus - Luke has performed at every Latitude since the year dot, so this felt like returning to a simpler, smaller festival time. Like the rest of us, Luke is getting a little older, a little heavier set. He still seems a little bit too pleased with himself as well, but that's okay, it turns what would otherwise be just a poetry reading into a performance. I guess that's the point. He ended his time on stage with the eponymous Peak from his most recent book which, like our glimpse of his set, was short and bittersweet.
  • Tessa Coates, Jess Fostekew and Shaparak Khorsandi at Latitude 2023
    Nobody Panic podcast : The Listening Post. This was essentially a recording for Tessa Coates' successful Don't Panic podcast, the gist of which seems to be Tessa discussing how to do something with various comedic guests. For this episode, there were two guests, Jess Fosketew and Shaparak Khorsandi, and they were there to discuss how to ... be good at sports. Which I wanted to listen to and like but ... it just seemed to turn into an episode of Loose Women, something I am clearly not the target audience for, and with a focus on how much they had not enjoyed PE at school. I checked my subconscious bias by asking what Mrs Amusements thought, but she didn't much like this either. To be honest though, it was warm and comfortable in the Listening Post (the only tented venue with matting on the floor) so I tried to catch a power-nap during this, mindful of the fact that I would be driving us all home in the wee small hours. I only managed about five minutes though, before Amusements Minor noticed and elbowed me awake. Hey ho. Bottom line: you might enjoy this podcast. I hope you do. But it's not for me.
  • Yard Act at Latitude 2023
    Yard Act : BBC Sounds Stage. After a lovely festival dinner that involved a lot of pulled pork and no small amount of chips, NA Minor and I left Mrs Amusements at the Listening Post, and headed back to the Sounds Stage to see a band that I had high hopes for. We arrived a little early, which left me time to be intrigued by their "100% irrelevant" sign ... and then the band came on, to the sound of Enjoy Yourself by The Specials. Another good sign. But then it all went a bit wrong. Opening your set by teaching the audience their part for some call-and-response, before you've even played a note? Er, no. And then curling up into a foetal ball on stage whilst singing the (eventual) first song, so that most of the audience can't see you? Again, no. Forget the stream of consciousness semi-spoken lyrics, they may or may not be for you, that's subjective at least. But learn some stagecraft, man! Others were heard to enthuse later but for us? "He's a character," said Amusements Minor with a raised eyebrow and deadpan face, two songs in. And we left, both a little disappointed.
  • Pulp at Latitude 2023
    Pulp : The Obelisk Arena. The main stage was as packed as I can ever remember seeing it in all my years at Latitude, and there was a palpable air of excitment building from quite early on. At 9.25, the big screens either side of the stage flickered into life and announced, in hot pink on black, that we would remember this night for the rest of our lives, and that we were about to see the 534th live performance by the group Pulp. This, the screens displayed, is what we do for an encore. And as the minor chords that had accompanied these pronouncements morphed into the intro for I Spy, on came the band. It's a cliché to describe a welcome as rapturous but really, there's no other word for it. And they were straight into it, with such a full sound too, augmented for the night by the Elysian Collective string section. I'll put the setlist at the bottom of this post, but suffice to say the band played all the hits from His'n'Hers and Common People, plus some from This Is Hardcore and We Love life. The BBC's excellent review of this gig later described Jarvis as "Britpop's very own angle-poise lamp" and that is perfect, for he struck silhouetted pose after silhouetted pose, filling those big screens with his trim besuited outline, arms and hands adopting curious positions in a way that reminded me of Bowie. Jarv dedicated Something Changed to late Pulp bassist Steve Mackey and, later, bizarrely reached into his jacket pockets, produced chocolates, and threw them out into the crowd. Make no mistake, musically Pulp are a band. Theatrically, Pulp are Jarvis. For however much the screens panned to Candida on keys, or the criminally under-rated Nick on drums, it was almost impossible to take your eyes off the frontman. Ah! What else? At various points in the show there were confetti cannons, giant streamers shot out into the crowd and, during the ultimate closing anti-singalong of Common People, even a few fireworks. For me, Pink Glove, Do You Remember The First Time?, Babies, Sunrise and Underwear were highlights ... but then really, the whole set was one giant, continuous highlight, and how often can you say that about any gig? Only the inclusion of relative rarity Like A Friend, from the soundtrack to 1998's Great Expectations, threatened to briefly derail the Sheffield Express ... but really there was never any danger of that. The 20,000 (and more) people standing in a field were all squeezed into the palm of Jarvis's hand. He knew it, and so did we. The very obvious highlight of my Latitude Top Three.
Jarvis Cocker onstage with Pulp at Latitude 2023Jarvis Cocker onstage with Pulp at Latitude 2023

And that was that. All that remained, as we surfed out of the Obelisk Arena on a euphoric cloud, was the long walk back to the car, and the long, late, tired drive home. Amusements Minor is still wearing his wristband, eight days later, Mrs Amusements got to dance and I got to fill a very important hole in my gigography. Hopefully I really will remember that night for the rest of my life...

As for Latitude, it gets bigger, more commercial, less "different" every year. But it's still pretty bloody good, as festivals go. There's already talk of getting some other families together for next year, so the kids can have some company their own age, and going en-masse for the whole event. That sounds ... interesting, I think. A very different experience, certainly. And hideously expensive too, ironically for what some consider a poor man's Glastonbury. As for me (and my wallet), I might just wait and see who the headliners are...) Tip the author

Pulp Setlist Latitude Festival, This Is What We Do for an Encore 2023

Thursday 27 July 2023

I can sing a rainbow...

"Red and orange and pink and green, orange and purple and blue." So went the song, except as Richard Of York will tell you, the song got it a bit wrong. So here are seven songs, in the correct polychromatic order.

First up, red, and my favourite Kings of Leon song. Yes, I prefer it to that one that was popular because it had "sex" in the title. This is Red Morning Light, from the Followill boys.

Orange is a little trickier, and I'm going to bend the laws of spelling and etymology. I remember seeing this on t-shirts and in graffiti a lot, back in the day. From late-80s Fall, this is Kurious Oranj.

Coldplay get a lot of stick, some of it deserved, some of it not. Remember when they first broke through though? There was hope, for a while, that they might turn into REM and not U2. Oh well, it was either this or Ringo. So this, of course, is Yellow.

Talking of REM, I really wanted to cheat here, and pick something from the Green album. But no. Instead, here are The Kinks and the timeless classic that is The Village Green Preservation Society.

There are untold songs with blue in the title. Untold. So how to choose? Well, Chris Isaak was in the running, but in the end I reverted to type, and stuck to The Style Council, and Have You Ever Had It Blue?

Indigo. That's tricky, actually. In the end, I happened upon Indigo Eyes by Pete Murphy, or Peter Murhpy as he styled himself after Bauhaus. It's perfectly serviceable, if forgettable, but it's no Bela Lugosi's Dead, is it?

And finally, we crash down to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, with violet, and a chance to prove I am not a fossil stuck in the 80s and 90s (I am though, really). This is Violets For Roses by the beguiling Lana Del Ray.

What songs would be in your rainbow? Tip the author

Monday 17 July 2023

Can't stop, can't rewind

Tip the authorThe whole album is brilliant, have been listening to it over and over lately. But this really stands out - it's the title track from Kiwi indie gems The Beths' new album Expert in a Dying Field. If not for that Fontaines DC Drake cover, this would have a real shout for my song of the year. But the whole album's terrific, so listen to the lot and thank me later. I was going to try to say who it sounds like ... but it just sounds like The Beths. Enjoy.

Monday 10 July 2023

Not York

You might have read elsewhere about BlogCon23, an informal gathering of bloggers that took place in York at the start of the month. Charity Chic wrote about it pre-emptively, as have C and The Swede, after the event. John has touched on it in his monthly photo post too. But I wasn't there this time, sad to say, because I had a prior arrangement that week...

Every year, at least until the pandemic, three friends and I would head off somewhere in Europe for a lad's long weekend of walking up mountains. I say lad's weekend like it's some 18-30 riot but it's never been like that at all - we're all too old for starters. No, it's usually a day of travelling, a day for a serious ascent, a day for some light walking or other recuperative activity and then a day travelling home. We've done this all over the UK, France, Andorra, Spain, Poland, Iceland and probably other places I've forgotten, and have been doing it since the late Noughties.

We've struggled a bit in recent years, for obvious corona-shaped reasons, but have still managed the odd trip domestically. But then last year one of our number had a severe stroke. And for "severe" read "could very easily have died". I'm not going into that, other than to say he's doing well now, still in rehab and reassembling his life. But his days climbing proper mountains are almost certainly done.

So whilst this year's trip felt bittersweet, the remaining three were all in agreement with Andy Dufresne - "get busy living or get busy dying". We got busy.

One of our number has climbed Kilimanjaro in his younger days, but the highest I'd ever been on foot was Coma Pedrosa in Andorra, at 9,656 feet. That was in 2014. I wanted to go higher, but was mindful of my body's continuing disintegration. A bit of research, however, unearthed a candidate in the quite pointy shape of Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain, at 11,424 feet. Crucially, for us, if attempted in the summer, no technical equipment (crampons, ice axes, ropes) would be needed - you can literally just walk up. But it is very steep, very hot and, after 10,000 feet or so, the air starts to thin out. Still, get busy living, right...?

To illustrate what I mean, here's an elevation profile of our route. Now I should point out that, as with most mountains, you don't start off at sea level - our start point, a car park at the end of five miles of unpaved, narrow, winding track, was at about 7,000 feet. So it sounds easy, right? But no, the heat, the steepness, the thinning air... The blue line overlaying the elevation plot is a relative approximation of our pace. You can see that at mile six it got so steep we almost stopped moving forwards (<1mph)... And it's not like you can go much faster on the descent either.

Anyway, it was ten hours on the mountain, with about eight and a quarter hours moving time. We basically went up and down the same route, as you can tell from the symmetry of the elevation plot, although the extra bumps on the ascent were diversions to bag two other summits, Prado Llano and the false summit of Mulhacén II. That's called a false summit because, on that route, you can't see the next peak beyound it, so people have thought it's Mulhacén, crested the summit joyously and then had the realisation that there was still a way to go. No fooling us though, we were better prepared.

Here's a panorama taken at the summit of Mulhacén, the highest point on the Iberian peninsula. If things work properly you should be able to click and drag this around for a proper look. As you can see, it was quite busy at the top - not Snowdon busy, but more people were there than expected. We'd hardly seen anyone on our ascent, but several different routes converge at the peak. Anyway, this is what 11,424 feet up looks like, midway through a fifteen mile hike.

What else can I tell you? Well, I discovered the nectar of the Spanish gods, in the brown-bottled shape of Cerveza Alhambra Roja. I shall be seeking out a retailer for that back in the UK. And I discovered that the staff in tiny rural Spanish restaurants give you progressively better pre-meal tapas if you keep going back day after day. Most of all, having made contingency plans in my head for what I'd do if my body wouldn't get me up the mountain, I was delighted to discover that there's still a little more in me than I thought. Aside from one tiny blister and some very tight calf muscles the next day, I didn't suffer too badly either. A relief to find that I'm not dead yet.

Better end on a song, I suppose, since that's what most readers come here for, rather than poorly-written rambles about an overweight, middle-aged man with dodgy knees hauling himself up what is still, in absolute terms, a fairly modest mountain. So whilst I may not be dead yet, here's Dead From The Waist Down, by Catatonia, all the way back from 1999. It's somewhere between excellent and awful - you decide. I quite like the middle eight, but your mileage may vary. Is Cerys a bit Marmitey, or do we all love her?Tip the author