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Latitude Festival 2011 Review: The National, Paolo Nutini and Suede

The sixth installment of Latitude brought yet another diverse mix of art and music to Beccles, with more than a little touch of anarchy thanks to Huw Stephens

Latitude really is 'the posh one', a very middle class bash which really can't be called a festival in the good old fashioned sense of the word. It's part of the new breed of events, attracting a new type of festival goer. In no way does it really give a nod to the subversive and anarchic events of time gone by, this festival is conventional and in that sense it caters for a conventional crowd who want to feel a little anarchic and naughty for the weekend. Yet Latitude is also unconventional in terms of the scope of eclectic entertainment on offer; Latitude truly embraces the arts in all its forms and it provides the opportunity for culture vultures to indulge to their hearts content. The site is so beautifully set out that you will find a true feast for the senses at every twist and turn, even if the artistic aspect isn't really your bag you will find yourself drinking in the most astonishing array of artistry on so many different levels.

The thing that hits you in the face with Latitude is the difference in attitude toward the crowd. Security behave in a very professional and friendly manner toward this type of crowd. Stewards are uber friendly and chatty and everyone wishes you a good time. The food is definitely better than you'll find at most UK festivals and there are even stewards to control the queues for the portaloos which are orderly and controlled. It's all very, very weird, wonderful and quite schizophrenic - in a good way of course.

Inevitably, Latitude is often compared to Glastonbury, but for the life of me I don't know why as they are very, very different beasts bearing little or no true comparison in reality. This is not really a festival for the 'hoi palloi' and there is no true mix between your Jemmimas and Chazzas here, this is where the aspiring middle class set are catered for - and catered for really well. Latitude doesn't loose anything for all that, after all there is room in the festival market for specialism and Latitude has certainly found its niche.

Latitude started out as a very different event and it remains unique, it's held in one of the most glorious and magical fairytale festival settings in the UK, the range of entertainment provided is as diverse as it is fascinating and intriguing.

Latitude is one festival where you could take anybody in your group or family and be absolutely certain that there will be plenty on offer to suit all tastes. You can spend the whole festival indulging in the arts in so many different forms it really does take your breath away. Comedy, theatre, performance, literature, poetry, along with the music, are given equal prominence and importance. If poetry, literature, art, theatre or comedy are your thing you won't feel short changed as the programme is continual and plentiful - as it is with all the other eclectic offerings at this event.

Friday at Latitude Festival

Latitude 2011 kicked off on the Friday with sun, this was ultimately a good thing because we saw precious little of it for the rest of the weekend. Rain set in on the Saturday and remained with us to greater or lesser degrees right the way through the weekend. This did make the site more difficult to traverse and therefore even harder to get to see all the acts and performances that would normally be right up there on the agenda.

I caught the Avi Buffalo set as they opened the Word Arena with a touch of competent American indie. Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg certainly knows how to put a good song together and how to put it across. In no time I was hot footing it over to the Obelisk in time to catch the wonderful Edwyn Collins. A unique performer who has said 'bollocks' to illness and disability as he continues to perform his brand of music that sounds as fresh and relevant today as it was when he originally performed it back in the 80s with Orange Juice. A truly inspirational man.

The Duke and the King and Chapel Club were next up in the Word Arena but it was Yann Tiersen, he of the 'Amelie' soundtrack, who caught me by surprise with a gorgeous set that was diverse, dreamy and seemingly effortless. It was one of those sets that was intense and inspiring, perfectly suited to the ambience of Latitude and sure to have ensnared a few more fans for this talented, classically trained French musician.

Wanda Jackson proved that, like a fine wine, some artists get even better with age and she is a woman who has lived quite a life. The former girlfriend of Elvis belted out "Heartbreak Hotel" and treated us to a version of Amy Whinehouse's "You Know I'm No Good". This legend is as sassy and bold as she ever was, the undisputed queen of rockabilly.

Deerhunter were quite mesmerizing with a bizarre yet weirdly accessible set, however, they failed to truly capture the crowd who did dwindle away somewhat. Fortunately they were followed by Caribou who managed to ensnare the crowd back with an enthralling performance.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan had no problem commanding the Obelisk Arena with a powerful set that held the crowd captive. "Give us a smile, Mark" yelled a heckler at the normally stone faced singer - Mark Lanegan couldn't stop himself from cracking a wry smile. Like Robert Plant and Alison Krauss this is a union that in theory shouldn't work at all, the fact that it does gives credence to two powerful performers who work together like marmite and cheese, love 'em or hate 'em it's a great combo.

Latitude crowds
Latitude crowds

KT Tunstall created a really powerful sound, bashing out all the hits, she even had a signer to perform the lyrics for the hard of hearing. What you see is what you get, but what you get is strong and sustaining, a perfect act for a Friday afternoon. The Scottish lass belted out all the required hits including "Suddenly I See", "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and "Other Side of the World" - job done.

Lyle Lovett is a seasoned and critically acclaimed performer who rarely performs in the UK and brought a completely different feel to the Word Arena as people took the opportunity to see him and his band. But it wasn't Country Music that would fill the tent, but the pull of the newer bands; The Vaccines and Bombay Bicycle Club. The Vaccines, on first, drew the younger crowd back to the Word Arena with a typically oomph filled set of well crafted Ramones inspired indie delights which clearly had the desired effect on the crowd, the tent was heaving for this one and not everyone could get in such was their draw. Bombay Bicycle Club finished off the night in the Word Arena by belting out a blistering set, clearly on top form Bombay Bicycle Club continue to dominate and garner new fans everywhere they go.

Conor Oberst, with his latest band Bright Eyes, is something of a cult hero and set about owning the Obelisk Stage and all who were there for the duration of a spirited set. Opening with "Four Winds", Oberst held the crowd in the palm of his hand with "Lover I Don't Have to Love" and topped off his performance with "One For Me, One For You".

Follow that Palmoma Faith! But of course she did, and beautifully so. Landing on stage in a Native American headdress, colourful and exuberant as ever, Paloma Faith did what she does best and belted her tracks out in her usual stylish manner winning over all that had made the effort to see her. There are never any disappointments from Paloma, just quality pop from a pop princess.

The National, a band with great success in America and growing success in the UK headlined the Obelisk - and what a headline act they turned out to be. Some may have doubted their ability to hold the all important headline slot - they clearly did not - and so it proved to be. A real stand out performance quickly laid waste to the idea that The National were not the right choice to top the bill. Opening with "Bloodbuzz Ohio" they proved to be a force to be reckoned with. The National have a rich back catalogue and performed plenty of tracks from "Boxer" and "High Violet", their anthemic tracks "Fake Empire", "England" (which was dedicated to the crowd) and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" filled the arena with haunting, beautiful and emotional music that left no-one in any doubt that The National certainly can cut it as a headline band in the UK. They closed with "Mr November" and frontman Matt Berninger going walk about - their future seems assured.

Latitude is full of hidden delights around the site, and it was one of these that was one of our two highlights of the day. To catch a performance from Camille O'Sullivan in the Times tent, which was no bigger than my kitchen, was amazing. When she belted out her version of Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt" you could almost taste the emotion she put into it.

Our other highlight came from Horrors frontman Faris Badwan's new band Cat's Eyes, who headlined the Sunrise Arena in the Woods. This was something of a surprise, and a delightful surprise at that. For some reason I've often thought that Badwan is something of an underrated artist, so I really hope that Cat's Eyes turn this around for him. This is a radical departure from The Horrors, the music is diverse and eclectic, making categorisation almost impossible. One minute it's raw and all consuming, the next gentle and beguiling, building to a powerful climax. Rachel Zeffira is Badwan's collaborator; classically trained she brings a whole new aspect to the music and the two complement each other perfectly. This is beautiful, grab you by the throat music, it plays with your emotions moving from dark and sinister to rock and poppy and then onto gentle, soft delectable and beguiling - it simply draws you in and doesn't let you go - fabulous.

Saturday at Latitude Festival

Saturday brought the inevitable rain, it bucketed down but the fun continued despite the weather

Ooops, the rain arrived for Saturday and it tipped down for much of the day so conditions were a bit rougher than we would have liked. Nothing daunted, I caught James Vincent McMorrow in the Word Arena, the weather must have swelled the crowd a lot because the tent was packed with many bemused folk not aware of who they were watching. McMorrow’s gentle tones soothed and eased us into the day and I’m sure he gathered a few new fans into the bargain.

I witnessed the most selfish festival behaviour ever in the tent, people had set out their 'spaces' with chairs arranged in circles thus preventing other festival goers from easily getting into the Word Arena, they seemed oblivious to their behaviour and merrily continued, throughout the whole weekend, to stake their claim to a large area unchallenged. The "me" society is alive and well then…. On a funnier note people were actually taking their jackets off and hanging them to dry on the barrier, causing more amusement when the barrier began to fall over!

The fiercest or bravest youngster we've ever seen in a crowd
The fiercest or bravest youngster we've ever seen in a crowd

A long awaited and truly phenomenal set from the legendary Adam Ant followed. And yes, gals, he still has 'it' in abundance and is clearly enjoying a pretty spectacular comeback. Arriving on stage in a full 'Jack Sparrow but a bit dirtier' outfit, outdoing one Johnny Depp, he proceeded to entertain in a way that only seasoned performers know how. His classic back-catalogue produced hit after hit and the Word Arena was absolutely heaving with very happy fans. The short set (45 minutes compared to his normal 2 hour plus) meant that Adam cut out all of the normal repartee between tracks, but this meant that he concentrate on hits. Why Adam Ant was placed so early in the bill and why he was not on the Obelisk remains a mystery but this was a full on stand out performance - delivered.

They might be Giants took the Obelisk slot, we got the "Birdhouse in Your Soul" song, so job done. Villagers were everywhere last year and seemed to be going places with critical acclaim but this year they don't seem to have such a high profile. They absolutely stormed the Word Arena with a stunning set that was as powerful as it was gentle and a tiny bit eerie. The Walkman followed with a very competent touch of indie rock, the American act went down pretty well.

Cerebral Ballzy
Cerebral Ballzy

We in the know headed over to the Lake stage to catch a bit of New York hardcore punk rock from Cerebral Ballzy. They absolutely stunned the Latitude crowd with a proper full-on performance that was as much fun as it was insane. These guys have a raw edge and are fast going places with their energetic performances putting the rock into the roll and right slap back where it belongs. Totally anarchic, totally chaotic, totally out of order and totally brilliant - music with the edge that so many others have lost in our brave new world. It's fair to say that they absolutely blew everyone away and left some utterly bemused, no one who saw them will forget Cerebral Ballzy in a hurry. If you didn't see them, or were one of the many who spat their cappuccinos out in shock before moving away swiftly you missed:

  • Climbing onto the speakers to sing / play
  • Spitting beer
  • Circle pits
  • Hanging upside down from the lighting rig, whilst singing
  • Throwing half full cans of beer into the audience
  • Getting the people moshing to face the crowd behind and charge at them

Seriously, if you weren't awake after that then you must be dead. Thanks must go to Radion 1's Huw Stephens who was responsible for booking the acts on the Lake Stage, this act have set the bar for mayhem this year.

British Sea Power's fans arrived with half of the forest in tow to witness the band on good form with a delightful performance that included "Who’s In Control", "Georgie Ray", "No Lucifer" and "Waving Flags".

Bellowhead completely and utterly woke the whole area up, much dancing, jigging, singing and fun was to be had both inside the tent and outside, and they drew a huge crowd of very merry festival revelers, eager to see this much hyped band. Energetic doesn't quite describe either the band or the crowd; the whole set from start to finish was simply joyous.

Manchester's I am Kloot took the next slot on the Word Arena: powerful, passionate and intense these guys weren't Mercury nominated for no reason. Frontman John Bramwell has a great voice and makes an easy connection with the crowd.

The Merseyside connection continued with Echo and the Bunnymen who brought their dark and heavy goth sounds to the Word Arena. Brooding and slightly unsettling we got the required numbers including "Rescue", "Bring On The Dancing Horses", "The Killing Moon", and "The Cutter" - masters at work of course.

Seasick Steve is everybody's darling - and for very good reason, the man is an immense talent for whom real success came very late. Now that it has Seasick Steve is not wasting a moment of it, he clearly loves what he does, the crowd love him for it, his music is amazing and the sheer talent on show for all adds quite a glow. Tracks such as "Its All Good" and "You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks" set the tone. He was joined on stage by Led Zepplin's John Paul Jones as his special guest and before long he was out in the crowd picking a woman to sing "Walkin’ Man" to. She was inelegantly hauled up on stage but appeared to be not a jot phased by the experience: magic.  Seasick Steve did it again, as always, a joy.

My Morning Jacket occupied the penultimate slot on the Obelisk; they didn't draw a huge crowd and whilst producing a competent set did not really set the place alight. A wee bit too experimental and a bit too much jamming for this time of day perhaps? We needed some oomph before Paolo and My Morning Jacket are not my definition of that, I felt like I needed an armchair for this one.

Paolo Nutini headlined the Obelisk in his first headline slot at a festival, sporting his new hairdo and looking younger for some reason - what we got was classic Nutini, no surprises but a good fun set. Of course the rain came down in buckets but this didn't deter fans who had flocked to the Obelisk to see the man in action, he didn't disappoint and opening with "Jenny Don’t Be Hasty" set the tone for a full on Nutini special. He even covered Hot Chip's "Over and Over" - a rousing performance and it has to be said he certainly won them over in the arena with a set that will surely see more headline performances in the future.

Massively popular amongst the young adults who had no time for Paolo, Foals closed the Word Arena. The fans are renowned for manic behaviour and crowd surfing and because of this there was a 'show stop' during the first number as the heaving tent got a bit hectic and chaotic. The heart stopping moment was quickly brought under control and soon the set continued. People had flocked for their indie-pop set and the band announced that they are going on a hiatus for a while. Crowd surf-tastic Foals played just what was expected to their fans.

And so the music and entertainment on the Word and Obelisk came to a close, there was plenty of other entertainment on offer around the rest of the site but the weather got the better of us at this point which turned out to be just as well given that the mud made getting out of the car park a very hairy, dodgy and lengthy experience, oh how we wished the stewards had known what they were doing for this exit.

Sunday at Latitude Festival

Rain, rainbows and beautiful music define the final day

You just can't get away from mentioning the weather at UK events, the day began with stifling humidity but quickly gave way to some heavy rain showers, at least it was intermittent and the fact that there was some respite was a bonus given that we'd been told the Sunday would be the worst day for weather and rain, bonus - not as bad as we had expected (did Latitude bribe the weather forecaster?)

Opening the Obelisk Arena were Scala & Kolancy Brothers, a truly inspired choice and utterly perfect for a Sunday morning. Scala is an all-female 26-piece choir from Belgium, with Stijn Kolancy conducting and brother Steven on piano. They performed choral renditions of The White Stripes "White Moon", Radiohead's "Creep", Prince's "When Doves Cry", KT Tunstall's "Black Horse & the Cherry Tree", Peter Gabriel’s "Solsbury Hill", U2's "With or Without You" and Stereophonics' "Have a Nice Day". We also got covers of Coldplay, Marilyn Manson and Damien Dempsey in a hauntingly beautiful and inspirational set, a worthy addition to Latitude and more than worthy of this highly coveted Sunday slot.

We tried three times to see the much anticipated Sadlers Wells performance, only to find each time that the heavens had opened and postponed the show. Such is the downside of a beautiful setting like the Waterfront Stage, but having caught the ballet last year we knew it was worth persevering. However we were unsuccessful, even to the point of arriving just after "Fela" had finished. Damn you, rain!

The Waterfront Stage
The Waterfront Stage

Mention has to be made of the Lake Stage, curated by Radio 1's Huw Stevens. It brought a phenomenal and eclectic array of acts over the whole weekend. Cerebral Ballzy on the Saturday were the stand out act for us but there were also a host of promising up and coming acts today including Friends Electric who were quite a surprise with their cool rhythms and slinky beats, Clock Opera with their weird instruments that made some amazing sounds and Ghostpoet, one of the UK's more unique rappers. The day really belonged to Dry the River on the Lake Stage today despite oddness of competition, Dry the River are rapidly rising on the radar, they begin with a bit of a slow start before building the music into a real tearing crescendo, infectious, passionate and addictive - prepare to hear much more.

Nick Hemming's critically acclaimed Leisure Society opened the Word Arena for Latitude's final day. Elegant and refined they were a great choice to get things going. Leisure Society were followed by Carl Barat off of The Libertines who's doing a great line in festival performances this year, no surprises but good none the less. Anna Calvi brought the most gorgeous set to the Obelisk Arena: Calvi played "I'll Be Your Man", "Desire", and also covered Edith Piaf's "Jezebel" and Elvis Presley's "Surrender" in a memorable set.

The charismatic Kele was up next, the man is unmistakable and following the demise of Bloc Party has forged a solo career all of his own, still a player he gets better with each listen and you just can't help but feel good in his presence. The Waterboys followed with a set filled with hits and more including "Fisherman’s Blues" and "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy" - of course we also got "The Whole of the Moon" - well, they'd have been lynched if they didn't perform that one wouldn't they?

The Naked and Famous drew a big crowd to the Word Arena, This Kiwi five-piece are going places fast and wherever they play they draw a good crowd. Ticking all the right boxes we got a good smattering of tracks from "Passive Me, Aggressive You" - hyped? Well yes, talented? Undoubtedly.

Os Mutantes caused some bewilderment to the crowd, many of whom were waiting to watch Everything Everything and weren't prepared for the psychedelic and frequently bizarre pop from this Brazilian band. A deeper analysis of their abstract sounds and unconventional song structure would find more in common with Everything Everything's music than many of the young fans would like to believe. Everything Everything seem to be another band popping up all over the place recently, feel good sounds are all but guaranteed from the electronic art rock guys who are riding a well deserved wave right now and heading for the top. I'm still addicted to Jonathan Higgs amazing falsetto voice.

Everything Everything
Everything Everything

Iron and Wine brought a fusion of gentle folk rock to the Obelisk while Glasvegas seemed to be in fine fettle with frontman James Allan clearly enjoying himself and interacting with the crowd - something that has been a rarity in the past. Tracks such as "The World Is Yours", "Euphoria", "Take My Hand", "Whatever Hurts You Through The Night" and finishing with a version of the Ronettes "Be My Baby" where they were joined by Carl Barat meant that the set was Glasvegas on top form.

Over in the Word Arena OMD were kicking up a storm. They came out and told us they weren't going to play anything experimental, they were just going to play 15 hit singles, and play them all they did, even when faced with the prospect of the plug being pulled (no-one would have dared!). The tent was once again heaving in the presence of these legends, it was one of those performances where the artists form a fusion with the audience and for a brief moment in time all are transported to another time and place. This was a full on fun, greatest hits performance and one of the most awesome festival sets we've seen this year. Opening with "Enola Gay" the hits just kept on coming and the frenzy that was permeating in and around that tent was simply stunning - you just had to be there.


Lykke Li brought her mesmerising and haunting songs to the stage next. Not many people can get away with a leotard and cape, but this Swedish Florence pulled it off with style.

Melodramatic, theatrical and just plain brilliant, the synth duo Hurts arrived on stage with great aplomb, complete with a male tenor, a string quartet, flag bearing dancers and plenty of attitude - this was a beautifully crafted and emotional performance. Tracks such as "Unspoken", "Stay" and a cover of Kylie Minogue’s "Confide in Me" showed Hurts leap to another level. No wonder they called themselves Hurts - this is music so fabulous it actually does hurt! Talent seems to ooze out of every pore and this Manchester duo are a very definite 'must see' - this was yet another stand out performance.

Eels headed up the Word Arena with a headline set that satisfied the alternative rock crowd, fantastic fun but they were up against it as the Obelisk headliner was the newly reformed Suede.

Splitting in 2003 Suede got themselves back together again in 2010, this was a highly anticipated headline act from the former Britpop megastars. Striding on stage looking very much like a slightly younger Cliff Richard, Brett Anderson set about those indie anthems like a man possessed. From the opening chords this was Suede's return - big time. Kicking off with "The Drowners", "She", "Trash" and "Filmstar" there was absolutely no let up from beginning to end. "Animal Nitrate", "So Young", "Beautiful Ones" were all included, going walkabout in the crowd the set finished all too soon with "Saturday Night". On the basis of this, if the band can hold it together, we will be able to see them on many more evenings to come.



The literature and poetry arenas were always alight with a vast array of performers, these areas were both enticing and inviting and it would have been very easy to spend the whole festival drinking in the words and wisdom of performers who brought such a delightfully different edge. From highbrow to comedy and frankly downright dirty, controversial or political there were words for very occasion and then some.  The comedy line up was stunning and if comedy is your thing you would be in stitches all weekend long, with punchy performances from the likes of Omid Djalili, Richard Herring,  Alan Carr, a live performance of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, the rather wicked Shappi Khorsandi, the hugely talented Abandonman, Dylan Moran edgier and darker than ever and many more this area was guaranteed to lift even the gloomiest of spirits.

The Waterfront Stage is a perfect haven of escapism and it was utterly fascinating to get the chance to watch talented performers in rehearsal as well as the performance proper, in some cases the rehearsal was all we got to see as the weather caused postponements and changes to the timetable.

The children's area was expanded this year, and in a festival that attracts such a high proportion of families with young children it was always thriving and bustling.

The breadth and wealth of theatre on offer satisfied on so many different levels with impromptu performances around the site alongside the structured performances in the tents. Fortunately this year there were screens so for those who never made it inside the performances could still be enjoyed.

The festival site lends itself to an event of this nature as it creates a truly mystical and magical land, particularly at night when the site is so beautifully lit which in itself generates a truly rare atmosphere that in turn adds to the allure of the event. Did we mention that Latitude also has the friendliest, nicest staff in the business?

Latitude is not a music festival although it does provide a wealth of quality music; in fact Latitude is not a festival in the accepted 'normal' meaning of the word. Latitude is a quite different and unique event that has found and filled a gap in the market that six years ago we never knew existed. There is as significant a focus on a jaw-dropping and eclectic mix of culture and arts as there is on the music. This is not a festival for rock and roll, although you will find it here, this is a festival for the more discerning, one that truly provides a marvelous, mesmerizing itinerary quite unlike any other festival on the market. Comparisons to other festivals are futile, Latitude has carved its own path and judging by this year's offerings it looks like the event is set to continue to bring about a classy, spirited, thought provoking yet simultaneously quite decadent and magical event.

Latitude is an inspiring and inspirational event that caters for a niche market, it screams quality at you as it envelopes and encloses the senses, providing a feast for each and every one. This is not a festival in competition with others - this is a one of a kind event that both embraces and encompasses the arts in all their various forms. Latitude delivers on many different levels - and it will captivate and delight you - unconditionally.

Cerebral Ballzy
Cerebral Ballzy
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Deborah Rees
20th July 2011
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Latitude Festival 2011 Review: The National, Paolo Nutini and Suede

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