Archive for July, 2008

July 25, 2008

Sigur Ros put Latitude on the map

The idyllic setting to Latitude

The idyllic setting at Latitude

Only in its third year and Latitude is already capturing the imagination of the English public.  Due to its popularity it has already grown from an over-sized village fete – 12,000 in its first year – to a mid size boutique festival.  One might suspect that the word boutique doesn’t mix too kindly with the word festival, conjuring up images of middle class people pretending to rough it in the countryside.  This is essentially what Latitude is, although the breadth and imagination of the performances coupled with the beautiful location contrives to form a unique and at times thrilling event.

Henham Park with its undulating Suffolk countryside forms the backdrop, a splendid setting that at times evokes a medieval fair, with its lakeside tents and forestry pursuits.  Once past the meandering lake entrance the arena spreads out across the fields with the main stage perched at the highest point.  At 25,000 Latitude is large enough to offer variety without the mass crowds of the big festivals.  It is fairly easy to navigate around the site quickly without missing too many acts.  Another noticeable benefit was the lack of commercial advertising, which is becoming all-too-familiar at other festivals, even Glastonbury has conceded lately – ever since its Festival Republic rebirth.  Clearly Festival RepublicLatitude organisers as well as Reading & Leeds – view the Suffolk bash as a very different proposition.  Food was still expensive but good quality and campsites were spacious and staffed. 

It terms of stand-out performances there was only one real winner, although Elbow and Joanne Newsome certainly won over many fans.  Sigur Ros were the exclusive headliners for Saturday night.   In what will be there only festival appearance in England this year they were given an unusual but merited chance to reveal there full talents as the main festival band, playing in the most important slot of the weekend.  It is unusual these days not to have any expectation of a band , with Internet and digital access it’s possible to see most major stage act before you see them in the flesh.  Not so with Sigur Ros.  Drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend and most probably in Latitude’s history they performed with a majestic brilliance that left most of the crowd breathless.  Throughout set opener ‘Svefn-G-Englar’ singer Jon Birgisson sang through his guitar, played his guitar with a cello bow and held a note for what felt like minutes.  It was a captivating beginning that they managed to sustain throughout the whole set, never once losing the crowds attention or losing momentum.  During ‘Glosoli’ the four string section Amiina joined the band while two songs later during ‘Saeglopur’ a five piece brass ensemble walked onstage in matching white suits and bowler hats.  Every song became a moment, individually defined and eccentric.  The sound was quite astonishing, with a full range of instruments including Glockenspiels, Xylophones and Harmoniums, which augmented a sonic clarity and roundness that is difficult to match with loops and samples.

The set grew with intensity with each song ratcheting up the decibels.  The stage was minimally lit with giant globe shades dominating the panorama, only on set closer ‘Gobbledigook’ did the main stage lights click into action sending multicoloured hues across the audience.  As with many of Sigur Ros songs the key element to the show was the exquisite timing and space afforded to each composition.  New song and aptly titled ‘Festival’ exemplified this approach with a slow and wisful beginning leading to a bass driven build up and ending with a crescendo of guitar, strings and brass.  The sheer execution of each dramatic build up and the ultimate finale of jubilation was spellbinding.  The mystique of the performance was accentuated by lead singer, Jon Birgisson; wearing dread-lock extensions, feathers, glitter and a long military jacket, at times he resembled an Elfin King.  His falsetto was a marvel, intensifying the plaintive atmosphere effortlessly.

Like all mythical creations this performance will be immortalised within the depths of time.  Ending with a apocalyptical version of ‘Popplagio’ – all swirling strobes and canon blasts of confetti, Birgisson violently attacking guitar with his bow, it brought the show to a stunning finale.   As the band embraced the applause everyone was left gasping at the sheer magical verve of this enchanting band.

July 22, 2008

Rise and Fall


It was a beautiful summer’s evening in Finsbury park.  Everyone was there, different races, ages and fashions.  The bars were spilling out, children were climbing trees and the vibe of celebration hung in the air.  Of course many people were drunk but the mood was totally joyous and the spirit of unity was ever present.  Headliner Jimmy Cliff entered the stage to raptures, immediately encapsulating the day with his classic, ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’.  His set was the summation of all that was good about the London community and multi-ethnicity.  “The sun is shining and the food is good, it almost feels like Jamaica”, he smiled  announcing himself to the crowd.  After his speech about natural energy and the need to save earth’s beauty he led the crowd into a glorious sing-along harmony.   This was swiftly followed by an impassioned speech about the destruction of Iraq.

 Cliff was clearly in the mood for political baiting as well as leaving his legacy on this free festival.  Not many artists wish to speak out any more about world issues, so it was a joy to hear an old and greatly respected artist air his views.  His speeches were brilliantly matched by his vocal performance and energy.  Here was an artist who was on fire and ready to play all night…………………Until the sound unexpectedly cut out at about 8.35pm.  Jimmy and his band finished the song they were playing – ‘Rivers of Babylon’ – in silence and walked off the stage, none of the crowd cheered as they thought the band would return shortly afterwards.  No announcements, no explanations.  The crowd were left to stand there and become increasingly annoyed.  These are people that had been drinking all day remember.

The curfew for the event was estimated at 8.30pm.   Jimmy Cliff had his sound cut at about 8.35pm.  He had only been playing for 30 minutes.  Sure we are bound by restrictions and understand the reasoning for compliance.  Not sure though  why the organisers let him carry on for a full 5 minutes longer than the aforementioned curfew?   What a terrible end to a great event.                                                            Some standard rules that should have been adhered to:

  1. If the bands our running over time or the roadies are taking time to stage set then decrease the time of a lesser known band.  Surely more people would appreciate the iconic headliner than five Brazilians dressing up and pretending to be musicians –CSS
  2. If the curfew has to be complied with then at least let Jimmy Cliff finish his song and say goodbye to the crowd.  Show him some respect, after all he is playing for free!!!!
  3. If the sound has to be cut at least show some respect to the audience and announce the end of the event.  With thousands of alcohol fuelled punters screaming for answers they were lucky a riot didn’t materialise.  Antagonising a drunk audience is not the best way of celebrating unity within the community!!!!
July 11, 2008

A Day at the Farm

Neil Young and Guests – Hop Farm, Coppets Wood, Kent – 6 July

 After avoiding the heavy downpours of the day and resisting the temptation of a classic Wimbledon final we arrived at Hop Farm to be greeted by sunshine and the Americana jamming of My Morning Jacket.  Swiftly followed by an ever eager and reliable Supergrass, who displayed an age-old assurance of semi-classic tunes and a good-times vibe – they even played their albatross, ‘Alright’.  The wind though played havoc with the sound system swirling Supergrass’s effervescent songs into a sonic maelstrom.

Favourably the wind eased off a little for the arrival of Primal Scream.  Dressed in a black jacket and 60’s red polka shirt Bobby Gillespie danced around the stage clapping his hands at regular intervals, radiating one of his better moods.  Clearly in a party frame of mind the band churned out the classics – ‘Jailbird’, ‘Movin on up’ and ‘Rocks’, but only on a storming ‘Swastika Eyes’did they raise the tempo and showcase their thrilling potential.  A relaxed but traditional set that integrated their new songs while appeasing the older sections of the crowd.

More than an hour later Young finally ambled on stage and cranked the tempo up straight away with bruised rocker – ‘Love and only love’.  He was in a convivial mood, backed by his trusty cohorts, Ben Keith on pedal steel and Rick Rosas on bass.  The crowd were treated to a varied selection spanning his back catalogue, mixing songs from his debut, the rarely performed – ‘I’ve been waiting for you’ to his latest, chrome dreams 2 – which included the epic ‘No hidden path’.  The effortless ease of Young and his band switching from ragged and scorched rock to poignantly introspective country was quite spectacular and had the crowd second guessing the whole gig.

In the midst of the set Young stirred the crowd into a mass sing along with his timeless classics, ‘Heart of gold’ & ‘Old man’and ‘The Needle and the damage done’ sounded  even more mournful  in the company of a large crowd.  Though it was the electric numbers that resonated most, many of them extended into cascading odysseys, in an open and brooding skyline – Young’s guitar sending shimmers of sound across the Kent countryside.  This collage of sonic distortion was brought to a thrilling climax on the baffling set closer, The Beatles – ‘A day in the life’.  With a grizzled intensity Young sang as if were one of his own.    An enjoyable and surprising end to an entertaining day at the farm.  Next year though a little more organisation regarding the toilets and car park would be greatly appreciated, 45 minute queues for toilets is surely too much to bear.  I thought Vince Power, festival pioneer, would have more experience!