Ah, the Great British Festival season, in the Great British Summertime. We know the drill, we’ve packed the waterproofs and the wellies, we’ve obsessively checked the weather forecast for weeks, we know the storm is forecast to hit on Saturday. We know that we will be filthy, covered in mud, with aching limbs from wading through it, come Monday. The toilets will be cesspools, our bladders recoiling in horror every time we need to go. At the end of each night, we’ll know we’ll wade through fields littered in cups and cans and discarded ‘comedy’ hats.
And we do it because: music. Because we can fill our heads and ears and hearts with bands that we’ve never heard of, and maybe will never hear of again, or maybe they’ll be the biggest thing since the last big thing, and yeah, we’ll be able to say I was there when Radiohead played Glastonbury in 1997, and yes, we literally have the scars to prove it.
Except, this is Latitude. This is not your average festival.
First of all, there’s that big glowing ball of fire in the sky. It seems churlish to complain about it, after all, we don’t get to see to much of it round these parts. Everyone comments on it, from Emmy the Great first thing on Friday morning, through to Rachel Goswell during Minor Victories set on Sunday afternoon. It’s hot, properly hot, dusty rather than muddy, and the insect bites are out in full display on the barelegged. But it’s okay, because we can head on up to the woods, to the Sunrise arena, where we can hide in the shade while catching Let’s Eat Grandma teeter on the brink between brilliant and awful, and argue amongst ourselves about which side they landed on, whilst they singlehandedly attempt to bring the recorder back into pop music.
Or if you can’t stomach the walk up to the woods, there’s always Låpsley soothing our souls in the 6 Music tent, where rumours abound of a chap who genuinely has a tattoo of the radio station’s logo on his arm. As she belts out a rousing ‘Operator’, outside the tent the kids run around, nerf balls flying alongside copious amounts of bubbles, all wearing a uniform of a weird tail thing, and clearly having a blast whilst mum and dad worry about whether they’re getting too burnt or whether the hummus from the deli stall is organic (of course it is, of course it is; this is Latitude).
It’s impossible to get close – or close enough – to Christine And The Queens set, such is the power of their pull, but the applause and whoops and hollers that follow ‘Tilted’ are audible around the whole site, and anyway, we can dash off and brave the direct sunlight for Courtney Barnett instead, where the crowd take over the singing duties during ‘Depreston’ and basically implore Daddy for a spare half a million over and over again. And after that’s done, we’re in the right place for when Father John Misty turns up to impregnate us all with just one look and a quick writhe around on the floor. Sure, it’s contrived, and it’s an act, but as Josh Tillman fiddles with his phone whilst singing ‘Bored In The USA’, even the most cynical fall for him a little bit.
Come Friday night, The Maccabees have packed out the main stage, and being their first festival headlining slot, they’ve bought all the confetti cannons to celebrate, exploding over half the site during ‘Pelican’. But fear not for Grimes and her lazer wielding dancers, because the 6 Music tent is still rammed for her clashing set, with ’Oblivion’ sending the crowd into absolute raptures. We dread the last visit to the toilet before bed, knowing the horrors that await after the day’s heat, but no, they’re still pleasant, and the cash for cups thing has done a good job of keeping the site clean as well – small children running around with bin bags full of paper cups or, kerchiiiiing, an abandoned £2 plastic one, will become a regular feature of the weekend. That and the end of night zombie walk, where hoards of cleaners walk from one end of the site to the other in a long row, hoovering up all the litter in their way, mean the crunch of can underfoot is a seldom heard thing at Henham Park.
Saturday brings with it more blaring sun, and no sign of that storm, and there are more National t-shirts on show than you knew existed. There’s excited chatter in the queues for goats milk organic ice cream about whether, since CHVRCHES proceed them, Cincinnati’s finest will be bringing Lauren Mayberry on stage with them for ‘I Need My Girl’, but we have all day to fill before we find out. And there’s plenty to keep us entertained in the meantime, Lucius bring out the pop hits, dressed as ever in matching capes with matching haircuts and matching voices, but we’ve not got much time to ponder on that, because Rat Boy is next up and that… well that is absolute carnage. As the kids properly mosh their socks off to ‘Fake ID’, a girl is held aloft by a random guy and the crowd parts to let her through, Those of us old enough to know better look sorrowfully at her knee which probably shouldn’t face that way, and wonder if it’s worth it, before remembering how it feels to be 15 and knowing that it probably is. Steve Mason, up next, is definitely more sedate, even if he is dressed as a world war one soldier, with a set that concentrates on his later work (so no ‘Lost And Found’, dammit) and his desire to set Tony Blair on fire.
After lazying around in the sunshine and catching a bit of Squeeze going ‘Up The Junction’, we head up to the Sunrise for a quick shimmy to Teleman, who’ve packed out the little tent and are bringing all the fun. ‘Tangerine’ has everyone bobbing, and by the time we get to set closer ‘Not In Control’, we’ve all busted out some of our best moves. We’ve limbered up just time really, as we run back for John Grant on the main stage. Looking sideways at all the small children playing football as we all potty mouth our way through a singalong of ‘GMF’ does seem maybe a little inappropriate maybe, but then they all seem more bothered with the whole running around thing anyway. Besides, it’s not like we’ve got time to worry about it because here’s CHVRCHES at last, bemoaning the heat like everyone does and their sartorial choices (all black). Last time we saw them here, they were playing the far smaller Sunrise stage and it was so busy you couldn’t get anywhere near, so it’s not surprising that, a couple of albums later, it’s packed out at the main stage. They’re a different proposition now, of course, back then they looked a bit shocked at the crowd, a little awkward, but nowadays the threesome own that stage, and they know it. Some things never change though, and it’s still ’The Mother We Share’ that has us nearly knocked off our feet by the crowd rushing to get to the front.
And then it’s time for the main event. The National, who clearly love the pants off this festival; Matt Berninger tells us all about how, being booked here in 2007 for an afternoon slot, for more money than they’d ever seen before, basically saved the band financially. It’s a polarising set, if we’re honest, where those who love them, love every second of it, and cry their eyes out with fervent devotion whilst desperately trying to get punched in the tit by Matt during his customary foray into the audience for ‘Terrible Love’ (if anyone’s found his glasses, by the way…), whereas those who don’t already adore them, still don’t. We’re treated to four new songs during the set – ‘Can You Find A Way’, ‘The Lights’, ‘I’m Gonna Keep You’ (which according to Berninger, is their ‘prom song’) and ‘The Day I Die’, none of which are a massive departure from their usual sound, but that seems to please the hardcore fans. And to make it a little bit more special, that hoped for duet with Lauren Mayberry really did happen. Phew.
We decide to wake ourselves up on Sunday with the cobweb shaking brilliance of Minor Victories – who are one of those bands who are more breathtaking live than they are on record. ‘Breaking My Light’ fills the tent with an ethereal noise, that on reflection maybe would’ve been better kept for later in the day, but it’s a major victory, rather than a minor one.
But Sunday at Latitude is traditionally a bit more easy going, and that’s not a bad thing, that gives us an opportunity to investigate all the other things that the festival has to offer. There’s the film tent after all, where Florence Welch has already excited festival goers by making an appearance, or there’s the comedy stage, where you can catch a bit of Bill Bailey, or there’s the literature and poetry tents… Obviously we opt for going to get some Prosecco from the Faraway forest instead. But that’s the joy of Latitude, there is just something for everyone, whether that be some contemporary dance on the lake stage, or Mark Kermode discussing film with Ken Loach, or going for a quick swim or boat ride, or just being a bit lazy on a scorching hot day and having a wine drink in the woods. This is the kind of festival, after all, where if you can’t be bothered to queue at the bar, you can just pay a charity donation of a fiver and someone will go get your drink for you.
Conserving energy seems to have been a good decision, because New Order are not messing around tonight, and we’re going to dance like loons for the next hour or so. Sure, they rattle out a few tracks from Music:Complete, but that’s not what we’re here for and they know it as well as we do. Shoving ‘Your Silent Face’ into the set early on helps though, and by ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, our little corner of the field is having a proper dance off (winner still to be declared (me)). By the time they get to a trinity of ‘The Perfect Kiss’, followed by ‘True Faith’ and finishing up with the ever brilliant ‘Temptation’, shoes have been removed, and the yell for the encore is genuine. Popping back on for ‘Blue Monday’, they close with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – and on what is only a couple of days after what would have been Ian Curtis’s 60th birthday, it’s hard not to be moved by his image on the big screen. Sure Bernard’s vocals aren’t Ian’s vocals but there’s hands aloft and and tears in the corner of eyes, and there’s no other way we would have wanted to finish the festival.
Despite all its comforts, we’re spent, but as we trudge back to the campsite, we’re all grinning. Latitude might be the most sanitised of the festival circuit, all pretty and family friendly, and with any traces of grimness removed, but really, we wouldn’t have it any other way.