Britain's most bourgeois bash packs serious musical treats for the Suffolk pushchair brigade. Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk, Thursday July 16 – Sunday July 19
If there’s one festival whose reputation precedes it like an elephant leading a midget procession, it’s Latitude. Stuck in the rustic confines of rural Suffolk, filled to the rafters with discarded bits of yesterday’s Guardian and home to perhaps the only Kellogg’s food tent in the festival-sphere, it is – as advertised – very, very 30-something.
Bombay Bicycle Club know this, which is why they spend most of their Lake Stage set bounding into each other, climbing speaker stacks and attempting to be the chart-bothering bastard sons of Yan BSP. Recent single ‘Dust On The Ground’ even drives some of the crowd mental enough to start a circle-pit – surely the first and only time Henham Park has been subjected to such nu(metal)fangled ways?
The Vaselines, of course, aren’t likely to get that sort of treatment, what with them all being proper old now. Instead, Frances McKee doles out a tasty mix of sex and religion in her banter. Result! They play the classics, everyone mouths along and it’s undeniably great, but McKee’s chat is the key to their charm. She hails herself the new “Virgin Mary”, flirts with the audience about fancying Americans (“But it’s not just about the accent – you have to have a really big dick as well…”) and gives us the horn (literally) when she kickstarts a sublime rendition of ‘Molly’s Lips’.
Over at the Obelisk Arena, Wild Beasts are cursing the tepid weather that’s driven the masses into the nearby woodland like rabbits down a hole. They play to roughly 200 people on the biggest stage of all and are the weekend’s Great Lost Causes. The Rumble Strips, on the other hand, sound like a spent force. ‘Daniel’’s tepid excuse of a non-chorus wafting through the trees is just about the most annoying thing we’ve been subjected to all weekend – and that includes a bunch of roadies murdering ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ earlier. Phoenix too, are utter tripe. They lose not only our attention, but that of everyone else perched in the seated bit opposite the stage (SEATS! AT A FESTIVAL!). Instead, we all seem to be looking at the three über-talented kids stood near us doing unfathomably clever tricks with their diabolos.
God bless Spiritualized, then. You can’t see them onstage for the smoke, but fuck, do they sound good. Jason Pierce’s voice resonates perfectly in the muggy damp of the Uncut Arena tent, and the songs – veering from the echoey slowburn of ‘Walking With Jesus’ to ‘Cheapster’’s guttural razor romp – are played loud and intense. It all climaxes with a brilliant ‘Take Me To The Other Side’, and we’re left thinking that if the government really cared about education as much as they claim to, they’d have the whole gig piped through every school and college in the world. Which brings us nicely on to Camera Obscura, whose sweet-as-candy mid-afternoon set isn’t tasty enough to keep former Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon from walking out halfway through. Perhaps he was irked at the terrible sound that ruined the Scots’ two best songs – ‘French Navy’ and ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’. Tracyanne Campbell’s mic doesn’t work and guitars feed back and resemble the hacksaw-buzz of
a cartoon electric shock. It’s a shame.
No such trivial annoyances, obviously, for Thom Yorke. It’s noon and he’s on his own in a fetching blue shirt at the Obelisk Arena, where the crowd is massive – easily the biggest of the festival. We’re struck not by how uncomfortable/serious/twitchy he looks but how relaxed he is, flitting from grand piano to keyboard to acoustic guitar to bass like a brooding butterfly. He seems majestic (‘There There’), defiant (‘Follow Me Around’), sullen (‘True Love Waits’) and, in brand new track ‘The Present Tense’, ever-so-slightly Beatleific (circa ’68). What make’s him so special isn’t just the songs, it’s his mood.
Today – naked without band, chirpy rather than narky – he’s captivating and charming. Telling jokes, playing a few bum notes and
not caring about how it all might translate. So good is he, in fact, that people are standing in the stinking (and raised) toilets opposite just to get a better view. Now that’s festival spirit.