Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Latitude Day Three

The morning is sunny. On past evidence, this means nothing. The shorts remained balled into the bottom of the rucksack. We perambulate over to the Obelisk Arena, for a very special guest is to play. Who is the special guest? Joanna Newsom, that's who.

If one word could describe the set, it would be enchanting. Within a few minutes she has the whole of the field charmed by her naïve sweetness. Mixing hits from her past 2 albums with new songs, she seems nervous from the off, further ingratiating her with an audience who long for her sweetly plucked melodies. 'Bridges and Balloons' opens the set, her first solo for a fair while. Half of the set we are treated to new tracks, which seem to be piano based, Joanna on the joanna. The support she wins is shown when Newsom suffers complete mental shutdown during the labyrinthine lines of 'Sawdust and Diamonds'. She looks distraught at her feelings of letting the audience down, but she is cheered, massively by the largely seated crowd before finishing with the joys of 'Peach, Plum, Pear'.

After such a magnificent performance, Fields can only hope to do their best, which the manage admirably, although, like a few other unlucky bands, are let down by their poor sound. They also seem to catch Joanna Newsom's disease, and forget the words to one song. Jeremy Warmsley brings the sweet pop melodies to the Sunrise Arena, drama filled and promising for his new album.

These New Puritans provide one of the disappointments of the weekend, their existential art rock losing much of the crowd in pretentiousness. The tunes underneath the shrapnel do not emerge. They are out of context in a field, an elephant in a board meeting. The quality is raised again by frYars's display of electropop in the woods. Talking of a “poo on toilet seat” drama just before he comes on stage, his selection of songs from his EPs includes “crowd pleaser” 'The Ides' and finishes on the aptly titled 'Happy'.

Like Fields, alliteratively, Foals also suffer, the spiky interlocking guitar lines mute underneath heavy bass and drums in the mix. They admit their tiredness, partially from Yannis's involvement in Lydongate, and dedicate a sing to “Johnny Rotten and his meathead friends”. George Pringle's poetry creates thoughts and beauty, although the artiste seems surly and disinterested. Grinderman scares the children before a bad choice is made.

Latitude. Oh, Latitude. Why, oh why, do you put Blondie, one of the greatest pop bands ever, on the second stage, with Tindersticks playing above them. Not everyone, including us, can get into what we are reliably informed was one of the best sets of the weekend. Useless organisation from the festival, poor planning by us. Oh well, it meant that we got to see the charms of the Wave Pictures, whose self deprecation (“people have often said I'm a male Debbie Harry”) and antifolk whimsy win the small audience on side.

Up the hill, and it's time for the final band of the weekend, Interpol. A gloom pervades, the drizzle appears, the ambiance is right. The doom guitar line of 'Pioneer To The Falls' starts up. Mixing in 'Evil', 'Slow Hands' and 'NYC' mean the band effectively play a best of set, and one of the surprises of the weekend. Hands up who thought that Interpol might not make the best festival headliners. Only me? Well, anyway, that their moody epics make such a great choice is a welcome surprise, although they don't quite match the celestial heights of Sigur Ros the night before.

Another night in Cabaret, and Lenny Beige and his band entertain. Who is Lenny Beige? You'll know him as the bald one in the Orange Wednesdays advert. After a quick game of 'Jew Who' it is off to sleep, for the legs have collapsed and the back aches and the eardrums are wrecked. Old age has extended its crippled claw already.

So, Monday morning and home. To reflect on... How did we not see the Arctic Monkeys wandering around? Or miss every one of the many, many sets of Robin Ince's book club? What do you dye a sheep with?

Whatever the answers may be, Latitude remains the most fun you can have with £130, legally. The balance between music, theatre, comedy and performance is pitch perfect, the only addition needed being some bigger tents. The highlights- Sigur Ros and Joanna Newsom. The lowlights- missing Blondie and a lacklustre Franz. We'll leave the general gripes to people who like discussing the weather and fiscal policy, as traffic moaners can go off and cry into their latte macchiatos.

Ross Noble provides one final moment on Monday morning by crashing his motorbike in front of us whilst we wait for the shuttle bus. Here you could make some kind of apposite comparison between a bike crash and the festival, but it just does not work, with Latitude seeming to have provided almost the perfect festival weekend. Don't change, me lovely.

Latitude Day Two

After a lay about in a hot tent, sunshine bringing the enclosed space to furnace temperatures, it is time to wander through the gorgeous site and watch some acts. The comedy tent is full, the outside of the comedy tent is full, so there's no point trying to wait around for Tim Minchin, leading to a reroute to the Cabaret tent for 'Learn To Play The Ukulele In Under An Hour (How George Formby Saved My Life)'. Sam and Donal tell a good tale, although the jokes sometimes fall flat. Their depression led them to a visit to a George Formby Society convention, and an attempt to bring it down. A bizarre start to anybody's day.

The first musical interlude of the day comes in the form of the majestic Wild Beasts, whose ghostly wails haunt the Uncut Arena. Hayden Thorpe has 'that' voice, transforming from falsetto to growl to falsetto from moment to moment. Brilliant guitar work gives an eerie aura to the tent, and an early highlight to the day.

Poetry, the often derided younger brother of literature, is further insulted through Teen Angst, a half hour of really bad poetry. Of course, this is all part of the ruse, as it celebrates the awful emo tinged nonsense we write as teenagers about parents and girls and sex and so on. The audience giggles with communal embarrassment at obvious rhymes and immature feelings, an act as funny as the best comedians.

Speaking of good comedians, the next few hours are spent in the Comedy Tent, managing to get under the canvas just before another torrential downpour, firstly in the company of Jeremy Hardy. His largely political set draws on his socialist past, fatherhood and general Daily Mail baiting. The jokes are good, but sometimes it feels a little too much like a lecture from a clearly passionate man.

Miles Jupp, best known as Archie the Inventor in Balamory, performs a brilliant set, playing a self parodying arrogant toff. A great joke about being mugged, but having all his money tied up in land, works particularly well in its context. As brilliant as he is, it is as funny as cancer compared to what comes next. Rich Hall tells a few entertaining stories, going nowhere (like the queues for the shuttle bus the day before), but ramps it up with some crowd interaction. When a couple tries to leave, he hectors them until the girl stays. With the boyfriend leaving, Hall's improvisation just grows and grows until all too soon he finishes.

Eventually we go back to the music, starting with some Elbow. Guy Garvey and his friends are quickly turning into (for some, have been for a very long time) THE festival band. Mixing up material from all the albums, with an obvious focus on the Mercury nominated new 'un. 'Newborn' is as devastating and emotional as ever, Garvey's voice cracking in the intro. A poised 'The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver' is full of grandeur and a highlight of the set. The only downpoint is that the sparkling between song chat is missing.

We pop our heads into the Mars Volta tent, saxophone, keyboards and guitars creating the swirling density of the records. The riffs are there, and it looks worth watching, but the choice has been made. Sigur Ros have been picked out of the line up instead. Sorry Cheek Cheeky and the Nosebleeds, not you this time.

Opening with 'Svefn-G-Englar' the mood is set. The sound is near crystal perfect, with Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson's voice ethereal and angelic, tears brought to eyes. The staging is great, giant lampshades hang from the rafters as a marching band join in part way through, a trio of trombones amongst them. Sigur Ros produced the set of the weekend, mixing hits old and young, and pleasing all the middle class families by playing the one they know (Hoppipolla).

After popping our collective heads back into the Mars Volta and viewing a rattling crescendo followed by a weed request, off to Cabaret yet again, where Elephant Man Elvis is exactly what you'd expect (one joke, not very funny), and Miss Cherry White, a vertically challenged tap dancer, is pretty darn good. But the bed/uncomfortable sleeping bag is calling our names, and homeward we go, after a few jigs outside the Disco Shed.

Latitude Day One

Somebody, this weekend, referred to the festival as Glastitude.

This writer has never been to Glastonbury, but Latitude definitely seemed to match the mythical heights of Worthy Farm at its best. Over a weekend where the weather changed faster than, well, the weather changes in the British summer time, bands played, comedians talked, poets read, plays were acted, the Disco Shed was danced by.

Latitude has the tagline 'more than just a music festival'. As a result, music was not the sole focus, and the comedian Robin Ince was the first act watched. Referencing astronomers, the Daily Mail, elk, and US foreign policy sum up to a fine show, peal upon peal of laughter wreathing the (far too small) comedy tent.

Bellies ache on a short trek through the woods that lead to the Sunrise Arena, and Broken Records, who conjure the much missed spirit of Hope of the States, their guitars and violin duelling, epic noises echoing around. The hype surrounding them seems justified, already sounding fully formed. Slow Club quickly follow, the boy girl duo charming the crowd with their earnest enthusiasm and Tilly and the Wall esque melodies.

After spotting a man wearing an 'I Hate Hats' hat Bearsuit appear, be-caped and noisy, a splurge of bleeps from their keyboards, and guitar up a little too high. Their twee melodies win through, however, largely playing hits from last record 'Oh:io'. And somebody bought a panda costume for the occasion. What a joker.

One of the biggest names in tangental comedy appears- Ross Noble. Comedian, or performer. Difficult to tell today, as the punchlines involve handing Red Bull to the audience before leading a sing along of Bohemian Rhasody. How “random”. This is all rescued by the conga line/stampede. Noble, followed by a thousand others ran round the site before pitching up at the veggie food stand, with the comedian carried aloft by his devoted followers, looking like a portly Jesus. A lot of fun, but funny?

Black Kids attempt to get the party started, but their lack of material outside the singles gives more kudos to the thought that they were rushed to the big time to cash the big hype cheque. Up the hill at the Obelisk Arena, and the tail of British Sea Power's set fails to set the world alight, ending, as is tradition on 'Rock In A', 10 minutes of noise and larking about.

The tempo, the energy, the sweat level; all are raised by Johnny Foreigner's set of vim and vigour. Alexei combines rapid fire spindles of guitar with screams and shouts, as the crowd jump around, charmed by the band's sincerity and brilliance.

The Go! Team act like Ronseal, do what they say on the tin and get the crowd into the Friday feeling. Ninja should release some kind of exercise tape for indie kids, she burns that many calories. Like true crowd pleasers they play Ladyflash so everyone can go home happy. Crystal Castles carry on the theme, but with 60% more bleeps, covering the woods in layers of screams and synths. In darkness it would have worked perfectly.

And so, on to the headliners, Franz Ferdinand. Opening with 'Michael' they remind the forgetful just how many good songs they have, in a slick set scattered with new songs. 'Take Me Out' and 'Matinee' get a look in too, but, there is something lacking. For one, the band don't look to bothered to be playing, nor bothered who is watching them in the persistent rain. There is none of the passion that almost all the other bands that played seemed to have. It was a wasted opportunity. The Scots shortcomings are quickly made up for by the Fellows comedy toff rap in the Cabaret tent to leave the day on a high. “What ho” indeed.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Presets- 'Apocalypso' (Modular)

The design brief of this album was undoubtedly to create something to be played in clubs, loudly. Bass rattling in your chest and synths moving the muscles as your feet tap and arms flail. As a statement of intent, opener 'Kicking and Screaming' fulfills the brief perfectly. The computer beats churn and the shouty vocals create a good sense of narrative, something too often absent from electronica.

The standard is immediately lowered on 'My People', the equivalent of the sound of a drunk man shouting in your ear about how good the music is. 'A New Sky' is much better, the choral intro working well, before the buzzing synth lines kick in and the song takes flight as it builds.

You remember that echo laden piano that was rife in early 90s dance music? Well it makes an appearance on 'This Boy's In Love', a track you can imagine soundtracking a poignant moment when a film is moving the plot on through a car journey through a moonlit city.

'Talk Like That' samples those horrorshow organ chords before breaking it down into dirty bassline with great little chord changes. 'Eucalyptus' changes the horrowshow to the chase scene, the synths buzzing away like hornets.

The tone is lowered for about the only time with 'Together', all off key sounding synths, and a bellowing vocalist who wants to be “together forever”. If I were his intended, I would get a long way away from this. Whilst criticising dance for being repetitive is like criticising cheesecake for being magnificently yummy, 'Together' takes repetition into some new realm of annoyance.

It is quickly followed by 'Aeons', which does some keyboard pootling, but is all a bit low key and quiet to fit in with the rest of the record. A downbeat note is sounded at the album's end, with 'Anywhere' tinged with sadness and plaintive vocals.

The PR blurb claims them to be “global pied pipers”. This music is bound to lure people into clubs like strangers lure kids with lollipops, a record of beats that cannot fail to make you want to cut some shapes. The flow is uneven, unusual for a dance album, but this flaw can be largely overlooked in favour of the majestic music on show here. Design brief filled.


Eliza Doolittle- 'Piano Song'

Eliza Doolittle, is a character from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, a cockney flower girl who has to pass herself off as a high society girl. In this case Eliza Doolittle is a girl from London, trying to pass herself off as a 1960s soul singer.

'Piano Song' is an apt title, as the old joanna features heavily throughout, playing the same rhythms that hundreds of Motowners have done already. You know it, even if you think you don't. The songs you hear in a movie scene where a couple are being all romantic around Christmas time.

Eliza has a lovely voice, but then again so does everyone in these days of X Factor and all the other glorified karaoke competitions. Sadly, as nice (in the best and worst connotations of that word) 'Piano Song' is, it doesn't do anything that wasn't done a hundred times better 40 years ago. If you've got nothing to add to the heap, don't dump your track on it.


Mechanical Bride- Black Skeleton Key EP (Transgressive)

Like her haunting cover of 'Umbrella', 'Seaworld' continues the sparse and ghostly feel that she has demonstrated to such great effect. A xylophone gently tinkles away , reminiscent of lullabies and nursery rhymes, whilst Lauren Doss warbles away beautifully.

The lyrics to 'Shuffle' articulate the sinister ambiance, crooning about the “bad dreams that haunt you” over off key guitars. The arrythmic melodies add to the sense of unease and dread. Images of Tim Burton movies are conjured.

The last track, aptly titled 'The Final' is the most conventional of all the tracks, the minimalist feel of the earlier tracks abandoned for a sombre oscillating piano thread running through the sad vocal tapestry. It's more traditional melodies make it sadder and prettier, and more than equal to the other tracks.

Mechanical Bride are like a slightly less quirky Cocorosie, or Laura Marling's maudlin sister. Not music to listen to on dark and stormy nights, or bright and sunny days, but those times of longing and sadness as you stare out of a rain spattered window.


Ladyhawke- 'Paris Is Burning' (Modular)

Gary Numan should be very upset. Very upset. On hearing the bassline of this song, if you don't start singing “Here in my car, I feel safest of all” then you're a better man than I.

“Paris Is Burning” is the sounds of an 80s child who was locked in an 80s bedroom, tied to an 80s chair, forced to listen to the 80s radio for 24 hours a day in some kind of gross human rights abuse. If you didn't get it from that overlong metaphor, this song is very 1980s.

This is most definitely not a bad thing. As cheesy as the chorus sounds, and it whiffs of mature cheddar, it is very catchy, and very lovely. A pastiche it may be, but it is pastiche at its very very best. A glorious unashamed pop tune of the highest order.