Review of Latitude Festival 2011held at Henham Park, Suffolk

'It's more than just a music festival' claims the blurb on the cover of Latitude's 335-page programme, and in terms of location, alternative entertainment and the diversity of performers and artists they're right. After all, where else in the UK's saturated festival market would you find a boating lake in the middle of the site? Or breakdance and yoga classes? Not to mention exclusive restaurants or the aptly named Toss Activity Centre. Often lambasted as the middle class festival of Great Britain when in actual fact what that really means is that gangs of boozed up lads pissing in cups and throwing them at the nearest stage are gladly excluded in favour of a mainly family orientated audience.

Latitude Festival

Not that all is Alice In Wonderland perfect here either, as last year's unsavoury rape allegations and similar incident Sunday morning brought home all too well. However, on the whole, Latitude is still one of the safest events of its kind on the summer festival calendar, hence the reason its bridging of the generation gap makes it the most musically eclectic of them all too.

Now in its sixth year, reports of slow ticket sales suggested this wasn't going to be as busy compared to previous years, and despite the announcement on Thursday that it was sold out the lack of any real queues or congestion around the site's many stages and bars told a different story. Of course there was one other deciding factor that played a major part in emptying the site long before Suede's spectacular finale closed the main stage on Sunday - the abysmal weather.

Despite arriving amidst glorious sunshine on Friday morning, things would change for the worst by the early hours of Saturday and never really improve thereon in. Indeed by Monday morning and the joys of having to politely ask stewards to push the Contactmobile out of its mud-infested car parking space, Friday's heatwave seemed a lifetime rather than a weekend away.

And yet it all started so brightly, Braids' textured ambience proving a welcoming soundtrack in the distance as we pitched our tents. Home Counties outfit Safari's summery guitar pop also fits the bill succinctly, falling somewhere between The Rapture's percussion heavy dance rock and the angular hooks of 'Three Imaginary Boys' era Cure.

Over on the Obelisk Arena, legendary songsmith and former Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins has pretty much everyone close to tears by the end of his performance. Still visibly struggling having suffered a brain haemorrhage some six years ago, the closing renditions of 'Don't Shilly Shally' and 'A Girl Like You' rank among the saddest, most poignant deliveries witnessed in many a year.

Back at the Sunrise Arena, both The Phantom Band and Fool's Gold seem to be kicking up a double-edged sword-like storm of their own. Where the latter's melting pot of Israeli lyrics, African rhythms and progressive shoegaze cascade the likes of 'Nadine' into the clouds, the former - and lead Phantom Rick Anthony in particular - come on like a six-headed raging beast preaching the gospel of Nick Cave to the overly inebriated folk of The Gorbals.

Deerhunter prove something of a curious anomaly. On their day they're one of the most captivating live bands around. Unfortunately today isn't that day, and despite spirited gallops through 'Don't Cry' and 'Revival' we're left a little nonplussed and leave accordingly. Still Corners dreamy psychedelia has the effects of a ProPlus pick-me-up, 'Endless Summer' and 'Cuckoo' reminding us of why Broadcast are so sadly missed while whetting the appetite for October's debut long player 'Creatures Of An Hour' in the process.

The first signs of any real difficulty getting near the front of a stage are largely caused by The Vaccines early evening slot in the 6,000 capacity Word Arena. By the time Justin Young and co. come onstage, the numbers both in and outside the tent seem to have swelled to double that amount, and the London four-piece don't disappoint as a result. Despite criticisms of hype and style over substance, they possess an abundance of perfectly crafted summery tunes in their locker, and even though each one reminds us of something else - 'Wetsuit' becomes 'the Buddy Holly one', 'If You Wanna' 'the Mary Chain one', 'Under The Thumb' 'the Griswolds one', 'Wreckin' Bar 'the Billy Idol one' and so on and so forth, they're a welcome livener on this balmy Friday evening.

Which brings us onto the first night's main headliners, The National. This time last year they were playing (and slaying) the Word Arena, going head to head with Florence and her Machine. Now, as bill toppers themselves, they've the daunting prospect of entertaining almost an entire festival, and as their recent show-stealing performance at Primavera demonstrated, they're an unstoppable force at this moment in time. As always, guessing what they'll play proves an impossibly unpredictable task, opening with singles 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' and 'Anyone's Ghost' off last year's breakthrough album 'High Violet' before treating us to a rare outing of 2005's 'Secret Meeting' in the aftermath. And so it continues throughout the set, big hitters such as 'Abel' and Apartment Story' interspaced with the likes of 'Available' and 'Driver, Surprise Me'. St Vincent's Annie Clark makes a guest appearance on 'Afraid Of Everyone' and 'Sorrow', while golden oldies 'Son' and 'About Today' make a rare appearance alongside the more familiar 'Mr November' and 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks', singer Matt Berninger now lost in the crowd. It feels like the perfect ending to any festival, yet with two more days to go, anything could happen, and between approximately 21:30 and 23:00 hours on Sunday it did, more of which later.

With the rain beating down heavily on Saturday, the busiest part of the site is undoubtedly the Comedy Arena, where a live edition of Never Mind The Buzzcocks is taking place. Hungover from the previous night's excesses and in desperate need of shelter from the downpour, Contactmusic takes solace in the Tapas Bar across the main arena, one of many excellent and tempting eateries onsite this weekend.

Down in the Word Arena, a sizeable crowd has gathered for Adam Ant, and the dandy highwayman's impressive return to form is confirmed forty-five minutes later, his hit-laden performance augmented by a note-perfect band and two backing singers, one of whom we identify as the infamous Georgina Baillie, aka Andrew Sachs' grand-daughter. Villagers also attract a fair few, and while there's more than a touch of Bright Eyes self-deprecation about Conor O'Brien's earnest lyrics, both he and his band seem to be developing into a colossal entity not unlike 'Northern Soul' era Verve.

Continuing the mid-afternoon excellence, and helping us forget about the awful weather outside are The Walkmen. Indeed such consistency seems to have become something of an effortless stroll in the park for Hamilton Leithauser and his band, and their set, culled from various points of their decade-long career is a minor revelation. 'Angela Surf City' and 'Juveniles' fly the flag with gusto for last year's 'Lisbon' long player, while 'In The New Year' and an irrepressible run through of 'The Rat' highlight why they've been something of a hidden treasure for far too long.

Outside on the Lake Stage there's a real shitstorm kicking off. With bodies colliding and flailing both on and offstage to the sound of brutally delivered hardcore, one could be forgiven we've taken a detour back in time to last weekend's Sonisphere festival at Knebworth. Certainly if there was an award for 'most out of place band on the bill', Brooklyn's Cerebral Ballzy would win hands down. However by the end, their Discharge inspired rants and sheer energy seems to have won them a whole new demographic of devotees, culminating in a British Bulldog style moshpit at the end where frontman Honor Titus instructs those in the thick of the melee to turn around and get as many passers-by in there with them!

Nottingham's Dog Is Dead are another band whose rapid progress and subsequent ascent has been a delight to watch, coming from this scribe's hometown. Here, they revel in seemingly holding the entire Sunrise Arena audience in the palms of their still youthful hands, 'Young' in particular sending the madding throng into raptures. The dry humour of Johnny Bramwell lacerates the tranquillity of I Am Kloot's delicate yet dark compositions, although the impending gloom of 'Radiation' and 'From Your Favourite Sky' make a grand attempt at matching the miserable weather's dark clouds, albeit in a masterful way. Buoyed on by an enthusiastic crowd, Bramwell even changes the setlist at one point to accommodate 'Twist' after an audience member's request, while a closing 'Without You' reminds all and sundry why his band came within a whisker of snatching last year's Mercury Music Prize.

Despite being something of an institution as far as innovative guitar bands go, Echo & The Bunnymen have acquired a reputation as being something of a hit and miss live band, especially in recent years. Tonight however they're in a league of their own. Ian McCulloch, stepping out in customary shades and long black overcoat announces tonight's set will be exclusively culled from 'Crocodiles' and 'Heaven Up Here', arguably the band's finest two long players, and there's no looking back from this point onwards. Flawless renditions of 'Going Up', 'Villiers Terrace', 'Pictures On My Wall' and Rescue' from the former precede 'Show Of Strength', 'A Promise' and 'Over The Wall' among others from the latter. Each one flawless, and a curt reminder as to why this band has been held in such high esteem for thirty years. An encore containing several of their greatest hits follows, and by the time we've danced ourselves silly to 'The Cutter' and 'Bring On The Dancing Horses', anything else after would be something of a major anti-climax.

With the final day underway and the rain clouds still omnipresent, its left to Florida-born but currently based in London singer/songwriter Marques Toliver to restore some warmth to the proceedings and for a brief moment his contemporary take on traditional folk achieves its purpose. Better still are The Heartbreaks, a four-piece straight of Morecambe with a storybook full of kitchen sink dramas and an armoury of insatiable tunes to go with it. Whereas last year's hits-that-should-have-been 'Jealous Don't You Know' and 'Liar My Dear' resonate with a confidence and elegance sadly lacking from many present-day guitar bands, newer songs like 'Delay Delay' and 'Hand On Heart' suggest their time will surely come sooner rather than later.

The shambolic lo-fi of Mazes also raises a smile, probably because at times it feels as if they're making the whole set up as they go along. In a good way of course. Over in the Word Arena, OMD are churning out one of the most delightful greatest hits sets this or any other festival crowd has witnessed in years. Seemingly revitalised by last year's return to the live circuit and recent album 'History Of Modern', vocalist Andy McCluskey performs as though his band are just starting out rather than celebrating thirty-three years in the business, while the impeccable 'Enola Gay', 'Maid Of Orleans', 'Souvenir' and 'Electricity' sound as relevant now as they did when created at the height of the original post-punk and new romantic eras.

Thanks to the adverse weather conditions, many of this weekend's revellers have chosen to retire to the drier confines of their homes, something that becomes obvious when Contactmusic literally walks from our tent to the very front row of the Obelisk stage in approximately ten minutes. What follows next however must rate as one of the greatest headline performances this scribe has ever witnessed. If you weren't there for the return of Suede to the UK festival arena then it was simply your loss. Sure, there's no Bernard Butler in the current line-up, much to the chagrin of many diehard fans. Instead, we get the extended 'Coming Up' five-piece of Brett Anderson, Mat Osman, Richard Oakes, Simon Gilbert and Neil Codling. Opening with 'The Drowners', Anderson appears to be in fine fettle, cavorting and prancing around the stage like it's 1992, vocally flawless. 'Trash', 'Filmstar', 'The Wild Ones' and 'Metal Mickey' soon follow, and by now both band and (what's left of the) audience are in seventh heaven. Even the audacious decision to include b-sides 'To The Birds' and 'Killing Of A Flashboy' is met with rapturous applause, each word devotedly sang back at Anderson and co en masse. The fact they only play two songs recorded after 'Coming Up' - 'Everything Will Flow' and 'Can't Get Enough' from 1999's 'Head Music' - probably tells its own story of how Suede's latter material flattered to deceive after three timeless and near-perfect albums, not just in the eyes of their public but also the band themselves. Album tracks 'Heroine' from 'Dog Man Star' and 'She' from 'Coming Up' arrive like long lost friends at a school reunion, while a closing 'Saturday Night' rounds off both the evening and Latitude 2011 in spectacular style.

While Latitude 2011 will be largely remembered for bestowing some of the worst weather on a festival crowd since Glastonbury 2007, this year's event can also hold its head up high as a musical smorgasbord of the highest order. What's more, it would be hard to envisage anyone delivering a better set anywhere this summer than the remarkable one belted out so masterfully by Brett Anderson and his band at the finale.

Here's to more of the same next year, with the added bonus of a weekend's worth of sunshine of course.

Dom Gourlay

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