Oh the arrogance. To put on a festival at all nowadays is one thing, but to confidently announce a few days before the start of this year's Latitude that 'there will be absolutely no cancellation' amidst scenes of mud-strewn carnage at gatherings such as Isle of Wight, T in the Park and Silverstone, and to then plough on regardless with an extremely well-organised weekend featuring a rich array of international talent, with the weather more or less playing along? Well.
With various goings on having whet the appetites of early campers on Thursday night, Latitude hit the ground running on its first day proper with performances from the likes of Givers, eighties survivor Lloyd Cole, Destroyer, The War on Drugs and the brilliant Chairlift. Early evening saw the appearance of dungaree-championing loon Kevin Rowland and a spirited performance from Dexys, as well as enchanting duo Amadou and Mariam, but things really kicked into gear with the appearance in the Word Arena tent of one Lana Del Rey. Delivering note perfect vocals and oozing charisma and sex appeal, the sultry songstrel has clearly ironed out the problems that beset her live appearances a mere few months ago, which saw some write her off as incapable of cutting it live. She certainly proved herself here, and the audience spent much of her performance in the palm of her hand.
Over on the main stage, Metronomy had been tasked with warming up the crowd before the evening's main event, which on the whole they failed to do, but they seemed to enjoy themselves. As it turned out, headliner Bon Iver didn't need any assistance, delivering a wonderfully assured set that gave fans exactly what they've come to expect from Justin Vernon whilst showing newcomers just what all the fuss is about.
Entertainment continued into the night throughout the festival's Theatre, Comedy, Cabaret, Poetry, Literary and Film tents, including a screening of the Chemical Brothers film Don't Think in the Film tent and a live performance in the Theatre tent of Billy Chickens is a Psychopath Superstar, an intriguing play from Brad Birch featuring a strong lead performance by Simon Rhodes.
Saturday daytime saw appearances from the likes of Ian Dury offspring Baxter Dury, one half of Hall and Oates Daryl Hall, bass maestra Esperanze Spalding, and a hugely enjoyable performance on the Lake stage from London four piece Theme Park that will have only served to heighten the buzz that's surrounded the band over the last year or so.
The main stage offerings in the lead up to Elbow's headline performance could best be described as 'nice', with Michael Kiwanuka and Laura Marling appearing either side of throwback rocker Richard Hawley. All three are extremely gifted songwriters and each delivered good performances, but were perhaps too similar in tone to avoid pretty much blending into one long evening of 'niceness'.
What was needed - particularly by the festival's younger attendees - was some energy. That energy came in the form of SBTRKT, who dished out an absolutely barnstorming performance to a packed out Word Arena tent; one of the stand out performances of the weekend. Much like heroin after cocaine, former goth twits turned genuine contenders The Horrors were left to level things out again, whilst over on the main stage Elbow did what Elbow do, accompanied by fireworks.
Tucked away in the forest meanwhile in the iArena tent were duo Walls, whose experimental electronic sound fitted perfectly with the surroundings and time of day, Messrs Willis and Natalizia seemingly enjoying themselves as much as the modest but appreciative crowd. Back across the river in a packed out Poetry tent, hirsute wordsmith Scroobius Pip delivered his unique brand of spoken word gems late into the night, whilst elsewhere various DJs including Mark Lamarr entertained those not quite ready to crawl into their sleeping bags.
Sunday morning started with what is by far one of the greatest Latitude moments in the festival's seven year history. With thousands of onlookers gathered on the banks of the picturesque river that runs through the festival site, a gondola appeared carrying world-renowned Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang and made its way across the river to the Waterfront stage. Having gigged tirelessly for a number of years, Lang Lang is somewhat of a megastar in classical music circles, and his performance here will have left few in doubt as to why that is. Utterly charming and unquestionably talented, the pianist's appearance at Latitude was both a master stroke and a huge coup, typifying the organisers’ devotion to bringing a diverse, world-class range of performers to the festival.
So enchanting was Lang Lang's performance in fact, it was difficult to see what was going to come close for the rest of the day. The usually captivating Rufus Wainwright seemed somewhat drab in comparison, his newer material not quite hitting the mark as successfully as his better known back catalogue, but Alabama Shakes managed to lift spirits whilst evidently bagging some new fans in the process. Elsewhere, King Charles and the brilliantly named The Cast of Cheers did their bit to entertain the troops, whilst Simple Minds and their seemingly never-ageing lead singer Jim Kerr put in an impressively fresh performance on the main stage. Across the river in the iArena tent, Other Lives gave a great performance, their slightly wrong-footing combination of resembling Skynyrd but sounding more like The National cum Interpol making for a heady live experience, particularly in such intimate surroundings.
Things had come to an unceremonious halt in the Word Arena tent meanwhile. Technical difficulties saw New York art rockers Battles start their set considerably later than billed, meaning they only made it through a few songs - it should be pointed out that, for them, that still equates to around twenty minutes - something which clearly left them frustrated, not least of all drummer John Stanier who took the situation out on his drum kit. More 'niceness' ensued on the main stage, with Bat For Lashes and her brand of palatable oddness followed by the seemingly much-loved Ben Howard.
Neither were going to be in with a shot of overshadowing the genuine legends that are Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club though, whose appearance in the Word Arena - another coup for the organisers - had the audience enraptured throughout; a real masterclass in pure unadulterated entertainment. It was left to Paul Weller to wrap things up on the main stage, with Wild Beasts doing the honours in the Word Arena tent, whilst Moldy Peaches-esque kook Herman Dune did his bit over on the Lake stage.
It's fair to say that this was a vintage year for Latitude festival. With each year that passes, the organisers seem emboldened by the festival’s continuing success and endeavour to make the next year bigger and better than ever before; they certainly achieved that this year. In a climate that's difficult to say the least for festivals, Latitude has carved out a niche for itself which many have taken to their hearts, and it's that which is likely to help the festival thrive and prosper for many a year to come.
Words and images - Philip Goodfellow