Have you ever tried pitching a tent in a gale force wind? It’s as hard as it sounds. This was the challenge that greeted the eager beavers who arrived on Thursday in Suffolk for the fifth Latitude festival. Keen to snare the best spot and get the tent up as soon as possible, the site quickly descended into a kind of assault course, the winner being the one who didn’t end up wearing the tent as some kind of smock.
Wind aside, Thursday evening was all about seeing Sir Tom Jones. Or rather, for many, it was about queuing to see Sir Tom Jones and then giving up. For reasons people are still trying to fathom out, the Welsh crooner’s midnight set was planned for the small Theatre stage in the woods, a decision that meant hundreds of people were left queuing and then ultimately turned away or forced to retreat. Unbenownst to many at the time, he would still play a part in their weekend.
Friday morning sees the wind calm and the sun shine, but the damage has been done. The Sunrise Arena in the woods is closed due to safety concerns, and though Holly Miranda‘s performance is only delayed by 15 minutes, it’s later closed again causing further disruption. It’s not the best of starts, but over on the Lake Stage, former Pipettes member Rose Elinor Dougall attempts to rouse a small crowd with her lush, ’60s-tinged pop songs. There’s bite amongst the baroque, with Dougall greeting the announcement that she’s only allowed to play one more song by debuting a 10 minute long new number. “Fuck ’em” she says, demurely.
It’s a moment of rebellion that goes down well with a crowd that’s decidedly younger than in previous years. It’s also noticeably fuller, with capacity raised by nearly 10,000 to 35,000. It’s a shame because it makes the Literature and Poetry tents harder to access, and though the comedy tent is bigger this year, it still means having to watch most of it via two small screens at the side.
But, for the bands, it means larger crowds and a healthy gang throng to see Brighton trio Esben And The Witch create a moody, drum-heavy dirge that seems to instantly block out the sun. It’s coaxed back out by the lovely Laura Marling on the main stage, whose fragile wisps of songs are, unfortunately, no match for the wind, which blows them hither and thither. But there are moments of real beauty in Rambling Man and Ghosts.
If Wild Beasts are still outsiders, they’re not showing it. Playing to a packed crowd in the main tent, their brand of slightly off-kilter indie is one of the highlights of the weekend, with All The King’s Men and Two Dancers (I) causing mass singalongs and what can only be described as ‘festival dancing’ (head down, arms flailing, running on the spot).
The backlog over at the Sunrise Arena means San Francisco duo Girls aren’t on until 9pm, which coincides with the time most people leave to catch the ubiquitous Florence And The Machine perform their first festival headline slot. Arriving onstage under a retina-burning blast of white light, and wearing what looks like an angelic version of the Wonder Woman outfit, Florence Welch twirls, pirhouettes and skips her way through a set she must have played at least a million times. But if she’s bored of the songs, she’s not showing it, giving her all to material that’s so omnipresent even those dragged along against their will mouth the words almost subconsciously. Vocally, however, it’s clear she needs a break; those laser-guided vocals of old start to miss their target as the set progresses.
It’s when she tones down the ethereal queen business that she’s at her best. The opening Drumming Song is punctuated by flashes of light, Florence stood in the middle thwacking a lone drum. Blinding finds her in almost complete darkness save for a lone light casting huge shadows from behind, whilst a lace mask adds a sense of drama and spectacle that’s missing elsewhere. New songs Heavy In My Arms (from the Twilight soundtrack) and Strangeness & Charm prove she’s not about to ditch the huge choruses in favour of abstract noodling anytime soon, and the closing Dog Days Are Over has the huge crowd jumping in unison. It’s an energetic end to what was a slow start of the festival.