Monday, 28 July 2014

Latitude Festival 2014

It’s like Christmas for adults, counting down the weeks and then days, the excitement grows then its finally here. I love Latitude and so does the lil lady.  This is our fourth year so we have a little experience to help us get the most out of the festival experience.  Latitude is friendly and familiar but each time we’ve been, the weekend has been unique; we’ve loved the festival for different reasons. 

We know we’ll have a mile walk from the car so don’t take too much stuff.  We do have a bloody good tent with loads of room and big enough to stand up in.  We also have pillows and an inflatable mattress because rest is important.  Our other comforts are a couple of small folding chairs and a stove + kettle so we can make a brew.  Finally we each have an ‘Ergolife’ roll up seat for back support in the arenas.  After that everything we pack is essential.  Good walking boots for when it’s dry plus comfortable wellies for when it rains.  Clothes that can be layered plus a good pack away waterproof jacket enable us to cope with all the British weather can throw at us.  All our kit is carried on our backs or on the Carp barrow, the only time it gets used each year.

We set off a little after midday on Thursday for what we knew would be a slow drive through the beautiful Suffolk countryside.  Unloaded the car into the fierce heat and set off for a heavy hike.  We took our time but had our tent set up and comfortable by mid-afternoon.  After a couple of hours spent just chilling in the sun we strolled down the familiar “Hollow Tree Way” into the equally homely village then on into the arena for a slow lap finding everything where we expected.  The Latitude vibe doesn’t hit you right away, it creeps up and slowly surrounds you and eases its way into your soul.

There were a few things going on to ease us into the festival.  We caught one song from Miles Hunt (formerly of the Wonderstuff) in the Literary tent before Alex Horne came on for a mad hour of Comedy that featured a replica of the kids game ‘Mousetrap’ made mostly of stuff he’d bought from Wickes.  There was loads of audience participation making a very clever, funny show.  Chilling on the grass by the lake we saw the end of a set by “the Irrepressibles”, not my kind of thing really but quite nice in the setting.  A quick mention for the beautiful sunset that descended upon Henham park, a splash of colours ranging from pink and orange to blue and lilac, a natural light show amongst all the manmade stuff.
There’s usually some kind of mad arty stuff on the lake, last year ballerinas on 20 foot swans, this year it was called “Iltopie” and was bollocks.  As usual for the first night there were many groups of over excited teenagers who haven’t learnt how to pace themselves with the booze.  We had a cruel chuckle knowing how bad they would feel in the morning.  We wandered off again and had a dance at the ‘Disco shed’ and another in ‘the Woods’ where ‘Goldierocks’ was on the decks.  She was good but we were knackered so crashed around 0100.

Once again the weather on Friday was dry and very hot which is great but tents heat up quickly and you can’t enjoy a nice lay in.  So it was up and out for a comfortable crap in the arena toilets, the only place in the world where you can “enjoy” a sauna and a shit at the same place.  Festival toilets are no longer the horror houses of the past but they aren’t always comfortable either.  After that we had a nice bacon roll for breakfast, can’t remember the name of the stall but it had a black & white front and the staff were Scottish.
We treat each day as if we were going hiking in the countryside.  Food is fuel so we eat regularly, drink loads of water and pace ourselves with the beer.  If there’s nothing going on that catches our fancy we’ll go back to the tent and just crash out for an hour.  We may miss out on a few things doing this but we can extend our days well into the early morning.

Our first stop of the morning was the comedy tent where we saw Tom Rosenthal (OK), Roisin Conaty (not bad) and Josh Widdecombe (pretty good).  That was the only time we made it inside the comedy tent all weekend.  We did try on another couple of occasions but it looked too packed and we wandered off elsewhere.

Elsewhere ended up being the main stage AKA Obelisk arena. Here we caught the last few songs of Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot’s set which consisted of Beautiful South and Housemartins tunes finishing with a cool version of “Caravan of love”.  The band sounded great and we wished we’d been there earlier.  We’d gone to the Obelisk to see Billy Bragg who started with “Sexuality” and finished with “New England” which were great.  Unfortunately in the middle Billy descended into Americana country stuff which really isn’t my thing.  The banter between songs was great however and there were enough good things to make us glad we’d seen the show even if we were a little disappointed.

We hung around to see Kelis who we’d seen on Jools Holland’s show earlier in the year.  The classic R&B sound was great, the crowd swelled and danced and Kelis looked fine and sung well.  The newer soulful stuff was first class and the older hits were given a bluesy revamp, the milkshake really did bring the boys to the yard.  Kelis was class and surpassed expectations.

After a brief stop off at the tent we met with our beloved friends Mr & Mrs Green + kids who were experiencing Latitude for the first time.  No time to catch up as we were straight into the Big tent to see Goat at Mr Green’s recommendation.  I’d only heard a couple of tunes on You tube so didn’t know what to expect but Goat were absolutely brilliant.  What is Goat?  To begin they are a rock band but the rhythm has a hypnotic, drum heavy African feel, the chopping, wailing guitar sounds like Hendrix and the duelling female vocalists chant and scream adding an extra layer of sound as well as much as delivering a set of words.  Visually it’s mad as the band all wear crazy costumes and a dead pan mask looks strange when you’re used to gurning guitarists.  The music is high energy and the performance matches this, especially the vocalists who are nonstop.  I loved Goat and bopped all the way through.
Goat finished and we all legged it back to the Obelisk to see Rudimental who were the surprise guests.  They were pretty good in the tent last year and played a bouncing set today which was made even better because we’ve become so familiar with the tunes over the last twelve months.  The crowd sang and danced along and it was impossible not to join in.  Next up were The Editors who sounded to me like typical coldplay clone safe rock music, if a little better than some.  I recognised a couple of tunes and they weren’t bad but not my thing.  We did at last get the chance to catch up with Mr & Mrs Green while they played.  We all went our separate ways for food, chicken noodles for me which was OK.  Bondax were playing nearby on the Lake stage and I liked what I heard.   There was another fantastic sunset which looks all the better in a beautiful setting like this.  We all managed to meet up again to see Lily Allen who was a last minute replacement as headliner.  The plan was to watch a few songs then slide off and check out the other arenas but Lily was actually pretty good.  She might not have the strongest voice around but she can carry a tune, her lyrics are clever and the songs catchy.  We ended up watching the whole show, say no more.

The show closed and we wandered off.  The lil lady and I had lost our dancing feet, not so surprising as we’d seen eight bands during the day and half of these had been really good shows.  What a start to the festival!  However we were thoroughly knackered so decided to go back to the tent.  A good night’s sleep would charge up our batteries for the following day…Or so we thought.

We got to sleep alright but it didn’t last.  Some of our newer neighbours returned and made sure of that.  I suppose we were about due for a noisy festival night because this was the first and only time we’ve ever had a really disturbed night.  That’s the rough and the smooth of a festival I suppose, not worth getting wound up about and we’ll never let anyone or anything spoil our festival.  However one thing niggled me, this group were old enough to know better, had they have been kids I could understand it more.  By morning every tent in the vicinity knew these peoples sexual preferences and how good the ching was.  There was a storm and showers during the night and it was actually easier to get to sleep when the rain on the tent drowned out all other sound.

Back to the arena area around midday and after breakfast and the bog run we tried to get into a too busy comedy tent but ended up at the obelisk where we saw the African rhythms of Tinariwen who were nice enough but didn’t really move us.  Booker T Jones followed and he started well and got better and better.  Authentic rhythm & blues; the “Stax sound” including a many familiar tunes from Booker’s career but the highlight was the cover of “Hey Joe”.  Can’t remember who the guitarist was but he absolutely nailed it.  Superb! We hung around the main stage to see James but as there was a bit of a break decided to lie down and rest our eyes for a while.  Upon rousing we saw the notice on the screen telling us that James were stranded somewhere and had been rescheduled for the following day.  Disappointing but what can you do?  After that we wandered off for food and seeing as there was no events that took our fancy we went back to the tent to crash for a while.

After a couple of hours rest we felt refreshed so wandered off again.  We made it to the main stage in time to see Bombay Bicycle Club.  We’d enjoyed them in the tent a couple of years back but tonight they couldn’t hold our attention so after half or dozen or so songs we took a slow stroll around the arena in the direction of the big tent.  One of the acts we’d looked forward too was the Royksopp & Robyn ‘Do it again’ collaboration.  We saw Royksopp playing some chilled dance beats, followed by Robyn doing a bit of electro dance/pop then finally Royksopp and Robyn blasting it out together.  The setting was hot and stuffy but the show worked.  The music was hypnotic and we didn’t stop dancing, apparently the lightshow was great but I hardly noticed.  We got our money’s worth too as the show was over two hours long and we danced for every minute of it.
As the tent began to clear it became apparent that not only was it raining, it was absolutely pissing it down.  A huge electrical storm had engulfed the area and wasn’t going anywhere fast.  We donned our waterproofs and headed out into the storm, unsure of what to do next.  Fired up by the Royksopp show we definitely didn’t want to go to bed.  The donut stand called us, as it tends to do at this time of night, for some sweet sugar fuelled energy.  Then the DJ on the Lake stage played Fat boy’s “Praise you” and called us back to dance. 
Dancing in a soggy field in a thunderstorm at midnight may not be anyone’s first choice activity but for us, at that time and place it was the only choice.  An hour later we were still dancing in the rain with beers in hands, smiles on faces being wowed by the music and the awesome natural lightshow provided by the storm.  We were wet but loving it.  However there comes a time when wet and warm gives way to cold and shivering, we were sober enough to be aware of this so decided to head back to the tent while we were still enjoying ourselves.  Ironically by the time we were cosy and dry in our kip bags the rain had just about stopped but at least the camp site was quiet.

Before I move on to the next day it has to be said that the food at Latitude was piss poor this year.  Every previous festival we’ve managed to find decent food that is enjoyable to eat.  This year our breakfast rolls or burgers from the Scottish stall were okay as were the chunky chips from next door.  We had a reasonable chicken noodle meal and a curry that was adequate despite the naan bread being cardboard.  The chicken shack looked like a really good deal but in actual fact it was barely edible crap and a rip off.  These will be avoided at all costs in future.

Before we knew it Sunday had arrived. We had a decent night sleep but once again the heat in the tent had us up and about earlyish.  The heavy rain had muddied the ground up in places so it was a welly day today, luckily my Muck boots are as comfortable as any other footwear I own so no hardship there. After a brew we set off for our morning routine, down to the arena for a bog stop and breakfast. Afterwards we went off to the big tent to meet the Greens and see a band I’ve loved for over twenty years but had never managed to see live, James.  They started with a few songs from the latest album, the first was a mellow tune, this was Sunday lunchtime after all.  After this the songs got more up tempo, despite being unfamiliar they sounded great.  As the set went on a few older tunes were thrown in which lifted the atmosphere of the packed tent.  The hour passed too quickly and with a rousing version of “Sometimes” with the crowd singing along the set finished on a high.  I’d waited years to see James, it could have been an anti-climax but it was great.
No time for reflection as we all hot footed over to the main stage to see the Atomic bomb band.  Really good synth dance music (featuring members of Hot Chip and LCD sound system) had the crowd dancing in the sun and a good time was had by all.  We all chilled out at the Obelisk arena while Phosphorescent and the Jayhawks went through their paces.  Neither managed to rouse me into a standing position, in fact had we not been enjoying the company of my friends I’m sure we would have wandered off to check out what was going on elsewhere.  Chrissie Hynde was next up playing a pretty good set including many familiar hits from the Pretenders.  I’ve never been a fan but quite enjoyed it anyway, maybe Gran rock is the thing of the future?

After that the lil lady and I made arrangements to meet Mr & Mrs Green back at the Obelisk then went off for food followed by a lie down in the tent to recoup some energy.  A group of morons wrecking their own campsite did not deter us.  After a couple hours of much needed rest we set off in fading light and made it down to the Obelisk to meet the Greens and get in position for the final headliner of the weekend, The Black Keys.  To begin with the sound didn’t seem right to me but they either got it nailed or I stopped noticing.  It didn’t matter, the crowd was up for it, and the atmosphere was great, the Black Keys were bloody good and we boogied right through the rousing set.  Highlights were ‘Gold on the ceiling’, ‘Fever’ and ‘lonely boy’.
We said goodbye to Mr & Mrs Green + kids who were going back to the tents but we weren’t done yet.  This was the last night at Latitude so we were determined to make the most of it.  We ended up down at the Lake stage dancing with the kids, mostly old soul funk tunes which kept us bopping till our old legs couldn’t take it anymore.  After that we sat on a bench, watched, listened and tried to absorb as much of the Latitude vibe as we could.  Around 0300 the security began to clear the arena so we slowly took a last walk around the lake and up the hill towards our campsite.  We sat outside our tent for a while watching the sky in the east grow lighter, we had planned to wait for the sun to come up but we didn’t last, sleep called.

Latitude 2014 was a fantastic year for music with great performances every day.  Goat were a massive musical surprise, Royksopp & Robin was the performance of the weekend, James turned back the years and the Black keys were polished, professional and excellent.  Kelis, Booker T Jones, Rudimental and even Lily Allen deserve a mention too.

Monday morning saw us slowly tidy our camp site before the yomp back to the car.  There is something special about the Latitude festival that goes beyond the music, dancing, comedy, arts etc.  After five days and four nights we leave the campsite in dire need of a long hot shower but there is a special magical vibe that relaxes the mind and soothes the soul. Our fourth Latitude festival was over and once again it had been a brilliant weekend.   We would now begin to count the weeks till next year.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Missed the second test...

I missed almost all of the second test (but I had a good reason).  I left home midway through the first session on Thursday and returned half way through what proved to be the last.  In between India beat England by 95 runs.  From what I can gather England bowled too short after inserting India on a green wicket.  On the last day they collapsed just when they began looking like they could make the runs.  During the match only Balance (110), Root and Plunkett made more than fifty.  The wickets were shared but the new boys performed well.   Credit to India who have won a test after a horrendous run of defeats away from home.  

It has to be said; Its England’s senior players that are underperforming at the moment.  Cook, Bell, Prior, Broad and even Anderson are not making the contributions we expect from them.  It has been revealed that Prior has been carrying an injury and will now miss the rest of the series.  If that's the case then he shouldn't have been picked in the first place, England aren't good enough to carry any unfit player.

Monday, 14 July 2014

First test. England vs India

The first test between England and India has been and gone.  It took place on one of the worst wickets ever seen in this country at Trent Bridge of all places.  This is almost always a venue which produces a result but this time the teams didn’t even manage to complete three innings.

India won the toss and batted first with opener Vijay scoring 146 and Dhoni 82, however at 346-9 it looked like England could take a hold of the game.  Cue a tenth wicket partnership of 111 between Kumar & Shami and India had a commanding total.

Cook fell cheaply again but Ballance and Robson both past fifty in a partnership of 125.  After that came a middle order collapse that has become all too frequent lately left us 202-7.  Luckily for England Joe Root dug in and with support from a Broad counter attack began to turn things around.  However at 298-9 things looked bleak, India were well on top.  Next came another epic tenth wicket partnership between Root and Jimmy Anderson, the former got his century and the latter passed fifty for the first time in all cricket.  In the end this became the world record for a tenth wicket stand in a test match reaching 198 with Jimmy out for 81 and Root unbeaten on 154, England had a lead.

By the end of day four India had plodded along to 167-3 and the draw looked a certainty.  The morning session of the fifth day was brilliant cricket that swung the game again.  Anderson and Broad bowled superbly to reduce India to 249-7 and an England win became a possibility.  Binny scored an important 78 to make the game safe for India and the final session became a farce with England using part time bowlers with Cook cheering himself up by taking a wicket.  India kept England in the field all day and the draw was secured.  Jimmy Anderson was man of the match, more for his batting than his bowling on this occasion.  Nice to see him smiling on the podium after the sickening finish to the match against Sri Lanka.

Despite the terrible pitch both teams managed to play some good cricket and there were moments of drama when each team had chances to grab hold of the match.  In the end the pitch won.  Had one of the teams had a world class spinner or a lightning quick bowler maybe things would have been different?

For England the young batsmen Robson & Ballance continue to impress but the middle order are a worry.  We expect more from Ian Bell in particular.  Cook captained the side well but managed to get bowled around his legs.  Our bowlers all performed well on the dead wicket but we are still lacking a world class spinner.  Moeen Ali did OK and managed a few wickets but we know he’s a batsman first and foremost.  We have to pray that Monty Panesar gets his mind right and plays again soon, until such times whoever England play is only a temporary measure and the selectors may well give Ali another match.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Eels at the Royal Albert Hall

Last weekend Shelley and I couple of days in London, not what I’d normally choose to do but on this occasion we had plenty of good reasons but our main motivation for braving the capital was to see our favourite band in the world, “Eels” play at the Royal Albert Hall. 
We got to the venue early and with a little time to kill we sat on a bench near the Albert memorial and tried to while away the minutes.  We’d seen Eels three times on the two previous tours and they’d been fabulous each time.  This was our first visit to the RAH though and it looked impressive even from the outside.  An annoying shower saw us head for shelter early.  Our tickets were standing, way up at the very highest point of the hall and we found our entrance and started queuing. 

With ten minutes to go someone opened the door and offered all of the handful queuing free ticket upgrades!!  There were a few seats unsold to the side of the stage and we eagerly swapped ours!  We went in, got a beer then wandered around, grinning with that “can’t believe our luck” feeling.  We entered the hall and “Jesus Christ!” what a place!  We’ve all seen the hall on television numerous times but only by being there can you appreciate its grandeur.  Instead of standing up in the roof peering down we had brilliant seats to the right hand side of the stage but only two rows back.  The view was different but brilliant. 

Lights dimmed and… the support…  I can’t remember what they were called and I have no wish to find out.  The only memorable thing about the performance was the dullness.

Then came the Eels, could tonight possibly match the brilliant emotional nights we’ve seen before?  Yes they bloody well could!  Every Eels tour is different.  We’ve seen “Tremendous Dynamite” a blues brothers R&B show with a horn section then last year was “Wonderful Glorious”, just the five regular band members playing a hard rock and roll show.  This year was the regular five again playing a mostly acoustic set.  We heard many songs both old and new that we hadn’t seen performed live before and I can only remember 2 ½ songs that featured on last year’s tour.  Three tours, three totally different sets, three different experiences. 

“Mr E” (AKA Mark Oliver Everett) is a fantastic songwriter with a cynical view on the world around him.  He uses this cynicism to find humour in what he sees and celebrates the beauty of life.
All of the band members can play several instruments and we were blown away by seeing them reveal skills we didn’t know they had.  Yes we know “Mr E” can play just about every instrument there is (tonight it was mostly piano or guitar) but “Royal Al” (what else?) played an upright bass.  “Pee Boo” played trumpet as well as guitar, “Knuckles” had tubular bells and a glockenspiel beside his drum kit and “Chet” added slide guitar and something I believe is called a ‘melodica’ to his repertoire.

Tonight there were many different arrangements of familiar tunes, all of them worked.  The set started slowly with what “Mr E” described as “sweet bummer rock” then built in tempo and swept the audience along.  Standout tunes tonight; “It’s a mother-fucker”, “Daisies through the concrete”, “Last stop this town”, “Parallels” and “I like the way this is going”.  Sometimes during a concert I start looking at my watch and thinking ‘I’ve had enough’; never with Eels, they could play all night and I’d try to keep up with them.  Sadly they couldn’t play all night.  “E” hugged the crowd, the band played a long encore then finally “Mr E” took over the massive pipe organ for a rendition of “Flyswatter”.  

A great concert is more than just a performance, the music has to connect with the audience on an emotional level, Eels manage to do this every time.  The sound was brilliant, the atmosphere fantastic and the hall was splendid.  However they decide to play Eels are the best live band I’ve seen in thirty years of gigging and the RAH was the perfect venue for this set.