Following the sweat and tetchy ticket swiping of Liverpool St Station, and the nauseating coach meander towards the site, the stroll into the Latitude arena is overdue and overly exciting. The term ‘arena’ – of course – has connotations of corporate, concrete and thinning grass festival sites that revel these summers in their mass appeal and ubiquitity, but Latitude is a breath of fresh air (quite literally) with uniquely picturesque surroundings, snugly situating itself around proper sturdy forestry and water.
Deep within the woods Broken Records bring the festival curtain up – as far as Beat Happening is concerned – beneath the colourful drapes of the Sunrise stage. With bracken as a backdrop and fern underfoot they fully enjoy their status as ‘buzz band’, their apt earthy, alternative rock watched by a swollen early afternoon crowd. The shame is that only two of their songs live up to their undoubted potential, whereas the remainder pass-by, sounding far too much like Athlete for comfort (for us forest-dwellers, at least). Of those two – admittedly fully formed and fantastic – noteworthy numbers, ‘If Eilert Lovborg Wrote a Song, It Would Sound Like This’ is the absolute standout, a Decemberists-ish, Picaresque-esque poetical romp with strings and horn and accordion to boot.
In fact the accordion, and its like – the ukelele, the melodica, the glockenspiel – are sprayed across the site, with tweeness the style du jour. Slow Club, an instantly adorable, poppy, sloppy, clappy brother-sister combo from Yorkshire – also on at the Sunrise – exemplify the trend. Their lyrics are playful and pre-pubescent, their stage banter culminating with the word ‘knobhead’. Despite this childish front, frontwoman Becky (a bonnie blonde) still has a marriage proposal chucked at her from the throng. She accepts immediately, then nonchalantly presses on with her set, claiming the hearts of many more.
Onto the main arena site, then, and Micah P Hinson in the Uncut Arena. The bright lights and big tops, away from the dark of the undergrowth, promise much, but Micah delivers little. He is boring and bizarrely dressed (golf cap, comedy tie). I check my phone for text messages three times in his first four numbers. Not a good sign. Thankfully Bearsuit just next door on the BBC Introducing … Lake Stage revive the brief spirit flag with balloons, blue capes and their repertoire of sex noises.
Everything (bar the smaller, hidden woodland stages) is on top of each other at Latitude, so that you might be watching a Hanif Kureishi Q&A in the Music and Film Arena, but subconsciously absorbing the assorted basslines of Death Cab For Cutie. This atmosphere is presumably what leads Carol Ann Duffy to proclaim Latitude “a million times better than Glastonbury” at the start of her Poetry Tent appearance, but is also the reason why half of her audience sack her off at the first distant sound of British Sea Power.
Instead of watching the mighty BSP, I witness Emmy the Great play a frustratingly curtailed set, to an unjustly small crowd. She is breathtaking nonetheless, as the sun begins to set behind the Sunrise, weaving poignant and witty references to Leonard Cohen and MIA into her exceptional little songs. It is, she tells us, the first anniversary of her band’s first gig. They are all quite brilliant. Catch her – if you’ve not already – before she explodes.
There is obviously more than music at Latitude. It is their tagline, after all. Many of the acts are dire, but a handful make it all worthwhile. I sit through some dreadful stuff in the Poetry Tent to catch a whirlwind 20 minutes from the appropriately named Excentral Tempest (aka Kate Tempest). Her lyrical wordplay is simply unbelievable, her hip hop style (she labels herself an acapella MC) a revelatory shock to the reclining poetry patrons. With the right musical backing she would be the greatest British rapper of all time, though the fact she is unaccompanied makes her all more spell-binding.
Headlining, of course, are Franz Ferdinand. They do what exactly what you would expect, and its great. Anything off the first album sounds superb, anything off the second, slightly disappointing (but nonetheless danceable). The long-awaiting third album, of which we get quite a few tasters this evening, is synth-heavy and snappy. The rain does little to detract.
The talk of the tents, as Friday draws to a close, is the 900-person strong conga-line that emerged from the Comedy Tent earlier in the afternoon, taking over the main site. Apparently it was entirely self-generated and unexpected. I refuse to believe that spontaneous-congaing is even possible. If it is – God help us all.