John Sturgis

Latitude 2021: the long-awaited taste of freedom

Latitude 2021: the long-awaited taste of freedom
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There was a palpable feeling of freedom in Henham Park, Suffolk over the weekend - as masks disappeared and social distancing was replaced by dancing. For a blissful 72 hours, Covid was all but forgotten as Latitude became the first major festival to return in nearly two years.

And even if the cost of that freedom was £6.00 for a pint of not-quite-cold Carlsberg in a plastic cup, it still felt worth paying for this three day party in a field.

As Katherine Ryan put it: 'I feel so free! The only way I could feel freer was if I was Britney Spears and I just heard my Dad had died.'

That sense of freedom may have been enhanced for some: the Saturday night headliners, The Chemical Brothers, appeared to have inspired some in the audience to reach for pharmaceutical assistance and the resulting dancing was quite lively.

Their thunderous sound and spectacular light show was the centrepiece of the weekend - anticipating the actual thunder and lightning that forecasters had predicted by several hours.

Katherine Ryan at Latitude

In the event those storm warnings were overstated: there was a light drizzle in the night but it only affected the most committed of those Chemical Brothers fans who were still up at 5am.

The rest of us had turned in when the, well, guilty pleasure of early hours dancing to the likes of Whitney and Madonna at the late night Guilty Pleasures disco wound up.

By Sunday afternoon the only danger from the weather was from sunburn, as festival goers looked incredulously at their phones for reports of more flooding in London, just 100 miles south.

This increased the feeling that the 40,000 here were blessed.

The turnout for Sleaford Mods on at the same time The Chemical Brothers in the BBC Sounds tent next door was tiny in comparison though they too were, as they say, banging.

A much quieter highlight was Damon Albarn, who took advantage of his slot on the lakeside stage to arrive, rather grandly, by gondola. He then proceeded to perform a delightful set that fitted the serenity of the setting, a lovely version of Out of Time his only nod to the Blur back catalogue, to rapturous cheers.

Elsewhere there were lots of newer, younger and often female acts, as if the bookers had deliberately tried to freshen up the whole bill: Maisie Peters, Griff and Beabadoobee were all charming and winning, particularly the latter who appear to have reinvented that most male of musical forms, shoe-gazing indie, for girls.

And then there was the peak-Millennial named Self-Esteem, which turns out to be a stage name for the more prosaic-sounding Rebecca Taylor, a striking singer from Sheffield, whose I Do This All the Time sounded fabulous.

Music aside: returning to Katherine Ryan - that dark Britney gem aside, Ms Ryan was, for me, one of the few duds. She’s so stellar lately that she was pushed as one of the superstars of the whole festival and drew a crowd of thousands - but the rammed marquee had that air of slight uneasiness as she struggled for the big laughs.

Other comics fared better: Rich Hall with an extended anecdote about a trip to Buckingham Palace that pivoted on the late Duke of Edinburgh mishearing his introduction as “He’s a Canadian” rather than “...comedian” had people rolling around.

Ditto Bill Bailey on the main stage yesterday lunchtime somehow integrating his Strictly Come Dancing winner fame status into his usual numpty, folk and heavy metal satire without missing a beat of his cowbells.

The striking thing about Latitude is quite how much they put on: there are so many stages that it’s only possible to catch a fraction of what’s on at any moment, making each person’s festival different. I didn’t personally, for example, get to any of Wolf Alice, Bombay Bicycle Club, or Rudimental - but I’m assured the latter were ‘mental’.

Yet it was still the biggest party I’ve been to in months and the memory of a freeing festival will live long.

Written byJohn Sturgis

John Sturgis is a veteran Fleet Street news journalist

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