It may have taken me 6 hours to get to Latitude Festival, but the strength of the lineup completely justifies the length of the journey. The characters I encounter on my travels also epitomise the middle-class nature of the festival – the pretty, elegantly hungover blonde, who’d made the last-minute decision to travel down from Manchester after cadging a ticket off her mates in Elbow(!), and the group of schoolgirls sat near me on the bus, nattering away about their First World Problems™. The rain that’s been forecast all week has yet to set in by the time I reach the site, so it’s off to meet my cousin Hannah, set up my tent, then head into the arena to see what Thursday night has to offer us.
The first thing we see is a bit of poetry – Mark Neil skewers those who adopt a flowery ‘poetry voice’ during their readings, before Rob Auton offers up some surreal verses, including one about going to the supermarket and only buying items that are yellow. Then it’s into the Film & Music Arena for a showing of some 4AD Sessions, featuring the likes of Bon Iver, Efterklang and St. Vincent. This serves as a warmup for our first live act for the weekend, 2forJoy. She freely admits that this is her first gig, but despite that I can’t help but feel that her cabaret performer getup is there to distract us from her fairly limited vocal abilities. Still, her band are solid, if nothing else, and the dreamy ‘Choke’ is a nice change from the strutting, vamp-ish material that makes up most of the set. No idea why she was allotted an hour either – with this being her first gig, she’s understandably done in half the time.
Rather than kicking our heels, we head back over to the Literary Arena and stumble upon a demonstration of Rebetiko – a sort of underground ‘Greek Blues’ from the 1930s. Greek musician Pavlos Melas and his friends give us a few tunes – think along the lines of an instrumental, proto-Gogol Bordello, if you want some sort of idea as to what it sounds like. After that unexpected bout of education, we head back to the Film & Music Arena to watch some more 4AD Sessions – this time also featuring tUnE-yArDs and a great stripped-back version of ‘Velvet’ by The Big Pink.
Then the night’s main event is upon us – a performance of Paul Heaton’s ‘The 8th’. The former Beautiful South/Housemartins frontman has penned what’s being billed as “one of the longest songs ever written” – in reality, it’s more a collection of songs tied together by a spoken-word narrative, loosely taking the form of a musical. The theme is the Seven Deadly Sins, and the emergence of a new, modern sin, the titular ‘8th’ – though if you’re going in blind, you’ll have to be paying more attention than I was to figure out which song corresponds to each sin. Gareth Paisey (better known to all and sundry as Gareth Campesinos!) gives us a typically animated performance that fairly clearly corresponds to ‘Gluttony’, while ex-Beautiful South vocalist Jacqui Abbott puts in a captivating turn when it’s her time to step forward – her song, I’ll discover later, is ‘Envy’.
But while the music is all well and good, it’s Reg E Cathey (of The Wire fame) who steals the show and keeps me from losing interest – his impassioned narration arguably doing more to stir the emotions than any of the songs. Towards the end, with the story tied up, Heaton himself takes to the stage and reveals ‘The 8th’ to be… well, I’ll be honest, I didn’t figure that out at the time either. At one point he sings “The 8th was just the cops,” but it wasn’t until reading other reviews of the show that I discovered that ‘The 8th’ is, in fact ‘Gossip’. In hindsight, ‘The 8th’ strikes me as the kind of show you probably need to go in to with at least a little foreknowledge – as stands, I found it to be an enjoyable but slightly confusing spectacle.
There’s a break in proceedings, then Heaton & Co return to run through a sort of ‘Heaton’s greatest hits karaoke’, which is worth watching purely for Gareth getting to live out his fanboy dream by singing ‘One Last Love Song’. There’s also a soulful version of ‘Dumb’ from Wayne Gidden, and ‘Good As Gold’ gets an airing (I forget who sang it, sorry) – though anyone hoping for ‘Rotterdam’, ‘Don’t Marry Her’ or even ‘Perfect 10’ would have been left as disappointed as the drunk guy who was constantly shouting “HOUSEMARTINS!” I have a feeling the latter song might have been planned as an encore, but I guess we’ll never know as there’s no time for any more – that’s what happens when you road-test new songs instead of giving the people what they want, eh?
After that, there’s just enough time for a couple of bizarre, sexually themed stories before bedtime courtesy of WordTheatre, including actress Lucy Cohu giving a vibrant reading of a story about a sex-crazed librarian whose day takes a turn for the bizarre. I couldn’t make this stuff up, but apparently, there is someone out there who could – and that’s to say nothing of the frankly bonkers tale of Miss Itty-Bit, who eventually brings about world peace via her cavernous vagina.
…Hopefully this is the last time I’ll ever use the phrase ‘cavernous vagina’ on this blog.