We came across the worst band name ever two years ago when cruising in a boat on the Norfolk Broads (I know, this appears to have nothing whatsoever at all to do with a review of last Friday’s Latitude Festival, which took place in Norfolk, not Suffolk, but work with me, ok?). We pitched up at a pub in a place called Thurne, where, a sign at the side of the bar informed us, One Hand Clapping would be performing that very Saturday.
One Hand Clapping. I ask you. I suppose they could have been some sort of Buddhist folk-rock band, all tinkling bells and clunking gongs, but the image I had was of some bozo with a Clavinova, churning out Stevie Wonder covers, with a lucrative sideline in weddings and bar mitzvahs. However, the Redoubtable Mrs F made further inquiries and we went anyway.
It was one of the best nights in a pub I’ve ever had: One Hand Clapping turned out to be a good going covers band, majoring in 60s and 70s, who gradually built their set towards a finale that had the whole bar variously singing, dancing, and clapping along (with both hands). The fact that only one of them was looking forward to his own sixtieth birthday hadn’t affected their abilities: there was a female singer and guitarist, a lead guitar player who occasionally took on vocal duties, a bassist and a drummer.
Two years on, we were again on a boat in the Broads in July, we again moored at Thurne on a Saturday night, and lo and behold, One Hand Clapping, the Band With The Worst Name Ever Who Had Been Surprisingly Good, were playing again. We ordered our reasonably priced pub meals and took a ringside seat, awaiting their arrival.
But wait. Age had not withered them, at least not substantially, but ego, it appeared, had shrunk them. The lead guitarist had got rid of the bass player and drummer, it seemed, and the lead singer – his own wife – had been relegated to setting up the amps and occasional flute playing duties. Lead Guitar Guy had drafted in a mate, who was a pretty decent guitar player, but not so you’d notice since the Main Man instructed his missus to turn his own amp up so far you couldn’t hear his mate’s finer noodlings half the time.
A cautionary tale, then, which we took with us to Latitude. No matter who you are in music, sometimes all the choices left to you are occasional flute playing duties, or divorce.
There were no flutes immediately apparent at the Latitude site – perhaps surprising, given the hippy reputation of this particular festival – and, indeed, both days were dominated by the sound of grinding guitars of various kinds – no bad thing for this blog, if you already know its prejudices. First up, though, was Curtis Harding, a soulful sort whose style, the programme advised us, was ‘born in Michigan and bred on the road.’ He was excellent: good, soulful voice, handy guitar player too, with (mostly) his own material, although he did a good cover of Ain’t No Sunshine When You’ve Gone. From under a tent flap, the band was good, too.
Which brings me to the stages at Latitude. There are four main ones: the Obelisk, which is your standard issue festival main stage, on a grassy plateau at the top of the site, with stands set well back; the Radio 6 Music Tent, which is a big but (as we shall see) not always big enough full on tent, open at the back and sides, but with plenty of canvas to keep the sound and atmosphere in; the Lake Stage, down by the bridge, which is a great venue for passing traffic, but is open to the elements and can therefore suffer from sound bleed most (as Norma Jean Martine found to her cost last year); and the iArena, where Curtis had been doing his soulful thing, a smaller tent in the woods with more of a gap under the canvas.
You can kind of understand the organisers’ original thinking on this, of course: iArena small, more intimate, Lake Stage for the up and coming young thrusters; Radio 6 Tent for the coolest latest things (Anna Calvi, for example, last year) and the Obelisk for the big acts that everyone would want to see. However, matching band to stage can’t be easy, and this year there were what might have been a couple of mismatches, of which more in the next post.
That said, Curtis Harding was just fine in the iArena. Our our next act, after we’d caught the end of Philadelphia-based The Districts (not bad at all) was Fife’s own King Creosote, with a superb set that drew initially on his most recent album, From Scotland With Love, but also included plenty of other material for hard core fans to enjoy. This was in the Radio 6 Tent, and the enclosed space helped the band’s more intimate sound – not that they were lacking amplification. Kenny did us proud – and it was nice, I may say, to have at least one band that made good use of acoustic guitar. No flutes though.
Next, it was back to the iArena for an act that I sincerely hope to see in a sweaty Glasgow venue in November: Ezra Furman. Your blog was temporarily confused and thought Daughter and Heiress was taking him to see George Ezra, which was confusing on two grounds. Firstly, why was he playing on the smallest of the main stages? Secondly, why had D & H forsaken indie rock for a sensitive pop troubador?
However, it soon became apparent that the only thing Ezra Furman has in common with George Ezra is in fact the name, Ezra. And even then they use it at different bits, don’t you see? Out of this haze of confusion (blame the heat, the dust, the lack of alcohol) it quickly became apparent that Ezra Furman was, in fact, right up your blog’s street. The programme entry referenced New York Dolls, Ramones and the E Street Band, and all of these influences were in play: the latter especially by means of the big chap giving it laldy with a saxophone right up front, although his style was probably more a blend of Clarence Clemons in his pomp and Bad Manners ska-influenced honking. Great guitars, and a bit of keyboard that could’ve been further up in the mix if anything, but overall a terrific sound. Literate lyrics – well, Tom Sawyer got a mention at one point, at least.
I found myself thinking that Furman himself was part of a continuum of what I’d call ‘street-punk-ness’: that indefinable mix of insouciance, sarcasm, and vulnerability that inspires devotion even as the possessor of it is spitting irony right in your face. Mid-Sixties Dylan had it; before him, folk such as Eddie Cochrane, and then of course the likes of John Lydon and Debbie Harry. Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice, featured in Saturday’s review, has it in spades. But Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends was the gig of the day for me, possibly of both days, and that was in the far from ideal iArena hanging onto a tent flap.
Oh, and plus he wore a dress, which takes a bit of attitude, even in these so-called enlightened times.
The last complete gig we saw, since we left half way through Alt-J (nothing wrong with them, although not my kind of thing, really) was Django Django in the Radio 6 Tent. This was a band I’d done my homework on, having listened to their most recent album at least twice (yeah, I know, the sheer dedication!) Half-Scottish, they’re an extremely marketable blend of synth and guitars, and what impressed me most was their songs were genuinely catchy and melodic, and worked well live. They may well have been Daughter and Heiress’s gig of the day, and although Ezra shaded it for me, they were pretty great, too.
My only criticism was your man’s guitar playing seemed pretty minimal: but I guess they would say it’s integral to the sound, not the main instrument. To which I would say, if you’re going to strap on a Telecaster, you might as well use it. It’s not just for decoration.
Or risk ending up on flute duties.
WordPress occasionally sticks adverts below here. Nothing to do with me guv.