Henham Park July 21-23, 2023
by Paul Hammerton
It’s late July and the fields around Henham Park are full of multi-coloured sheep, which can mean only one thing – it’s Latitude time.
As ever, the questions are which of the headliners will really shine, which bands on the smaller stages might be tipped as future stars of the Obelisk Arena, and who will make this year’s memories?
The BBC Introducing Stage deep in the woods is a good place to start finding some answers, as this is where the new artists can be found.
On Friday evening, Hemes – a singer-songwriter of Iranian descent – impresses, blending Western and Arabic influences. Shy at first, with her mother and fiancé in the wings, she visibly grows in confidence as the set progresses.
Lack of confidence is not an issue for James Smith, frontman of Leeds-based four-piece Yard Act. Dressed in a long trenchcoat, he launches into Rich after a wry comment on Latitude ticket prices. It’s a high-energy performance, with lyrics reflecting their take on life in Britain today.
While Pulp lure some of us away to the main stage before end of the set, many of those unfamiliar with Yard Act will no doubt be checking out their debut album, The Overload.
The staging for Pulp is superb, with Jarvis Cocker appearing in silhouette against an enormous projection of the full moon. The whole set feels like a lavish theatrical production, the sound is great, and Cocker is at his idiosyncratic best.
He throws chocolates and grapes to the audience and we hear about a seagull attack earlier in the day.
Something Changed is dedicated to Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, who died earlier this year. And the set finishes triumphantly with Common People, but only after Cocker toys with his audience, asking: “Is there something we’ve forgotten?”
In 2021 and 2022, Henham basked in the sun throughout the festival.
But this year sees that lucky streak break on Saturday, with rain arriving at midday and continuing until the early hours of Sunday. But this does nothing to dampen spirits.
The Lightning Seeds perform two sets. A short, acoustic, “secret” set on a small stage highlights what a talented wordsmith Ian Broudie is, alongside the memorable tunes, while the main set in the Obelisk Arena ends with a rare rendition of Three Lions, in tribute to the Lionesses and accompanied, of course, by mass crowd-singing.
Scottish singer-songwriter Katie Gregson-MacLeod bonds with her audience while glugging red wine, but perhaps the highlight of the afternoon is Paul Heaton on the main stage while the rain is at its heaviest. Accompanied admirably on vocals by Rianne Downey, due to the illness of Jacqui Abbott, Happy Hour prompts widespread dancing in the mud.
Another band attracting attention this afternoon is 86TVs, featuring the three White brothers formerly of The Maccabees. Rarely does a band look as if they are enjoying their performance quite as much as this one.
Saturday’s headliner Paolo Nutini attracts a large, appreciative crowd, but Young Fathers, fresh from their acclaimed Glastonbury set, draw many to their late-night appearance on the BBC Sounds Stage.
Initially their sound is hard to take, with dominant percussion, animalistic howling and the feeling that the four vocalists are all doing their own thing. But suddenly the various threads snap into powerful harmony. It’s a remarkable performance.
With the sun returning, Sunday lunchtime provides a musical experience that could happen only at a festival – 90s favourites James performing on the main stage with an orchestra and a gospel choir. The success of the orchestration is slightly patchy, with opening track Sit Down sounding oddly bleak, but for Say Something and Laid the effect is memorable.
The Proclaimers give us what we need on a Sunday afternoon – the chance to sing along at the top of our voices – while Mimi Webb (on her 23rd birthday) shows just what a good voice she has.
Headliner George Ezra brings the main stage action to a close with a joyous performance marking the end of 18 months of touring his third album, and he surely converts even the most sceptical in the crowd.
He delivers a well constructed set with plenty of familiar songs and a brilliant array of backing musicians – particularly the brass section. There’s a triumphant end, with Shotgun accompanied by confetti fired over the crowd.
So what are the answers to those important questions? Well, none of the headliners disappoints, with Pulp possibly being the star turn.
Yard Act are a good tip for a future main-stage appearance, with those who managed to see them at Norwich Arts Centre in May being truly fortunate.
And the abiding memory of Latitude 2023? Ian Broudie singing Pure on a small stage, accompanied only by son Riley on guitar, sure takes some beating.