- By Mark Savage
- BBC music reporter
As he headlined the Latitude Festival, George Ezra offered some superfluous instructions.
He told the audience, “This song is halfway through,” he told the audience, “I will introduce you to some words and we will sing them together.”
The audience doesn’t need to ask. They knew the maneuver. They’ve been singing all day long.
Unlucky or intentional, festival organizers planned an entire day of solo singing. Radio 2 playlists include old gold hits and modern classics.
Ezra topped the bill, performing the final act of his 18-month world tour.
But 12 hours earlier, the main stage opened with Manchester indie band James, celebrating their 40th anniversary by reworking their back catalog with gospel orchestra and choir.
They start with a trump card – a silent version of Sit Down that blows away any campsite cobwebs in the audience’s lap.
“We’re coming in at this point where there won’t be any noise pollution, so we can do some of our quieter songs,” said team leader Tim Booth.
Disappointingly, they almost squandered goodwill, continuing the series with tracks from their 2010 album Dust Motes and a little-known b-side, The Lake. Even Booth admits these tracks will test an audience’s “concentration and patience,” making you wonder why they bother.
But when they move on to hits – Tomorrow, Born Of Frustration, Laid – everything comes to life. Then an audience member shouted, “Play Say Something!” and, to his surprise, the band agreed.
“Don’t tell anyone we took the request,” Booth demanded. “It would be terrible if this happened.”
It ends with a long, protracted chorus that alternates between the choir and the crowd, which seemingly stunned the band. The stage manager explicitly agreed – and gave them an extra 10 minutes to keep the magic flowing.
After The Picture of Ireland This delivered some high-energy pop kicks, The Bootleg Beatles took to the stage, boasting the rather unfair luxury of the world’s best song catalog to build their staging list.
Thankfully, they avoid Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and open with the top classic – Can’t Buy Me Love, Twist and Shout, Help – before moving into the post-Pepper era with I’ve Got A Feeling, Get Back and Come Together.
They illustrate the two halves with changes in clothing that suit the times, transforming from dashing young men into shaggy-haired icons.
“It’s amazing what LSD can do for your hair,” quipped Bootleg John Lennon.
The movie ends with Hey Jude (what else?) making more na-nas than the man from Del Monte.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor covers Madonna’s Like A Prayer, but she’s more like Tia – kicking high and shimmering around the stage, saying hello to everyone in the audience while the live streamers waved their hands over her shoulders.
Adhering to proper festive etiquette, she completely ignores her new album to play a Kitchen Disco set that alternates her hits with covers of Moloko’s Sing It Back and Mojo’s Lady (Hear Me Tonight).
But the emotional climax came when she introduced her mother, former Blue Peter host Janet Ellis, who was watching from across the stage.
“This is her first festival,” Sophie announced. “It took me 25 years to bring her to the field… It was like seeing the Queen.”
As she played Young Blood — about the enduring love between her mother and stepfather John Leach, who passed away in 2020 — the camera panned to Ellis, wiping her tears.
After a brief reset, Scottish rockers The Proclaimers took power, attracting a huge crowd that just wanted to cross (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles.
Newcomer Mimi Webb had a smaller, younger but equally enthusiastic audience, chanting her name and sitting on her parents’ shoulders shouting the words Red Flag and House On Fire.
Webb’s parents also make an appearance – staging a stage invasion to give her a 23rd birthday cake and leading everyone in an impromptu chorus of Happy Birthday.
The singer then confessed her birthday wish in 2022 is to play Latitude.
“That’s my goal for this year [and] I’m very, very excited to be here.”
Ezra was the biggest crowd all weekend, and a kid too – carrying glow sticks, bubble guns and Pokemon hats as they danced around to his easy sunny pop songs.
It will be hard not to warm your heart with tracks like Who Gives You, Budapest, and Heaven, all of which contain the tantalizing promise of escape (the dream everyone is desperately trying to hold, when the carnival ends and they have to face the parking mire).
As he transitions into the romantic beauty of Hold My Girl, you can hear a pin drop; and when he plays the lively Green Green Grass – the “celebration of life” – the party spills out into the Obelisk arena, with kids and parents dancing around the food stalls.
Ezra’s job may seem simple – but writing life-affirming pop songs is a lot harder than moping around to sound cranky. Audiences embrace him not because he’s cool but because he has a mountain top we all dream of.
The BBC Sounds tent caters to audiences who want something more intuitive, with a loud, boisterous orchestra from Black Midi; and a rare chance to meet Siouxsie Sioux, who played only his second UK gig in 10 years.
She mesmerized herself on stage in a silver jumpsuit, performing to the rhythms of goth-punk songs such as Spellbound, Happy House and Hong Kong Garden.
Her still-loyal fans want to be so close that she has to advise them.
“You’re all packed like sardines,” she announced before starting Kiss Them For Me. “You need some room to dance.”
Back on the main stage, Ezra prepares to wrap up.
“We’ve been touring these songs for 18 months and this is our last show,” he announced.
“It was an absolute pleasure to share it with you.”
Then he lunged at the Shotgun, his biggest, only figure, boosted by fireworks and confetti and punched arms in the air.
However, as if to prove a point, Latitude did not let their leader have the last word.
As the audience left, the speakers began playing Matthew Wilder’s weird 1980s Break My Stride.
And that, for no apparent reason, becomes the closing chorus of Singalong Sunday.