Latitude 2023: Pulp, Paolo Nutini, George Ezra and all the weather

The highlights from Henham Park’s windy, wet, hot, beautiful weekend of arts and music

Is there something a bit odd about hearing ‘Common People’ at Latitude? Maybe no odder than seeing a sea of little kids hoisted onto dads’ shoulders for ‘This Is Hardcore’. Or Paolo Nutini sampling Primal Scream after ‘New Shoes’. James playing a hushed, teary ‘Sit Down’ with a full symphony orchestra. Or Siouxsie Sioux telling George Ezra to keep the noise down. 

Latitude festival continues to be full of happy contradictions – a wonderfully weird mix of tastes and moods for anyone who likes watching comedy on a picnic blanket and falling over in a circle pit. 

It’s friendly pop and unfriendly punk. Neo soul and retro rock. Up and comers clashing with veterans. It’s 6Music dads, Radio 2 mums and teens that can’t wait for them both to go to bed so they can get drunk in the woods. It’s dirty fries eaten off a bin lid and it’s Michelin-starred sit-down meals. All in the UK’s nicest, sweetest, festival.

2023 was just as varied as ever – maybe more so, since the weather decided to offer something for everyone too. A windy, gloomy, occasionally damp and sunny Friday saw what felt like the entire festival crammed into The Sunrise Arena tent for next year’s biggest band, The Last Dinner Party (still only having two officially released singles to their name). 

The Last Dinner Party
Credit: Sarah Louise Bennett

Misjudging the height of the stage, lead singer Abigail Morris couldn’t climb back up again after jumping down to meet the masses. Legging it around the back of the tent, up through the trees, she made it back in a whirl of Kate Bush energy with an apology (and then did the exact same thing again on the next song). 

Metronomy were everywhere at Latitude. Guitarist Oscar Cash opened Friday with a solo set before drummer Anna Prior closed it, but the band’s sunset main stage set felt huge – early oughts electronica building perfectly into the singalong gospel swell of ‘Love Letters’, with special guest Biig Piig joining the band for ‘405’.

Phot credit: Sam McMahon

Then it was Confidence Man, Dry Cleaning and Ed Gamble going head-to-head on different stages (or maybe it was the West Australian feminist comedy circus troupe, Yuck, “We’re not lightly throwing around women’s issues – we’re literally throwing women!”). 

An ever-growing ring of camping chairs creates Latitude’s own golden circle in the main arena for the biggest draw of Friday night – a huge audience shouldering in to see Jarvis Cocker rise magically out of the stage for one of the biggest stops on Pulp’s encore tour

Downing an espresso in an armchair, tossing handfuls of grapes into the crowd and channelling the spirit of Serge Gainsbourg at a Sheffield disco, Cocker delivers an electric string of greatest hits that’s over far too soon – paper streamers covering Henham Park for a euphoric (if slightly ironic) ‘Common People’.

Credit: Sarah Louise Bennett

By Saturday morning, the pulp of Pulp has turned to mush as the confetti all over the floor melts into a day of heavy rain. 

As the mud deepens, the crowds start to split. Some head for Flowerovlove inside the dry of the BBC Sounds Stage (“How are your energy levels?” she asks, “you up for some jumping?!”, something no one feels like doing much of outside). Some for the comedy tent – Michelle de Swarte asking if anyone knows how to use an Aga (“of course you all f*cking do!”) and Fern Brady narrating a conversation between her two boobs. But some just brave the Obelisk anyway so they can get to sing ‘Three Lions’ with Lightning Seeds, just in time for England v Haiti.

The Big Moon
Credit: Sam McMahon

Then there’s the woozy pop rock of The Big Moon – mixing perfect harmonies with crunchy guitars and crunchier emotions – more than worth a bit of drizzle on the main stage. The weather can’t be helped, but that doesn’t stop Paul Heaton apologising for it (he is the nicest guy in indie pop after all, putting money behind local bars in the vicinity to help with the “cost of greed crisis”). Singing a pristine, sunshiny set with Rianne Downey, Heaton is exactly what everyone needs – playing into a retro set from The Kooks and a magic parting of the clouds before the big headliners.

Saturday night splits Latitude again – half to the indoor firework show of Young Fathers in the BBC Sounds Tent, half to Paolo Nutini’s long-awaited, return to the Obelisk. Singing like Bon Scott, looking like Bobby Gillespie, and bookending every song with psyche-rock intros and outros, Latitude got all of the Nutinis on Saturday night. “To say I was a bit nervous would be an understatement,” he says to a soggy crowd, half of who are already doing karaoke covers of ‘New Shoes’ while he’s layering up caustic guitar lines in front of a blood red screen. 

His biggest hen-party hit comes mid-set, sang in a slightly Dylan accent, before he samples ‘Loaded’ and sings Stealers Wheel instead. 

Paolo Nutini
Credit: Luke Dyson

By Sunday, the rain has gone. Unfortunately, the mud hasn’t – which makes dancing to James a bit tricky. Thankfully though, that’s not really the vibe Tim Booth is going for at midday. “We came on at this time, where there wouldn’t be any noise pollution, so we could do some of our more quiet songs,” he says, taking to the stage with a full choir and symphony orchestra. 

‘Sit Down’ is played at a pin-drop volume, while ‘Dust Motes’ and ‘The Lake’ slow things down to a prayer, but it’s James’ biggest tracks that feel the most transformed. Heard with such a huge cast of musicians and singers, the experience feels suitably religious for a Sunday morning (‘Sometimes’ getting a tear from a violinist, an extra 10 minutes added to the set to fit in ‘Medieval’ and ‘Laid’). 

For anyone whose feet aren’t welded to the sun-dried floor there’s a chance to see Sophie Ellis-Bextor play a surprise acoustic set at the Barclaycard Amp Stage (warming up before taking to the Obelisk), as well as James Acaster’s DJ set (complete with jokes about how bad Barclaycard’s customer service is). 

With the sun now starting to burn, the main stage is now the perfect place for spending the rest of the day singing at the sky – with The Bootleg Beatles running into Ellis-Bextor (complete with mum), The Proclaimers (owning Latitude’s equivalent of the Sunday legend slot) and Mimi Webb (also with mum) before George Ezra’s big closer. 

Coming on to the strains of ‘It’s Not Unusual’, Ezra found himself well on his way to becoming the next Tom Jones – packing a voice like golden syrup and an armful of flawless pop hits to casually fire across a field. Filling the Obelisk with one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, Ezra closed Latitude with a feel-good firework bonanza – ‘Green Green Grass’, ‘Paradise’, ‘Budapest’ and ‘Shotgun’ all impossible not to love. Almost.  

“What’s that noise?”, snaps Siouxsie in the opposite tent, glaring over at the main stage from under her hooded disco druid cape and a backdrop flying bats. “Shut up George Ezra!” Playing a rare UK performance following a ferocious post-punk frenzy from Black Midi, Siouxsie made sure no one in the BBC Sounds tent wished they were anywhere else. 

Terrifying her own music tech when a laptop briefly failed to work (“can I smash it? Let me smash it. I’m gonna smash it in five seconds. Five… four…”), the queen of new wave goth-punk brought dazzling intensity to a set full of anti-anthems.   

Is there anything more Latitude than hearing ‘Spellbound’ overpower the Gold Rush Kid? 

Tickets for Latitude 2024 are on sale now here.