Latitude festival review: George Ezra, Pulp, Sophie Ellis Bextor... and psychedelic sheep

George Ezra on stage at Latitude Festival  (Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)
George Ezra on stage at Latitude Festival (Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

The back of his trademark denim jacket read Gold Rush Kid, but George Ezra ended his 18-month tour on the final night of Latitude as more of a Good Time Bloke returning to his spiritual home, four years after he last headlined Suffolk’s cultivated weekend of music, comedy, debate and psychedelic sheep. If Latitude had a face, it would be British comedian Marcus Brigstocke. A personality: fellow comedian (and Brigstocke’s partner) Rachel Parris. A sound? Ezra’s tropical soul pop.

Yet as Latitude has gently evolved – the literary panels of old giving way to a podcastocalypse of Taskmaster alumni, and the David Cameron set now wooed with a banquet tent (guest speakers: Brigstocke and Parris) – musically it has mastered blending the safe with the seditious. Headlining Friday over the synthetic alt-pop of Metronomy and Confidence Man, for instance, Pulp were a lesson in nefarious nostalgia, oozing from the melodically sublime (Disco 2000, Common People) to the seedily salacious (Pink Glove, This is Hardcore) while Jarvis Cocker once more proved himself angle-poised of disco shape, dry of wit and a reliable supplier of free grapes.

Likewise, Saturday’s headliner Paolo Nutini set out to destroy his bland, blue-eyed reputation with a set heavy on the Doors-meets-AC/DC acid rock bits of recent album Last Night in the Bittersweet. A fine attempt was unfortunately upstaged by the phenomenal Young Fathers, and their ferocious, howling and somewhat terrifying gospel punk assault on the BBC Sounds tent. Even their cries of “Get up and party!” sounded like the demands of a rebel death squad.

Manchester indie legends James opened Sunday with a magnificent hour of orchestral arrangements: Tomorrow was a rising tempest of strings, Say Something a choral wonder, and Laid an ecstatically horny prom. From there, the festival’s dichotomy fled to its camps. The seditious wing occupied the BBC tent, where Gwenno unravelled her druidic Cornish protest songs, and post-everything experimentalists Black Midi basically did squealing donuts on music’s face for an hour.

Meanwhile, the main Obelisk stage was left in the safest of hands. Squinting from a distance, The Bootleg Beatles were heart-warmingly convincing. Sophie Ellis-Bextor delivered a masterclass disco inferno dressed as Glastonbury’s rainbow ribbon tower. And, closing the weekend, Ezra proved an expert lifter of communal spirits. With a voice as cosy as a 15-tog twinsie, he was feel-good personified as he led the crowd in singalongs to glossy hoedown Cassy O’ or the poolside party soul of Gold Rush Kid. There’s an escapism to Ezra’s songs, too, that fellow soul revivers often lack: Saviour evoked dark southern borderlands while lovelorn travelogue Barcelona was a fading holiday snapshot of a song.

So concerned was Ezra that we had “the best weekend” that he even timed Manila’s brief foray into insipid soul pop to coincide with Siouxsie Sioux playing Kiss Them for Me in the BBC tent. On our return a steel-drum carnival broke out during Blame It on Me, Paradise came on like The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles sprinting all the way back again, and a final Shotgun went off with a celebratory kick. Good times, kid.