Bury Spy, 18th July 2015
We’re standing in the crushed frenzy of Alt-J’s headline set. It’s coming to the end of their last song – ‘Breezeblocks’ – and we hear some murmuring and jostling behind us. People are leaving. A man next to us receives a text, which he excitedly discusses with his friend in another language. Our Finnish friend interprets for us, and the text is simply a time and a place. The i Arena, 11 o’clock.
No, this isn’t a drug deal taking place – Ed Sheeran is playing a secret set.
As realisation dawns on the crowd, there is a rush across Latitude’s famous bridges. The fountain light show and waterfront stage illuminate hundreds of people running for the woods, past stewards who assure us that nothing is going on, the i Arena is full and that the bridge is closed. And yet just ten minutes later, Sheeran himself appears on the smallish stage, looking like a festival-goer himself in his trademark-casual lumberjack shirt and jeans. With a slightly mischievous smile, he greets the crowd.
“It’s so incredible to be playing here at Latitude” he croons, “I’m just so happy to be here.” As a man next to me in the crowd remarks, for an artist who’s just sold out the Wembley Arena for three consecutive nights, Sheeran has a remarkably humble stage voice.
From there, he begins a hugely diverse and fun set: switching between Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ and his own material with just a few taps of his loop pedal, launching into Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ and then delivering the opening lines of his autobiographical rap – ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’.
On a tiny stage at the corner of a festival in his own county, the Framlingham-born and globally-renowned artist grinned into the audience with the joy of performing a completely liberal set list, in front of a crowd of people who’d just discovered the gig is happening through the ripple of Chinese whispering happening at the Obelisk Arena.
In essence, he was back at a pop-up gig of the start of his career, playing a no-gimmicks performance with his loop station and a variety of guitars. Latitude’s audience has a famously eclectic music taste – Seasick Steve followed by Boomtown Rats, anyone? – but every member knew every word and screamed them back at the stage. Ed played for about an hour and a half – running over the hour he promised – with just one more, and one more.
This year is Latitude’s tenth birthday, and much media hype was made of the lineup before its announcement. Those disappointed with an excellent-but-not-exceptional list of artists will be angry they didn’t get tickets, as a major headliner was dropped on the audience last night as a treat. This sort of arrangement strikes to the heart of the spirit of Latitude – it’s a festival for the true enjoyment of music and a celebration of the arts, not a corporate profit-fest. Ed Sheeran’s secret gig was a perfect illustration of that principle, and it was a damn good set to boot.