There’s only one review of Latitude that counts, and that’s mine. I kid – anyone’s but mine. I went having never attended a festival before, not having camped since before Lara was born and, to be honest, I was bloody knackered to start with. All pictures are care of my amazing husband Alex. Do bear in mind also that it wasn’t me just on my tod, as the article suggests. The nearest I came to putting up the tent was attaching the interior bed compartment using the toggles.
I’m a virgin. A festival virgin. When the opportunity arose to review Latitude festival for the Southwold Organ, it was an impossible invitation to pass up.
And so it was on Thursday afternoon that I found myself pitching a tent and desperate to get my hands on an elusive programme detailing the delights that awaited further afield in the myriad of tents and stages. While the lack of full schedules prior to the festival had been disappointing, the official programme promised delights from Bloc Party, Foals, Eddie Izzard, Kraftwerk and many others.
A stroll into the main arena in search of dinner led me to a wondrous sight – every kind of food was available, as well as several ‘bars’ offering your beverage of choice in a Latitude eco pint glass, or rather, plastic. Latitude have a great eco policy and the provision of recycling facilities throughout the site was notable.
Having taken in the atmosphere and walked the main areas to familiarise myself with the stages, I chanced upon Studio Festi performing their stunning Water Dance upon the lake. The beauty of an aerial ballet whilst suspended from a moon-like sphere combined with ballerinas upon giant swans was merely a reminder that entering a festival is like entering a wonderland, an escape from the real world and a celebration of the arts. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I was taken in by Craig Charles’ funk and soul DJ set in the middle of the woods. Alas, while the festival stalwarts were being hyped up by this showman, it was time for me to retire to bed.
As Friday morning rolled around, I started the day with a bit of a self indulgent geek fest – celebrating the 50th anniversary of a certain time travelling chap, And Remember… We Care productions gave us Dr Who and the Latitudes which left everyone chortling with enough in-jokes to keep us nerds happy and plenty of pop culture references to keep the whole audience laughing. Spit the K9 Dog, anyone? I then strolled over to the Obelisk arena – no-one seems in any great rush at a festival which is a real break from the whirlwind of every day life – to an uplifting opening set from The Leisure Society. Such a bright and fun performance followed, with dedications to festival goers and ukuleles used to great effect.
From there I bounced over to the comedy tent, lapping up the great talent available. Lee Nelson made a brilliant MC and drew the crowd together. Nick Helm and the Helmettes gave a great performance, true to their gross overuse of profanity, but this did come to alienate what was an otherwise willing audience.
Hot footing it back over to the Obelisk arena, I and hundreds of others relaxed in the beautiful sunshine to the summer sounds of Tim Burgess. His laid back attitude was the perfect accompaniment to the hottest day of the festival, with his summery track Oh No I Love You getting the crowd to their feet. Particular note should go to the lead guitarist [Ed: think this is Mark Collins, original Charlatans guitarist, but no confirmation] who made light work of some great solos.
A short interlude for lunch and it was back to the Comedy Tent for Tiffany Stevenson, a change from the schedule appearance but a welcome one at that. Her wry observational quips regarding middle class life were appropriate for a festival where the majority of attendees were just that, a point made by many of the comedians and acts throughout the weekend.
I was fortunate enough to have been passing the BBC 6 Music arena in time to catch some of Beth Orton’s set. Orton has taken her time to return to the public eye, crafting her latest songs to perfection. Her beautiful tones reverberated through the tent with everyone both inside and out of the venue hooked.
By the early evening it was time to settle in to the main arena for a brilliant line up of acts taking me through the night. Cat Power and her awesomely smoky vocals were lapped up by a packed audience in a set including Cherokee and Metal Heart. Next up were the Maccabees. I was privileged to be allowed access to the Vodafone VIP tower, a viewing platform with fantastic sightlines to the stage. From here it was clear to see that the boys were loving the atmosphere just as much as those watching. Love You Better had everyone jumping and whooping as did Pelican.
The main stage headliners for the night were introduced by Steve Lamacq for BBC 6 Music as part of a live broadcast. Bloc Party played their longest set ever to a packed arena with a terrific mix of tracks from their current album ‘Four’ and audience pleasers including Helicopter and Once More Chance. Kele is a great front man taking mic time to interact directly with the audience. An incredible light show accompanied the band throughout their set. This combined with the brilliant performance overall made this my favourite act of the weekend. Simultaneously, Texas were headlining the BBC 6 Music Stage – the dazzling circus style tent you will have seen accompanying any mention of Latitude Festival. Despite the day’s heat, Sharleen Spiteri positively bounced her way through the set and went down a storm mixing older hits – I Don’t Want A Lover, Halo – with their new songs.
With Bloc Party’s lasers still searing through the sky, I headed over to the Literary Tent for the evening’s final treat – an interview with Jeremy Dyson, co-creator of the League Of Gentlemen, on his latest novel The Haunted Book. An insightful interview on what scares the human psyche left me with a need to get my hands on that book. (Edit: It’s my birthday in a fortnight. That’s your hint. ) No need for a twitchy walk back to basecamp through the forest though – with impromptu parties, acts and DJs playing through the night, my route was lit with other festival goers enjoying the festivities.
Latitude’s motto is ‘More Than Just A Music Festival’ and Saturday would prove just that. Beginning the day with a mooch around the festival to take in the sights was a great choice. After a good old sausage buttie, I walked through the Outdoor Theatre – less a theatre and more a performance space for dozens of acts, some in the open and some encased in small boxed house facades. Performances at Latitude range from those to thousands and those to just four – how many audience members can you really fit in a shed? From there, a walk through the Children’s Area where innumerous activities took place alongside child-focused performances and a stunning helter skelter.
My first musical act of the day was Gaz Coombes, formally of Supergrass and now a successful artist in his own right. With his dreamy piano tracks infused with melodic electronica, he was the perfect start to the Saturday. At the same time, Matt Rees was the lead in before the main act in the comedy tent. Chortle Best Newcomer nominee 2012, Rees was a stand out stand up with advice on how to deal with life’s little troubles. Then one of the festival’s headliners, Dylan Moran. The tent was packed to capacity with many more watching this king of observational comedy on the big screens outside. In a post-50 Shades world, Moran had his own take on erotic literature to enlighten the crowds with.
I had some time to view the vendors on site. Amongst the many food outlets (a massive range of tastes, most high quality) there were a variety of stalls. Popcorn? Ice cream. Hats? Sandals? Wings. Tails. Ponchos? Bubbles? Juggling? Flower headdresses? Bum bags. Glitter? Tattoos – only temporary, mind. Every stall seemed carefully chosen to extol the virtues of a happy festival goer and all were great fun to observe.
King Charles (the performer, not the relic) was a surprise joy to find in the afternoon. He’s country music, but he’s not. He’s a bit Noah And The Whale, but he’s not. He’s a bit Paul Simon, but also not. A real upbeat performer, King Charles quickly became another one of my bands to watch.
I managed to catch the second half of the incredibly popular Ballet Boys upon the Waterfront stage, an amazing platform based as you would imagine on the waterfront to allow an audience from all directions, be they beside the stage or on the opposite bank of the river. The graceful yet powerful dances were a real feast for the eyes and the audience were very appreciative. A festival is quite transient – your audience may disappear after the second song in favour of a different tent. However, the Ballet Boys kept the audience’s attentions throughout.
All this fresh air, good food and walking (you’d not think it’s a healthy lifestyle, festivalling, but it really is) had taken its toll on this normally busy mum so I took my first afternoon nap for years following the excitements of the morning. While I slept, critically acclaimed Trevor Noah took on the comedy tent and won. Daughter gave the audience a treat with their haunting folk echoing from the BBC 6 Music tent. Families met the Gruffalo and Shappi Khorsandi gave the world a piece of her mind, if only she could remember what it was (baby brain).
Refreshed, I returned to the main festival with a dilemma on who to choose. I elected the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and they did not disappoint. Singer Karen O, dressed in an amazing yellow studded shorts suit, positively bounded across the stage and had the audience screaming within seconds of the band’s appearance. For me, their performance was as good as any of the headline acts for the weekend and I’d like to see more of them in the future. In case you’re wondering, my alternative act of choice was Adam Buxton’s Bug, a fantastic comic review of the inanity of the internet as presented by the BFI and as recommended by many of my peers. Next time, Adam, I promise.
An act that surprised the crowds was Ultimate Bowie, an amazing, well numbered band with a fantastic front man in the form of Ed Blaney. Blaney possesses a great physical likeness to Ziggy Stardust but an incredible likeness vocally. Closing my eyes, it was a privilege to imagine myself at a genuine Bowie concert. Wisely, Blaney did not try to convince the audience he was indeed Bowie between numbers, instead sharing his own recollections of Bowie’s performances and banter with the band making this a real treat to have been part of.
And on to the Saturday headliners. Hot Chip are one of the UK’s best pop acts on the scene and they did not disappoint in presenting a showcase of some of their biggest floor fillers interspersed with some surprising new material. Their constantly shifting tunes had the crowd screaming for more. Slipping away, I was able to see one of the highlights of the year’s festival, Richard Ashcroft. For a man who could have lorded over proceedings, he humbly began with an announcement that he was just doing a quick mic check as it was just him and his guitar. There was no need for light shows, big bands or riotous performances. This inspirational songwriter began with some of his old band’s songs to warm up the audience – not that they needed warming up. Within seconds of walking on stage, this seminal performer had everyone in the palm of his hand with his musical soliloquys past and present. A true highlight of the festival.
And then to the main arena for the weekend’s headliners, Kraftwerk. This group has been triumphantly bringing their future electronica to the world for 40 years. To enthrall a new audience, a highly anticipated 3D concert was promised. It was indeed fantastic for those in the front rows, on raked seating, or otherwise taller than 5’8″. For the rest of us, poor sightlines resulted in the audience thinning out drastically through the set. If you build publicity based on a gimmick and it cannot be delivered, people won’t stick around long to hear the music, whatever the quality. This disappointing visual spectacle did not detract from the highly accomplished Kraftwerk, but alas, I don’t believe any new fans were won that day.
For those who disbanded from the main arena throng, other treats awaited. Parties in the Faraway Forest, the cult Disco Shed bringing their fun to Pandora’s Playground, Mark Lamarr’s DJ set in the Film Arena and Duckie’s tried and tested blend of cabaret and music elsewhere.
As the dawn rose on Sunday morning, so did the campsite with the biggest queue for the showers. A good job it was our last day. We chanced upon the Sunday Assembly, a seemingly non-religious church that celebrates life. A rejuvenating set of songs, chats and services finished with a rousing chorus of I Need A Hero. It really seemed to embody the ethos of the festival – let’s just be really happy to be here in this life, doing what we’re doing, and enjoying it.
We chanced upon Les Enfants Terribles’ Imaginary Menagerie, a family show reminiscent of the old travelling snake oil salesmen but set within and around a converted horsebox with the performers appearing through every port hole possible. This incredibly slick, fast paced retelling of fables was a true joy to watch with its mixture of comedy, storytelling, music and puppetry a feast to the eyes.
From what my research on Latitude tells me, it’s the Sunday lunch headliners that really bring in the crowds. For the main arena, Bobby Womack’s soulful tones floated over a packed and appreciative audience. Having received treatment for colon cancer last year, this was impressively not Womack’s first festival of 2013 and I’m sure it won’t be the last. With tracks from his 27th studio album The Bravest Man In The Universe as produced by Damon Albarn and the deep soul tunes which are a beauty to hear, Womack gave the festival a real treat.
Eddie Izzard was just absolutely perfect in the Comedy Tent. This real force of comedy stopped into Latitude amid a worldwide tour and gave the audience a glimpse into his surreal, wild but incredibly clever thoughts. For real fans of Izzard, this set was a complete hoot with so many references to old material dotted amongst the new pieces. I’m continually surprised by Izzard and his time at Latitude was no exception.
With so many more acts I would have loved to have seen: Rudimental, Laura Mvula, Nina Conti, Daniel Kitson, Alan Moore’s latest film project, David Schnieder; it was time to return home, tent and all.
Having popped my festival cherry, I can confirm the following:
For Latitude certainly, it’s a safe, family friendly festival. The unlimited number of activities and acts available is overwhelming. It’s an experience away from the normal hum drum of every day life. It’s freedom and expression. It’s everything you make it.
This year’s Latitude Festival ran from Thursday 18th to Sunday 21st July 2013 at Henham Park, Southwold.