I spent last weekend in the Suffolk countryside at Latitude Festival. It’s taken a few days to recover from the glorious loveliness of it all. This was my fourth year and it was the best so far. The sun shone every day, there were two spectacular night-time thunderstorms, the vibe was happy; there was lots of dancing and plenty of unexpected pleasures. Over the weekend I must have seen hundreds of bands, a German comedian, a debate on the miner’s strike, a Q & A with Nick Broomfield, interpretive dance based around a gigantic double bed, four poets and an off programme reading from Jon Ronson. The other half got to see Anna Calvi (again), David Bailey, scientists debate Orwell and lots of noisy indie music. The kids made wands, dinosaurs, fire, barbecued bread, climbed trees and swung out of them on zip wires then learned circus skills and how to be a rock journalist. There was always something for everyone.
I’ve had a quick read of some of the reviews of the festival on newspaper websites (most of them glowing) but in the comments section of nearly every article someone has written that Latitude has a shit music line up, and is basically a field full of Tim Henman clones and their kids. This is bizarre because the comment is made by a different person every time. Either it is lazy plagiarism or it is one nutter posting his ‘quip’ everywhere under many names. I’ve decided the latter is more interesting but I can’t help wondering why this individual made the trip in the first place. Didn’t he look into it before buying a ticket? Did he not see it billed as a family-friendly arts festival? More than just a music festival. Latitude is safe and welcomes any age group. It’s not like I’d put up my camping chair near the stage at Reading and moan about there being too many drunken metalheads.
Maybe the obsessive quipper is one of the 300 psychopaths Jon Ronson was talking about when he read from his book The Psychopath Test to a small gathering at the Pan MacMillan tent. This was one of those gigs you just stumble upon and Ronson was funny and self-depreciating. The book is a few years old but it’s well worth revisiting. Apparently roughly one person in every hundred is a psychopath, so out of the 30,000 at Latitude there were approximately 300 milling about. I spent much of the next few days trying to spot them – the posh bloke who pushed to the front of the Green Peace Café queue was a definite, as was the guy who knocked my twelve-year old out of the way because he was pulling his own heir to the throne too fast in a covered baby wagon. Another possible was the unseen person who threw a half-eaten avocado at us but I think this was probably because it didn’t taste like a pear and was from ASDA rather than Waitrose.
There’s no getting away from it Latitude is a nice, middle class festival. The only way to enjoy it is to accept the fact and discover its delights. Wander through woods decorated with bright fish and feathers, splash out on a flower garland or Native American headdress, have a chat with the neon sheep (much brighter colours this year according to my kids). There’s a barber and a pedicurist in the trees and comfy sofas for lounging in and listening to acoustic sets in the Lavish Lounge as you sip freshly ground coffee or artisan lager. If you are coming for hipster bands you will find them but they are not the main focus. Latitude is about being exposed to things you wouldn’t normally go to.
Among my favourite things this year was the poetry tent. I took my son to see Rob Auton. If you haven’t seen him you should because he’s brilliant. One minute shouty and irreverent, like Rik Mayall’s people’s poet, then next bringing a tear to the eye with a poem about a Lego sunset. The audience join in, shout out and get singled out for ridicule. It was here I also caught my old tutor Catherine Smith looking glam and reading a funny-bitter poem about a dead wife stalking her husband and his new bride, and saw Michael Rosen and Attila The Stockbroker take part in Mining the Meaning about poetry and the miner’s strike. I spent more time than usual in the poetry tent this year and it wasn’t even raining!
Emma Freud interviewed Nick Broomfield in the Film Tent. The planned clips were unavailable but we didn’t need them, most of the people in there were fans already; the discussion of Broomfield’s methodology was fascinating and entertaining and the hour passed in a flash.
Outside, on a sunny Sunday morning, I watched Stories from My Unmade Bed with my youngest, a delightful dance dream with coloured feathers and fish hot water bottles, by Page One Theatre.
Music wise I didn’t rate last minute stand in Lily Allen much. I’ve decided she’s Chas n Dave for the teenies. I think I’m too old to get her. It was the same with children’s favourite Haim. Although they rock much more live than they do on their sappily over-produced album, the fact that they were on after Chrissie Hynde made them seem a bit ineffectual. Their constant swearing felt unnatural, like teenagers trying to show us how grown up they are. The large group of friendly twenty-somethings behind us agreed and spent most of the set taking the piss out of them. German comic Henning Wehn had much to say about swearing, chiefly that Germans don’t much ‘because everything works.’ He managed to get the crowd to clap along to a German ‘folk song’ with a plea for polite interaction before informing us that it was last sung around 1945.
The best music came from people I’d never heard of. Swedish voodoo combo Goat were visually jaw-dropping and very danceable. With their astonishing outfits and nonstop percusssion they were probably the best music act of the festival. Another highlight was watching Brightonian Rag n Bone Man and his mate Stig of The Dump belt out a gravely soul hip hop hybrid. It was a perfect way to spend half an hour relaxing under the shade of a tree. Close to us was a couple with a baby and a woman in her seventies who had come in for the day to meet her kids (in their fifties) everyone enjoyed the show. This is what Latitude is all about.
If you were at The Obelisk stage on Sunday afternoon and didn’t dance to supergroup Atomic Bomb, featuring members of Hot Chip, The Beastie Boys and Scritti Politi as well as a few hundred others, you must have been asleep. There was so much joy onstage you couldn’t help but play along. I was a bit disappointed by the lacklustre set from Damon Albarn on Saturday and left early but my husband and son stayed and got to sing along to all the oldies with a thunder and lightning backdrop. Temples in the 6 Music tent were awesome but there was hardly anyone there. The same could not be said of Sunday headliners, The Black Keys who were as brilliant as ever, and very much adored by the enormous crowd.
Overheard at the last toilet stop was an anguished cry of, ‘they’ve run out of fucking sanitizer!’ to which someone else quipped, ‘yeah and the haloumi sold out.’