Tuesday 22 July 2008

Latitude attitude

Somewhere amongst those lights... Franz Ferdinand at Latitude 2008
I've just got back from the Latitude Festival in Suffolk, and you know what? It was bloody amazing! Unlike so many other festivals, Latitude isn't just about music, but all the arts, so there are book readings, poetry, theatre, cinema, art installations, comedy and so much more. I couldn't fit everything I wanted to in, literally because there was so much going on, and often the things I wanted to see clashed. The comedy tent was particularly popular, so I couldn't get to see Bill Bailey or Ross Noble, as I'd hoped. Oh well, there's always next year. Until then, here's a summary of what I did manage to see - my Latitude diary, if you will...

  • The Now Show : Radio 4 Arena. Watched through the window of an over-full tent, but still funny.
  • Arcola Theatre - The Miniaturists : Theatre Arena. Short but utterly engaging plays.
  • Music In Spheres : On The Lake. A flautist in a giant plastic bubble, floating on a lake. Really.
  • Tim Clare : Poetry Arena. His "Favourite Things" is a work of genius...
  • Ross Sutherland : Poetry Arena. Erstwhile poetry with which to close the "warm-up" night.
  • Vox'n'roll - A. L. Kennedy : Literary Arena. Deceptively funny.
  • Vox'n'roll - Nikita Lalwani : Literary Arena. No easy task, following Alice. Her book is probably better than she read it.
  • Daniel Rigby : Comedy Arena. Would have been funnier, I'm sure, if I hadn't had to crane my neck in from outside the comedy tent because I'd gone to get some drinks from the bar at an inopportune moment and then couldn't squeeze back in when he started.
  • Ben Moor - Not Everything Is Significant : Theatre Arena. Went to see him on the basis that he was in the year above me at school. Insanely intelligent then, nothing has changed - his one-man show was funny, clever and thought-provoking. And he gave out free badges afterwards, which was nice.
  • British Sea Power : Obelisk Arena. They tried hard, and "Waving Flags" hit the spot. Nice string section.
  • Lee Mack : Comedy Arena. Razor-sharp comic.
  • Lucy Porter: Comedy Arena. Why is she always described as "one of the funniest female comedians on the circuit", as if it's amazing that she's both female and funny. She's just brilliant. And TMC too.
  • Phill Jupitus reads Dickens : Literary Arena. A bit grumpy, which was a shame.
  • Durang Durang : Theatre Arena. Seven short, and odd, plays.
  • Franz Ferdinand : Obelisk Arena. Main-stage highlight of the whole festival, probably. Better than expected, and new material had a satisfying harder edge.
  • Tangled Feet : On The Lake. Captivating dialogue-free theatre using festival-style tents as prompts. Beautiful, moving.
  • The Factory - Hamlet : On The Lake/In The Woods. Theatre at its most involving, as the cast used props from the audience and interacted with their environment. Best Hamlet I've seen.
  • Team Waterpolo : Obelisk Arena. Caught by accident, whilst waiting for Ida Maria, who cancelled. Made a nice noise.
  • Wordtheatre - Hearts Aflame : Literary Arena. Letter of love and hate were read aloud by an impressive cast, including David Soul which, for someone like me who grew up on Starsky and Hutch, was very exciting!
  • Guillemots: Uncut Arena. Promising enough to make me want to get their album, though we had to leave early to catch...
  • Elbow: Obelisk Arena. Musically excellent but, I think, better suited to an earlier time slot or a smaller stage. The crowd were a bit muted.
  • Tick Tock Lullaby + Q&A : Music & Film Arena. A moving film about a lesbian couple who want to have a child. Interesting Q&A with Lucy Gornick, the film's producer/director/writer/star afterwards.
  • Mark Lamarr with God's Jukebox: Music & Film Arena. Like a festival within a festival, the Fifties throwback introduced:
    • Pete Molinari. Not a genre I would often listen to but brilliant live. Johnny Cash covers got the crowd jumping.
    • The Heavy. Hard-rocking and with a charismatic frontman. Another new album to buy!
    • James Hunter. R&B? Soul? Blues? Rockabilly? All of the above? Excellent, good-time live music.
    • Eli 'Paperboy' Reed & The True Loves. He wants to be James Brown, though clearly isn't. Good try though, even if he did put me in mind of a dodgy TV evangelist...
    • Buzzcocks. 32 years to the day since they formed, the punk veterans performed a blistering (and ear-drum popping) greatest hits set. Whilst Steve Diggle still looked a bit angry, Pete Shelley looked like someone's dad (or granddad), but that didn't matter... as the moshpit chaos testified, this was awesome.
  • Hold Fire : Sunrise Arena. Immediately a favourite new band. So polished for ones so young, and easy to imagine them playing (and wowing) much, much bigger stages than this.
  • Vox'n'roll - Esther Freud & Julia Blackburn : Literary Arena. Missed Esther's half of this double-header, but Julia reading about her mother was both comic and moving.
  • Paul Torday : Literary Arena. Nervous reading to such a big group, Paul was just getting going when he decided to stop and take questions instead. At least he gave some good answers.
  • Wordtheatre - The Affairs Of Others : Literary Arena. Readings from Sally Hawkins, Juliet Stephenson, Maureen Lipman and David Soul - all stunning! Met Maureen afterwards and, as you would expect, she was lovely.
  • Vauxhallville's Bargain Bin-Go : Cabaret Arena. Utterly surreal. Playing bingo. For crap prizes. In a tent. With a drag queen host(ess). Somehow, fun.
  • FrYars : Sunrise Arena. Described as a new Jarvis Cocker but put me more in mind of early Talking Heads - no bad thing!
  • Disco Shed : Pandora's Playground. If I should ever get married, I'd like this disco at the reception.
  • The Shortwave Set : Sunrise Arena. I like a band that makes an effort; even if their music didn't fire me, at least their matching outfits made an impression.
  • Tangled Feet : In The Woods. Because we only caught the second half on Friday, we watched the whole thing again, this time in the woods. Wonderful.
  • Robin Ince's Book Club & School For Gifted Children : Literary Arena. In which a fight nearly broke out between enraged parents. The word "sanctimonious" was thrown as hard as any punch.
  • ??? : Literary Arena. Quite hard to sell a song about light's wave-particle duality called "Luminiferous Ether" but someone (didn't catch his name, and not listed in the programme) tried.
  • Gavin Osborn : Literary Arena. A couple of songs, including a lovely cover of Billy Bragg's "Tank Park Salute".
  • Joanna Neary : Literary Arena. With only 2.5 minutes of stage time, Joanna made her mark with an impression of Bj√∂rk...
  • Vox'n'roll - Joe Dunthorne : Literary Arena. I want to buy his book, "Submarine" on the strength of this reading.
  • Vox'n'roll - Doug Johnstone : Literary Arena. Read from his book about a fictional band called The Ossians, then played some tracks that he'd written for them. Both aspects great!
  • Vox'n'roll - Toby Litt : Literary Arena. The lights went out on Toby, so he read by the light of a torch proffered from the crowd. Then he was heckled by rain-evading gig-goers who hadn't set foot in the Literary Arena all weekend until then. Handled it well. And god, his new book sounds good.
  • Dave Gorman : Literary Arena. Also heckled by the rain-evaders, but handled it even better. Funnier than most of the Comedy Arena, no doubt, he read from his new book, answered all manner of questions, took our photo and did a break-dance move as he left the stage. A highlight.
  • Vox'n'roll - Dan Kieran : Literary Arena. Had the unenviable task of trying to follow Dave. He gave it a go though, and you have to admire that.
So, Latitude... all in all, brilliant - it's hard to think of a better way to spend a few days, to be honest, even with the sporadic and unpredictable weather, a broken tent pole and, ahem, "interesting" toilet facilities. I'm wary of over-egging it, if truth be told, because it's going to get even more popular when people like you read things like this, and then it will lose some of it's charm. So, err, you know, it was crap, save your money and don't bother with it next year, right? Thanks. But if you do go... well, you'll see me there.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Strange days in the garden

Next time you're out in the garden, or in a park, or just out and about in the countryside, keep your eyes peeled. For strange things are happening! Bees are disappearing. Carnivorous albino slugs are being discovered. And unidentified new species of insect are appearing in odd places...

So keep a close watch on what's going on in the back yard - you could be witnessing evolution... or environmental revolution!

Monday 14 July 2008

The big smoke

At first glance...?
I took a trip down to London on Saturday, primarily to see King Lear at The Globe. And that was very good, powerful, gripping and, above all, a genuine theatrical experience. But that was not the highlight of the day. Arriving mid-afternoon and crossing the bridge from Embankment Tube, first port of call was Volume, an audio-visual installation at the Southbank Centre, followed quickly by the always-fun Appearing Rooms fountain. Then it was into the Royal Festival Hall to take in a recital by acclaimed classical saxophonist Amy Dickson (who might also warrant an entry in last month's discussions of TMC...), before finding a spot outside the Hayward Gallery to listen to Lemn Sissay read poems from the rooftop (including the beautiful "Invisible Kisses"). Then it was on to Tate Modern to take in some street art, notably JR's paste-up (pictured, left) on the front of the building. The walking tour that followed, to take in other works, was a little disappointing from an artistic point of view, but as a means of exploring the streets of Southwark it was fascinating. Particularly interesting was the Cross Bones Graveyard, an unconsecrated cemetary, once the last resting place of prostitutes, or "Winchester geese" as they were known. A walk back along the river got us to The Globe in time for Lear - in such good time, in fact, that we had just enough slack in our packed programme for pre-show hot-dog ciabattas (brilliant) and some traditional cloudy lemonade. Three and a half hours of engrossing Shakespearean tragedy later and we were walking back to Embankment again, with just time to stop en route and take in Swing Night with the Charleston Chasers outside the National Theatre.

All in all, a wonderful day. In case you're wondering, the highlight, in a day of highs, was "Invisible Kisses"... What's that quote, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life"? Well, when you're tired of the Southbank, you're tired of London... I think I'll book a return trip for next month...

Thursday 3 July 2008

Change resistant

A Romanian town has re-elected its Mayor... even though he's dead. No, really. When asked why they had chosen to vote this way, rather than for the (very much alive) opposition, one woman replied, "I know he died, but I don't want change." I'm not making this up - unless the BBC are too...

Tuesday 1 July 2008

If I could be who you wanted

Musical genius
As I mentioned last month, I went to see Radiohead at the weekend and, as expected, they were staggering - for reviews of the gig, the set list and other good stuff, check out the impressively comprehensive Green Plastic. For me, the undoubted highlight of the night was a beautiful rendition of Fake Plastic Trees from The Bends, my favourite Radiohead album. Here are the lyrics, more or less:
A green plastic watering can,
For a fake chinese rubber plant,
In fake plastic earth.

That she bought from a rubber man,
In a town full of rubber plans,
To get rid of itself.

It wears her out. It wears her out. It wears her out. It wears her out.

She lives with a broken man,
A cracked polystyrene man,
Who just crumbles and burns.

He used to do surgery,
On girls in the eighties,
But gravity always wins.

And it wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out.

She looks like the real thing,
She tastes like the real thing,
My fake plastic love.

But I can't help the feeling,
I could blow through the ceiling,
If I just turn and run.

And it wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out.

And if I could be who you wanted,
If I could be who you wanted,
All the time, all the time...
So what do these lyrics mean to you? Are they about Canary Wharf, as Green Plastic seems to suggest? About mass marketing spiralling out of control, as postulated on this song's Wikipedia entry? Or about two people trying to make a relationship work when at least one of them doesn't think it can, as sadly suggested by my gig-going companion?
Answers on a postcard to the usual address... or, you know, you could just comment...