Monday, 20 July 2015

Latitude - "like a Guardian readers' convention"

This year marks ten years of the Latitude Festival. Having gone yesterday, I can say that I've been, in part or in whole, to half of them (the other four being 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014). It's changed a bit in that time - it's a bit bigger, with a few more stages, and a bit more corporate (yurts sponsored by Pepsi Max, anyone?) but essentially remains the best (and most manageable) multi-disciplinary festival. I've changed a bit too. Now I know that going on your own isn't the ideal way to experience a festival but that was also the case in 2012 and 2014 as well, and did I enjoy myself as much yesterday as I have in previous years? No. Were there moments when I wished I was somewhere else? Yes. Did I, as on every previous occasion, leave last night with a burning desire to buy an album or a book by someone I hadn't heard/read previously but had discovered as Latitude? No. So, will I be going next year...? Probably not...but you never know. Depends who the headliners are. Anyway, whilst not reaching the heights of past glories, my day in the scorched dustbowl of Henham Park was still a good one. Here, in the best tradition of my old festival diaries, is what I saw.

    Nina Conti, vent, at Latitude 2015
  • Nina Conti : Cabaret stage. The only time all day I couldn't get in somewhere, so I watched Nina through a tent flap. As I might have written before, I'm a big fan of Nina and whilst her vent sidekick Monkey is where she's most comfortable, the biggest laughs of her set were reserved for making puppets of a whole family, strapping them into prosthetic mouths and them giving them all distinct voices. I know I haven't described that very well, so if the distant pic of Nina doing this with the family's mum comes out okay I'll add it to this post later so you can see what I mean.
  • Cobain: Montage Of Heck : Film & TV Arena. It might seem like a wasteful use of precious festival time to spend over an hour and a half watching a film but I missed this at the cinema and was keen to catch it whilst I could. And what an excellent film it is, making extensive use of rich archive material, interspersed with animated versions of Kurt's notebooks and interviews with most (though not all - Dave Grohl is largely absent) of the key players in this tale. Mum, dad, stepmother, girlfriend, wife - they all get a chance to have their say, and deflect blame from themselves. My only slight issue was with the use of animation based on Kurt's notebooks and doodles, specifically that there was no indication that the source material was contemporaneous to the issue it was being used to illustrate.
  • Eddie Argos : Poetry Arena. Lead man with Art Brut, Eddie's show was called something along the lines of How To Make It In A Band, but it was really just a stream of consciousness series of anecdotes about being in lots of bands, and having a mild whiff of success. It was quite funny in places though.
  • Bob Geldof at Latitude 2015
  • The Boomtown Rats : Obelisk Arena. Fair play to Sir Bob and the boys for not just delivering a greatest hits set. Unsurprisingly though, those hits were the only songs to really energise the crowd - the less well-known material, at times, veered too close to self-indulgence. But fair play, again, to Bob for suitably Geldofian crowd interaction: having drawn attention to his "pretend snakeskin suit", he proceeded to lambast the audience for their "crap t-shirts and weekend shorts", concluding that we were "dressed liked cunts". And I can't deny, he had a point.
  • Too Much Information : Wellcome Trust Hub. On my way to the smaller of the Greenpeace tents for the best value tea and cake on site, I popped into the Faraway Forest and found the Wellcome Trust Hub (you see, so corporate) and listened to some academics talk about stress and how information overload is contributing. It was shady, quiet and uncrowded - I felt my own festival stress drop away. I also learnt that extreme childhood trauma creates a trajectory for higher stress response throughout life, so how you handle the rough stuff isn't just genetic, it's a product of your early life. So early, in fact, that pregnant mothers exposed to extreme stress are unknowingly skewing the stress response of their as-yet unborn offspring, making them less able to deal with it. Who knew?
  • Young Fathers : BBC 6Music stage. I went to see these on the strength of their description in the festival programme and implicit 6Music endorsement, but I knew this wasn't for me within half a song. Shame.
  • Susanne Sundfør : i Arena. Having bombed out of the 6Music stage much earlier than expected, I stumbled off into the woods in search of something interesting. And I found it: Susanne is from Norway, has a superb, soaring voice and an endearing stage presence. At first I wasn't overly enamoured with the synth-pop backing - it seemed a little too strident - but I persevered, moved a little bit further back into the trees, and listened to Susanne's entire set whilst collecting my thoughts.
  • Jason Manford : Comedy Arena. I'm not a huge fan of Manford, but as I was passing I stuck my head in. Latitude has learnt its lesson from years gone by, and the Comedy tent is now massive - gone are the days of as many people listening in from outside as there are in the tent. Anyway, part of the reason I didn't warm to Manford is that he seems a tiny bit too pleased with the success he's had - I lost count of the subtle references to DVD recordings and how a tented festival show is very different to playing large theatres or doing television. His best material came at the end - whilst hardly original, he got big laughs, even from your curmudgeonly reviewer, from the rich comic seam of his young children, and his successes (and failures) in parenting them.
  • Pippa Evans : Cabaret stage. As an antidote to the One Show comedy of Manford, Pippa's "There Are No Guilty Pleasures" show was a comic delight. Comedy, songs... comedic songs, Pippa does it all. And gets out into the crowd to absolve the audience of their guilty pleasure sins at the end of the show. Recommended.
  • Nicky Wire and GOT banner at Latitude 2015
  • Manic Street Preachers : Obelisk Arena. I wonder how often the Manics play a festival but aren't the headliners? Whatever, this was the reason I had chosen Sunday for my day ticket, so it is with a degree of reluctance that I report the Manics were okay, bordering on really good, but no better. Dare I even say that their set and performance seemed a bit perfunctory at times? They rattled through plenty of hits (opening with Motorcycle Emptiness, closing with Design For Life, and Everything Must Go, You Love Us and lots more in-between. Sure, James and Nicky bounced up and down a bit, but it just seemed a bit... MSP by numbers. Maybe I should have got nearer the stage, it might have seemed a bit different. Side note - I watched someone make their way from the back of the arena right to the front, during Motorcycle Emptiness, holding a banner that read "You know nothing Jon Snow." Any ideas, anyone?
  • Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine : Literature Arena. What happens when you mix a popular crime novelist with a country and western duo? This is what happens. Mark was reading from his latest, and it was interspersed with songs from My Darling Clementine. C&W isn't really my thing, but I've read a disproportionate amount of Billingham's output, and this was pleasant enough. It didn't make me want to seek out the new book though, if that's what it was, primarily because it didn't feel authentic - in a departure for Billingham, here he's writing about the US, not the UK, and he just doesn't know it enough. Casual references to Walmart and "having a soda" just seem a bit...obvious? Tired? Clichéd?
  • Roni Size Reprazent : Film & TV Arena. Now this is not my usual cup of tea, which is ironic given that I only happened upon Roni et al whilst queueing to get a cuppa. The tent was rammed, and lots of people were watching through the open doors because the energy that was pouring forth was palpable. So too was the effect the music was having on the crowd inside the tent, for it was simply a sea of writhing limbs, pulsing under a kinetic light-show. Quite incredible to behold, and more than enough to make me overcome my Pavlovian response and stop to listen. A real bonus.
  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds : Obelisk Arena. With a pleasing symmetry, my drive to the festival had been accompanied by Noel's Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, during which I was impressed not only by his taste in music but also by how affable he has become, and how thoughtful too. Measured, almost. I can't say I've bought either album by The High Flying Birds, so I was intrigued to read the most recent is the UK's best selling album on 2015 so far. And actually, on the basis of this show, I can see why. I was also surprised to see kids who weren't even around at the time singing along to old Oasis tracks. Like their contemporaries, Blur and Pulp, it seems that Oasis really have entered the collective national consciousness in a way that might have seemed unlikely in the mid Nineties. Even so, it was mostly people my age bellowing along with Champagne Supernova, Half A World Away and Masterplan. Even Digsy's Dinner got an airing. Set closer Don't Look Back In Anger was the highpoint though, as set closers usually are, and I don't regret staying to hear every note. Noel was funny too, engaging really well with the audience, and knowingly mocking Latitude as being "like a Guardian readers' convention". Which, of course, it is. Anyway...Noel and his Birds flew higher than I'd expected, and were by far the best thing I saw all day.
Noel Gallagher at Latitude 2015
Noel adopts his best Pete Townshend pose
And that was that. Because I stayed for every last note, I was far from the first person back to the car park, and so set a new personal worst (1 hour 20 minutes) for getting out. But that's okay. I caught up with a bit more Radio 4 before switching to Janice Long on Radio 2. God, I'm just a Latitude programmer's dream, aren't I? Which makes it all the more surprising that I'm not sure if I'll go next year. Sure, I still cannot think of a better festival, genuinely. But either this year's programme wasn't as good as in years gone by (maybe because there are just so many festivals these days, and not enough quality acts to go around?) or I've lost a bit of my festival mojo... come back next July to find out which.


  1. I'm guessing the Jon Snow placard was something to do with Game of Thrones. Not sure about the Manics connection though. I would have gone to see the Rats, the Manics and Eddie Argos...

    1. Ah, that makes a bit of sense. Isn't there a Manics song that begins with a quote from GoT? I was thinking of the Channel 4 newsreader.

      Geldof kept calling the festival Ratitude, in the hope that it would gain traction with the crowd. It didn't.