Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Latitude Festival

So, that’s Glastonbury over for another year then. It’s certainly grown since its inception forty years ago, and now seems inextricably linked to the British summer. In fact, such is the constant Glasto-evangelism in the press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that festival season 2010 had already finished. Really, it’s only just beginning; between now and the end of September, fields the length and breadth of the country will be playing host to music, art, performance, food stalls, drink and more portable toilets than you’d ever want to imagine.

All festivals have their own unique selling points, but my heart belongs to one of the relatively new kids on the block: Latitude Festival. Set in Henham Park in North Suffolk, Latitude prides itself on its diverse range of entertainment and family-friendly atmosphere. This may not set your heart racing - Woodstock it ain’t - but in the 21st Century where playing live is how the money is made, festival-going (and, indeed, festival-goers) have dramatically changed. Whereas going to a field to watch bands play used to be the refuge of the insane, it has transformed first into the kind of activity you wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit to in public, then into a kind of rite of passage for anyone with more than a handful of CDs.

There is some amount of sentiment attached to my fondness for the Latitude Festival. I grew up in the Suffolk countryside and though it can be picturesque away from the urban centres, it always seemed like a desolate cultural wasteland during my formative years. Bands always went to London, they often went to Norwich and would occasionally play gigs in nearby Colchester too, but towns in Suffolk, particularly county-town Ipswich, appeared to have been left off the map when bands planned their nationwide tours. I first ventured to Latitude in 2008 and even had the entertainment been somewhat lacking, it would have at least been a step forward for the area as far as I was concerned. Happily, Latitude proved to be a joyful collision of all different forms of entertainment in a convivial atmosphere, set away in the woods in what could almost be its own private world.

For the attendee with no tribal attachments, what sets Latitude apart from its UK peers is the sheer range of acts to see. Yes, there are music stages (four, in fact) with the level of acts you’d expect from any mid-size festival but that really is the tip of the iceberg. Latitude’s comedy tent boasts an impressive line-up throughout its three days, as does the poetry arena, the cabaret arena and the theatre arena, which this year has more than one performance from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

If this all sounds a bit middle-class, that’s probably because it is - not for nothing has it occasionally been dubbed “Latte-tude”. Radio 4 have broadcast from the festival before, and this year for the first time, the second stage is to be curated by The Word, described as “the thinking person’s music magazine”. This continues an impressive trend; Latitude may have been small when it began (Stephen Fretwell fourth on the main stage, anyone?) but in the year of its fifth anniversary, it can attract some of the biggest names in popular music, such as woman-of-the-moment, Florence and the Machine.

So, you can keep your Glastonbury with a population the size of Leicester (half of whom seem to be waving giant flags) and I’m fine for T in the Park, thanks. To be honest, I don’t fancy a trip to the Isle of Wight or Reading and Download isn’t my scene. I’ve my reservations about Summer Sundae and I’ll be giving Hop Farm a miss if it’s all the same with you. The most enticing place to be this summer is the fields of Suffolk with a pint of lager and the sun (hopefully) on your back. That’s where you’ll find me anyway, whether I’m in the front row for Belle and Sebastian, laughing to the sarcastic monologues of Rich Hall, watching Mark Lamarr’s radio show with Geno Washington or thinking up new and inventive ways to smuggle one of the numerous pink sheep out of the site. While the number of festivals is apparently increasing exponentially year on year, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. You could do far worse with your summer than take a trip to the East of England and join the Latitude crowd.

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