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some ramblings about Latitude fest

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Having only Reading as my previous festival experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Latitude- the “eco-friendly-all-loving-festival”. Would there be one massive main arena? Would there be an equally long trek to the campsite? Would we find our tent sinking into the muddy field? Would we experience erratic anarchy on the final night with flying tents and those lovely trademark festival toilets being ripped out of the ground? No, not really. Latitude was much more chilled out- if painted sheep roamed around Reading the betting is someone would nick one and use it as a crowd mascot. As it’s tag line states, Latitude really is “more than just a music festival”- there’s vast amounts of poetry, literature, theatre, comedy, cabaret, film, art and not to mention all kinds of different food stalls- there was Ben and Jerry’s- Ben and freakin Jerry’s! There was even daisy painted tables to eat your BnJ’s on- small comforts, rarely found at music festivals. I laughed when I saw veggie stalls next door to ostrich meat, but it was just another sign of the diversity of the festival. The weekend was filled with thousands of signature wellingtons, aviators, trilby hats, face paint, henna tattoos, arena tents that looked like the circus and “Florence” flower hair bands. Everywhere.
Arriving at the festival we had the usual trek and queues, but overall it was all pretty short and soon we were walking along the main path. I caught a whiff of industrial cleaner- hello festival toilets. Once we’d pitched the tent in sunny yet extremely windy weather (next to some very flatulent thirty year olds) we walked through “Hollow tree way”. Coming around the corner and out of thick forestry, where one dude’s tent was just one big hammock, we saw a “street” of stalls. There was a Vodafone VW van parked on one side and eccentric hats stall on the other. Turning away, I was shocked to see a fully fledged “supermarket” tent, luring people in. This festival was much more comfortable than I had imagined. Further along there was an “oxygen bar” where, for £3.50, you could grab a well needed oxygen burst.
The entrance gate to the main arena was covered in huge daisies- I really wanted to take one home as a souvenir. One of the main sponsors for the festival was the lovely Gaymers Cider, which was being distributed all over the place- each stage had a little shack bar, which was cool. In the Gaymers “Orchard”, where everyone was laying about in beach chairs, there was a kooky singer who reminded me of Moss from IT Crowd. Not only was he playing some funky Hendrix on the guitar, he had a harmonica and a mini-drum kit that he was playing with his feet. The audience liked him but one avid fan, a young boy, sat extremely close to the low stage, adamantly staring up at him the whole time. 
Walking on, there was a pathway to the “woods” (where Tom Jones or rather “Tommy G” performed on the first night) and ahead was a crossing bridge over the lake. It reminded me of a part of Alton Towers and the general atmosphere on the bridge was exciting with people going off in all sorts of directions. There was a small Theatre space by the water where acts such as RSC and Matthew Bourne performed. Big, colourful, flowered signs of Latitude stood proud on the riverbank where even more beach chairs were lazily spread about. Everywhere you looked there were tall patterned flags. On the water there were huge Lilly pads and Gondola rides and one night there was a “moon” hot air balloon. One thing that was really spectacular was at night, when the fountain would appear on the lake and then, through lasers, imagery would be projected onto the moving water. Random things like this were part and parcel of the festival, especially on the pathway “Into the woods” where we were presented with mini art exhibitions, photo boards and little words of wisdom pinned to various trees. Hidden away was the Latitude piano. I’d been itching to get my hands on this and was so glad that I’d found out where it was- I think the previous year it was placed in the middle of a field. Before me was a dude I shall call “symphony guy”- he looked about 14 but was going on 40 with a pin stripped waistcoat and a lazy cigarette hanging out of his mouth. After analyzing every single note and structure of the symphony he was going to play for us, he belted out some amazing music.
Further into the woods was the sunrise arena where many of the unsigned bands played. Although very small, this became a really popular tent and for good reason with the likes of Kurran and the Wolfnotes (beautifully unique vocals) and the truly awesome Lauren Pritchard (the next Amy Winehouse?). Within this retreat I felt privileged to share these great musicians with such a passionate audience. The confinement of it all heightened the performances and especially at night when things such as “Gentleman’s dub-club” and “Cosmic Underground DJ’s” performed, the atmosphere was incredible. A similar tent could be found in the main arena perched on the hill. During the day it would be selling fresh fruit. At night it turned into a comfortably chaotic rave with old reggae and general motown music thrown in for good measure. That was fun, dancing merrily on a slanting hill.
    The poetry tent was full of diversity- some poets really threw themselves into their work, combining a bit of rapping and beatboxing into it. John Cooper Clarke took the stage by storm on the last night with his usual punky attitude pulling in the largest crowd I’d seen all weekend for the poetry tent. On the first night we arrived after the night’s poetry had just finished. It was a bit disappointing how early they shut shop but we were grateful to crash out onto the bean bags. Just as we were chatting amongst ourselves, some audience members started playing charades which, after a few nervous laughs, incorporated everyone in the tent. There was so much going on, I only saw one person in the literature tent, but it was worth it as it was the legend Sebastian Faulks who was insightfully honest with the audience’s questions.
A lot of my time was spent in the sun listening to the many great comedians that were at the festival. Again, Latitude showed once more its “comfy” nature by putting out sofas for people to sit on. After the new comedians, who were very promising, Philip Jupitus presented the improvisation show, where an enthusiastic audience member shouted that “everyone should die!” prompting some funny situations. Arnol O’Hanlon was very funny and got everyone in the crowd laughing, mainly through his pure sarcasm about Ireland and how in coming to Latitude he had “never been so aroused by women in wellington boots.” Josie Long was a good performance, but started her sketch in character which one audience member took too seriously and ended up having a small but very funny argument with her. The highlight for me though was on the last day when Mark Watson appeared. He was refreshingly non PC and long story short managed to implicate himself into a tricky situation with some 11 year old boys at the front of the audience- it involved a cane, a video camera and the naughty “C” word. Like O’Hanlon, he also took apart his fear of being a parent, which, although probably terrifying for him, was hilarious for the audience. In the evenings the comedy tent turned into a “Guilty Pleasures” tent were everyone, fairly inebriated, would unashamedly go and dance to tacky cheesy 80’s music. In the other tent the cast of IT crowd were interviewed and on the first day “James Brown” and the “Blues Brothers” held a gospel service. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time to see everything, but I heard there were some awesome short films being shown by BAFTA too.
After listening to a lot of cynicism from the literature and comedy tents, I really started to feel the whole “middle-class” thing going on- Ezra’s and Folly-Anne-Polly’s would be all out in their Jack Wills attire and lo’ and behold The Times was being sold on the Sunday. However, there was a good mix of people overall and although families with young kids were there it wasn’t overrun with small children as they all swarmed to “Pandora’s Playground” which was a literal fairyland at one end of the lake. Walking into this part of the woods seriously felt like stepping into Alice in Wonderland due to the oddness of everything.
  Amongst the food stalls in the main arena stood the Lake stage where some great bands played such as The Quails and local band These Ghosts. I can’t express enough how good These Ghosts were, a band who also recently played at The Swan. If you like Bloc Party, Foals, Air Traffic, etc., check them out. In the evenings this was turned into an outdoor club- on Saturday night there were “rave-fairies” on stage and the night before there was a “Wedding reception” that the festival goers got to “crash”. The next main tent was the Word tent, which with its yellow and blue stripes, really was the epiphany of a circus tent. Here we saw some great bands such as the energetic “The Feeling”, fantastic “Noah and the Wale”, the amazing “Joshua Radin” and new found favourite “ROX” who, with her mix of reggae, RnB and then contrasting softer melodies makes me think of Corraine Bailey Rae meets Rhianna.   
The main Obelisk arena had a brilliant line up for the weekend. Laura Marling (female Johnny Cash) created a great mood with songs like “My Manic and I”. Empire of the Sun followed in contrast with elaborate theatrics, dramatic dance routines, vibrant costumes and vivid graphics on the stage screen. For Florence I moved my group forward to the front.. Her simple impish-like presence on stage put the audience into a frenzy and exaggerated the normal festival “claustrophobia” of the front part of the crowd which heightened the elated atmosphere. She was certainly a highlight of the festival with her resounding vocals and powerful songs- not to mention bringing her siblings on stage dressed as forest animals. Corraine Bailey Rae was much more relaxed performance the next afternoon, holding the crowds attention with emotive songs from her new album. The Maccabee’s were grand, as always. Belle and Sebastian, a band new to me, were great- they got so much energy into the crowd, including getting half dozen people from the front to come and “have a jig” on stage. My liking for them increased when, in- between songs, the lead singer talked about his love of tea! Tom Jones appeared once more on the Sunday- we figured it was due to complaints made on the Thursday evening. Although his new album of gospel music has a good sound, the majority of the audience was looking for the infamous Sex Bomb- there were sights of middle age women throwing their underwear to him, evidently still under his charm. Mumford and Sons pleasantly surprised me with their music, especially their last song that was very folky. Three true highlights for me though were the highly dynamic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, Temper Trap and Vampire Weekend, who brought the festival to an energetic end. All three bands gave such vibrant and engaging performances and got everybody moving about.
Overall Latitude was awesome and I’d definitely recommend it. Even if you’ve only been to certain festivals such as High Voltage or V and you’re not sure you’d like it, I guarantee you’ll get infected by the atmosphere and there will always be something you really want to see or do each day. Aside from the well known festival toilets (seriously, guys, it’s easier for you to pee- don’t put it all over the bloody seat!) and, at times, odd tasting drinking water Latitude festival was euphoric!


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