Latitude Festival with the weather predicted to be of a similarly dreadful nature. We arrived early on the Saturday morning, expecting traffic queues and the usual complications, but were pleasantly surprised to find the ‘get in’ quick and blissfully easy, parking just a two minute walk from the campsite - it was painless finding a space on the grass, and we quickly had our cute £19.99 Sainsbury’s tent up.
The weather cannot help but affect your festival experience, and after three hours of constant rain on Saturday, I began to wonder if it would ever cease. Nevertheless if any festival is going to break the downpour blues, it’s Latitude with the multicoloured sheep and cheery attitude. Proving itself to be an event that is ‘much more than just a music festival,’ Latitude provided well for its soggy visitors, putting on an impressive spread of events covering every area of the arts, catering to all interests and ages. Now in its sixth year, the variety was more varied than ever - I was overwhelmed by the choice.
The advantage of the persistent, diabolical rain was that many of the more specialist ( and covered) arenas really benefitted... in the Theatre Arena the ‘Matador’ performer even asked us “honestly how many of you are just here to get out of the rain?” (A few sheepish men raised their hands). The second stage, the Word Arena, was often full too, supporting those less high profile bands that often have a great deal more to offer than the big names on the main stage - headliners The National, Paolo Nutini and Suede, I felt were underwhelming this weekend.
With the help of a very picturesque “faraway” forest, the theatre area is dreamily atmospheric. The leafy Outdoor theatre showcased work from some inspiring artists, Luci Briginshaw was widely appreciated, singing some familiar opera classics and delighting the audience with her piercing top notes. The Gate Theatre also did well on this makeshift stage presenting their haunting production of Electra.
The work seen in the Theatre Arena was of an amazingly high standard: low budget productions with high impact. Two pieces were especially memorable for me; both were about the power and influence of money. ‘Crunch’ is a solo performance by writer/performer/director Gary McNair. He sets out five sets and encourages us to follow these to let ourselves be liberated from the tyranny of money. After 45 minutes of hugely engaging and witty theatre, we are invited up on stage to shred money from our own pockets, it is credit to McNair that three audience members actually did go up to destroy their own hard-earned cash, including one mad girl who freed herself of a lovely crisp £20 note and left the platform with a handful of shredded paper and a satisfied smile.
Then across the park on the Waterfront Stage, a few lucky acts managed to perform in the moments of dry weather. The FELA! Cast gave a particularly uplifting performance from the musical which returns to the stage at Sadler’s Wells on 20 July.
Those in need of a laugh were in luck as the Comedy Arena had a star studded line –up. I crouched at the back on Sunday to watch the final two sets from funny boy Nathan Caton and high pitched drama queen Alan Carr. Despite being a self-confessed comedyphobe, I thoroughly enjoyed the efforts of both men - Carr’s ridiculous anecdotes had me in stitches.
The Literary Tent didn’t disappoint with an endless stream of fascinating guests stepping up to share their experiences and knowledge. I listened to an amusing interview on Saturday night with ‘The Sex Diaries Project’ author Arianne Cohen - she reassured the audience with her results and bizarre relationship stories. Then on Sunday I got a dose of Girl Power from a lovely and frank interview with Louise Wener (lead singer of 90s pop band Sleeper) conducted by Mark Ellen. She read excerpts from her enlightening new book ‘Just for One Day’ – a memoir that details her real life dream transition from geeky teen to musical goddess and sex icon.
There was a real buzz around the Word Lounge. Despite being rather out of the way, this little tent hosted a programme of engaging podcasts and interviews with various musicians and music geeks... the history of Britpop chat on Sunday afternoon with Stuart Maconie was particularly interesting.
Then of course there was the music... the main Obelisk field was rarely full with music lovers seeking their entertainment somewhere dry, where you could dance without poking someone’s eye out with your umbrella. Gorgeously costumed bands looked unfairly dry and glam on stage whilst their adoring plastic poncho-clad fans stared up from behind protective hoods. They Might be Giants did a marvellous job motivating the fans during the wettest lunchtime period on Saturday. Like most, I was captivated and stayed for the whole show delighting in their ridiculous antics and singing along to their catchy songs - it was incredible to see ‘Birdhouse in Your Soul’ performed live, a song that has worn my iPod out. Seasick Steve was characterful as ever on the main stage, cooing at the girls in the crowd and inviting one up to be the recipient of a love song – a routine I have watched him conduct several times before!
Sunday saw sultry but shy Anna Calvi wow on the Obelisk stage with her seductive and intense voice. I had heard magical rumours about this girl and was expecting a bit more of a show, but no-one can deny her talent as she wailed into the microphone enticingly. She sang memorable covers of Elvis and Edith Piaf songs, and completely made them her own. My musical highlight from the weekend was the spectacular Everything Everything who put on quite a show for the Word Arena on Sunday afternoon. Even those happy to splash in the rain joined the dancing throng for this awesome set. The four Manchester boys all dressed in matching jumpsuits powered through their current hits and gave us a taste of what’s to come with a sparkly new number. Everything Everything combine fast paced eccentric lyrics, heartbreaking falsetto vocals from Jonathan Higgs, constant tempo changes and powerful chord progressions and harmonies that give the music a futuristic vibe; their songs are truly innovative, unlike anything I have heard before. The crowd went absolutely mad for this band - a group of middle aged groupies dancing next to me seemed to know all the words, I enquired afterwards to discover they were in fact parents of the band members.
As a music festival, Latitude didn’t quite produce the goods this year, despite being a smaller budget event than say Glastonbury, recycling the same bands from the previous year (The National headlined on the Word stage in 2010) is not going to impress punters when even smaller festivals like Hop Farm managed to get the Eagles and Prince! Latitude insists it is more than ‘just a music festival’ and I believe in this ambition, it succeeds triumphantly. It is the wonderful, diverse, extra-curricular events that make it worthwhile spending a weekend enduring pouring rain.