Live Music + Gig Reviews

Latitude Festival 2006, Day 1 @ Henham Park, Suffolk

14 July 2006

Just like a child in a sweet shop with money to spend, faced with the new Latitude festival’s superlative cultural pick ‘n’ mix, I too overdosed and my senses have been left smouldering. Set in the glorious grounds of Suffolk’s Henham Park by the side of a sparkling lake, I spent the weekend sating my every cultural whim.

Pitching itself as Glastonbury meets Hay-on-Wye, Latitude has knitted itself a nice little niche, complete with its flock of fruit pastille coloured sheep and magical wooded glade. At what other festival can you go play Burlesque Bingo, see Patti Smith read her work, take part in a Literary Sex Off (search for the most erotic book ever written!), catch a new play by the Royal Court, see a band you have been hankering after, or lend your ears to one of the 150 different spoken word performances in the poetry tent?

With four music stages, poetry, cabaret, comedy, not to mention theatre, art and film, you could dive into everything as easily as you could walk around your sitting room. The only repeat grumble I heard can be best expressed by a teenager caught bellowing into his mobile: “It’s terrible, it’s so family orientated.” And he had a point. Most people I spoke to were dismayed to be enjoying this chilled out, laid back festival, and were labelling it ‘civilised’, as if this was something to be ashamed of.

So if Latitude is going to take a kicking from festival hardliners, it’s because it’s not the least bit edgy or anarchic. But if civilised means there’s not a greasy burger van in sight, your tent doesn’t get nicked, toilets come with loo roll and handwash, and there is an eclectic, inspiring mix of bands, art, poetry, music and film, all set against a lush background of magical forests and a glistening lake, then yes, put my name down for a ticket to next year’s showdown. Civilisation, here we come.

Friday. Storming down the A12 at 1am in the morning on my way to Southwold I knew I’d already missed the first day of the inaugural Latitude Festival. Would I ever be employed to cover a festival again? Amends needed to be made.

So next day I collared the first people I came across, which included three members of the influential poetry collective Aisle 16, and asked them to give me the low down so far…

Suzy Helena, 22, Edinburgh University student: “I have only just arrived myself, but what I looking forward to is Jose Gonzalez. I really liked his last single. And the comedian Alun Cochrane, who I saw at the Edinburgh Festival last year.”

Chris Hicks, Aisle 16 member: “I saw Saul Williams, the slam poet and hip-hop artist. He was really something special. He did this 15 minute poem, and I don’t know how he sustained it with the kind of breath control you need to do that. He was awesome, just amazing.”

Tom Sutton, 25, Aisle 16 member: “Darren Hayman (former Hefner main man), on the Lake Stage was really good and The Noisettes, who supported Babyshambles last year. Oh, and I am looking forward to the Morning After Girls.”

Ross Sutherland, Aisle 16 member: “I saw Saul Williams in the Poetry Tent, who featured in the movie Slam. So few people make the successful transition from being a poet to being a musician but he was extreme. He did this 15 minute poem taken from The Dead MC Scrolls, it was just the most amazing thing I have ever been in a room with. I also saw Sean Lock in the comedy tent. He stripped off into a Riddler Costume as the finale to his set and then realised he still had another 10 minutes left. I also saw Josie Long do book club and play a giant game of Boggle in the literary tent. I love Josie Long and Boggle.”

Emma Costello, Wolverhampton, Kate Gott, London and Larry from Ipswich were next to be collared.

Kate: “What’s been great so far is that the two main tents the Obelisk and the Uncut stage are so close you can run between them and catch what’s on in both. At Glastonbury you can’t do that, so the layout and size of this festival really work. I have also loved the food stall Molly Moon’s Pies – they are all veggie. But I wish they had employed people to take out all the nettles and thorns out of the grass, but that has been my only unpleasant experience so far. It’s very chilled out and relaxed and there is such a diverse bill, book stuff, art stuff and music, people you have heard of and people you haven’t. Because it’s also close together it really makes you want to go see the lesser known bands.”

And there were plenty of bands big and small I wanted to see. Roll on the morning of Day 2

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