Latitude, Henham Park, Suffolk
Fine festival, shame about the music
Tuesday 19 July 2011
For most festivals it is all about the music. But at Latitude the music was the least impressive aspect this year. However, the 35,000 present kept busy watching outdoor theatre in the Faraway Forest, learning bushcraft, pond dipping, exploring the fantastic children's area (which big kids weren't excluded from) and listening to poetry, literary debates, knitting workshops, wine tasting and (crucially) trying to find shelter away from the torrential rain. So if the music on offer wasn't completely compelling, it hardly mattered.
The headliners may have included Paolo Nutini, The National and The Vaccines but compared to other festivals of similar scale, Latitude's pulling power for big-name artists is distinctly weedy. On Saturday night, Nutini got the fans screaming and delivered a perfect 90-minute set that opened with "Jenny Don't Be Hasty" and closed with "Last Request". But the charming and rather safe performer didn't fully own the Obelisk Arena and was the wrong choice for prime-time billing.
More fun was an earlier Saturday performance by Seasick Steve who unveiled a special guest in the form of Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Their rambunctious twanging and clattering followed a fantastic set by folkies Bellowhead. Ed Sheeran was predictably excellent and a later performance by Echo and the Bunnymen delivered all the hits and golden oldies you could ask for, but the crowd in the smaller Word Arena was somewhat depleted.
Continuing the rather retro line-up, Adam Ant proved as charismatic as ever. Iron and Wine were a little disappointing and half filled the main stage, although this might have been due to a recent deluge. Caitlin Rose and The Bees played as the sun went down among the trees in the pine forest Sunrise Arena, which was lovely.
For me, the best bits of Latitude happened away from the big arenas. On Sunday afternoon in the literature tent, Louis de Bernières narrated his radio play Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World, which he called his "Under Milk Wood for south London". Late on Saturday night an incredible 3D digital light display appeared above the river. There were great shows from Scottish National Theatre and a lakeside performance from the hit show Fela!. Dylan Moran was the biggest highlight in the comedy tent. And the best music I heard was by The Moulettes, a performance that took place in the woods to an audience of around 50 people.
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