Latitude Festival 2009: Rated!

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Alex Fahey | 21 July 2009

Overall - 7/10

The latest edition of Latitude proves glorious for the more reserved, organic generation: artistically diverse, gently peaceful and quaintly unassuming. The stunning location of Henham Park is used to its merits with musicians hidden in the woods, ballet on floating stages and a projection stream made of colliding jets of water - a perfect escape for the middle-class, muesli-munching mums to enjoy.

With a fine selection of arts, some challenging the status quo of what a festival can achieve, and a turning of cultural perceptions on their heads, Latitude delivers it's mantra finely: 'more than a music festival'. But, perhaps, that is because it doesn't feel like a music festival at all. The forward-thinking art and huge comedy tent seem to be the driving force behind the event, with real musical quality spread rather thinly across four stages.

Thom Yorke's midday set on Sunday has more people watching than flamboyant headliners Grace Jones and Pet Shop Boys while the smaller stages lack a decent audience, especially in the daytime. The comedians however are its anti-nesis, with the huge comedy tent nearly always full, often with crowds lounging outside where giant screens were projecting the acts.

It's a real shame that such thought is absent for the positioning the Uncut Stage where a slope makes for atrocious viewing, unless fans are lucky enough to have made it into the centre of the tent; an issue that really must be addressed if the organisers wish for music to become a real feature at Latitude.

Getting there and back - 5/10

The site is easily accessible by car with signposts helping to direct ticket-holders through the winding country lanes, but Latitude, being a festival where the environment is a key issue, their website suggests that fans take coach or train services to the event.

Trains arriving from London on Friday are easy to navigate with hired stewards making the change at Ipswich an easy one and a coach shuttle service from Halesworth simple to find.

However said system is hit by problems on the Sunday, with people leaving not long after Thom Yorke's performance. Not enough coaches are put on to deal with the amount of people hoping to catch one of the very infrequent Halesworth to Ipswich trains. Full buses leave earlier than advertised and it took a lot of complaints, re-direction to the taxi rank and back again before the coaches agreed to take the hundreds waiting to Halesworth.

The site - 8/10

The site at the picturesque Henham Park is tight and compact, making it easy to navigate and with a whole area dedicated to children, the festival is ideal for families.

The intimate site is bulging at the seams, with four stages for music, a literature tent and it's poetic counterpart, film and cabaret arena and it's very own theatre - all this before a mention of the smaller stages offering contemporary dance to orchestral performances.

The wealth of acts mean that popular names such as Vivienne Westwood and Simon Armitage, who performed in the Literature and Poetry tents, are often over-subscribed, meaning that those who gather at the tent's perimeters are impaired because of the sound travelling from the Obelix and Uncut Stages.

Despite these problems the site stands firm for the biblical weather which ranges from scorching heat to downpours so heavy that torrential is a major understatement, especially considering the first major downpour had hit the site on Thursday, before many revellers had even made it to Suffolk.

Atmosphere - 7/10

Sedate is the best adjective to describe the laid back experience the festival offers.† The comedy tent keeps spirits high and is the nosiest of the whole festival, whereas the poetry tent only gets lively with the sound of lounging parents 'seeing what else in on' because an act uses coarse language - that said maybe masturbating sheep is a topic even Coleridge shouldn't have shied away from.

Thom Yorke's standout set was, for the majority, met with the hushed tones of a poetry reading. The most boisterous the festival gets is in the large kids arena where parents allow their children to expel most of their energy, running around, playing poi and attempting to hula-hoop.

For those adults whom had come to let their hair down, then the stages in the woods had DJs on until late and the cover of woodland offered a sinister escape from the nicey nice atmosphere of the rest of the site.† If you go down to the woods tonight you're sure of a big surprise...we were indeed, a couple having sex far to close to the pathway - no schoolboy jokes about going deeper into the forest please.



Thom Yorke - 10/10

Melvin Benn's influence can't be underestimated in the festival world and Yorke's solo acquisition is certainly the masterstroke of Latitude, if not the whole festival season. Yorke weaved his way playfully through a set which included new material, lashings of 'The Eraser', Radiohead classics and even the dusting down of a couple of shelved songs.

A solo version of 'Weird Fishes/Areppgi' is attempted with a simple looping beat and mini electronic organ, to much adulation - the rumour previous to the set had been that no Radiohead material was on the setlist - while 'Atoms For Peace' is delivered to near perfection. The stripped down nature of the performance demonstrates Yorke's impeccable craftsmanship through his songwriting, composition and his biggest asset that voice. 'Follow Me Around' gets a very rare outing but it is the encore that's the crowning moment - as acoustic versions of 'There There' and 'True Love Waits' indulge the Radiohead fanatics amongst the audience - this performance will long be hailed as a triumph.

Grace Jones - 8/10
One of the markers of Latitude's most flamboyant line-up so far, Grace Jones outshines the likes of Patrick Wolf and Pet Shop Boys with a usually over the top headline show. Lowered from the top of the stage for a heavy 'Nightclubbing' Jones, drenched in red light and wearing horns, picks up from there with a throbbing 'My Jamaican Guy' and superb 'Pull My To The Bumper'. Of course, her ump-teen costumes changes are a highlight as well with the singer capped it all by hula-hooping during a sultry 'Slave To The Rhythm'.

David Ford - 8/10
The Lewes singer-songwriter treated around 50 people to a "Champagne Breakfast" on the lakeside, early Saturday afternoon. Unplugged and jumping between a piano and an acoustic guitar Ford becomes the perfect introduction to the weekend ahead. "This song is now kind of redundant, it's about President Bush," he explains, "I really miss that guy," his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek before a rousing rendition of 'State of the Union'. The ever-growing crowd are clearly enjoying themselves requesting 'Bat Outta Hell' before a delightful finale of 'Cheer Up You Miserable Fuck' rounds off the set. And the champagne? Ford takes a bottle from his bag and passes it around the front of the audience, reward indeed for those present for the whole set.

Wild Beasts - 7/10
"We have a new album out and if you would allow us, we'd like to play a few songs to indulge ourselves? You would? Thank you." This is the third performance from the Kendal art rockers as in as many years and they seem to have grown with the event progressing from the tiny Sunrise Arena to main stage material. New single 'Hooting and Howling' is as compelling as fan favourite 'Devil's Crayon' both demonstrating the dexterity of both singer's voices. Thumping Kate Bush-like ender 'Buoyant Clairvoyant' proves that this band may be keeping their main stage slot in years to come.

Skint And Demoralised - 6/10
"It's not just a band name, but the state of the nation," explains singer and poet, Matt Abbot. This young man certainly has his eye on the ball with regards to the modern Britain. Flicking between songs and poems, Abbot is the heart of this band but the backing track, additional guitar work and percussionist detract from the words, turning what potential could be the voice of youth into a poor man's Reverend and the Makers.

Passion Pit - 6/10
With falsetto vocals and polished production, Passion Pit impress on record, but during their slot in the tiny Sunrise Arena they fail to get to such heights. Their large crowd demonstrates the popularity and the majority watching are happy to dance and bounce creating an atmosphere ill-befitting of the band in front of them. Lead singer Michael Angelakos is more forthcoming than during previous performances and for the majority of songs he is happy to stay away from the keyboard to face the crowd and sing with one arm raised in the air. But ultimately the sound is killed by lack of bass preventing real drive and the layers of synthes and keys fail to carry the high-pitched voices which is evident on record is unfortunately absent here.


Park Nice

The stunning Henham Park deserves a further mention not only is it naturally beautiful but the addition of hidden gems such as the Lavish Lounge in the woods - a mocked up front room built for performances from smaller acts.


Bin there, dump that

The fact bins are tailored for recycling is a great idea, but sometimes trying to find one does prove tricky - it's easier to spot the sheep. Maybe next year additional refuse points would make for an even greener site.

Cheese-us Christ
With both the Lake Stage and Guilty Pleasures in the comedy tent spinning cheese at night, you could be forgiven in thinking it's 1993 again stumbling upon a rave up at the In The Woods Arena. Alas, no - just chart music. Where to people have to go to get some decent late night music?

Random Events

Temper tantrums

At a family festival the odd shrill scream of a child who doesn't get his own way is expected, it's a long exhausting weekend after all. But did anyone expect the biggest strop to been thrown by a 40-year old man?

The bars offer drinks in plastic eco-cups, half of which are blank and half have 'Latitude 2009' printed on them to act as a commemorative souvenir in a tacky, "we got this in Disneyland Florida," kind of way. But to see a grown man, shout and argue with staff because he didn't get his Latitude cup is a bit over the top. Not as over the top as asking staff to hand him a dirty cup in to which he poured his drink - lovely. All better diddums?

Perhaps there is something in the air...
...there was: flying beer cans. Hats off to the boys who thought they could flout the 'no alcohol to be taken on site' rule by throwing their cans over the perimeter fence to collect the other side - ingenious! That is until several got snagged in the trees and didn't clear the second perimeter fence. Hard luck boys you've effectively just thrown all your booze in a bush, let's pack cash instead next year yeah?

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Send to my phone!Photographer: Shirlaine Forrest

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