Latitude offers a wealth of arts for festival goers on second day

Latitude 2009 review

published: Tue 28th Jul 2009

around the festival site (4)

Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th July 2009
Henham Park Estate, Beccles, Suffolk, NR34 8AN, England MAP
weekend ticket £150 - SOLD OUT, day tickets are priced at £60
last updated: Mon 13th Jul 2009

I'm pretty sure the music didn't stop until 4 am and it starts again at 9.30 when we can hear Marley's 'Exodus' floating across the campsite. Still, there is an amazing amount of people up and engaging in the programme from 11 am when most of the sessions start.

First on my schedule is the Literary tent and Clive Stafford-Smith, human rights lawyer and founder of legal charity 'Reprieve', which helps enforce human rights for prisoners around the world and assists those on death row. Reprieve is also involved in campaigning and currently raising awareness of their latest campaign, zero dB, which seeks to end the use of music as a torture technique and has already been backed by a host of respected musicians.

Stafford-Smith is a great spokesperson for Reprieve – totally engaging and humorous, he makes us laugh and think, and tells us some worrying facts like: there are just over 200 prisoners left in Guantanamo Bay but 15,000 in US custody around the world, being held in secret prisons in the name of the "war on terror" who have no human rights; the process of rendition (defined as "kidnap" by a member of the audience) has been going on for 20 years; President Obama has banned waterboarding as a torture technique but there is a review of interrogation techniques being held on 21st July.

One of these is the practice of playing loud music at the prisoner for 24 hours and the bizarre list of tracks used include Springsteen's 'Born in the USA', 'White America' by Eminem and 'Barney the Purple Dinosaur' by Chris Cerf. In looking at creative ways to enhance the zero DB campaign, Stafford-Smith offered to represent Eminem to pursue royalties from the use of his song. The thought we're asked to take away from this seminar is that "the greatest weapon against terrorism is the enforcement of human rights."

around the festival site (1)
My text messages are coming through hours late and I get one to let me know that David Ford's secret gig takes place at midday at a lone piano by the lake. The message arrives two hours too late but it's just as well as the gig clashes with Russell Kane's Fakespeare, which my friend who's an English teacher has recommended I attend. Russell Kane is a writer, actor and comedian. He does a preamble about being at "Latte-tude" before launching into the Fakespeare piece. His Fakespeare plays are modern stories told in blank verse, as used by Shakespeare, in an olde english style. The full title of this particular play is 'The Tragickal Saveings of King Nigel' and is performed by himself and his actor-girlfriend Sadie Hasler. It's the story of Nigel, an Essex banker, who's in financial difficulties and his PA, Donna of 'Billericoy', who’s also his mistress, and the choices Nigel has to make. The play is extremely fast-paced, intelligent and very, very funny. The words are playful – he's got "less soul than a racist's ipod" and "paltry poultry" in reference to a chicken from Lidl. The fact that Sadie has to use a hand-held mic (as they couldn't find a head mic) and she fluffs a couple of lines, just adds to the comedic value as Kane handles these minor hiccups in a clever way. They obviously had great fun performing it and this is one of the highlights of my weekend. Brilliant!

Just across the way, in the Poetry tent, is Simon Armitage, another recommendation who my friend describes as "the greatest living poet". He's certainly attracted a huge audience and is a Latitude favourite. Armitage reads through a stack of poems which he tells us little back-stories to, such as 'Causeway' inspired by the time he and his wife walked across the causeway from St Michael's Mount in Cornwall – the water was deeper than they realised and he describes, as they looked back, a scene of "biblical catastrophe" as others had followed them. He reads some prose from his book 'Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock-star Fantasist', his theory being that poets are failed rock stars. The poem 'Killing Time #2' is set to the rhythm of Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', 'Man versus Machine' is about ipod technology and 'You May Turn Over and Begin' about an A-level exam in General Studies. He explains that this is a loop poem where there is a question in the first line and the answer appears at the end. His poem 'You're Beautiful' which is very melodic and entrancing is the highlight of this session.

around the festival site (4)
On the other side of the lake, in the Sunrise Arena, the lovely Matt Abbott aka Skint & Demoralised is playing. This is poetry too, set to summery, shimmery pop beats. I catch 'The Thrill of Thirty Seconds', a couple of poems 'Twat on Twitter’' and 'BNP: Nazis on the Doorstep', as well as 'A Few Quiet Drinks', (Abbott apologises for the swearing as he's just realised there are kids in the audience), 'Only Lust Ignores Violence Involving Ambulances' and the current single 'Red Lipstick' which we all sing along to.

Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra
Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra are performing their stunning vocal tricks in the Woods and the Royal Opera House's Ballet Black are dancing on the Waterfront Stage. Over at the Tea Dance Stage, Orkestra Del Sol are playing for the first time at Latitude. I count 11 members of the band, all dressed in black and red, and instruments ranging from tuba to accordion to trumpet. They produce a chaotic but glorious European gypsy sound and within minutes have the crowd on their feet dancing a polka.

Patrick Wolf
I get to see half of Mika's acoustic set in the Uncut Arena. There's a huge crowd and he gets a rapturous reception to the popular songs like 'Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)', 'Love Today' and the completely camp 'Lollipop' which he stands on the piano to play along to on a dustbin, as well as new material like the catchy 'Blame It on the Girls'. And I can't resist going to see Patrick Wolf at the Obelisk Arena, who's playing with a full band and string section. Multi-instrumentalist, fashion statement and consummate showman, Wolf struts and poses his way through some great songs, swapping violin for ukulele, and fitting in a costume change during the end of 'Hard Times'. Rowdy Superstar joins him for the hypnotic 'Bloodbeat' and the set finishes with 'Magic Position'.

My first visit to the Latitude theatre now for a couple of short plays. The first is the National Theatre's 'The Eternal Not' which has been written as a modern companion piece to Shakespeare's 'All's Well That Ends Well' and set two years later. It is the first in a series of short plays for a project between the National and schools to interpret Shakespeare's plays in modern language. There are just four characters – a married couple, Bertram and Helena, Kelly from the disappearing agency and Mike, the family doctor. It's a very clever and dramatic story of Bertram who is on the edge of a breakdown and wants to disappear, and his calm, placid wife Helena who has apparently been pregnant for two years. Bertram's edginess builds throughout and makes for a tense and disturbing, but entertaining piece.

This is followed by the Lyric Hammersmith's 'Supernova', a collaboration between the established playwright Simon Stephens and upcoming performance poet and playwright Tashan Cushnie. It has been created especially for Latitude and in the introduction we're told that the title was chosen before the play was written and it would be better titled 'Love Letter to Miquita Oliver' (I had to look her up – she's a presenter on Channel 4). The play is a conversation between ageing rock star Eddie and his 18 year old, virginal lead guitarist, Emile. It's set in the Dublin Castle in Camden, Eddie is ready to give up showbiz and full of cynicism, Emil in contrast is just starting out, and is enthusiastic and idealistic. The play finishes with them being joined by a couple of bandmates and performing a song.

I see Kate Tempest for the second time in the Poetry tent, playing with her band Sound of Rum. They play hip hop sounds on guitar and a pared down drumkit to accompany Tempest's breathless rap poetry.

The Wave Machines have pulled out of the festival but Nathan Jones, the poet who they'd recently worked with is here. His first poem about death sounds a bit dark and depressing so I move across to the Lake Stage where Bombay Bicycle Club are playing. They've attracted a young crowd and it's hilarious to watch the kids moshing and throwing drinks, then crowd surfing to the front, getting grappled by security guys (who were incredibly patient) over the barrier and running back round to repeat the process.

In the Literary tent, Danny Wallace, author, journalist, DJ and producer, is reading from his new book 'Friends Like These'. His previous book 'Yes Man', which documents what happened when he chose to say yes at every opportunity, was made into a film starring Jim Carrey. 'Friends Like These' is a funny account of neuroses about acquiring sheds and display cushions, and Wallace going through an old address book and tracking down 12 school friends to find out what they're doing now. Sounds like they're a pretty eclectic bunch – one is a hip-hop artist in Germany, another working on an independent time travel theory, as well as managing a Toby Carvery, and a chap who is third in line to the throne of Fiji.

Grace Jones
We hot-foot over to the mainstage to witness Grace Jones in a thong doing an amazing feat with a hula hoop to the last song 'Slave to the Rhythm'. She keeps it spinning around her middle for the duration of the track, whilst singing and turning, walking around and doing lengthy band introductions.

Back to Poetry as Jeffrey Lewis is due on and I'm curious to see him as I keep hearing his name mentioned. Jessica Delfino is on before, she's an American multi-instrumentalist, who plays quirky, naughty songs, a sort of x-rated Phoebe from Friends.

Jeffrey Lewis, with his low-slung sticker-adorned guitar, is trying out some new songs on us. One is an a cappella gangster rap about killing mosquitoes in Maine. He also shows us his "low budget detective flick comic book", which he's drawn with black and white crayons, and reads the storyline in rhyming prose. He sings, in a slightly nasal, cracked voice, dark songs which make the crowd laugh – 'Whistle Past the Graveyard' with the line "I whistle past the graveyard when I walk cause I don't wanna hear the corpses talk". Lewis tells us that people think he writes songs about death and self-loathing, so he sings one about suicide instead. Lewis offers his thoughts on Michael Jackson and was an admirer because he wrote about subjects like gangs, horror movies and girls "but not in a normal way". He plays a cover of Pink Floyd's 'Sheep' and finishes with his song 'Back When I Was 4' which has loads of verses and he extends by ad-libbing in the middle about his age whilst still playing.

On the way back to the campsite, many of us stand in awe for quite a while on the bridge watching the projection of 3D giant surfers on the water and a plane twisting above the lake.

around the festival site (2)
review by: Helen OSullivan

photos by: Chris Mathews

Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th July 2009
Henham Park Estate, Beccles, Suffolk, NR34 8AN, England MAP
weekend ticket £150 - SOLD OUT, day tickets are priced at £60
last updated: Mon 13th Jul 2009


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