Freshly returned from heading up Theatre Bubble’s coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Paul Hegarty looks back on an amazing summer of festivals and his experience at Latitude Festival 2019.
Well, with the summer almost gone we can look back on a fairly glorious time, that has allowed the festival season to thrill and entertain us in usual and sometimes unusual ways. All offer something different to their audiences. Each seems to have its own special crew that attends with verve. I suspect Glastonbury, wet or dry still heads up the popularity stakes simply by its sheer size – with the massive arena and Pyramid setting, endless camping facilities and a range of sideline activities, acoustics and theatricals that can always find a crowd to party. But at the other end of the festival scale we can find Folk East in Suffolk, smaller and friendlier and perhaps more esoteric but gentle on the mind and soul in its rural setting. Festival times are broad and diverse.
In far flung Wales the Brecon Beacons, in all its glory, can offer spas, therapeutic relaxation and a range of 1500 performers at The Green Man festival that covers comedy, theatre, stand-up and of course a wild range of folk favourites. It may over shadow Suffolk but their folk hearts beat as one. In contrast the heavy metal line up is catered for by Derby at the Download festival, its raucous and ballsy and exciting. The line up offers music both retrospective and contemporary – check out their Download official Aftermovie on You Tube for a flavour of the real deal.
From north to south the festival season has boomed as it celebrated and vibrated anything but the sounds of silence. Reading and Leeds firmly in the teen diaries as a welcome goal after their studies. The weekend clubber is catered for with a quick and sassy dance scene sound in Manchester’s Parklife. Llikewise TRNSMT in Glasgow offers a park experience with a similar party atmosphere. Even off shore the UK rocks over the summer with the always popular (50 years old!) Isle of Wight festival; they may be keeping their clothes on these days but they still attract international headliners that play mean guitar and sing like hell – great clips on You Tube to check out.
Outdoor celebrations of music and arts are so popular that its season seems to extend as London opens FSTVL and All Points East in May. London also manages to capture the never ending enthusiasm for outdoor rocking with a late August gathering in SW4 – goal-posting the sounds of music.
It’s a good for us all because it’s money in Bank UK. Festivals deliver jobs and revenue with some reports citing over £2 billion being generated by live music attractions, bringing with it over 20 thousand jobs (see Events and Conference Blog for details).
Of course the big boys are not alone, there are loads of smaller family friendlier festivals around; from the Cotswold’s, Big Feastival or in East Sussex you will find Elderflower, or the Deer Shed in North Yorkshire and an original Brazilian vibe in Cornwall at Tropical Pleasure. In contrast there is the wicker man feel of Eden in Dumfries and Galloway and the delightfully appealing Boomtown, for little ones in Hampshire. All providing fun and games clowns, and wordsmiths, dancers and workshops but pulling all of this together – family entertainment, headline acts, retro sounds and contemporary culture, exposition of vocal, physical and visual arts the top my list must be Latitude Festival.
This year in its rural and idyllic landscape, pink sheep roamed, swimmers took the plunge, poets read and people debated, painted and danced. Along with this were the headline acts both popular and even a bit alternative. Comedians cracked on and theatre troupes displayed their wares side by side with enthusiasts for towns or outer space, for the economy and even for the planet in general. New voices aside old, young guns against seasoned shooters all firing from the hip. It was bright and breezy, inclusive and original and it is all wrapped up in a friendly family atmosphere where all can split off and do their own thing, meeting later, by a watery glade, to catch up and share stories.
Latitude Festival is the go-to festival as it captures elements of all the summer’s musical frolics and presents it in a well-managed space littered with creativity and fun.
Stroll over the bridge and you will want to stop and watch the physical expertise of the Sadler’s Wells Company, expressing themselves on the floating stage. Over the bridge you cannot help but catch a moment in the shade at the Speakeasy. Here, poet Wendy Cope enthralled her audience with a reciting of her poems, to make you laugh at old age, friendship and romance or to make you wince at love and senility or even impress you with the skill of sonnet writing. Her funeral poem was to die for! Cope was hit in this session as was evident by the enthusiastic reception. Where Latitude Festival. excels is with the less well know artistes. As compere, Hannah Jane Walker touched our hearts with her tales of story telling and new poetry about play groups and being a mum – simple but effective.
Comedy was everywhere and offered a racial, and feminist voice to heard with vigour but often without laughs as the material was fairly paltry. Being fat, being gay, being bi or pan was all in the spotlight but often the material was not honed or crafted as was clear from that feeling of tumble weed blowing through the place. Tom Parry was relief and got a lively response as did Michael Odewale whose wit highlighted the vagaries of race. If the material of some, particularly the female stand ups, was wanting (in terms of finding a contemporary female humorous voice rather than either a rant or indeed just material that sounded dated -like a blokish gags from the 80s) there was none-the-less bags of laughs in the comedy tent. The surprise for me was how popular Anna Mann’s late Night Cheese and Sex Party routine was as it was based on a really dated style of drag, audience participation, high camp and mock outrage as well as endless double entendres – guess what? They loved it!
Back to Speakeasy with Professor Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, who looked at the science behind sensationalist headlines. Among the myths he debunked were the idea that screen time is a coherent concept, is easily measured and causes problems. Apparently this was his fifth appearance at the festival and as he was so riveting you can see why. Again this mix is why Latitude stands out amongst all the festivals on offer over the summer months. Over in a music and cinema tent Saltwater gave a blistering performance – great dexterous lead guitar, demonstrating real inventive playing along with powerful vocals and a drummer to excite as he pounds and plays, Saltwater is a band to watch. Great Musicianship of the highest order and they are not even headlining that is the kind of quality at Latitude Festival.
In the forest the theatre gave us a performance from Frantic Assembly’s Three Doors. A super piece of physical theatre, masterfully playing with pace and intensity: entertaining with the slick movement of set and bodies alike, all driving a strong narrative that allowed for limited but effective use of the voice, ‘sorry, you first, no you, please, thank you!” Entertaining and original stuff, as one door closes and another opens. Other sublime moments were stumbling upon Ben Folds on piano whose fusion of styles is awesome, and whose delivery is energetic and exciting. Latitude Festival is still the crown of festivals for all the family.