It’s 14 years since I last stepped foot on the grass at Henham Park for Latitude Festival back in 2009. Some things have changed, the comedy tent has grown to suit the big names that have graced the stage over the years, there’s a bigger emphasis on food with Theatre of Food and the Guest Chef and Hothouse sit down dining alongside the traditional array of festival food trucks.
However others have stayed the same with the beautiful surroundings, there’s not many festivals where you can relax in the woods, take a punt around the lake or even go for a swim, while you enjoy the weekend. And of course the brightly coloured sheep are still here too.
The festival has also grown it’s attractions for kids, with a huge zone filled with activity’s from building an ark for Greenpeace to skimming for insects in the lake or just riding down a beautiful heater skelter. While the inbetweeners area catered for slightly older kids with the climbing nets strung through the trees in great demand.
The comedy tent saw a huge array of comics take the stage over the weekend, the line up was a wall of names including arena filling stand ups, occasional panel show guests and writer’s room comedians from all walks of life. Whilst it might have been tempting to gravitate to the big headliners Ed Gamble, Bridget Christie and Ramesh Ranganathan (sadly Sara Pascoe had to pull out due to illness, to be replaced by the fantastic Judi Love).
The better strategy would be to turn up a few acts before the name you know, find a seat before the masses arrive, have a few laughs watching people you might not know yet, then stay after to avoid the massive line to get back out of the tent. Better still simply pitch up early and don’t leave until the end, and you’d still be able to catch several of the music acts after.
Highlights of the weekend were Russel Kane with his energetic observations on British people’s tendency towards a life of nothing or too much, never a healthy balance. Athena Kugblenu’s tales of knowing she might be middle class now she has a house with a six burner hob. All of the comics in the Chortle Student Comedy Awards showcase. Along with Ed Gamble’s questioning of fellow metal fans’ choice of coming to Latitude, despite the music line up being far from metal.
The Obelisk Arena played host to several nostalgic sing a long friendly acts over the weekend, ticking the boxes for most members of the family.
Pulp’s appearance on Friday was due to be the last stop of their “this is what we do for an encore” reunion tour, although they have added two more stops since. Fans have been waiting a decade for this encore and you knew they’d be a big turn out based on how many Pulp t-shirts could be spotted during the day. They would not be disappointed with a set of all the hits, interspersed with Jarvis Cocker’s discussion about the differences of weeds and plants, before throwing chocolates into the crowd. Running and jumping around the stage, seemingly unaware that he’s turning 60 later this year.
Friday – Music
Friday – Comedy
Saturday had some more nostalgia for the crowd during the day with Paul Heaton singing hits from House Martins and Beautiful South with help from guest vocalist Dianne Downey. Lightning Seeds with the fantastic Lucky You, Life of Riley and of course ending on Three Lions with the crowd singing along like a national anthem, after all the Lionesses had chalked off their first win of the World Cup earlier in the day. The Kooks also brought their summery sing along favourites from 2005’s Inside In/Inside Out such as Naïve and Seaside. Even while the rain came down it couldn’t dampen spirits with non stop hits playing.
Paolo Nutini closed out Saturday night opening with Afterneath from 2022’s Last Night In The Bittersweet, with his Robert Plant-esque wailing vocal punching out around spoken word and big guitar sounds. An opening that might have surprised those that only know his bouncy pop tunes from 2007’s These Streets. Which only saw New Shoes played in the set, whilst including several other hits like Candy, Pencil Full Of Lead and an encore including Iron Sky and Let Me Down Easy.
Saturday – Music
Saturday – Comedy
Sunday’s line up featured more sing along favourites, although James’ beautiful set backed by an orchestra and choir might have changed the pace people were used to singing Sit Down, also playing b-side The Lake which Tim Booth admitted might try the patience of the crowd. However by the time they closed with Laid, which could be heard being sung across the site, their patience was rewarded.
Peak sing-a-long came with The Bootleg Beatles’s slightly surreal act where they start the set with the iconic bowl cuts of the early 60s Beatles, and finish in Abbey Road era outfits with long hair, after a sneaky costume change while “Paul” plays a solo number. After each song kicks off the suspension of disbelief kicks in and the entire crowd is soon singing along in full voice, as though it’s the real thing on stage, despite “Ringo’s” false nose beginning to peel off visible on the big screens.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor brought her Kitchen Disco vibes to the stage in a sparkling outfit, with a mix of covers and her own singles all before heading off to host a guest chef dinner. The Proclaimers then took over on stage to play a selection of hits including Sunshine on Leith and ending with I’m Gonna Be.
Beyond the nostalgia the Obelisk Arena did showcase some newer acts across the three days with dance pop tunes from Georgia and Confidence Man. Saturday’s The Mysterines grunge influenced rock along with The Big Moon bringing their soothing harmonies later. Finally Sunday’s pair of pop acts Picture This and Mimi Webb.
There was plenty more new music to be found beyond the main stage though, with the BBC Sounds stage featuring Yard Act, Young Fathers, Far From Saints, Oscar Lang, Black Midi and a rare appearance of Siouxsie. The Sunrise Arena nestled in the woods also had bands likely to be stepping up at future festivals such as Last Dinner Party, Gretel Hänlyn, Fizz and Mae Stephens. Not to forget the BBC Introducing stage with it’s leather sofa’s which had some highlights like Victor Ray and Heartworms.
To close out the festival on Sunday was George Ezra who even with three albums under his belt can’t be considered nostalgia yet, however this was his third time playing the festival, including the pre pandemic Friday night headline spot. So unsurprisingly he packed out the arena, with a mix of swooning young fans in the front rows, some of whom bagged their spot much earlier in the day, whilst equally adoring parents had set up chair circles and blankets further back.
Ezra took to the stage to massive cheers with Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual playing in the background (an apt comparison given his voice and appeal), then dove straight into Anyone for You, with it’s toe tapping interludes, from 2022’s Gold Rush Kid, followed up with 2014’s massive hit Cassy’ O. He worked through several songs from his three albums, encouraging the audience to sing along, like they have been most of the day. Bringing a great weekend to a fabulous conclusion with the customary end of night fireworks.
Words: Stephen Keable and Katie O’hara
Pictures: Stephen, (except Romesh Ranganathan by Katie O’hara).