Festival Focus: Latitude 2012

Latitude's famous multi-coloured sheep. Photo by Andrew Trendell
Latitude's famous multi-coloured sheep. Photo by Andrew Trendell
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PAUL Weller, Elbow, Bon Iver, Lana Del Rey, Rufus Wainwright and countless other giants from the worlds of music, comedy, literature, film and art - it’s safe to say that this year’s Latitude Festival is going to be one to remember.

IT has been described as Glastonbury’s alternative younger brother. Renowned for its attention to detail and unique boutique atmosphere, Latitude has become a giant highlight of the festival circuit. Reporter Andrew Trendell talks to organiser Melvin Benn about what makes it so special.

Paul Weller will be headlining this year's Latitude Festival

Paul Weller will be headlining this year's Latitude Festival

From its famous multi-coloured sheep and beautiful Suffolk lake-side setting, to the eclectic line up of cutting-edge music, arts, film and comedy, Latitude has earned the reputation as one of the finest boutique festivals in the UK.

Latitude always seems to pay much more attention to detail than other summer bashes. It seems that this is true labour of love for Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn.

“Yes,” nods Benn. “We really do labour over the details, not just whether it should be this or that music act, but also this or that theatre group or author or poet. But the delivery on site is also equally as important really.”

With their being no Glastonbury this summer, did Benn feel any extra pressure to make this year’s Latitude that little bit more extraordinary?

Elbow will be headlining this year's Latitude Festival

Elbow will be headlining this year's Latitude Festival

“I don’t really look at one festival with regards to any other,” says Benn. “All festivals are unique and Latitude has its own clear identity that people recognise – we’re growing stronger and getting better each and every year.”

Leeds and Reading has The Cure, Kasabian, Florence and the Machine and Foo Fighters, Hop Farm has Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Ray Davies and Suede while V Festival boasts The Stone Roses, Noel Gallagher and The Killers. With Paul Weller, Elbow and Bon Iver set to top the bill at this year’s Latitude, alongside appearances from the likes of Lang Lang, Jack Dee and Sadler’s Well’s appearing across a range of arts stages, how does Latitude hope to compete?

“With bigger festivals, they’ll always have the opportunity to pay more for bigger acts, so Latitude always has to go for a certain uniqueness and that’s about far more than paying the most money for the biggest headliner.”

So what are the hallmarks that determine whether an artist has what it takes to be a perfect ‘Latitude band’?

Bon Iver will be headlining this year's Latitude Festival

Bon Iver will be headlining this year's Latitude Festival

Benn says: “The main thing that we look for is the quality of writing – whether that’s the quality of songwriting for a band or poetry of literature or whatever. It’s all about the artists being great at their craft. I think that stands up throughout everyone we’ve booked – from legends like Paul Weller and great bands like Elbow through to great authors like Iain Banks and the brilliant John Cooper Clarke.”

He continues: “These people represent what Latitude is all about – especially the headliners. Not to mention Lana Del Rey who everyone is excited about seeing and The Horrors, who I believe made the best album of last year.”

As a result, Benn says that Latitude has a special demographic – the culture junkie broadsheet reader, and Latitude is specially tailored to the mood and setting of the place rather than just booking the acts that the masses will flock to. In previous years, acts like Tom Jones, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Joanna Newsom have filled a ‘secret’ special Sunday lunch time slot to great acclaim. This year, Benn has raised the bar even higher by booking Rufus Wainwright to kickstart the final day on the main stage.

“He is just undeniably and quintessentially perfect for that slot,” says Benn. “There’s an integrity and intelligence to his work that just suits Latitude and the special midday slot so well. We’ve pushed the slot back this year from midday to 1.15pm so people can see Lang Lang’s special lakeside performance, so Sunday looks set to be a day to remember.”

Richard Hawley will be appearing at this year's Latitude Festival

Richard Hawley will be appearing at this year's Latitude Festival

Each year as Latitude grows ever larger, so does the size of the talent it attracts. It’s also become a festival that just as renowned for its comedy line-up as it is for its music. This year, Latitude welcomes stadium-sized comedy from the likes of Jack Dee and Tim Minchin alongside favourites like Reginald D Hunter, Rich Hall and Mark Watston. Does this mean that the intimate comedy tent will be expanding into a larger arena?

“No,” answers Benn. “That’s mainly because the comedians themselves don’t want it any bigger. One of the things that comedians always say that they love about Latitude is that they can come along for the weekend with and be with families or fellow comedians and just soak up the atmosphere.”

“The great thing about Latitude is that it allows you to see this huge comedy names playing to a few people people, rather than a lot.”

One of the many famous fans of the festival is Ed Sheeran – who went from punter to playing. Now that he’s a megastar, can we expect to see him make a return to Latitude Festival again?

“The great thing about Ed is that he’s been to every single Latitude Festival, because he lives close enough to walk and he was inspired by Latitude in his formative years and aspired to be like the sort of acts that play there, and now he’s gone on to become a truly great singer songwriter,” says Benn.

“I would love to see Ed Sheeran return to Latitude in the future. He had a completely different scale of touring commitments this summer, but it would be fantastic to have Ed back again.”

Latitude Festival takes place at Henham Park in Suffolk from Thursday 12th – Sunday 15th July.

For info and tickets visit www.latitudefestival.co.uk.