Festival Focus: Latitude 2011

Latitude Festival's famous multi-coloured sheep, by Andrew Trendell
Latitude Festival's famous multi-coloured sheep, by Andrew Trendell

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

“It’s certainly special,” admits festival boss Melvin Benn, beaming with pride. From it’s famous multi-coloured sheep and beautiful Suffolk lakeside 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.

Paolo Nutini is set to headline this year's Latitude Festival.

Paolo Nutini is set to headline this year's Latitude Festival.

“I definitely set out with very specific intentions to make it very different to your standard music festival. I wanted something that would stand out from the crowd and be very special for reasons far beyond the headlining music acts.”

So many other festivals seem to take the attitude of just putting up a stage, booking some bands and then letting fate take its course, whereas Latitude always seems to pay much more attention to detail.

“Yes,” nods Benn. “That is one of the real hallmarks of Latitude Festival. 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.”

Glastonbury has Beyonce, U2 and Coldplay, Hop Farm has The Eagles, Morrissey, Iggy Pop and Prince and Leeds and Reading has Pulp, The Strokes, Muse and Elbow. With Suede, The National and Paolo Nutini set to top the bill at this year’s Latitude, alongside appearances from the likes of Steve Coogan, Sadler’s Well’s appearing across a range of arts stages, how does Latitude hope to compete?

The National are set to headline this year's Latitude Festival.

The National are set to headline this year's Latitude Festival.

“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.”

Benn adds: “As great as some of the other festivals look, the reality is that Latitude has the most interesting line up.”

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.

Benn goes on: “Paolo Nutini is perfect – not just because of his popularity but because he was the opening act on the second stage at the very first Latitude Festival. So booking him was about setting the marker down that Latitude had a philosophy from the beginning, not just now, about finding great singer songwriters and giving them that opportunity.”

“We went for The National because they played last year, but the album has just grown and grown and grown and it’s the Latitude-goers who have been buying the album, so it plays to our strengths. If Suede want to bring a greatest hits set to the Sunday night, then they’ll really give us a phenomenal night of the songs that we all know and love with a truly great quality to them. So with all of those three, it’s one of those difficult things where we’ve had to pick the best that work for this particular festival.”

But it’s not just the established acts that are set to set Suffolk alight – there’s also a wealth of new Latitude-friendly talent lined up. With everyone from Anna Calvi and James Blake to Villagers and The Vaccines, Latitude’s bill hosts the who’s who of what’s fresh and exciting in 2011.

“I’m very excited about Chapel Club, but the one I’m most excited about from a very personal point of view is Ed Sheeran,” says Benn.

“I recently had the joy of seeing him perform and he absolutely blew me away. 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.”

Ben continues: “He has such soul that I feel like I’m listening to Robert Palmer or one of the great UK soul voices and I think he’ll go on to do great, great things.

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.. But this year, Benn has chosen the lesser-known but no less remarkable Scala and the Kolacny Brothers.

“I just consider an act’s quality and uniqueness when booking that slot,” reveals Benn.

“With Joanna Newsom, it was the first time that we ever put a slot together that was the equivalent of a headline slot but at a time that could hardly be perceived as one. It just had a wonderful atmosphere. With Thom Yorke, he’d never performed solo, but this was an opportunity for him to do so away from Radiohead in front of a huge crowd with just his piano and it was one of the most remarkable things I’ve never known really.”

“This year we were very much looking around at what was available and there was a great solo act out there that we were very excited about and had a uniqueness that would compare with previous acts to fill that slot, but we didn’t think that the acts available to us at that time period would really do what we wanted them to an d there was a danger that it could have been ‘just another performance’. Then one of my staff showed me that Scala and the Kolacny Brothers had played at the Coachella Festival in California recently and got a huge crowd for all of the right reasons. I’m really pleased that, having listened to the album, this is something really special in music that’s not happening anywhere else and having such a huge choir will be such a unique activity and that’s what Latitude is all about.”

With most other festivals, you can usually predict the line up about a year in advance. But with Latitude, it always keeps you guessing and surprises you. However, people always seem to associate acts like The Flaming Lips, Bjork and The Cure with Latitude. Are acts like these ever taken into consideration or does Benn like to keep punters on their toes?

“Bjork was someone that I was very much interested in for this year but her commitment at the Manchester International Festival meant that just wasn’t possible,” he says.

“It’s about what’s available at the right time and I do look at the Internet forums and the recommendations, but the reality is that there hasn’t been a year yet where I’ve been disappointed with what’s been booked.”

So, just under a month away, are there still many more surprises to be announced?

“No, not a great deal, we’re pretty much there now,” answers Benn. “We’re going to do an online poll with Scala and the Kolacny Brothers for the forums to choose a few songs for them to play.”

Now that’s what I call a tailor-made festival.

Latitude 2011 takes plae at Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk, from Thursday 14th - Sunday 17th July,

For tickets and more information, visit www.latitudefestival.co.uk.