If we can get a little meta at the outset, it’s becoming a cliché to point out that Latitude itself is a cliché: a middle-class smorgasbord of whiter-than-white white folk eating falafel while nodding along to BBC 6Music-approved tunes, then chortling at the witticisms of Guardian columnists in the Literary Arena while their kids learn woodcraft skills and circuit-bending. Edgy, it ain’t. But, all that acknowledged, it’s a pretty blissful place—Suffolk in the summertime, drinks (and falafel and risotto and fancy mini-donoughts and posh liquorice) to hand, and a staggering array of gigs and assorted entertainments scattered throughout fields and woodlands. Not least, of course, that Literary Arena, as well as the Poetry Arena and the Literary Salon. We Bookmunchers couldn’t let it go unassessed, so off we went, wellies at the ready.
Latitude’s a three-and-a-half day affair, but with no musical acts on the Thursday night, it all kicks off with some heavily attended literary shenanigans. This year wasn’t the exception. We missed the first couple of sessions (do you know how far Southwold is from Manchester when you’ve got a kid in the back of the car?) but we made it in time for the most vicious-sounding event, the Literary Death Match—a night of duelling writers, pitching words against words before battling it out in a high-octane round of The Price Is Right. The theme on Thursday was Love, so we got romance, role-play, sex in a car and more. Naomi Wood topped the polls, showing us all that movie-night role-play is the way to a literary judge’s heart. It was a light-hearted competition—we’d have liked the literary standards to have shifted up a notch, but hey, it kicked our bookish Latitude off pretty nicely. Next up were Word Theatre, who blew us away with a Kevin Barry performance last year. Their Thursday offering was a straight-up bunch of short stories read aloud by actors, which was massively enhanced (not that it wasn’t a good show anyway) by the presence on-stage of Renly Baratheon, or, to you non-Game of Thrones fanatics, actor Gethin Anthony. Renly aside, though we really enjoyed ‘The GSOH Index’, by Rebecca Rouillard.
On Friday, we mostly hung around in the Poetry Arena, but we did kick off the day with the second-half of Mark Thomas’s routine in the Literary Arena—there’s nothing like a countdown of 100 acts of anti-capitalist dissent to make a girl smile. The tent was rammed for this, and we listened from the grass outside, before heading next door to hear poet Jenny Lindsay give it her all in a series of love and anti-love poems in English and Scots. Next up was a mixed-media performance from a trio called The Islanders: an ex-couple, Amy and Eddie, and their friend, folk musician Jim. Amy and Eddie gave a long duet on their old teenage relationship—an exploration on conflicting memories—with Amy speaking and Eddie singing in turn, backed by Jim, and photos projected behind them on a big screen. Fascinating stuff. Then, after an interlude checking out Willie Mason, and a couple of poems from compère Bohdan Piasecki, on came Thurston Moore. The tent was chock-a-block for this set, with overexcited Sonic Youth fans cheering their hearts out, but the act itself wasn’t as much of a hit, with half the audience filtering away by halfway through. We haven’t read Thurston’s poetry, but we did recognise some song lyrics in there, which felt a little cheaty, and his delivery wasn’t quite the chatty intimacy you tend to get at a poetry event. Kinda disappointing, all in. After a spot of music, though, we had Carol Ann Duffy—again, couldn’t get in the tent, and listened sitting under a tree outside. You can’t beat Carol Ann. She read from The World’s Wife and The Bees, and compared Nick Clegg to Faust, which got an enormous cheer from the Guardian-reading Latitudians. Definitely one of our spoken-word highlights. Back to the Literary Arena in the early evening to hear Will Storr reading from his book about his time with right-wing historian David Irving. Later Robin Ince (who filled many, many slots throughout the weekend) talked about science to Adam Rutherford and Steve Mould, with sciency music supplied by Grace Petrie—first time we’ve heard gentle meolodies about Feynman and Darwin. Proper disclosure would mean I ought to say I’m not a Robin Ince fan, but the crowd were very appreciative and it all went down a storm. Stuart Evers wrapped up our literary night, reading an excellent story to a very diminished audience, but then, the last gig of the night coinciding with Bloc Party is going to leave the tent a little deserted, no matter who’s up, and Evers was excellent.
Saturday brought us back to Word Theatre (having skipped their Friday event in favour of the uninspiring Thurston Moore reading): this time they presented a pretty weird Granta commission, wherein a bunch of famous writers composed fictional interviews with dead celebrities (The Dead Interviews) and Word Theatre’s cast acted them out. So we had AM Homes interviewing Richard Nixon, Douglas Coupland versus Andy Warhol, Ian Rankin and Arthur Conan Doyle, and, our favourite by a country mile, Michel Faber interviewing Marcel Duchamp. Who knew the posthumous Duchamp was a Jack Vettriano fan? Next up for us was Germaine Greer, another sell-out show, women AND men in the audience; her talk was a little disjointed, but very passionate and persuasive, and was all about (as you might expect) women in society and how and why they’re disappearing (under the veil, into old age, etc). She hates the authoritarian overtones of the phrase ‘feminist Bible’ as applied to her own most famous book, The Female Eunuch, and has immense problems with ‘the masculinist mindset’. She called Maria Miller a Tory nonentity, dissected the issues of women in sport and the media reactions to them, and got a standing ovation when she was done. Later, a debate on propaganda chaired by Jude England from the British Library brought together sociologist Dr Pam Lowe, Tory think-tanker Max Wind-Cowie from Demos, and writer Sarfraz Manzoor; Wind-Cowie reckoned the choice for policy-makers and government was between persuasion and enforcement; Lowe argued with cogency in favour of evidence-based research and accountability; and Manzoor was sort of on the fence, conceding that it was an emotionally loaded term. The session was thought-provoking, but inconclusive, and prompted a certain amount of ire from the audience before they all galloped off to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and, later, Kraftwerk. (That’s what we did, anyway.)
Most of Sunday morning and early afternoon for the literary festival-goers was spent in the Film and Music Arena watching short films made by graphic novelist Alan Moore before listening to him interviewed by everyone’s favourite left-wing documentary dude, Adam Curtis. Moore’s project, Jimmy’s End, sounds immense—as well as the short films, they’re hoping for a feature film and a TV series. It’s a huge world-building exercise and a lot of it is based in an alternative-reality Northampton. The films were dark and graphic, as we’d expect from Moore; the interview was relaxed and interesting; and the tent was a geeky paradise, the floor sprawled with fanboys there for both Moore and Curtis. We, too, were dead impressed. Over in the poetry tent, later, we saw a pretty facile set from Dudley Sutton (though the punters seemed happy with it), a more engaging one from Caroline Bird, who read a poem about a masturbating fairy. (Now, that’s what we want from a festival!), and an excellent reading from Don Paterson (who’s a James Blake fan). One of our favourites was a long poem he read about electronic music, which went down well with the musically-inclined audience. We had to skip out on Paterson early, though, to get to our last event of the festival, another graphic novel session (Sunday was Nerd Day at Latitude). Glyn Dillon, Joff Winterhart and Corban Wilkin were interviewed by Toby Litt about their new work—Dillon’s in particular, The Nao of Brown, looked enticing. We felt, though, that there was a big gender bias there – last year’s equivalent panel had one woman and two men, so the overall balance ain’t quite cutting it, Latitude. Give us female comic artists! There are plenty of them out there.
Any Cop?: All in, then, a good time was had. We felt as though there were more recognisable names at last year’s festival, but this year the focus seemed to be more on the up-and-comers, and we certainly can’t fault that. It barely rained. There were books, there was booze. Roll on 2014!