Bringing my three-year-old for his first festival experience there was a sense of trepidation as to how this could pan out, but roaming the festival grounds, it quickly became evident that Latitude had successfully struck the perfect balance between a family-friendly event and an artistic haven for adults. The diverse program caters to every taste, offering an impressive array of performances, workshops, and activities.
Families with young children have an almost never-ending assortment of activities in the Kid’s Area. Puppet shows, storytelling sessions, sing-a-longs, and hands-on craft activities, even the ancient art of shipbuilding was on offer. Meanwhile, adults found solace in the beautiful woods, secret bars, culinary delights, and picturesque lake of Henham Park.
Whether you have kids or not though, it’s the music that takes centre stage. Friday brought many treats, the little dynamo that is Ber welcomed our day at the BBC Sounds Stage. Her self-reflective charming songs and melodies, all the way from Minnesota, had the heads nodding in appreciation in the huge tent.
The main arena Obelisk Stage opened with Tinariwen, the Tuareg musicians from the Sahara region of northern Mali, who tried their best to conjure the sunshine with their nomadic guitar driven desert blues. And they succeeded in capturing the crowd under their hypnotic spell before the ominous clouds gathered once more.
Female indie four-piece Lime Garden won over the crowd at The Sunrise Arena, set in the beautiful forest and fern section of the site. While N’famady Kouyate brought his West African Mandingue songs to the Obelisk Stage playing his traditional wooden xylophone with heartfelt passion.
Latitude’s magic also lies beyond the music. Thomasin Miers packed out the Theatre of Food for a fun and informative culinary workshop experience. Tim’s Listening Party with Tim Burgess & James Acaster at The Listening Post had the crowd enthralled and The Poetry Arena showcased a spectrum of spoken word artists, weaving poignant narratives together. While workshops on photography, painting, and cooking were peppered throughout the day to inspire and relax.
Pulp head-lined the main stage on Friday night with Jarvis Cocker in fine voice wearing a black crushed velvet jacket for a string of crowd-pleasing Britpop classics. ‘Disco 2000’ an early highlight, as was ‘Sorted for E’s & Wizz’, whilst ‘Something Changed’ was dedicated to recently departed bassist Steve Mackey. The closer ‘Common People’ rubber stamping a well-worked set ensuring a field full of happy campers.
Saturday saw The Mysterines bring their brand of guitar fuelled indie-rock to the Obelisk Stage and 20-year-old Kai Bosch welcome the music to BBC Sounds Stage with tales of his varied youthful experiences.
The Lightning Seeds drew the biggest crowd during daylight, it’s hard not to nod along to these little pop gems. Then the rainclouds gathered and unleashed a sustained barrage which heralded a weird and wonderful variety of multi-coloured plastic macs and ponchos but very few umbrellas, music watching etiquette alive and well here at Latitude.
But rain never stops a UK festival and Katie Gregson-Macleod brought her piano based soothing songs to the Sunrise Arena while Teddy Swims made new friends with his charismatic vocal performance on the main stage.
A gracious Paolo Nutini regaled the hardy audience still in high spirits on Saturday night, with his soulful bluesy pop classics and retro visuals. After a prolonged break and his last Latitude appearance in 2011, he is sounding better than ever.
On Sunday the weather turned a welcome corner and the sun shone for James with full orchestra and gospel choir. Tim Booth recently told Music News they had specifically asked for this early slot as no other music would be playing across the festival site to aid in the enjoyment of the highs and lows of this special orchestral arrangement and what a great choice it was. If only ever day could open in such an elegant way. Plucked violins welcomed a laid back version of ‘Sit Down’ to open the set with Orca22 & Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir all dressed in black, and James predominantly in white. ‘Born of Frustration’ saw Booth off the stage and into the crowd bringing the audience to fever pitch with this tribal attack. In a set that stirred the emotions you really couldn’t have asked for more on a Sunday lunchtime.
From a distance and with a couple of drinks inside you The Bootleg Beatles are always convincing. Warming up the crowd for disco queen Sophie Ellis-Bextor who never fails to energise an audience.
Romesh Ranganathan ensured roars of laughter in the Comedy Arena, interactive theatre performances in the Kids Area did much the same while the more adventurous went wild swimming in the surrounding lake with pink sheep roaming the bordering fields.
Latitude seems to have everything you could possibly need. The Co-op is both a supermarket and club where you can dance down the isles whilst picking up all those essential items you forgot. The range of shops is wider than ever, there are even two Waterstones book shops, how far we have come from the days we used to burn books in the festival tent campfire.
As the sun set on Latitude’s 2023 edition there was just time for George Ezra to lead a final crowd sing-along to his many hits – which unknow even to yourself you know off by heart – before reflecting on a joyous long weekend of music, dance, theatre, art and food.
Now feeling tired but fulfilled and ready to venture back from whence we came, but not before a final dash down the helter skelter, a ride on the carousel and a bump on the bumper cars.
With site staff always on hand guiding people with a smile it was an extraordinarily well-mannered and friendly experience for adults and children alike. The major all-round consensus was that we will be back in 2024.
Latitude, we thank you.