Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 09:29 UK

Latitude festival is a class act

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Latitude Festival

Thom Yorke
Radiohead's Thom Yorke played a solo set

In its short, four-year lifespan, the Latitude Festival has gained a slightly desultory reputation for being a festival that caters to the chattering classes.

According to one comedian, the three-day bonanza is "so middle class you have to put your kids on a waiting list to get into the play area".

It's not an unfair observation.

Last year, there was nearly a riot when festival-goers discovered that a recording of Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue was oversubscribed.

This year, one of the biggest draws proved to be Neil Hannon's cricket-themed musical project, The Duckworth Lewis Method.

But that is not to denigrate the event, which has a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. Pushchairs and face-painted children were everywhere - particularly during Mika's set, where the audience was more kindergarten than music festival.

Latitude festival
Fans of all ages attended the festival in Suffolk

After Thom Yorke's early-morning appearance on Sunday, information officers offered hugs and compliments to anyone unsettled by his melancholy strumming.

Predictably, there was some tortuous middle class navel gazing over whether the event was too middle class. Stuart Maconie even hosted a tedious dissection of the topic in the literary arena.

But the bigger picture was Latitude's unparalleled artistic line-up.

Over the course of a weekend, we listened to the Britten Sinfonia play Vivaldi on a riverbank; heard unpublished excerpts from Blake Morrison's latest novel; checked out the debuts of several new playwrights; and - most bizarrely of all - witnessed the male chorus of the Royal Opera House chanting "pizza, pizza, pizza".

Pet Shop party

The musical line-up reflected the artistic hue of the festival. Friday night's headliners were the Pet Shop Boys, who took nearly an hour to construct their lavish stage set.

"Forty-five minutes is a very quick turnover for what is, in fact, quite a sophisticated theatrical production," Neil Tennant told the BBC before the show began.

Like Pink Floyd in reverse, the group emerged from behind a huge, Tetris-style wall of white boxes, which was slowly dismantled over the course of the evening.

Grace Jones
Grace Jones headlined the event on Saturday night

Accompanied by robotic dancers and a stunning video display, they put on a terrific visual spectacle - only to be let down by a setlist that relied too heavily on new material and obscure fan favourites for an unfamiliar festival audience.

On day two, the comedy tent seemed to be the main focus - helped by a strong line-up early in the day.

Among them was Irish funnyman Ed Byrne, who had to fill two slots and perform an extra half-hour of material after US star Janeane Garofalo walked off the stage just six minutes into her act.

"If I do an hour, can I have Janeane's money?" he quipped as he took to the stage.

The star had been looking forward to his appearance anyway, having experienced the comedy tent a day earlier.

"You can hear it all over the place," he told the BBC.

"I'm used to being in festivals where you have to yell because the sound from all the other tents bleeds into the comedy arena, whereas here it's the other way around."

Taking advantage of the sound system, he led the crowd in a chant against the £8 festival programme.

How very middle class.

Green fields

The tiny festival site lent itself to discovery. It only took 15 minutes to venture from one end to the other, and the chances of stumbling upon a piece of ballet, or catching a snippet of poetry was one of the event's many charms.

"It's magical," said Marina, of buzzworthy pop act Marina and the Diamonds.

Sarah Rice, Jenna Durdle, Annie Laughrin and Tom Francis
I've just had someone ask me to go down on all fours and growl while the others were riding on top of me. That was a bit weird
Sarah Rice, the cowardly lion

"Have you seen the painted sheep? They look just like rainbow drops!"

The multicoloured mammals were just some of the little touches that gave the festival an other-worldly ambience. Artwork hung in the woods, a piano was left for passers-by to play Chopsticks, and gymnasts performed on the water, suspended inside a giant inflatable ball.

Latitude also bills itself as an eco-friendly festival, and the evidence was clear underfoot - or rather, it wasn't.

Instead of stepping over discarded paper plates and used pint glasses, punters put their waste into recycling bins. A refundable £2 surcharge was added to every drink, encouraging people to return their glasses at the end of the day.

But the event was never an Orwellian nightmare of rules and regulations. The 25,000-strong crowd happily entered into the eco-friendly spirit - many by painting their faces blue in support of an omni-present climate change charity.

Others just decided to let their hair down for the weekend - including Sarah Rice from the Wirral, who came as the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz.

A day in the life of the Britten Sinfonia

"We've had some very strange looks," she said. "We've had some people come up to us and take our pictures. I'm okay with that - but it depends what they ask me to do.

"I've just had someone ask me to go down on all fours and growl while the others were riding on top of me. That was a bit weird."

But topping everyone in the weirdness stakes was Saturday night headliner Grace Jones.

The 61-year-old - who dubbed the festival "Portaloo sunset" - changed into a new costume for every song, prowling and stalking the stage like a lion in the Serengeti (albeit a lion in a glitter-ball bowler hat).

Amazingly, she sang the entirety of her last number - Slave to the Rhythm - while spinning a hula hoop, never missing a beat or losing a breath.

"Wow, wow, wow, wooooow! Am I on the moon?" she asked.

No, Grace, you were in middle England.

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