The weather reports were threatening but in the end I had a fabulous time at Latitude this last weekend. Just ace.
Here I am feeling all heroic after erecting my tent on the Friday.
The festival tries to encourage everyone to be green and to use public transport wherever possible but after a nightmarish journey home last year - which started with a minibus from the performer's campsite to the back of a 5000 person queue for a bus to a train station I decided I couldn't face it this time and so arranged a hire car instead. Taking 4 hours to leave the site was just too unpleasant.
For a short while I thought the fates were punishing me for this ungreen decision as my well thought out plan threatened to fall apart before I'd even left home.
I was meant to be picking up the car on July 17. I'd paid for it on June 24. On July 16 - at around 4pm I got a call from Budget telling me that they might not be able to honour the booking. I asked them why and they told me that the car was currently hired by someone who'd taken it to Paris and wasn't able to return it in time. So when they said they "might not be able to" what they really mean was "definitely won't be able to."
I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time - whoever had that car can't have been the first person to bring a vehicle back late - but it seemed really odd the way they told me this as though it was now my problem and nothing more to do with them. Surely they have some kind of procedure for dealing with the situation? If they did, the local office who were responsible didn't seem to know about it. So I called the national phone line and asked them for help. I was told there was nothing they could do.
There's a secret code for dealing with these situations, a magic incantation that often gets results. I crossed my fingers and uttered the words, "can I speak to your supervisor". Quite why so many companies operate this system of customer-services is beyond me... a raft of people who's job seems to be answering the phone and denying that the company have any responsibility but who will - if you're lucky - hand you over to someone who will help if you ask them to. I don't know anyone who doesn't know the can-I-speak-to-your-supervisor spell so surely everyone just says that and they gain nothing by their stonewalling except more annoyed customers? Wouldn't it be easier to just employ more people who can actually help?
So the supervisor managed to make an alternative booking through a different company - Avis - and promised that, while this new booking was more expensive I would be refunded the difference. Something which didn't happen at the time and that they now seem to be quibbling over...
Of course, if I'd cancelled on them at less than 24 hours notice they would have charged me 50% of the rental plus a £20 administration fee so it seems a little unfair that they can cancel on me and offer nothing except a more-expensive-alternative. I think I should be entitled to the same 50% +£20... that would just about cover the extra costs I've incurred. (I'll let you know how I go with that.)
But more importantly, my Latitude plans were back on track... in the shape of a Chevrolet Matiz. A shape so small that could just about cope with a tent, two bags and one passenger but nothing more.
I was expecting horribly heavy traffic and a long journey through rain drenched roads but apart from a small snarl up near Ipswich it was easy going and as we got closer to the site the sun came out in a glorious fashion. I was just glad it was still light and dry as I erected the tent.
There really isn't time to detail every performance I saw but as is often the case with festivals how much I enjoyed a gig seemed to bear little relation to how likely I am to own an artist's CDs. Some of the people you wouldn't think about buying a ticket for can really surprise you... and often it's about the venue and the atmosphere and so on as much as it is the performance. I think almost any gig would be better with a roof on it but Grace Jones was simply amazing at playing such a big arena and managed to make the atmosphere reach all the way to the back. The Gossip - a band I've not paid much attention to before now - were ace live. The good songs all sound a bit like that one really big hit they had, but Beth Ditto works the crowd brilliantly and has one hell of a pair of lungs on her. Live, she's thrilling and charismatic to watch. Showmanship. Good.
The only disappointment musically was that First Aid Kit had cancelled. The stage they were due to play on - in a small copse in the woods - would have been perfect for them. Oh well.
But Latitude is as much about spoken word as it is about music and my favourite performance of the weekend was a one-man play called Coelacanth by the brilliant Ben Moor. I love Ben's work but had never seen this show before. The setting was perfect. The writing and performance too. I had a tear rolling down my cheek at the end but I laughed a lot along the way. Even as I type this I feel a small tingle of excitement at the memory. Watching Ben perform is like being hugged. His one-man shows have been collected together as prose stories in a book. He's lyrical, brilliant and his alternative universe is a bit like this one only sweeter. I highly recommend it... it's here.
Last year I did a book reading in the Literature Tent. I loved it. I think it might have been the beginning of me thinking about returning to stand-up. It took me a while to get round to it but I think the seed was planted there. It seems counter-intuitive but in a way a book-reading has more in common with stand-up than my story-telling shows do. So I was very happy to come along this year and do some stand-up.
I had a really nice gig but I think I was lucky because a large crowd had turned up and they were focussed enough to ignore the sound of the main stage that was way, way too intrusive. When the crowd weren't as focussed it was really detrimental to the show. It wasn't like that last year and the technicians who were working on that tent were on their walkie-talkies desperately trying to get the mainstage to turn things down a bit but with no joy. It might have been a nice gig but it meant it was an environment that only suited certain types of comedy and that's a real shame and a bad change from the Comedy Tent of last year. Unless they can do something to improve that situation I think a lot of people will choose not to do it again next year.
As well as my stand-up set I also sang in the Cabaret Tent with Ward And White's Karaoke Circus. I say 'sang'... that's really not the word for my performance. Did I sing Daydream Believer? No. Ruined it? Yep. But I rescued it with a stage-dive at the end. Thanks to everyone who caught me.
There was a really lovely atmosphere for the whole of that show and singing ability wasn't really what it was about. It was just lovely, inclusive, silly fun. And I was stupidly excited to be "singing" because the lead guitarist in the band is Foz from the excellent David Devant & His Spirit Wife. I'm a fan. Now I've sung with their lead guitarist. Life is daft.
I also did a small something at the final Book Club in the Literature Tent. Robin Ince is surely the hardest working man in showbiz... I'm pretty sure he was doing 4 or 5 shows most days. His hosting of The Book Club is always hilarious and his organising of it, heroic. I will be scarred for life by the contribution of Pappy's Fun Club that night. Their stylophone based sketch is stunning. Just properly, gasping-for-breath funny. There is no need for them to do it naked. No need. Scarred. For life. Naked.
It was a great way for the festival to end.
And I was very glad that I had a car for the journey home. Tired - especially as some twonk thought it would be nice to play the guitar until 5 in the morning in the middle of a campsite - because, y'know, tents are really well sound-proofed aren't they? - we ambled our way back, taking a nice detour to Aldeburgh for some chips on the beach. Perfect.