What a Harry On

I’ve had some more self-penned Harry Hill strips out in The Dandy Comic recently and, seeing as I’ve been asked on occasion about the strip-writing process, it seems like a good opportunity to reveal a little bit about my approach. You can check out Nigel Parkinson’s site to glean a few secrets about his prodigious penmanship. I’m regularly gobsmacked by how quickly, deftly and hilariously he produces his work, but I’m guessing that thirty years of creating top-drawer art on a weekly basis may have something to do with this!

Harry avoids Humble Pie and goes for the crumble in a recent strip. Click on the image to enlarge

I usually start with a theme that grabs me; one that can be stretched over 2 (sometimes 4) pages, incorporating many frames. The Harry strip is rather different from many comic strips in that it isn’t just a single-page sequence building up to a theme-related pay-off. It carries its premise across as many detailed sight or pun-related gags as possible, often with diversions. A good example is the recently published 4 page Bubbles strip. What inspired it was simply the thought that bubbles provide great scope; what with bubble baths, perms and cars, ‘bubbly’ TV personalities and speech bubbles etc.

Plenty of room for puns and expert caricatures in the 4 page ‘Bubbles’ strip

Nigel regularly has Harry visiting a whole range of bizarre factories so I thought it’d be good if he and Knitted Character visited the location where all the Dandy speech bubbles end up. It was great fun playing with some of the established symbols of comics and I was delighted with the end result. Nigel absolutely nailed the script and, as usual, improved it with his choices. Gifted cartoonist Paul Cemmick once told me that drawing strips is like directing a film. You have to make exactly the right choices within the frame to convey the story successfully and Nigel is an expert at this, to the point where he makes it look easy.

Here are a couple of examples of my Bubbles script with Nigel’s finished work beneath. 

5. Large panel. Harry and KC walk between massive stacks of speech balloons, piled up like Pringles. A few speech balloons lie around containing recognisable Dandyisms etc. A couple of others contain expressions such as YEOWWCH!! GLUURRGH!! OOF!! & AAARRRGGGHHH!!! 

       A few smaller balloons whiz up to the ceiling. Caption: Helium Balloons

              On the floor a couple of balloons with arms and legs drink and dance, dizzily. Caption: Party Balloons. 

            Elsewhere, a couple walk around with rain and lightning coming out from beneath them. Caption: Weather balloons.

             Nearby, a balloon jabs another balloon in its stomach. 

             Balloon 1: Oi, are you ‘avin an affair with my missus?

             Balloon 2: Leave it aht!

             Caption: ‘Soap’ bubbles

             HH: This where all the balloons and speech bubbles are stored after being used in The Dandy!

Harry enters a world of potential bubble and strife ©The Dandy 2011

 PAGE 4 

  1. Tossing the other speech balloon over his shoulder, Harry picks up a pile of smaller speech balloons.

HH: You’ve been a bit quiet, Knitted Character! I’ll soon fix that!

     2. Harry holds out the small balloons like he’s performing a card trick.

 HH: Let’s play ‘balloon fish!’ Pick a balloon. Any Balloon!

3. KC leans forward and grabs one that says. 

Balloon: I’ll have this one please, Harry. 

HH: That’s a bit boring! Choose another! 

In KC’s other hand is a smaller bubble that just says:

Balloon: Ok

Fishy business. Nigel Parkinson deals a clean hand

I tend to over-write my scripts, throwing in as many gags or detail as I’m inspired to – which leaves Nigel free reign to cherry-pick as much as he wishes. The bonus here is that some of the unused jokes can be used in later strips. Nigel writes the majority of the Harry strips and I’m happy to let him take away or add as much as he likes to mine. He always sticks to the original structure and includes most of my material. Only occasionally the strip is minimally altered with a few minor additions/deletions, like Bubbles.

A particular favourite, this panel made me laugh out loud when I received it

Sometimes, as with the recent popular Highland Games story, some of the page’s content will be radically restructured by Nigel. In my original draft, Harry was walking in the Scottish Highlands where he meets Michael Caine and David Cameron via a William Wallace digression. None of these characters actually made it to print. On page 2 he hears about the Games via an old guy in a small, pun-laden shop and then cycles there on a ‘wild’ mountain bike. Nigel moved the shop to an urban area, killed the bike idea (perhaps figuring it was superfluous because of the later action-based panels) and made the proprietor Gordon Brown! Perfect.

Frantic Time Lord antics from the mammoth 12 page special ©The Dandy

Earlier in the year, I felt as though I’d hit the ground running with my first submission, which had a theme of ‘Lords’. Plenty of scope with one simple theme there, I felt. I had Harry on the Thames and then in the House of Lords where he encountered Susan Boyle, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Golem, a Little Britain character, Sir Alan Sugar and all eleven incarnations of Doctor Who!  He then visits the jungle and encounters quite a few ‘I’m a Celebrities’. Before I knew it, Nigel and Harry had decided to develop the idea and somehow my first ever published comic strip had expanded from 4 pages into a 12 page special where Harry does all of the above via some Doctor-related shenanigans and a trip into space.

 
A Cheeky influence. Classic stuff from 1978

After writing several Harry stories I realised that I was subconsciously channeling the Cheeky strips that I loved as a kid. A brilliant creation that started life in Krazy comic, Cheeky was an odd-looking cove (mostly drawn by the indefatigable Frank McDiarmid) who amused himself on his many jaunts by relentlessly wise-cracking gags and entertaining/infuriating as many characters as possible. Sound familiar?

Master of the Shoeniverse? Harry gets the boot in a new strip. All images © The Dandy comic

One of the things I love about writing for the strip is that the premise is completely flexible and largely without constraint. Of course, there must be a character journey of sorts and some interaction between celebrities at theirs or Harry’s expense. Like its parent telly programme, TV Burp, there are plenty of juicy opportunities to go off at ridiculous tangents. Finally, in true comics-tradition, there’ll usually be an upbeat ending that incorporates a play on words relating to the theme. Even if this involves the character’s ‘downfall’ it should still feel EXUBERANT!

 

 

 

Bursting with Goodness

As a sci-fi loving teenager in the early 80s my regular reading regime consisted mainly of the always thrill-powered 2000AD comic and the monthly delights of a quickly-maturing Doctor Who Magazine. Whilst reading the latter it became increasingly hard to ignore the regular adverts for a fantasy film and TV magazine called Starburst. Its striking covers, often featuring the likes of zombies, Snake Plissken and scantily-clad females, were catnip to my curiosity and once I bought my first issue I was hooked.

My first Starburst. Didn't buy it for the Ringo pic if I'm honest

Throughout the summer months I loved staying up with my dad to watch BBC2’s classic Saturday night horror double-bills, so to be able to actually read about those films in brilliant detail was like drinking from the Holy Grail. The photos that accompanied them were lovingly displayed and those that depicted scenes from the new wave of American horror films were often quite shocking. (Some of those films, later viewed at the height of the ‘video-nasty’ era were shocking for all the wrong reasons). A spread from John Carpenter’s forthcoming Escape from New York had me both fascinated and repulsed by riotous scenes outside the Choc-Full-o-Nuts that included an impaled head perched on a parking meter. Nice going, Starburst! I also vividly remember a colourful spread on 1972’s Tales from the Crypt featuring an image of Peter Cushing as the zombified Arthur Grimsdyke that was far more unsettling than any actual scenes in the movie.  If it wasn’t for Starburst I wouldn’t have gone to see the likes of Time Bandits, a superbly-realised flick that I knew nothing about before happening upon a generously-endowed piece in the mag. Mind you, I also wouldn’t have endured the highly dubious double-billing of Krull and Saturn 3 at the Bolton Odeon. Nice going, Starburst! The sheer level of insight, humour and detail lavished upon all imagination-firing films and TV by the Starburst team kept me gripped for years. I have particularly fond memories of purchasing an issue almost entirely dedicated to my favourite film of all, Blade Runner.

Adric as you've never seen him before in my latest strip for the new-look Starburst

 Sadly, for a variety of reasons far too mundane to mention here, Starburst magazine ‘paused’ publication a few years ago; a shadow of its former stellar self. But now, via the miracle of the internet, a dedicated cabal of talented creators – Starburst enthusiasts all- have resuscitated the sleeping leviathan in online form! Here you can find an essential rolling news portal dedicated to bringing you all the latest fantasy/sci-fi/horror news, expertly interspersed amongst entertainingly written articles – all lovingly presented in the classic Starburst mould. Oh, and it also features a regular comic strip created by me;  something I would often dream about whilst reading those electrifying articles on Raiders, Scanners and Michael Caine flop The Hand all those years ago.  http://www.starburstmagazine.com/
My fisrt strip for the new-look Starburst covered a vital topic: the Doctor's hair

Drawing inspiration

Drawing a birthday card for my girlfriend Emily today I was reminded just how much I enjoy cartooning. Before concentrating on writing I used to draw non-stop. I even got paid for it on occasion! Getting lost in a picture whilst listening to good music must be one of life’s most rewarding pleasures. I love tackling caricatures too. Here’s one of Sir Ian McKellen from a while back.

Hang ‘em High

I recently had the pleasure of working with Brighton artist Jim Sanders, interviewing him to provide publicity copy for his forthcoming shows. Jim is a very talented, committed painter who also works in 3D. His diverse influences include sex, religion, children’s art and Paul Klee. Featuring among his pieces are giant figure paintings on sackcloth, impressive totems and striking collaborations with the artist Paul Ostrer. As well as being highly gifted creatives they’re both lovely fellas, so check out their links at the side of the page and look out for their shows over the coming months.

 
 
 
 

Well hung. Sanders' distinctive figures

 

The Creepiest TV intros ever

Recently I watched the slick, bouncy and nowhere-near sinister intro to children’s show The Sarah Jane Adventures and wondered if it has anywhere near as much impact on today’s generation as some of the grainy, low-lit and downright terrifying classics of my youth. For me it’s a no-brainer but what do YOU think? Am I missing out on some current creepy classics, or is the 1970s the definitive era for nightmare-inducing TV? And I’m only talking about the intros. Take a dark and lonely walk with me down memory creek to sample my selection of weird and wonderful telly titles of yore. But don’t look over your shoulder. You might regret it…

 

70’s kids’ TV essentials: Mysterious Marc Bolanesque adventurer? Check. Funky theme music? Check. Occult/Folk visuals? Of course. A bizarre acid-laced composite of tarot cards, cosmic animal-faces and Gene Simmons make-up tests? Need you really ask?

 

A millionaire-heavy Tory government, Fat Cats creaming bonuses out of the City and a spud-faced footballer on £250,000 a week. Yep, it’s a pretty screwed-up economy but it’s nothing compared to the early 70s with its  fuel crisis and Three-Day week . And The Changes, of course. The most depressing titles ever? Kids were tough as houses in them days but it scared the bewillies out of me.

It’s The Wicker Man for kids! Nuff said.

Hard to gauge the long-term psychological impact of this frankly insane masterpiece. Rumours that it was heavily used in Guantanamo Bay have yet to be disproved. Count the crash-zooms at your peril.

The pitch: a story programme for kids. The execution: a warped, fairground nightmare where you almost expect a pissed Jack-in-the-Box to slowly spring forward and vomit through the telly onto your shag-pile carpet. Hideous but unforgettable.

Psyche-swirled mushroom madness merging into a Triffid-faced Pertwee to the most alien-sounding music ever. To this day it’s an unrivalled promise of weirdness and excitement.

This was made by the Devil. That’s all you need to know.

And straight in at Number One… it’s Armchair Thriller. Simple but nightmare-inducingly effective. The combination of Andy MacKay from Roxy Music’s haunting theme and the spectral-shadow of a serial-murderer sitting down in his sparse, cold lair to watch terror TV kept me awake for months in the late 70s. Still gives me the shivers and that’s even before watching the ever-paralysing Quiet as a Nun.

So, there we have my hit parade of disturbing 70s TV titles. But there’s still room for a few bizarre inclusions that are creepy in their own particular way…

Supernatural forces are unleashed in this horse-powered saga. Or so it would seem by the disproportionate nature of the theme song. To a young child this was slightly perplexing. The programme’s called Follyfoot, not The Lightning Tree. In fact the closest the flipping Lightning Tree got to any kind of action was having Desmond Llewellyn tapping his pipe on it.

It wasn’t ecstasy-abuse that did for a whole generation. It was simply flashbacks to this singularly synapse-sizzling product.

This is nuts. The narration couldn’t alienate the casual viewer more with its clipped warning of transuranic heavy elements and medium atomic weights (?!). I particularly like the pause the narrator gives before saying ‘…Copper’ whilst he’s waiting for the animation to catch up with him. Great music though.

This is just about wrong on every single level. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have put it on here.

King of the bizarre TV intros has to be this curio from the early 80s. At the time I thought the music and titles were completely removed from its subject matter (a middle-aged man treated like a boy by his mollycoddling mother). But its annoying fusion of neon eye-scorchery combined with the music; a baffling slab of strangled-cat aqua-reggae now seems curiously appropriate. Some insist on calling it a classic. I just call it plain bloody weird. Perversely, it’s almost impossible to whistle, which is odd, as it insists on loitering in your head for weeks like a methylated squatter.

Latitude Diary Part 2 – The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance?

 (Scroll down for Part One)

 Saturday July 17th   

Sleep, that rarest of festival essentials, was in sympathetic supply last night. Somehow my ears filtered out the disquieting jumble of noises that surrounded the tent: people tripping over guy-ropes, drunken squabbling, middle-age snoring and a cacophony of teenage girls repeatedly shouting “Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me!” But dark clouds are also in abundance and many revellers awake to a heavy, but thankfully brief, shower. We decide to embed ourselves early on in the comedy tent to watch Ardal O’Hanlon but the place is absolutely rammed. Keeping a beady eye out for the merest opening, we pounce on a shilling-sized spot to squat. This is a tricky feat to manage when the lumpy, dusty ground is so uneven that sitting still becomes the most complex endeavour. Tip for wannabe torturers: it’s quite impossible to sit cross-legged when you’re facing up an incline. Luckily, beefy Moylesalike MC Mark Olver bullies the crowd to make more room and soon we’re grateful not to have knobbly teenage knees sticking into the smalls of our backs any longer. The initial discomfort proves to be well worth it as O’Hanlon is an absolute delight. Sporting a beard and what might charitably be described as a 12-pack, the Irishman offers, “I know what you’re thinking: the fella’s let himself go a little, hasn’t he?” Ruminating on the recession, the perils of family life and the crisis within the Catholic Church (“It’s got to the point where even playing a fictional priest has its drawbacks”), O’Hanlon delivers a hilarious set full of charming absurdities: “I’m so useless at undoing my wife’s bra-strap that all she has to do to keep me out of the house when I’m drunk is to stretch the thing across the front door.”     

 
 
 
 

The eyebrows have it: Jimeoin
 

After a promising but rather undeveloped routine about a thick astronaut from Josie Long, the room readies itself for a turn from another Irishman, Jimeoin. As the crowd rearranges itself, Olver reckons he has an ace up his sleeve by bellowing “Fuck me, is that Richard Curtis sitting there? Christ, it is you know!” But his efforts to engage with the reticent Blackadder scribe fall on mock-deaf ears as Curtis simply pretends the belligerent MC isn’t there. So, onto yet another Irishman, Jimeoin. I’ve seen his quizzical, bemused mug on enough posters over the years but have never watched him perform or even heard any feedback on the fella. Well, if you’re looking for some low-key, high-class, left-field observations on the minutiae of life then I cannot recommend him enough. Just watching his face perform its lugubrious acrobatics as he describes the etiquette of using one’s eyebrows socially was enough to have me in stitches.   

We then go for a well-needed stretch of the legs to imbibe our secret beer-stash but there’s a problem; the main bridge is completely blocked with thousands of sun-ripened folks trying to filter through its bottleneck. We’re forced to take a detour whilst grumbling about Latitude’s ever-growing crowds. Somewhere that turns out to be roomy enough to grab a large cushion and slouch on the floor is the literary tent’s session with former 70’s dreamboat David Soul reading poetry by Nobel prize-winning Chilean Pablo Neruda. Now there’s a sentence you didn’t expect. After enjoying many Starsky & Hutch repeats over the years we were curious to catch the old chart-topper. Soul has kind, sad eyes and a throaty delivery that did justice to the beautiful verse that he was visibly moved to read. Even though the audience, headed by a line of maturing Soul-worshippers, was wholly transported by the rich utterances, I had to bite my tongue a few times to stop myself from shouting Captain Dobie-style, “Get out of here, Hutchinson!”  

  
With Eric, the Latitude butterfly

   

Time for music next and so, buffeted by the busy Saturday throng, we brown the backs of our necks whilst enjoying a fine, sturdy set from the popular Noah and the Whale. Then it’s a dash back to the comedy tent for some inspired improv courtesy of Moe the Barman doppelganger Rich Hall who makes much sport with the music-seeking teens self-consciously leaving his routine. After this it’s quite a comedown to witness the milling hordes reeling from an aural onslaught from Crystal Castles, unaccountably placed on the main stage. Whatever legitimate gripes the front-woman may have with Latitude for certain regrettable incidents over the weekend, surely it’s no excuse to vent her Jim Beam-soaked spleen on crowds merely seeking some sun-splashed evening entertainment. What they get instead is a shrill, confrontational brat whining over what sounds like an over-amplified Commodore Vic 20 loading up a Zaxxon cartridge. Whether people are generally getting tired or feeling rather heat-baked, it’s at this point I notice a certain lariness creeping into proceedings; a smattering of drunken truculence alien to our previous visit. The toilet queues have become wearingly long with people recoiling sharply as they’re assailed by stealthy pockets of marsh-gas. Festival tip number 2 (ahem): Don’t stand downwind of the khazis. The Horrors’ epic, smoky, psych-swirled routine in the Word Arena provides a welcome tonic.  

Even if it’s for one night only this year, Latitude mercifully manages to maintain the tradition of headlining an act that’s built up a loyal, fervent audience over the years as opposed to the latest flavour of the month fashion-horse (hello Florence). So it’s a welcome relief to engage with a crisp, warm and well-crafted performance from Belle and Sebastian, described by a friend as ‘the band that the girl you fancy always seems to love’. The sound was excellent, and combined with charismatic frontman Stuart Murdoch’s disarmingly natural persona (both welcoming host and waspish joker) offers an intimacy to the arena strikingly lacking with most other bands. They skipped through plenty of old favourites; Step Into My Office Baby, The State That I Am In, The Boy With The Arab Strap etc and were so at ease that at one point they pulled off a memorably impromptu busk through Jumpin’ Jack Flash. What with their infamously polite stage invasions and unique brand of crystal-cut pop, it’s not hard to see why they attract such devoted followers.        

Stuart Murdoch at the Obelisk Arena

   

Afterwards, browsing through a book stall, a curious waft of music drifts around our ears; a sustained, choral harmony of super-intense female voices. Intrigued, we mooch over to the Lake Stage and catch a truly hypnotic presentation from its source; the twenty or so members of ‘alt-girl choir’ Gaggle. When the spaceships finally arrive their strangely arresting hymns would provide a perfect accompaniment. 

Gaggling for it. One of the gals from Gaggle

Fighting fatigue, we rejuvenate within the Film & Music tent thanks to Mark Lamarr presenting some fierce funk care of Noel McKoy and his blistering band. Covered in funk-blisters, we then stumble to the Faraway Forest (a small wood on a hill) where Les Enfant Terribles are holding a masked ball and cabaret. A dreamscape lit with fairy lights and populated by well-dressed revellers, this has a charming yet subversive atmosphere and is a perfect place to round off the evening. Riffed-up scuzz-blues with endearing, faux-sloppy drums from Australian three-piece The Suitcase Royale lead us up the golden staircase to bed. Latitude in a nutshell.      

Royale with cheese - The Suitcase Royale

   

Sunday July 18th   

Today, as it happens, turns out to be a surprise TJ day, as Welsh wildebeest Tom Jones is sprung from his leather cage in the mountains again to perform where he should have been allowed to prowl in the first place – out on the savannah of the main stage. Whether it’s a PR-job from the festival organisers to assuage disquiet after Thursday night’s balls-up, or a request from the man himself after Thursday’s rapturous response, we don’t know. But it’s a fine way to kick-start the day, watching the 70 year old Sir Tom perform like a chap half his age. When a guy in his fifties appears on stage, Jones the Voice reveals, “That’s my son, Mark. We’re more like brothers really. I had him when I was sixteen, you see.” Enjoying the surprised response, he qualifies this in one word that explains all: “Welsh.” I’ve never been a fan of his plea-wrought bellowing so it’s pleasing to witness a relatively low-key vocal performance that still reveals hints of the mighty lungs that power his sails. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he was to return in ten years time.  Unlike many other acts here.   

Also sure to return is comedian Andrew Lawrence who plays the helium-voiced God-squaddie in perennial BBC sit-com Ideal. Unlike many comics here who make a virtue of their improvisational skills, Lawrence sticks firmly to the script, which in his case appears to be an endless autistic hit-list of universal loathing: detailed rants with the ability to disgust and astound in equal measure. It’ll be interesting to see how he compromises these for his new series on Radio 4.      

The weather’s been so dry in general that the Sunrise Arena in the woods now resembles a dust-bowl with people coughing up brown particles as their grimy feet kick up the abundant ground-powder. Wiping our eyes, we guide our camels into the tent to witness a few songs from recent Rough Trade-signing Joe Worriker. The fey young lad packs quite a soulful wallop with a husky voice reminiscent of Nina Simone. His backing band are youthful and sharply-dressed, with the exception of the bassist who is still in pyjamas and wears a bemused expression that suggests he’s not quite sure whether he’s in a dream or not.    

    

  

I fancy catching young Manc tips for success Egyptian Hip Hop but they’re outvoted in favour of the massive Mumford & Sons. The sun-scorched main arena is fully crammed with people of all ages to witness their brand of rousing power-folk; a style lost on me although I’m in the minority. On this showing they could’ve easily headlined an evening or elbowed, say, Crystal Castles into an afternoon slot.   

  

A quick word from our sponsors

  

  

Having been caught smuggling cans in earlier (thanks, over-zealous security bloke!) we head back to our tent to drain the last of our supplies before the final push into Sunday evening. Then it’s over to the sweltering film tent to watch the first half hour of The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer’s classic silent from 1928, with a new score performed live and orchestrated by Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory. The powerful, haunting music accompanies the intense black and white close-ups perfectly and it’s a real shame that the tent is only partially full. As most people are outside enjoying the good weather this would’ve benefited massively from a Thursday night outdoor slot, much like Joby Talbot’s performed score for Hitchcock’s The Lodger in 2007. These mood pieces tend to work as effective curtain-raisers; nicely assisting anticipation for the festival’s delights.    

Then  it’s back over to the ever-reliable Word Arena to see leather-trousered Charlotte Gainsbourg and her flamboyant band perform songs from this year’s recommendable IRM album, produced and written with Beck. Mixing a few numbers from previous album, the Air-produced 5:55, and a tune from late pappy Serge, Couleur Café, CG hosts a well-performed set and is, unsurprisingly, a captivating presence.     

For the last time we roll down into the dusty woods to catch the eagerly-anticipated Darwin Deez, a man who seems to have spawned a sub-cult of permed teens sporting stringy hair-bands – a look I haven’t witnessed en masse since hiding in a car outside Old Trafford in the 70s. Deez and his band are sweet performers, breaking up their light, infectious indie-funk with crowd-wowing dance routines that raise the roof.   

Click here to view the Radar Detector video

Suddenly it’s time to wade through the multitude to find a good spot for Sunday’s headliners, Vampire Weekend, where minor amusement is provided by a Beanoesque kid in a beret clipping pegs to unsuspecting punters. I’d heard good things about VW live and they don’t disappoint, with a polished, beefy sound boosting their sometimes delicate pluckings into a true stadium-storming spectacle. The NY quartet winningly blast through their repertoire with only one tune from both albums noticeably absent. Presumably they felt that The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance would’ve been too wistful, melancholic and incongruous for such a celebratory atmosphere.    

But how perfect it would’ve been for early the next morning.    

Ah. The next morning.    

Monday July 19th     

According to companion Siobhan, Latitude’s final night last year was a quiet and orderly affair with many visitors having already packed up and left. Flushed from a fine festival and expecting a relatively good night’s kip, I head for bed in a positive mood that’s quickly tempered by the prevalent rowdy atmosphere. Amid a proliferation of campfires an ambulance trundles awkwardly through a mess of rampant teen disorder. Tucked up with our earplugs firmly in, we attempt to ignore the scattered, escalating frenzy of screams that encircle us – my mind conjuring up images of post-apocalyptic scavengers silhouetted against a raging pyre. A tad dramatic? But it doesn’t sound healthy out there. Positively feral in fact.    

Curses. My dear old bladder persistently prods me awake and I moan at the wretchedness of its timing: 4am. But the hideous soundscape beyond our flimsy canvas has worsened and I’m wondering what the security bods, so ardent in their daily beer-plundering bag-searches, are up to. I get my answer 45 minutes later when I’m led by my bulging bladder towards the toilets. They’re nowhere; scarpered by the look of it. And who can blame them? In the eerie pre-dawn glow, the site resembles a squalid refugee camp of tumbling, desperate maniacs. Picking my way through a Crystal Maze of tangled guy-ropes, trampled tents, discarded Pringles tubes and blank-eyed casualties, I ignore the raving children of the devolution and set my sights on the looming shit-sheds. I shan’t tell you what I saw in one of the cubicles; suffice to say it’ll probably occupy my image-bank far longer than is healthy along with the niggling query: how the hell did they manage to get it there?     

The sky has now changed to a watery blue as I pass a bunch of kids shouting obscenities as they roll a fat muck-encrusted idiot to the water taps for a soaking. I ruminate that if the festival was to last a week it wouldn’t be long before we’re in full Lord of the Flies territory. I drift past a tent where a mature couple and their dog sit outside listening to their radio full-blast, looking like an old portrait of farmers from the Deep South. Their blank expressions suggest they’ve been up all night. Guarding their supplies or just watching the demise?    

Approaching our tent my stomach suddenly lurches when I see two well-built chavs outside, crouching by the tent-flap. As I get closer they quickly straighten up. One shrugs at me and the other half-smiles, pretending to examine his nails. Their casual gestures speak volumes. ‘Rumbled. So what. We’ll find another.’ As they slope off I get back into the tent and can’t praise my bladder enough for the prescience of its timing. And then not a wink more as I listen to the wild yells gradually dissipate into the whining and grumbles of posh, wrecked teenagers. “Hey Justin. You know I lied to you when I said I was going to Cambridge.” “What? Oh, you tosser!” And then the little sods start to pack up; barking instructions between reminiscences of their squalid, adolescent escapades. A man next door snores loudly; the bastard. I’m too tired to think straight.    

A little later we poke our sleep-deprived snouts outside to see people sedately stuffing their bags amid a sluggish and litter-ravaged evacuation. The contrast to the chaos of a few hours earlier is striking. We can’t get away soon enough. As we finally motor forth in the hot, slow exodus from Henham, Siobhan tells us the shocking news that a girl was gang-raped on the first night. Apparently the story was all over the news and Siobhan only found out on Twitter. She’s disgusted that the Latitude organisers, facing an almighty PR disaster, hadn’t told anyone. (Apparently there were some ‘incident’ posters around the site but we didn’t see any). This seems incomprehensible. Then I remember the deeply unsettling atmosphere of last night and shiver at the memory of the two young men casing our tent. (Since then we hear of yet another reported rape and sexual assault). On the way home, Siobhan talks about never going to Latitude again; how she’d prefer to visit smaller festivals that embody its earlier spirit, such as End of the Road. We all agree that it was far too busy this year but will probably keep expanding regardless. A great shame.     

Back home I scour the forums to find that most Latitude regulars who posted would probably never go again; largely citing mainstream acts who appealed to drunken teens and  general overcrowding. Ironically, some state that they’d rather pay more money in future so that numbers could be kept down. Understandably, Melvyn Benn, founder and creator of Latitude is said to be ‘distraught’ at the criminal behaviour on show this year. So where did he and Festival Republic go wrong? Well, it transpires that the problems aren’t exclusive to Latitude. This year many festivals seem to have witnessed an unprecedented incursion of the binge-drinking culture that spoiled Latitude for so many. There were many reports of vandalism and assault at the family-oriented Camp Bestival in Dorset plus two rapes and an attempted murder at Scotland’s T in the Park.    

But festival organisers and attendees are rallying. Voluntary teams of Twats (yup – Tent Watch Action Teams) are springing up to work incognito alongside security staff, and The Association of Independent Festivals is expanding its Festival Watch scheme in which details of troublemakers are passed on to others.    

Click here for a more detailed report from The Observer    

So there we have it: a great festival fighting to maintain its unique flavour in the face of rampant expansionism. We had a brilliant time on the whole. But would we go again? Well it’s conditional, Latitude. If you keep the numbers below 35,000, if you prioritise the security so people feel safe in their tents, if you crack down on the boozing kids instead of stomping on responsible adults, if you have less teen-appeal zeitgeist acts headlining, if you bring the food prices down, if you improve the sanitation and if you make some of the showcase tents bigger then yes, I just might. Not much to ask is it?    

Otherwise you’ll be consigned to a whirl of wonderful memories sadly usurped by the unspeakable sight in the cubicle and the jarring, symbolic image of one of your trademark plastic sheep upended and melting on a fire.