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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 inrtos 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.   

Anatomy of a Seagull

It’s well known among seaside town dwellers like me that seagulls are incredibly stupid (pecking at their reflections in your window) and notoriously greedy (fond of dragging giant sacks of rubbish slowly down the hill as they try to plunder the remains of last week’s takeaway). But it can now be revealed that they are also evil. It’s a thought that’s often crossed my mind when woken for the umpteenth time in the early morning by a shrill, cacophonous screeching that conjures up images of thick people forever trapped in some ghastly limbo. If seagulls were not evil then surely they’d save their hideous, squealing noise-orgies for a time of the day when most civilised people are up and about.If lazy-scumbag journalists weren’t evil then Eric Cantona wouldn’t compare them to seagulls.

Unlike most birdsong – an amusing, captivating, happy-go-lucky pageant for the ears – the keening scrape or pathetic dug-dug-dug of the seagull was only ever meant to repulse. Not content with generally smearing themselves against the sky and infiltrating rooftops, these flying shitbags now have designs on the ground; increasingly attacking people in their own back gardens and swooping like diabolical, winged shears to pilfer a small child’s hotdog or ice-cream. Evil. Evil. Evil. Some clearly-deranged liberals out there suggest that the whole purpose of seagulls within the Grand Plan is to provide those poor souls lost at sea with a welcome clue that they’re drifting inland. Bollocks. Anyone with half a brain can tell that the idle poo-hawks are simply hanging around waiting for the pitiable seafarers to drop their guard so they can munch on their eyeballs for dinner.

The Creator was definitely having an off day when it came to seagulls. So disgusted was he after knocking out their tawdry design he could only raise his self-esteem by inventing slugs.

Anyway, I now have incontrovertible proof that seagulls are evil. The other day I came across a dead example of their revolting species lying in the road. Somehow the wretch had been split entirely in twain (I’m guessing a sleepless neighbour went for it with an axe). The picture below is an accurate representation of its foul, despicable contents. Proof positive, I’m sure you’ll agree, that seagulls are nothing less than evil.

Great Movie Posters

James changes his ethnicity and gets attacked by a giant red trout. Think the punters were disappointed?

Number one in an occasional series is this little beauty from Ghana. Imagine if communities the world over had their designs for movie posters showcased by the local multiplex. We’d see a hell of a lot more pictures with the simplicity, style and, let’s face it, sheer ineptitude displayed here. Thanks to Simon Drake.

Word of the week results

And now for the part of the blog that gets all Call My Bluffy by offering up an unusual word for you to deduce. Regular readers may recall that last week’s WotW was Cumberbatch and I was delighted by the volume of quality speculations sent in to Baldwin Towers. Robert Shawcross of Ealing mailed in to proffer that a Cumberbatch was a form of rough knapsack fashioned by soldiers in the Crimean War. A popular choice was this one from Peter Daunce, 67, of Nuneaton, who suggests that a Cumberbatch is a 1940’s appellation for a prize-winning cluster of cucumbers. Mr S. Moffat of Paisley proposes that Cumberbatch is the surname of a distinguished young thesp currently starring in a new BBC1 series called Sherlock. Close, Mr M, but no sitar. Miss Adelaide Crescent from Hove recommends that ‘to Cumberbatch’ means to despatch of a sausage with great élan. Oh, if only it did, Adelaide. But the winner of this week’s WotW is Emily Truman who correctly identifies that a Cumberbatch is no less than a polka-dot cravat favoured by the likes of trendy society spiffs. Well done Emily! A signed copy of Richard Stilgoe’s memoirs are currently heading your way.

So now it’s time to present this week’s word, which is Zimbalist. Thinking caps at the ready folks! Your suggestions please to the usual address. 

 

Marvin Freem & Dominic Clumberpatch in new BBC1 drama 'Shylock'

 

Welcome to the online home of the writer and cartoonist Séan Baldwin. Here you can rummage through a blog that offers news, nonsense, features and arcane extracts from my Compendium of Diabolical Delights. If you fancy a stirring, imaginative read you can sample stories for children and adults alike. Some of my scripts, short films, articles and cartoons are also on view. The site is updated regularly so feel free to dive in as often as you like!

The Attitude of Latitude – Part One

And so to glorious Henham Park on the ‘Sunrise Coast’ in Southwold, Suffolk for the fifth annual music and arts festival Latitude. Impressed by our visit there in 2007 watching the likes of The Good, The Bad and The Queen and Arcade Fire, me and m’darlin Emily were keen to see as many of the enormous amounts of acts as possible. Latitude is cherished for its eclectic and cultured stance, offering cutting edge performances whilst affording equal prominence to each particular genre. Generating a devoted following of all ages, it’s quietly crackled away amidst the more generic festivals and is rightly recognised as a major trendsetter in the festival arena. However, its popularity has led to organisers Festival Republic annually upping the capacity, with a hike of 5,000 punters this year totalling 35,000 (compared to 12,000 or so in 2006!) Concerns were raised that Latitude’s unique flavour would be subsequently diluted with added commercial acts appealing to this increased, more mainstream audience. So, has anything gone amiss with Latitude’s attitude? Or should we still be treasuring this rare, gleaming jewel in our festival calendar? And what of the acts themselves? Let’s put on our sun cream, shorts, waterproofs and wellies and salute the multicoloured sheep as we boldly traipse into the arena…       

Thursday 15th July       

After a late night of last-minute packing, we’re picked up early by charming young couple Robert and Siobhan, who contacted us after we advertised our requirements on FestivalBUDI. This car-share site was alerted to us via the Latitude site and turned out to be a godsend after our driving plans fell through at the last minute. As it turned out the journey cost about £17 each there and back. Not bad at all, especially when your travelling companions don’t turn out to be freaks.       

Arrive at Henham Park 3ish and already the crowds are queuing to get in. We wait in good spirits, drinking beer as the dark clouds slowly dissipate to present a very welcome blue sky. By the time we’re finally tagged and through the checkpoint it’s beginning to get quite warm in spite of a rowdy wind. Emily and I notice how much busier it already seems compared to 2007. We pitch up on the outskirts of Yellow Camping so that we’re closer to the arena. With beer and unsealed bottles of water (in case you’ve substituted it for vodka) barred from the festival site, it helps to have minimal distance to cover on those essential refuelling trips. In hindsight, it might’ve solved the organisers a few headaches if the adults weren’t subject to such petty searches, instead focussing on the legions of under 18’s who smuggled their crates of booze into the camping area to imbibe there or covertly sneak it into the arena.       

Naturally, I have no problem with such illicit movement of ale when it’s me that’s beating the system but when it comes to swarms of pissed-up trustafarian teens let off the leash and recklessly abusing their limited freedom in such regrettable style over the weekend then I must demur.  In case anyone cares to remind me of my own undoubtedly annoying behaviour way back at Reading ’87, I’d like to add that at the peak of my alcoholic excess I got nowhere near the horrors of running around screaming at 4 in the morning trampling over other people’s tents. Ah, Reading… £25 a ticket to go and see the likes of The Fall, The Stranglers, Alice Cooper, Zodiac Mindwarp and Bad News. The teenage thrill of being seduced by a single mum in denim cut-offs only to find out that her Hell’s Angels bloke was inside doing time for GBH. Honestly, it was probably for the best that I passed out on top of her…     

Reading '87. Now THERE'S a festival line-up. The Enid!

But I digress. It’s Latitude and we’re past security and inside the wooded vale that leads to the arena and the place is absolutely pumping. This is the main difference with three years ago; the sheer volume of numbers peppering the place, most of whom seem to be youths. Scores of lanky, quiffy-boys in narrow chinos jostle for room amidst an endless parade of giggling teen girls in tiny denim shorts and wellies. Lurking nearby, quite unable to believe their goggling eyes, hordes of Justin Bieber–haired lads collectively rub their hands with glee. But along with the more typical laid-back couples and organised family groups there are other unfamiliar elements such as stag parties and even (whisper it) a few chavs. Yikes! Who on earth could they have they come to see? Plato’s Symposium in The Faraway Forest?       

We wander around, grab an overpriced veggie meal and reacquaint ourselves with the friendly Latitude vibe that’s still in abundance despite the crowds.  The sun begins its decline and jackets are zipped up as we amble over to the Lake Stage to see Nigel Kennedy and his big band present the tunes of Duke Ellington. Although popular with the crowd, his violins-instead-of-brass approach and rambling, guttural anecdotes are not for us so we repair to the Film & Music Arena (a big tent) and partake of the whoopin’ and a-hollerin that constitutes Future Cinema’s Blues Brothers-themed evening. After a short film the tent erupts with a mass rush to the front for the arrival of 50’s-styled swinging siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. What they lack in vocal range the band makes up for in a lively performance of dexterous interplay; swapping instruments quicker than a fifteen year old can chug a tin of Carlsberg. They provide a much-needed injection of energy to round off a very long day.       

However, before we can return to our canvas palace there is something else that needs attending to. Something hairy and gruff waiting in the woods… But that’s at midnight, the twitching hour, so we continue our tour and are entranced at the riverside by Quidams (pictured) who, wrapped in white inflatable sheets illuminated from within, walk on stilts as they beguile the crowds like giant glowing aliens. A quick nip up to the always-busy Robin Ince’s Book Club at the Literary Arena (a not very big tent) provides some stretch-to-see mirth care of Kevin Eldon as a pompous poet and Joanna Neary causing chuckles with some risqué observations that clash nicely with her well-honed nervous persona.         

Quidams

Suddenly it’s time for our late night appointment with the Welsh Windbag in the Woods, Tom Jones, about to be belting out numbers from his new gospel-makeover album Praise and Blame. Problem is, everyone else has the same idea and harassed stewards are soon clucking into megaphones telling people to move on as there’s no room left. Although an oddly appropriate venue (he was born in Trefforest, Pontypridd) and a novel idea at the planning stage I’m sure, whoever okayed it should be forced to listen to If I Only Knew on repeat for an entire year. Whilst he could easily pass for a gorilla at this dark hour, the Jones cannot be confined to mere woodland. Surely it would’ve been more practical to have him dangling from a zeppelin rotating in a circuit of the site. Or how about just putting him on the main stage, bird-brains? We slink off to sleep as TJ’s mighty roar leapfrogs the buffeting air currents, collides with some rising electro beats from another arena and bounces around our tent in a baffling gospeltheque hybrid.      

Tom in all his 90's glory. A fiver for the first person who can reveal exactly what's going on here

Festival tip: Never go to bed with the intention of falling asleep; you’ll be sorely disappointed. There are simply too many surrounding noises vying for your attention. Just think, “I’ll have a bit of a rest now” and with no other agenda than that, sleep has been known to follow. Ear plugs mandatory.   

Friday 16th July   

Okay, much to cram in now the festival’s up and running and so it’s back to the literary arena after breakfast to catch former Hollywood reporter and comedy writer Jane Bussman (Smack the Pony, Brass Eye) perform her hit Edinburgh show Bussman’s Holiday. The material covers the period when she became so disaffected with interviewing celebrities that she moved to Uganda, worked in a school and ended up interviewing notorious Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, wanted on numerous serious counts including the kidnapping of thousands of children. Bussman is an engaging and sassy raconteur with a nice line in ironic put-downs. On this basis I’d recommend her new book The Worst Date Ever and wouldn’t be surprised to see her fronting her own TV series.   

Skip over to the bridge at The Waterfront Stage to catch some of the repertoire of the beautiful Ballet Black. Covering classical and contemporary ballet, it’s not hard to see why they recently won the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Company.  Shamed by their graceful, lithe movements, we amble off for some delicious local beer.

Time for some music next at the Word Arena (a bloody enormous tent) in the form of the eagerly-anticipated Villagers who, having released one of the albums of the year (The Mercury-nominated Becoming a Jackal), didn’t disappoint in any way. Front man Conor J. O’Brien’s frail appearance belies an outstanding vocal range that can send shivers with its subtlety or fill the room if desired. I have to confess a couple of man-tears were shed by yours truly and that was only after a few lines of  The Meaning of the Ritual had been sung. If I had to choose another highlight it would be a majestic Pieces that seemed to send the tent soaring. I thought it was a tune just crying out for Morrissey to cover until I realised they’d taken the recipe for his classic I Know it’s Gonna Happen Someday and altered a few basic ingredients. I’ll definitely be back for seconds though. 

Villagers’ home-made video for The Meaning Of The Ritual    

Over in the Comedy Arena (a flipping large tent) the Irish theme continued except in much more bellicose and belligerent style with Tommy Tiernan raging at the world with his near-the-knuckle take on life. Having never seen him live before, he proved to be an unexpected fusion of the charismatic and venomous. Just about catch the end of Chris Morris’s Four Lions Q&A and find out that the great man’s favourite film at the moment is Russian classic Come and See  

Anyone that releases a single called Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants is alright by me and Wild Beasts prove to be a captivating draw in the Word Arena. Whoever described the falsetto-prone Leeds four-piece as ‘the secret spawn of Kate Bush and the Smiths’ was pretty accurate; but they’re strange, powerful and original performers in their own right. Their two albums, Limbo Panto and Two Dancers certainly have a knack of creeping up on you.    

Wild Beasts video – We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues    

Trudging to get some evening grub we linger by Empire of the Sun at the main Obelisk Arena and watch in befuddlement as a giant Japanese Snow Monkey yawns over some heavy beats with lycra-clad dancers in tow. So it’s back over to the packed Word tent for some welcome professional tunesmithery care of the cask-matured Richard Hawley and his excellent band.           

 
 
 
 

Empire Of The Sun

Spurning the dubious charms of flat-voiced foghorn Florence and her inexplicably popular Machine, we settle into a good spot in the reliable Word tent for the arrival of headliners The National. Along with Villagers, the Cincinnati-formed band proved to be the draw of the day, showcasing songs from new album High Violet as well as old favourites. Their rumbling, moody tunes, fused with singer Matt Berninger’s gruff baritone, grow in considerable stature when performed live and each towering chord change is greeted wildly by the thrilled crowd. It’s a moving and mighty presentation held together by a syncopated marvel in the form of drummer Bryan Dessner. Commanding and magnificent.      

Stumbling through the darkened crowds at midnight we elect to collapse in the Literary tent for an hour in the twitchy company of the amiable Jon Ronson.  The best-selling author of The Men Who Stare at Goats is here to test drive some new chapters of his unfinished book on the subject of madness. A textbook anxiety-case himself (confessing to constant dreams of being chased) he begs the audience to keep any details away from their blogs. But he seems pleased with how the material is received; particularly a compelling segment where a prisoner he met faked his own madness to receive a lighter sentence, only for the ploy to backfire disastrously.        

The matter of madness seems an apt place to conclude this first part of my festival diary. Join me for Part Two (just scroll up) to discover in its aftermath if we should still have some, ahem, gratitude for Latitude.