I’ve seen some wonderful things at Latitude. The circus act featuring a woman who could go over backwards into a crab, lower herself to the ground in that position and then raise herself up again into a crab with a fully grown man standing on her stomach. Her colleague who could perform handstands, and even walk on his hands, on only the first two knuckles of each hand. The Martini Encounter, a three man (or rather, two women, one man) ukulele band, dressed like a cabaret turn and primly singing reworded classics of a scurrilous bent (I have rarely seen anything more joyous than the two eleven year old boys enthusiastically joining in the chorus of one song which went “Fuck it! Fuck it! Fuck, fuck, fuck it! Fuckit, fuckit, fuck fuck fuck!”). Tony Harrison reading his poems, and in particular, this poem, Long Distance II, which makes me weep whenever I read it and made me weep in the middle of the Poetry tent, remembering my own mum and dad.
And sometimes there are things which are so wonderful they colour the whole festival. One year it was a showing of Sheffield Doc/Fest’s “From the Sea to the Land Beyond“, a compilation of old black and white film clips sandwiched together with no commentary or explanation. Who were those men, and why were they taking part in a competition which apparently involved jumping into the sea, swimming to a pontoon, climbing out, getting dressed in white tie, top hat and tails, then grasping an open umbrella, jumping back in and swimming back to shore. Who knows? What did the women oyster shuckers think about their hard, cold, miserable work? Were ships really cut out of steel using enormous patterns, like dressmaking on a vast scale? No idea.
In a way the lack of commentary makes the film better; lacking an authoritative commentating voice to tell you what to think, you engage much more fully with the film as you try to work out what you’re looking at and what’s going on. In lieu of a commentary there is a soundtrack, provided by British Sea Power, who wrote and performed it. At Latitude they performed the soundtrack live, and it was awesome. Sitting in a dark tent, watching the band and the images, it was mesmerising. I’d never heard of British Sea Power before but I thought they were brilliant – and I loved the name. “British Sea Power”! What a great name for a band!