Melvin Benn reflects on Latitude over the years

Festival Republic Managing Director, and Latitude Founder and Creator Melvin Benn reflects on the birth of Latitude in 2006, shares some of his favourite memories over the years, and looks to the future of Latitude in 2021.

Pre COVID-19 and general optimism for the future seems like a very long time ago at the moment, so when I reflect on 2006 and the first Latitude, it feels like an entirely different era, and I guess it was. It was because it was before Facebook and Twitter and electric cars and even a real focus on the environment. It has become a world most of us couldn’t see then and that’s the case when we give birth to anything newborn; a love, a child, a newly written book, a life changing film, a festival.

They all start (usually) with a seed of thought in one’s head about creating something and Latitude was no different. It started for me about 3 years before 2006, but a mixture of being developed in my head and busy with Glastonbury at the time meant its birth was 2006. It was very different in having a focus on literature and film and dance and poetry as well as music, and it was very different in putting all of that at the heart of the festival as you come over the bridge rather than on the periphery.

It was also very different because it welcomed families and, perhaps more than anything, I think that has been the single most important part of the festival without it ever being a ‘family festival’ and what Sharon does there continues to inspire me as well as lots of young people. We all behave differently (better) around children and they influence everything not least those that attend therefore and of course at its core, the festival needs to entertain and be relevant to those that attend.

In my heart musically, the festival has always been a personal homage to Nick Drake (some of you may even remember an art piece of the gate of the cemetery he is buried in being exhibited at the festival in 2011, and of course, many of you would have made the connection between Pink Moon Camping and that wonderful album); a homage to songwriting of thoughtfulness and depth. We don’t always get that right of course but in general I think we have travelled that path well.

My personal favourites? Way, way too many to mention, but Snow Patrol were the very first act to confirm as a headliner and I will have a debt to them and their agent forever as, until you have one you have none and once they confirmed the rest becomes history of course. Thom Yorke’s Sunday lunchtime slot probably comes out as my favourite, but also Ed Sheeran in the pouring rain obviously, and Damon Albarn in the very scary lightning  (we should have stopped the show Damon, but it was so awesome I couldn’t). Mumford’s (I know some thought it was wrong but I do like them) and The Killers obviously but Florence making her first headline appearance as did Foals, the majestic Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver and Alt-J but many many others also played their first festival shows with us: Bombay Bicycle Club and Everything Everything and Idles and James Blake and Jorja Smith and Loyle Carner and Rag N Bone Man and The 1975 and The xx and Wolf Alice. The list is not only endless but awesome! Thanks to Huw in particular, its definitely a great place to see tomorrows future headliners.

But the festival is not just about music and not just about music headliners. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake on the Waterfront Stage that brought the whole site to a standstill in trying to see it was immense and was part of our enduring love and gratitude to Sadlers Wells. Tania Harrison and Luke Wright’s pioneering programming of poetry with Dr John Cooper Clarke and Joshua Idehen and the incredible George the Poet was, I consider, the most important activity in the birth of the current popularity of poetry.

Comedy sets from Emo Phillips, Eddie Izzard, Trevor Noah, Katherine Ryan, Bill Bailey and Michelle Wolf and a line up of comedy year on year that rivals Edinburgh for definite has been so so important, but the nooks and crannies and discoveries and changes year on year continue to be too.

The future? Well I continue to be optimistic about the human being. A creation that adapts and develops no matter what is thrown at us and we will adapt and develop past this wretched virus and be back next year I’m certain, and we will strive to try and be honest to my homage to Nick Drake and to be relevant to you as Latitude goers, the most important element in the whole festival.