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Can Festivals Be Family Friendly? Steve Jelbert Takes The Brood To Latitude
Steve Jelbert , July 29th, 2008 12:37

Can one combine fatherly duties with enjoying a 'single skinner' while at a festival? And can one dissuade one's daughter from working in the music industry by exposing her to landfill indie at the age of three? Steve Jelbert investigates at Latitude

Like several of the knackered old men and women reading this site I am a parent, which means I am actively interested ways of tiring out my child (three and a half, interested in hyperactivity and being awake). I couldn’t care less about the latest iteration of Eddie Cochran’s five decade old ‘cars-and-girls’ (and knives) model and why should I? My missus is a teacher so I hear all that every day at tea time. Instead I am guiding a new force into the world, a child smarter than yours (or the one you imagine yourself having one day) who will rule the world, be like totally cool and so successful in her chosen field I’ll be living off her before she reaches her teens (I was thinking golf to be honest. She's tall. Her grandpa plays. Music is a definite no-no).

Still, as all parents know, actively exposing your offspring to bad things, like The Offspring, is vital if you want them to build up natural resistance. And it’s time that the tiny tyrant, already given to shouting slogans like ‘Rock’n’roll!’ and ‘Sous les paves, la plage!’ (this is half true) was exposed to the nasty germ of live music. Friends who have also bred had already bought tickets to this year’s Latitude, the Mean Fiddler’s attempt to reposition itself as a corporation interested in furthering dance, literature and the other unpopular arts. Previous visitors claimed it was a genuinely child-friendly event. And I’m a hack, so a blag is not out of the question.

A field’s a field, there are some woods, the sheep are painted in pastel colours ready to be turned into leisurewear

Having just flown back from America, frankly I’d rather eat my foot than sleep in a tent in Suffolk for three nights. But a field’s a field, there are some woods, the sheep are painted in pastel colours ready to be turned into leisurewear and the lavs appear adequate. I’ll pee in a potty if I have to anyway- parenthood teaches humility. And The Girl is up for it, so much so that she refuses to sleep, meaning I have to walk around the tent for a crafty blast on a one-skin. (Why the hell is this stuff illegal anyway? I now understand exactly why I never killed anyone in my youth.)

I always warn her that if she misbehaves Angry Daddy will appear, and no one wants to see Angry Daddy. But when I discover that some cheeky turd has stuck their hand in our tent while we slept, as a family, in the family field (the actual signs, referring to the colour coding of the camping areas, read ‘WHITE FAMILY CAMPING’, quite accurately) and pinched a bag (inside- camera, ipod, phones, mike, particularly useful notebook etc.) then Angry Daddy appears, using some expressive Angry phrases, such as fucking lowlife cunts, what a fucking shithouse of a cunting so-called festival and I haven’t even fucking seen any fucking shit bands yet and some cunt has already cunting ripped me off the fucking cunt.

Still, the coppers were pretty cheerful, even as they added my complaint to a pile of theft reports already about an inch thick. They can’t have been so busy since the Suffolkator was working his way through the hapless whores of Ipswich, surely a murder spree with a finite target. An impeccable source (a woman queueing next to my partner for the backstage lavvy) revealed that if the theft levels didn’t drop then any expansion plans for this already rather bloated event were in doubt, and also that Scots at T In The Park happily shit next to their own tents (or maybe elsewhere, before letting other Scots crap near their bivvys). A bright young girl camping nearby told how punters at something called ‘Global Gathering’ are explicitly advised to remove all belongings from inside their motors, open the empty glove compartments (what a quaint term) and pull their front seats back to the fullest extent to dissuade casual thieving. Is this true? What kind of event is worth such trouble? In thirty years of enjoying and, more often, enduring live music I can’t think of a single show I would have cycled more than half an hour to see, let alone sniff Scotch shite or de-chav my car for.

But I’m not here to worry about myself. I’m here to put my daughter off music, and ideally festivals, forever (largely for financial reasons - it’s two quid for a half litre bottle of water here and they take even plastic bottles off the paying punters when they come in).

I’m here to put my daughter off music, and ideally festivals, forever

And Latitude is ready to meet me halfway. For a start it keeps raining, or sunning, or winding all the time. By Sunday my nose looks like I’ve had a run in with an industrial sander, while the rest of me remains resolutely untanned. My biceps are looking taut though, what with pushing a pramful of grumpy child up a vertical slope from the ‘Kidz’ field three times a day (yes, in Suffolk they still spell it with a ‘z’).

The organisers can’t take the blame for the weather, but there are other obvious problems. I assume that there are bigger, better paying shows in Europe this weekend, but this bill fucking stinks. For every Grammatics (people who think Bloc Party were a good idea) or washed-up shoegazers Fields (singer plays a guitar like Jack White, resemblance stops there) on the big stage, there is an equally useless bunch on somewhere else. One stage, officially described as ‘The Lake Stage presents BBC Introducing curated by Huw Stevens’ is like Dante’s indie circle of hell. At no point is any one of the loser turns better or worse than that which preceded them. How can anyone choose a headline act from thirty five brands of dry cracker? At one point I wander past as an old Hot Chip single is playing, and after my initial thought (‘I wish Hot Chip were playing’) and my second thought (‘I could do with some hot chips right now’) I realise I have just experienced the best thing that stage will throw up all weekend.

Let’s hope that some of the many librarians and art historians supposedly present beat Huw Stevens, whoever he is, into a bloody pulp for trying to pass himself off as a ‘curator’. The supposed ‘arts’ side of Latitude is just a platitude (see what I did there?). Everyone knows the old story about the Velvet Underground- when Paul Morrissey, then Warhol’s right hand man, was asked what they lived on seeing as they never worked for cash, he pondered the question before replying ‘Well, they eat a lot at parties.’. It’s still true of writers and dancers and ‘poets’ and non-pop singers.

Give ‘em a train ticket, lend ‘em a tent and they will come. Weak, tasteless ‘comic’ Scott Capurro was complaining about his two hundred quid fee while ranting in the comedy tent. But that’s what he gets paid for playing pubs, his usual arena. That is his price, his proven value. This sometimes offers positives. Wandering along a woodland path a boxer (well, he wore a towel around his neck) was singing opera arias to a crowd of maybe eighty people, which seems about right. One passing teenager was heard to grunt ‘is he freestyling?’. I laughed anyway.

You want to be family friendly? Put the fucking Wiggles on the main stage at 4.30.

In short it was a festival, another detestable summer festival, no worse or better than any other. Occasionally there were moments that could distract my attention from the fact that some cunt robbed me while I slept (in the Family Field). But what always amazes me about these events is the sheer lack of imagination involved? You want to be family friendly? Put the fucking Wiggles on the main stage at 4.30.

They’re like Crowded House, only with better tunes and a bit younger. Don’t stick the geeks in the comedy tent. Get them out in the sunshine. All stand-up comics are without exception coke addled, witless crowd pleasers (I know several), so give them a big crowd to suck up to. Put the already popular Rod Snowball (Ross Noble’s real name) and Bill Bailey on a big outdoor stage and make them work for their mindless adulation. Stop charging two quid (that's four dollars! Or €3.50!) for nearly a pint of fucking water. Turn the PAs in the tents down a bit, so toddlers won’t cry, and parents can actually hear their old folks music on the main stage. (Elbow drowned out by Guillemots? It’s like the car park at a sales conference) And don’t stick the children’s area (and camping) in a dusty corner. It’s almost like you don’t want families to come along, but have to include certain promises to secure an entertainment licence. Oh, hang on…

At the end of it my partner asked The Girl what she liked best, but it wasn’t Joanna Newsom and her harp or building a shiny fish or doing ballet to Elbow. No, she liked ‘being outside’. So do I, and when some of my possessions (which had of course been stolen from my tent while I slept, with my family) were returned I softened a bit. But she’s right. I can ‘be outside’ anywhere, and I don’t have to endure landfill indie or bad poetry in the process. To borrow a title from David Foster Wallace (and he was describing a cruise that featured Yorkshire harridan Jane McDonald as onboard entertainment), this was a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.

Pics courtesy Toby Price, see more here.