A history of Latitude Festival

Virgin Radio

21 Jul 2022, 14:58

Latitude Festival metal sign

Founded back in 2006 - and taking place across the 4,200 acres of Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk - Latitude has earned a reputation as being the home of eclectic musical sounds. Comprising a bill of musicians, bands, and solo artists - and the festival’s famous pink sheep - across four stages - the Obelisk Arena, the BBC Sounds Arena, the Sunrise Arena, and the Alcove – Latitude celebrates theatre, art, comedy, cabaret, poetry, politics, dance, and literature. It’s basically Reading Festival for people who like reading too. 

Year one united the likes of Snow Patrol, Mogwai and The Lemonheads, before year two took proceeds up a notch with headliners Damien Rice, The Good The Bad & The Queen and a band who were then the hottest band in the world, Arcade Fire. “One day all festivals will be like this” wrote The Independent, and it was hard to argue with that hope. As well as big hitters like Franz Ferdinand, Sigur Ros and Interpol, 2008 brought a wider range of artistic luminaries to the site than ever before. Bill Bailey, Irvine Welsh, Carol Anne Duffy, and the late, great Iain Banks all featured.

But Latitude was just warming up, with 2009’s event booking a full orchestra – the revered Britten Sinfonia – wowing the big crowds who’d assembled in front of The Waterfront Stage. Sadler’s Wells brought a dance programme, and were joined by the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, while The Poetry Arena had now arrived at a point where it was essentially Europe’s largest poetry festival, with a line-up that included Andrew Motion, Jackie Kay, and Luke Wright. And if that wasn’t enough for fans, they could just make do with headliners Grace Jones, the Pet Shop Boys and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds…

By its fifth year, Latitude had grown to encompass 13 arenas, a bigger main site, and saw Florence + the Machine, Belle and Sebastian and Vampire Weekend top the bill. As well as The National, Paolo Nutini, and Suede, a year later introduced a new ‘teen arena’ meaning every age group of Latitude attendee was now catered for. Never Mind The Buzzcocks hosted their first ever show outside a TV studio in Latitude’s Comedy Arena, which is something everyone who attended will never forget, and everyone who didn’t will never forgive themselves for missing. A bit like 2012’s superstar offerings; headliners Elbow, Bon Iver and the God of Mod, Paul Weller. 

2013 brought headliners Bloc Party, Foals and Kraftwerk to the site, the latter of whom brought with them an incredible 3D live spectacular that saw many cardboard glasses worn both while they were performing and for some time afterwards. 2014? Just the small matter of Lily Allen, Damon Albarn (joined by Graham Coxon for a rendition of Blur’s ‘Tender’) and The Black Keys, as well as a spectacular lightning storm. 2015? Alt-J, Portishead (featuring regular Latitude attendee Thom Yorke) and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. We’re still weepy eyed thinking about that rendition of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’…

If you attended 2016’s event, you were lucky enough to witness one of The Maccabees' final ever shows, with the Friday night headliners sadly disbanding just weeks later. The National made history as the only act to headline Latitude twice, while New Order wrapped things up with a greatest hits set that is talked about with reverence by Latitude regulars to this day. Then in 2017 The 1975 – who had appeared on The Lake Stage just four years prior – headlined, with Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes making up the rest of the headliners. 

The big names continued into 2018 and 2019, with Solange, The Killers and alt-J headlining the former (and Liam Gallagher making a surprise, Oasis song laden appearance on the BBC Music Stage) and George Ezra, Underworld and Lana Del Ray the latter. Latitude was only getting bigger, better, and more adored by all who came. Enter COVID, which saw the festival cancelled for the first time. The festival returned strong the following year however, with the 2021 event being one of the first government backed test events and bringing Wolf Alice, The Chemical Brothers and co-headliners Bastille and Bombay Bicycle Club to the top of the bill.

Which brings us to this year, and the scheduled appearances of Lewis Capaldi, Foals, Snow Patrol, the Manic Street Preachers, Phoebe Bridgers, Groove Armada and Fontaines DC. The future looks bright for one of the gems in the UK festival scene – and warm for the pink sheep, looking glam before their annual summer shearing…

Virgin Radio’s coverage of Latitude Festival is brought to you in association with St John Ambulance. St John runs 6 different programmes specifically for young people (from ages 5 to 25) giving them life saving skills and the confidence to use them. The charity is currently recruiting Youth Leaders, could you inspire and motivate young people in your local area? 

Want to learn life-saving skills? Click here to book a first aid course or to become a first aid volunteer, or to find out more about becoming a youth leader

A lot of people don’t realise that St John is a charity and needs donations to help train and equip its volunteers, to save more lives. Donate at sja.org.uk and follow them using #AskMe