As final checks are made ahead of the gates opening for this year’s Latitude Festival, The Public Reviews snuck behind the scenes to have an exclusive chat with the poster girls of the festival.
While Portishead, Alt-J and Noel Gallagher are limbering up for their headlining performances, another group have seen it all before, and are already in position to please the crowds. Glen Pearce headed to Henham Park to speak the famous flock of Latitude’s multi-coloured sheep.
Latitude is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and you’ve become one of the most identifiable features of the festival – how did it come about?
It was an accident really. For years we’ve had the Henham Steam Rally here and by the end of that we’re often covered in grime from all the engines. Baa Baa Black Sheep may be a popular rhyme in some quarters but being covered in soot does nothing for one’s complexion. We tried out a new shampoo but sadly got the boxes mixed up and we ended up with a blue rinse instead. The public loved it though, and since then we’ve made the effort to brighten up the summer with our technicolour fleeces.
You are probably the most photographed aspect of Latitude – does that bother you?
It’s hard. We’ve now become internationally recognised icons and one has to remember to keep one’s hooves firmly on the ground. Other less famous flocks sometimes grumble about our fame but they don’t see the hard work we put in; the long hours ensuring our fleeces are perfect, the late nights dancing away to the latest tunes in the forest and the constant pressure of having to be the most stylish attendee of this most stylish festival.
Festivals are famous for their muddy fields – does this bother you?
Listen, dear, we are sheep not pigs! Our porcine brethren may be happy to wallow in mud but as fashionistas we have certain standards to maintain. Thankfully our fleece dye is waterproof should the great British Summer do its worst – one wouldn’t want a multi-coloured fleece now would one? So 1970s.
So apart from being photographic icons for the festival, what does your festival rôle involve?
We’ve tried to keep this under the radar for the last 10 years but it’s time the truth came out. While we are happy to let Melvin [Benn – Latitude’s founder] and his team of programmers take the limelight, we do in fact have a key rôle in approving all the acts for the festival. We did have some concerns over the music line up this year. Caribou, Wild Beasts and some band featuring rats did worry us but we’ve been assured they are actually accomplished musicians. We also had to double check as we heard Noel Gallagher was bringing some High Flying Birds. Now sheep and eagles have a chequered history but Melvin assures us that Mr Gallagher isn’t bringing anything capable of flying off with one of us.
Latitude attracts a wide range of festival goers, many of who come from London. How do you welcome them to Suffolk?
We welcome all and sundry to Henham, even though the closest many of the poor darlings have been to sheep is a Friday night kebab. Education is another important, and often overlooked, part of our rôle at the festival. If we had £1 for every time we’ve had to explain that sheep aren’t naturally red, blue, green and purple we’d all be millionaires by now and be grazing on a private island somewhere. Bless them – they’re tremendous fun but they’re not country folk.
You mention kebabs. I don’t recall seeing a kebab stand at Latitude.
Of course not, dear, what are you suggesting? That we all turn into cannibals? This is a refined festival that attracts a much better class of person than some of those other shenanigans. We even have a knitting circle to highlight our fine contribution to the world of high fashion. And you want to taint that refined atmosphere with a murderous meat wagon? You need to do a ewe-turn on that way of thinking, young man!
So what have been your highlights from 10 years of Latitude?
You mean apart from us, dear? Some of the poor acts that have appeared have struggled to cope with being in our shadow but I think the likes of little Ed Sheeran have finally emerged from our superstardom’s wake. He was such a sweet boy; being local, he was already aware of our fame and I’m sure he’ll not mind us telling you this but his trademark ginger tresses are down in no small part to our expertise in colouring fleeces. It’s all out of a bottle – he’s actually grey as a mule! Grace Jones was another highlight – again we’ve kept it secret until now but it was us that taught Grace how to Hula Hoop when she was here in 2009. It’s a trick she later pulled out of the bag for the Queen’s Jubilee concert in 2012 and we love watching the video back on a quiet Suffolk night.
What is your one top tip for anyone coming to Latitude?
Don’t believe the posters – the Obelisk Stage may draw the crowds but we are the true stars of the event!
Photo: Marc Sethi