For 11 months of the year it’s the epitome of the rural idyll — a tranquil spot where the sheep graze contentedly and the only music to be heard is the sweet sound of bird song.

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But every July Henham Park, near Southwold, shakes off its bucolic image and is transformed into a massive, noisy, artistic playground — with even the sheep getting involved.

Boasting an enviable line-up of music, comedy, literature, visual arts, dance, theatre, cabaret and poetry, the Latitude Festival has become one of the biggest events on the country’s arts calendar.

This year taking place on July 12 to 15, some of this year’s highlights promise to include sets from Bon Iver, Elbow, Paul Weller, Tim Minchin, Rufus Wainwright, Jack Dee and Lana Del Ray.

Alongside the music there will be a wide range of theatre, dance, cabaret and unclassifiable, with the likes of Chilly Gonzales, Mark Lamarr’s God’s Jukebox presents – Wanda Jackson, David O’Doherty and Van Dyke Parks and Britten Sinfonia.

Set on a beautiful lake, it must be one of the most picturesque settings for a festival — and probably the only one which can boast a flock of candy coloured sheep.

And, touch wood, fingers crossed, it seems to have a curious immunity to suffering the sort of mudbath conditions that recently afflicted the Isle of Wight Festival.

Famous last words.

Though this year it has not sold out, Latitude’s place in the festival calendar seems secure after the company behind it, Festival Republic, signed a deal which means the festival will be held at Henham Park for at least the next 15 years.

This week organisers announced that advanced Saturday tickets have sold out, but that a limited number will be available from the onsite box office. Friday, Sunday and weekend tickets are still available.

Melvin Benn, festival founder, said: “We are thrilled to have sold out all of the advance Saturday tickets for Latitude 2012.

“Once again we have managed to secure a fantastic line-up across music and the arts and it’s great to know that the public are as excited about this year’s event as we are.

“This year’s event is as strong as ever. Some acts at the top end are just incredible and they say so much about what Latitude is.”

Improvements have again been made to the festival site, which is again expected to host about 35,000 visitors who should pump millions of pounds into the local economy over the four days.

And while punters will be busy working out their itinerary for who they want to see next weekend, Latitude music stage curator Jon Dunn is already be thinking about who the headliners will be next year.

Jon has made some fantastic choices for Latitude in the last five years — Arcade Fire closed the festival in 2007, just as they were on the brink of going stellar, Sigur Ros played a tearjerking set in 2008, and Grace Jones was well worth standing in the drizzle for in 2009.

And then of course there’s the now legendary Sunday noon slot. Originally created because Joanna Newsom needed a quiet time to play at, it’s become one of the most eagerly anticipated announcements of the whole festival having previously been graced by the likes of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and the amazing Scala and the Kolacny Brothers.

This year Rufus Wainwright will be performing a special set with his band that is again sure to be one of the big Latitude highlights.

“It’s quite strange, the first year we did the Sunday noon slot we had 15,000 people coming in to the arena,” says Jon. “The following year we had Thom Yorke. People really look forward to who it will be each year. I quite like the way it’s evolved.”

Melvin Benn said it was this eclectic range of acts that makes the festival known worldwide. “I think it has surpassed hopes,” he said. “It has become so loved and so established, and the artists love performing it”

“It is a unique festival that stands alone in terms of quality and depth. That is why it has developed such a name so quickly.”

Asked about how he saw the festival in the future, he said: “I am always open to new ideas, but I have no desire to make it massively bigger. It is a good medium size festival that offers diversity.”

Latitude is at Henham Park near Southwold from July 12-15. For ticket and booking details and for the latest line-up news visit: www.latitudefestival.co.uk

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