Fantastic Latitude festival is a first

East Anglia’s most exciting summer festival starts on Friday, July 14, for the first time – but Latitude is no flash in the pan, says Sarah Brealey

This evening, Friday, with any luck, Hektor Rous will finally be able to enjoy himself. The 28-year-old Australian, who finds himself in charge of north Suffolk's Henham estate, has been up to his eyeballs for weeks.

Although the Latitude festival is organised by Mean Fiddler, there is plenty for the estate manager to do. Mr Rous says he wants to be “as helpful as I can”, and combined with the buildings he is renovating, the result has been very little sleep. There is barely a day without several meetings, and his phone never stops ringing.

So as the sun goes down tonight and one hip young band gives way to the next hip not-so-young band, he hopes to be able to sit back with a beer or two and finally relax.

But, either way, it will all have been worth it because of the showcase it gives to the park, which he is busy trying to develop as a venue.

“No matter what, this will build a reputation that is hard to ignore. It is going to be amazing. People will see the site and the extra effort that has gone into making it pretty, really, instead of a turnstile thing that is just about pushing people through.”

Nearly all the festival is under cover in marquees, designed to create a more intimate feel. The largest marquee, the Obelisk arena, can fit an astonishing 12,000 people inside. One of his favourite bits is a bridge, specially built over the lake (which happens to be teeming with ferocious pike).

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“When you are on the bridge and you look over here, you can just see parts of the marquee poking through the trees. I think it will make people curious.”

Mr Rous has discovered he has a lot more friends since he put on a festival in his back garden, but is taking it in his stride.

“These people that I haven't heard from in three years have been ringing me up, saying 'Hi Hektor, how are you doing?' But I don't worry about it too much.”

Meanwhile Mean Fiddler must think they have God's gift to publicity in the shape of Mr Rous - tall, aristocratic, with the kind of family that keeps journalists in business. His father has 15 children, most with bizarre names. Mr Rous likes to call himself “the oldest of the second litter”, which makes him eighth in all, but the eldest son of the Earl of Stradbroke's second wife. His father changed the family motto to “Fight like lions and breed like rabbits” and was rumoured to have sold his sperm for £100,000 - though Mr Rous said the sale never actually went ahead.

But back to this weekend. He says: “It is going to be absolutely incredible, the bands, the artists, the theatre, the comedy, the cabaret. I don't know what to do first. Some of the stuff I don't know much about, like vox'n'roll. You can see a band you like and then try something new for five minutes and see whether you like it. And the weather is going to be sensational, as requested.”

Funnily enough, Mean Fiddler managing director Melvin Benn has had more time on his hands recently.

Enjoying the sunshine as he walks around Henham park, he says: “The theory is that, as the MD, I don't have too much to do. Everyone else should be doing it for me.”

There have been plenty of people to do just that, with at least 50 to 60 people on site through the last week.

Mr Benn said: “It is absolutely fantastic. I am so pleased. It is really just going wonderfully well. Everything I hoped for is happening, everything is coming together nicely.”

Starting a new festival in an obscure corner of Suffolk is quite an undertaking. Surely he must have had some doubts somewhere along the line?

“I have never had a second thought for one moment,” he says. “This is a very long-term project for me. I intend to be at Henham for many, many years to come.”

As for ticket sales, they have not reached the 15,000 that would have been judged a sell-out, but will be somewhere between a respectable 10,000 and 12,000.

Mr Benn said: “I have been on the website this morning talking to people and the enthusiasm is extraordinary.

“I am standing here and watching a coot wander across the lake and a swan on the lake and a flock of sheep. That is what is special about it. And the fantastic music and fantastic entertainment.”

LOCAL TALENT ON DISPLAY

There will be plenty of local talent on show at Latitude this weekend.

There is DJ Nathan Fake, who was brought up in Necton, near Swaffham, and now lives in Reading. The artistic director of the New Cut theatre in Halesworth is putting on Twelfth Night, while there is music from Catherine Feeny, who grew up in Los Angeles but has more recently been working near Diss. Other local artists include White Rose Movement, who were raised on a Norfolk commune.

Some of the youngest talent comes from two Bungay High School bands, the Luddites and the Dustmen's Royal Party. The Luddites are made up of 14-year-olds Jimmy Blake, Andrew Hayward-Rutter, Toby Haward, Stephen Edwards and Conor Thompson. They only formed in December after meeting at school.

Jimmy's mother, Kate Blake, said it would be the biggest gig they had ever done. “Bless them, they are so excited. They are busy practising at the moment,” she said.

LATITUDE PROGRAMME

Times subject to change

Main-stage highlights

Friday

t Obelisk arena: Snow Patrol 9.30-11pm; The Zutons 8-9pm; The Lemonheads 6.55-7.40pm; Stephen Fretwell 5.55-6.35pm; The Crimea 5pm-5.35; Cord 4.10pm-4.40pm.

t Uncut arena: Scritti Politti 8.30-9.30pm; Saul Williams 7.15-8pm; Ed Harcourt 6.10-6.55pm; The Pipettes 5.15-5.55pm; Simple Kid 4.25-4.55pm; Catherine Feeny 2.45-3.15pm.

Saturday

t Obelisk arena: Antony & the Johnsons, 9.30-11pm; Patti Smith 8-9pm; British Sea Power 6.55-7.40pm; Guillemots 5.55-6.35pm; Rumble Strips 5-5.35pm.

t Uncut arena: Gomez 8.30-9.30pm; Peeping Tom 7.15-8pm; I Am Kloot 6.10-6.55pm; Rodrigo Y Gabriela 5.15-5.55pm; Howling Bells 4.25-4.55pm.

Sunday

t Obelisk arena: Mogwai 9.30-11pm; Mercury Rev 8-9pm; Jose Gonzalez 6.55-7.40pm; Tom Verlaine 5.55-6.35pm.

t Uncut arena: Regina Spektor 8.30-9.30pm; Mystery Jets 7.15-8pm; King Creosote 6.10-6.55pm; Nicky Wire 5.15-5.50pm.

Other highlights

Friday

t Marcus Brigstocke, 3.30-4.15pm, comedy arena; Sean Lock, 3.30-4.15pm, comedy arena; Norwich boy Rory McVicar, 5.30-6.15pm, Lake Stage; The Organ, 7.15-8pm, Sunrise arena; BBC4's The Late Edition 8pm, vox'n'roll tent; Howard Marks, 11.15-1am, vox'n'roll tent.

Saturday

t Roger Lloyd Pack, 1:50pm, Poetry arena; Murray Lachlan Young, 7pm, poetry arena; Larrikin Love, 7.15-8pm, sunrise arena; John Cooper Clarke, midnight, poetry arena.

Sunday

t Patti Smith, 12:50pm, Poetry arena; Rob Newman, 3.30pm, Comedy arena; White Rose Movement, 7.15pm, Sunrise arena; Nathan Fake (Pink Sunset, inspired by East Anglian skies), 8.30pm, Music and Film arena

Stage times (all three days unless stated otherwise)

t Obelisk arena, 3.20-11pm

t Uncut arena, 1.05-9.30pm

t Sunrise arena, 11.30am-8pm

t Poetry arena, 11am-3am (1am Sunday).

t Comedy arena, 11.30am-6pm

tTheatre arena, midday-8pm; also outdoor theatre by the lake, 11am to evening (times vary).

t Literary/vox'n'roll arena, 10.45am (11am Friday)-3am.

t Music and film arena, 11am-3am (1am Sunday).

t Cabaret arena 11am-3am (12pm-1am Sunday).

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