Latitude 2009

Latitude: More Arctic Monkey sightings, Ross Noble, Bill Bailey

Michael Bonner

While John seems to have found his Latitude highlight, I've got to say I've found mine, too. Nicholas Parsons, come on down. Oh, and Sheffield's finest enjoy a Man Balancing Ball On His Head race down at the lake.

Of course, we know Latitude is more than just a music festival. I overhear, at one point, that the Comedy Arena is the consistently most popular draw thus far. For my part, I'm somewhat excited about attending a recording of Radio 4's legendary comedy panel show, Just A Minute. So it is, I find myself sitting in a sweltering marquee on the next aisle from Emma Freud and her husband, Comic Relief's Richard Curtis. Clearly, rock'n'roll is currently happening somewhere else.

Curtis' father-in-law, the venerable Clement Freud, is on today's panel, along with Paul Merton, Ross Noble (fresh from his riot, yesterday) and Robin Ince, there to talk for a minute on a subject without hesitation, deviation or repetition. In the chair, as he has been for every edition for the last 40 years, is Nicholas Parsons, who I later learn stayed on site last night (though, sadly, I don't discover what, if any bands he saw. Or, indeed, whether he was camping).

The genius of Just A Minute is the speed and wit needed from the panel as they interrupt who's speaking to nab points. So, you have one of comedy's sharpest improv minds, Merton, up against the more freewheeling tomfoolery of Noble. It's just an absolute joy to watch. Subjects Parsons give the panel today include Suffolk Punch ("Not to be confused with a Glasgow kiss," says Merton, though Noble claims it's a signature punch delivered by Parsons in his days as a bare-knuckle boxer). There's Song And Dance -- "or Mumble And Stumble, as we call it," says a particularly spry Freud, who's just celebrated his 80th birthday. And there's a bizarre moment during the game, when someone dressed as a parrot walks past the marquee window, and another where Parsons incredulously watches a tent being blown off the ground to reveal an unsuspecting camper half naked.

It's interesting watching the dynamic between the panellists, and the audience. There's always great, vocal sympathy dished out to the new boy -- here Ince, as ever, over-anxious, eager to please -- and to whom Merton always seem conspicuously indifferent to. It's a shtick he uses on Have I Got News For You, too. Anyway, he's still an absolute master at this; Parsons, in turn, one of the finest straight men Britain's ever produced. He's charming, gracious, strangely serious; a pin-up boy for the blue rinse you might think, but Parsons has a fine grasp on comic timing and a sharp with of his own. Gent, please.

We get great, rich debate on whether mentioning the Two Ronnies constitutes repetition, and a theory that a Victoria sponge is named after Queen Victoria, "as she was the most absorbent monarch in history." All the while, and perhaps rather disturbingly, a woman in the row in front of me sketches charcoal etchings of Ross Noble.

Walking about 300 yards under a variety of climactic conditions (hot sunshine, roiling cloud, torrential downpour), I catch some of Bill Bailey, too, though it's difficult to hear him when I'm standing at the back of a crowd of about 8,000 people. I strain to hear his routine -- though, I do manage to get the drift of a long discourse about the meaning of The Killers' "All These Things That I Have Done". "'I've got soul but I'm not a soldier'..?" says Bailey. "It doesn't make any sense, it's like saying 'I've got ham, but I'm not a hamster'." Someone who knows more than I, mutters that he's been playing the same set for year.

Then I find myself down by the lake, at the Pimms bus (though I should add, there are available other gin-based beverages that can be served both on ice or in cocktails). There's some sort of sports day parody going on, overseen by a chap in cricket whites. And thusly we spot the Arctic Monkeys, engrossed in the spectacle of grown men wearing wonky bowler hats run down a makeshift track with a tennis ball balanced precariously on their heads.

Maybe they'll go on later with Sigur Ros...


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