A little Latitude: recent graduate Maddie Rigby reflects on this year’s festival

Maddie Rigby graduated from the University last month with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies, alongside which she played clarinet in the Orchestra and Concert Band, as well as singing with Chorus and the Cecilian Choir. Here, she reflects on experiencing this year’s Latitude Festival whilst volunteering with Dash Arts Theatre, a welcome return to live music and accidentally attending a secret gig by one of the 80’s biggest stars…


Maddie Rigby

I only found out I was going to be working at Latitude a week and a half before it began! I signed up to volunteer with Dash Arts Theatre as part of their performance event ‘Forum’ throughout the festival, and when I wasn’t on shift, I could see as much as I wanted. Being so last-minute and worrying way too much about camping for the first time, I put hardly any thought into the fact that I would be surrounded by live music and about 40,000 people for the first time since lockdown began.

As a COVID Test Event, every attendee had to show proof of a negative test before arriving and answer a health screening questionnaire each morning. As a performer, we also had to take an additional test two days into the festival to be allowed access back onto the main site. The detailed and regular checks made the whole event feel safe and for the first time in a year and a half I didn’t wear a mask for four days in a row.

Latitude is a festival that has something for everyone and is extremely family-orientated. Walking through the festival you can see the variety of performances and experiences on offer from the Theatre Arena in the forest, to the Zen Den which led meditations and yoga and onto the Comedy Arena, before finally reaching the main music stages. The variety available made Latitude feel more like a celebration of the Arts than a music festival. The relaxed atmosphere made it so easy to wander around and discover new artists creating music, theatre and art.

Over the weekend I saw such a range of performances that it’s hard to sum the whole festival up. The very first thing I saw was a collaboration of Brass Bands playing mostly Beyoncé and the last, a psychedelic R’n’B singer, Greentea Peng. Over the whole festival I saw pop artists like Maisie Peters and Mabel, headliners the Kaiser Chiefs, Wolf Alice and Bombay Bicycle Club and even Bill Bailey. On the final day Latitude announced a surprise performance from The Vaccines, an appropriate choice seeing as COVID jabs were being offered at the festival! The band had one of the largest audiences I saw and the crowd spilled out of the BBC Sounds Stage, groups of friends and families sat down outside just to listen to the band. The enjoyment of listening to live music and seeing people’s favourite bands was contagious. It was an incredible feeling to be in the middle of a huge crowd, singing and dancing along again.

On the Saturday night, whilst searching for the last live music before every stage turned to DJ sets, a friend and I stumbled across a small seven-piece band playing covers at the Trailor Park Stage. The two female backup singers were so much better than the male lead, but we decided to stay because a huge crowd had gathered behind us. It wasn’t until our work group chat messaged about a ‘secret gig’ at the Trailor Park and we googled his name to check his face against the man who was currently in front of us, did we realise we had been listening to Rick Astley (The guy who sang ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ in the 80s). Not really our fault when he refused to sing any of his own songs that evening. It was definitely one of the strangest performances I saw the entire weekend.

One of the main reasons I went to Latitude was to see Arlo Parks, who I’ve already talked about on an episode of Vinyl Countdown (see below). Unfortunately, she was unable to perform because she had tested positive for COVID earlier in the week. I was disappointed but there were a few music discoveries I made which made up for it. If I could recommend a few artists I found and loved it would have to be Lucia & The Best Boys, Ellie Dixon and my favourite of the entire weekend, Greentea Peng. Like most of the music I listen to, they are all pretty chilled out so if that’s your vibe, definitely check them out!

The overriding feeling at Latitude was one of relief and excitement from every performer for the opportunity to be in front of a live audience again. At the start of every set there was always a genuine and heartfelt recognition from the performer for how amazing being at a festival and with other people was. Being in the crowd, it really felt as though the artists were just as excited to play as we were to hear them. Witnessing the return of live music and celebrating it with complete strangers was worth waiting for.

Although I had to sleep in a tent and my feet are killing me from doing nearly 46,000 steps each day (genuinely reached 46, 133 on the Saturday) I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be there. Latitude has made it clear that we should all take the chance to have as many new experiences and make new memories now that we can.

Maddie Rigby (Drama & Theatre Studies, 2017 – 2021)

Jazz beside the Sea: a look ahead to the Herne Bay Jazz and Swing Festival 2021

Herne Bay comes alive with three days of live jazz 20-22 August, bringing a wealth of stars both international and local to the seaside town as the Herne Bay Jazz and Swing Festival makes a welcome return.

Familiar to BBC television viewers who like their dancing on a Saturday night, vocalist Tommy Blaize brings a touch of Strictly sparkle to the festival, whilst Ian Shaw presents what promises to be a fascinating homage to two titans of twentieth-century music – David Bowie and Joni Mitchell. Pasadena Roof Orchestra and BBC 2’s Big Band Special regular, Louise Cookman, is also performing.

A wealth of events on the Sunday includes Kent Youth Jazz Orchestra and the 606 Club’s in-house band trombonist (and the Music department’s very own trombone tutor), Geoff Mason, brings his quartet following a recent album release; both appear as part of a series of gigs on the King’s Hall Roof Terrace.

Geoff Mason playing at London’s 606 Club

The Herne Bay Pier Stage also plays host to a plethora of gigs, ranging from former Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge’s Organ Trio to London-based alto saxophonist Rachael Cohen, who cut her teeth with the NYJO of Scotland and the Tommy Smith’s Youth Jazz Orchestra,  and of whom the Guardian intriguingly observed that she plays with ‘a softly deviant approach reminiscent of Lee Konitz…’

The whole festival weekend closes with pianist Eliane Correa leading her Latin fusion orchestra, La Evolución, bringing a vibrant three days to a suitably festive conclusion.

Ahead of the festival, the Seaside Museum is hosting Jazz in Herne Bay, an exhibition opening on 14 August which promises a fascinating sonic and visual exploration of the history of jazz in the area, which will run until 12 September.

Full details and tickets here online here: jazz enthusiasts can head to the seaside with enthusiasm this August…

Court in the act: from playing the trumpet to working at Wimbledon with first-year Sophie Kitson

Not content with filling her extra-curricular life at Kent with both music and sporting activities, first-year Forensic Science student and trumpeter, Sophie Kitson, could recently been spotted on the courts at Wimbledon, where she has been working these past three weeks as a line judge.

When not playing with the Women’s Cricket Team at the University, Sophie can also be found amongst the trumpet-sections of the Concert Band and Big Band, but lately swapped her instrument for a smart blazer and the opportunity to act as a line judge at this year’s Championship.

“Having played tennis since I was three years old and coached for the past couple of years,” reflects Sophie, “I was given the opportunity to attend a line umpire course in Loughborough at the beginning of May. Upon passing the course I became a qualified LTA official. Just a couple of days after the course I was told I’d been selected to line umpire at the Nottingham Trophy, Wimbledon qualifying and the Wimbledon main draw! This past month has been slightly surreal, working on court with some of the best players in the world! And getting to put on the Ralph Lauren line umpire uniform and walk onto court at Wimbledon for the first time was slightly nerve-wracking but an absolutely amazing experience. I even had the chance to be on Court 12 (a semi-show court) twice in the two weeks; having never had a crowd that big and seeing yourself on BBC iPlayer was pretty cool!”

Congratulations, Sophie, on what must have been a memorable experience – we hope you’re all ‘set’ to play in the trumpet-section again in September…

Hold Your Heart: live webchat with alumna and musician Lena Younes

One of the pleasures of engaging digitally with people this past year has been catching up with various alumni and finding out how they have been creatively active at a time when creativity and the arts has been facing real challenges.

My guest earlier is no exception – former Music Scholar Lena Younes, who graduated in 2011 having read Drama and Theatre Studies and History at Kent, singing with the Chamber Choir and at the Jazz @ 5 sessions on the old Gulbenkian cafe stage.

Lena releases her first single, Hold Your Heart, at midnight tonight (or will have done, depending on when you read this…), and I took the opportunity to chat to her about her writing process, the challenges of remaining creative during the past year, and the influences on her music. Watch it online here – my thanks to Lena for taking part.

Awkward Tiger: webchat with alumna and former Music Scholar, Steph Richardson

Many thanks to alumna and former Music Scholar, Steph Richardson, who joined me in the virtual studio this week for a live webchat about new fashion brand, Awkward Tiger.

Steph Richardson
Steph Richardson performing during ‘Jazz @ 5’ in 2012. Photo: Mick Norman

Since graduating in 2014 having read Drama & Theatre Studies (many readers might remember her singing with the University Big Band and the Chamber Choir), Steph has recently been working at Farnham Maltings in Surrey, and over the past eighteen months decided to launch her own fashion brand.

Headbands made by Awkward TigerIn the webchat, Steph talks about the inspiration for the company, the ethical values embedded in it, her love for British Sewing Bee, and her imminent move to work at the National Theatre. Watch it here if you missed it…

In pictures: Summer Music Week 2021

It was marvellous to get back to music-making at the end of term, to bring musicians and audiences together for the annual musical farewell to the University’s academic year. Many thanks to the University photographer, Matt Wilson, for capturing the events throughout the course of the week.

Big Band: Sunday Swing

 

Music Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital
(read the programme here)

 

Music Scholars’ Evening Recital: Canterbury Cathedral

(read the programme here)

Closing concert: Music for a Summer’s Day

(read the programme here)

With thanks to all the performers, audiences, staff and technicians who made this all possible. An especial farewell and thanks to all those who were performing for the final time.

Images: © Matt Wilson / University of Kent

Summer Music Week: Big Band Sunday Swing and Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital

The first two events in this year’s Summer Music Week have got the series off to a flying start; at the weekend, the Sunday Swing with the University Big Band, conducted by Ian Swatman, and vocalist third-year Elle Soo, went down a storm!

The event was also the inaugural livestream direct from Colyer-Fergusson and had a lively online audience watching at the time – since then, it has gone on to garner (at the time of writing) well over 800 views – if you missed it, you can see it below or watch it here:

Yesterday saw the first of two Scholars’ Recitals (the second takes place on Friday in Canterbury Cathedral); a selection of this year’s Music Performance Scholars presented a programme including a classic number made famous by Etta James, some sparkling French flute repertoire, and closed with a vivacious duet for two violas by Telemann.

l-r: Weiqi (Arthur) Zhang; Euan Bonnar; Charlotte Cane; Kira Hilton; Joanna Adaran; Beth Chapman

Many thanks to all the performers involved in both events; it’s great to be back making live music in Colyer-Fergusson once more and welcome audiences through the doors; and it’s not over yet…

Big Band livestream test a success

The Big Band was rehearsing on Sunday ahead of its event on Sunday 6th June, Sunday Swing, which will launch this year’s Summer Music Week.

Willing victims as always, the players, conductor Ian Swatman, together with third-year Social Anthropology student and singer, Elle Soo,  gamely agreed to allow us to use the opportunity to test the livestreaming facility, in order to share the concert online (a limited audience capacity means we aren’t able to accommodate the usual Full House that greets the Big Band events).

Whilst the ensemble was working, the technical crew was working tirelessly behind the scenes to set up and test the cameras, microphones, lighting and streaming platform around the musicians; and I’m pleased to say that it worked. There were some spine-tingling moments as live music lifted into the concert-hall once more after so many months without it, and it was lovely to see the audience-seating back out in the hall, something we’ve not seen since March 2020!

Thanks to Thomas, George and Joe, we’re delighted to say that, for those who can’t join us in person at 2.30pm this Sunday, we will be able to share the event live online. Watch the event live on YouTube here (see also below) – thanks to Ian and the players for heroically acting as our digital guinea-pigs as we usher in the new Digital Age in Colyer-Fergusson Hall…

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