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Latitude: A performer's eye view

PUBLISHED: 09:50 13 July 2010 | UPDATED: 21:54 01 August 2010

Emma Lee

Norwich writer John Osborne's first appearance at Latitude, at the first ever festival back in 2006, was a bit of a baptism of fire. But he's been a regular ever since.

Norwich writer John Osborne's first appearance at Latitude, at the first ever festival back in 2006, was a bit of a baptism of fire.

It was only his second ever poetry gig - he'd done his first a couple of months earlier and on the strength of that performance he'd been asked to join the inaugural festival's Poetry Arena line-up.

“At that stage nobody really knew what Latitude was or realised how big it would get,” John, 28, says.

“I remember being really, really nervous, and it was when the local TV news were there so I had a massive camera in my face and I was really uncomfortable. And I really under-ran. I was supposed to do 20 minutes and I did 12. As soon as I got on stage, I though 'how soon can I get off ',” he says.

Despite that, he's been back to every Latitude festival since, and it's become his favourite gig of the year. This year he will be performing his solo show on Thurs (7.30pm) and Sun (8pm) and as part of the Aisle 16 collective on Sat (2pm).

“The nature of festivals is that people wander around and are not that focused - as soon as you realise that's nothing to do with you it's okay,” John says.

“And I've loved it ever since. At the first one there were so many people from Norwich, it was a big group of mates having the best weekend of their lives, and that's continued every year since.

“It's always the most fun gig of the year. You work up towards having a really good Latitude set.

“As soon as you get there it's so beautiful and relaxed that people love it before they've even put their tent up. They think 'this is going to be a brilliant weekend'.”

He credits Latitude with giving the performance poetry scene a major boost. “I think it was a really brave move of Latitude to have a poetry tent. I think that Latitude is probably the single most important thing in performance poetry at the moment, and not just for performances,” he says. “It's a way for poets to get to know each other, making a real network of people doing performance poetry and you feel like you are part of a community.

“And it's great to watch people improve. Quite often the same people go back year after year and it's good to see them get better and better.”

John will be performing three times over the Latitude weekend. And he's got several artists he's looking forward to seeing. “I'm really excited about seeing Jon Ronson in the Literary Arena. He's one of the best writers and an amazing performer. I saw him at Latitude last year and he was hilarious. In the poetry tent it's always great to see [Norwich poet] Luke Wright. And it will be interesting to see what Belle and Sebastian's set is like.”

And, of course, he spends quite a lot of time at the poetry tent. “It's a great place to hang out and see lots of good stuff, there's a really nice atmosphere in there,” he says. “It runs from about 11am until 2am every day and there's not one moment when there's nothing going on on stage. It's so fast moving. There's no time to get bored or wander off.”

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