After 1998 I was unsure whether to go to Reading again, not because I didn’t enjoy it, or that my then girlfriend Tash didn’t enjoy it, or that she didn’t enjoy festivals as by now she’d also done Glastonbury in 1999. No, the problem was one of cash. The line-up had been announced early in 1999 and we wanted to go but we couldn’t afford Glastonbury and reading, and we weren’t going to let Glastonbury go, so we decided to give Reading a miss which was a pity as the line-up really was excellent.
So a Cunning Plan was kicked into gear which I won’t bore you with the fine details, but I managed to raise nearly a grand and a half thanks to some very clever wheeling and dealing which was more than enough to pay for everything, and in fact, after a drunken night in the pub I offered to pay half the ticket price for a couple of friends; Sarah who I’d known for a long time and Richard who I met through Tash and was a nice lad, but a wee bit weird. For Sarah it’d be another of many festivals and for Rich, it’d be his first.
Anyhow, I got the tickets and had plenty of cash to spare. This was also the year when Reading gained an overflow (which was needed as 98 was crowded) in Leeds, so Richard’s worry that things would be overcrowded was something the rest of us could say wouldn’t happen due to Leeds. The problem was that Rich was wanting to go but he was amazingly shy and nervous, but seeing as he was driving the rest of us down we needed him to be calm so we did our best to calm him.
The Thursday before Reading came, and the plan was for Sarah to come to Tash and my house to wait for Rich to pick us up around lunchtime to get us down for a late afternoon set up, which would mean a nice comfy night chilling out on a weekend where the weather forecast was looking great; and a warm, dry Reading was not a common thing. The plan started well with Sarah popping round around midday, and the plan was for Rich to turn up at the same time. By 1pm we started to wonder where Rich was, so Tash called his house and no reply. We contacted his housemate and he knew nothing, so we waited, and waited, and waited, and waited til Tash finally got to speak to him just before 3pm. He’d had a panic but he was going to be round the house in about half an hour which at this point meant we’d be lucky to get to Reading by 6pm, and considering the plan was to stop and stock up with beer, etc on the way out of Leicester (which would have taken about an hour or so) would mean we’d really get to Reading just around 7pm.
At just after 4pm Rich turned up to three pissed off, but trying to be calming and understanding, people. We quickly packed the car up and I let Tash sit by Rich to help keep him calm while Sarah and myself offered a running pisstake of passing cars on the way out of Leicester. We’d decided to stock up nearer Reading rather than Leicester to try to help us beat the traffic but we were really fighting a losing battle as we were now really trying to get set up in daylight as realistically we’d not get to Reading til gone 9. Thankfully the roads were clear but we’d decided to take a route that would drop us out on the M4 on the other side of Reading from the direction towards London so we cut through Oxfordshire is what would have been a lovely drive but even on these roads traffic was heavy and around 8pm we finally got near Reading and decided to find the first large supermarket and stock up, which we did when we found one and after stocking up on booze and food as quickly as possible we drove towards the Reading site to join the queue to get onto the site to park the car. However we found ourselves stuck in a very slow moving queue with the light failing as it was now around 9pm on a late August summer’s night with at most another half hour of light, and none of us fancied sticking up our tents in the dark but we were realising that we didn’t really have a choice. Then as we got in it dawned on Sarah and myself that we we were going to get a camping spot nowhere near the main area. When we were pointed in the direction past the now full main car parks and pointed towards the second furthest campsite to unpack the car and set up in the moonlight. Eventually we got all our tents up, cracked open a few beers and finally chilled out after a very, very long day with tomorrow to look forward to.
Early on the Friday on the sort of late summer/early autumn day we don’t often get in this country, we all woke up blinking in the sunlight. Tash and myself brought a stove so we could have tea upon waking so this eased Rich into the joys of camping and once we’d got ourselves sorted in regards exactly where we were camping in the daylight we realised just how far away from the arena we actually were.
Here’s a picture of the site from 2007, and we were in the field near the river down at the bottom right of the picture.
Friday didn’t have too many bands I wanted to see apart from the Dandy Warhols, the Fall and Echo and the Bunnymen, so I managed to convince everyone to come to the pub for the traditional Reading drinking session on a Friday morning, which ended up being a bit restrained compared to previous years but it was good fun and chilled out Rich. We’d decided only to go for a few drinks and not stay for a full session so Rich, and Tash who didn’t quite get the full joy of the Friday the previous year.
Once back in the arena we caught the awful Apollo 440 while setting up my usual pitch on the right hand side of the stage by the beertent. We said to Rich to always meet us here, while Sarah went off wandering in search of new music. After The Dandy Warhols, I joined Sarah in the NME Tent to see another great set from Bis, before having a jolly good day in the sun drinking beer watching bands. After watching an amazing set by The Fall which seemed to follow a massive fight within the band, the night drew in and the Chemical Brothers were finishing their blinding set we decided to stay with Rich to watch the Charlatans, but after a few minutes of tedium we went for a wander round the arena and bumped into a mate from Leicester, Leo, who was running the Alchemy stall at the festival.The word had got round the site about a bunch of mentalists called Nashville Pussy who were playing the new bands tent and tearing up a huge fuss. People were running from the tent trying to drag mates in as they didn’t want them to miss what was going on.
And what was going on is simply one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. They were astonishing. I’ve never, ever seen a band that few people had ever head of own a crowd so totally, and in the pre-mobile days the word of mouth that spread round that field was amazing. After that we were all suitably hyped up and wandered back to the tents as the next day was one we’d planned to stay in the arena from the start as Atari Teenage Riot were opening up the main stage at a silly hour of the morning. This meant a wakeup call which sounded like this for not only those camping (Tash and Rich decided to stay at the camp and meet up with Sarah and myself later) but anyone within a few miles of the stage as they played so loud that standing where we were about 20 metres from the stage you felt your insides vibrate. That’s an interesting feeling.
After ATR, Rich and Tash met with us at the beertent where we chilled, watched some more bands and agreed to nip back for a bit to the tents during Beth Orton to get changed for the evening and to neck a few cheaper beers. As we were coming back into the arena we saw Kevin Rowland dressed in suspenders and a white dress singing torch songs to a crowd getting pumped up for Blur and Catatonia.
Now a lot of rubbish has been written about this by people who never saw it, and yes, the crowd did throw bottles, and yes they did boo and yes we did stand there with our jaws hitting the floor but what people don’t understand is that putting Rowland out in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday when people are fully into the festival and that he did a set of songs which personally I thought was great but the crowd aren’t going to love is what the kids would say these days, trolling the audience. It was a stunt which killed Rowland’s come back but it’s not one of the worst festival gigs I’ve seen. Far from it. It was wonderful in it’s insanity.
However the evening was about the run of great bands like The Divine Comedy, and a pretty great headline performance from Blur. At the end of the second day we were all hyped, chilled and happy. even Rich had finally come out his shell and was clearly having a great time.
The last day came, which was Sarah’s main day and the reason she wanted to come in the first place, and we decided to go for a jolly to the pub before diving into the last day’s fun and games. I don’t honestly remember much as I was just a wee bit hammered, but I do remember getting to the end of the day thinking that the Red Hot Chilli Peppers really were a bag of utter shite live.When we got back to our tent there were a couple of Chilli Pepper fans next to us who said exactly the same. There was something just painfully rubbish about their gig that night. Still, it didn’t ruin the weekend and the next morning we got up, and very, very slowly made our way back to Leicester with the full intention to return to Reading in 2000.
What stopped that happening was that Tash and myself moved to Bristol in the summer of 2000, so we were tight on cash, and frankly neither she or I could be arsed wading through the crowds full of the sort of arsehole who followed Oasis at the time, so in 2001 we returned for our last festival together.
During the summer of 2001 Tash and myself were not getting on, and that year’s Reading was seen by the pair of us as a chance to chill out, and hang out with mates like Doug and Andrea who we were camping with this year.
I’ll be honest here, I don’t remember much of that year. I remember blinding sets from PJ Harvey, Iggy Pop, Ash and Queens of the Stone Age. I remember being annoyed by The Strokes and Green Day. I remember laughing at Gary Numan. We also spent a lot of time in the pub I’d been drinking at during the festival since 1996. Things were stressful so I decided to drink an awful lot.Possibly not a smart idea.
We came back from Reading that year to a sort of truce where we kind of hit a level of normality til just after Christmas when things fell apart quickly and we eventually split after nearly five years in May of 2002. I decided to go to Reading in 2002 and see what happened, or at least just get away from Bristol for a while. As is the case with these blogs, 2002 would be a very different and much more fun affair than 2001 but that’s for next time…