After last time at Reading in 2001 I was unsure whether to go back as I was single, fed up and couldn’t be arsed, however the lineup was a cracking one.
I was prepared to go by myself but I’d gotten to know a few people from an online forum I was part of at the time, and in particular I’d gotten to know a girl by the name of Nat pretty well so to cut a long story short (and a long story probably for another time) we’d arranged to camp together at the festival as we were getting on well considering there was a largish age difference (she was 19 and I was 35) and she was in Welwyn Garden City and I was in Bristol.
Regardless we’d made a plan to meet at Reading train station on the Thursday afternoon with myself turning up early to grab a good camping spot while she struggled to get through London. This meant I turned up amazingly early but found the site was already heaving, so as I got into the site I headed as quickly as I could to find a good place but the campsites were full from the arena outwards, and I didn’t want to go too far out as Nat wanted to be close to the arena so I found a good place near a corner of one campsite that would fit her tent as well. After pitching up my tent and asking my neighbour to try to keep a space, I headed to the train station to meet Nat in a sate of being still amazingly sober.
At the station I walked back into the crowd of people pouring into Reading for the festival and spent the next half hour waiting for Nat to pop up in the crowd, when I got a text from her saying she was on the next train and would be in. Thankfully there is a bar next to the station, so I slipped a beer down my neck quickly and before I knew it I waited no longer as she finally managed to get to Reading. After we met up we considered nipping into town to stock up on beers but the priority was getting her tent set up in a very, very full festival. We threw her tent up quickly once we got to our campsite and we didn’t fancy going into town, so we went to get her wristband when Nat noticed there was a Carling stall selling cases of Carling, a crap beer but it’d save a walk into the Sainsbury’s in the centre of Reading, so we got a couple of cases, headed back to our tents and proceeded to neck as much as possible while wandering around the site.
Here’s the thing about this year. The site was rammed even though it’d split into two with another leg in Leeds with Guns And Roses playing exclusively in Leeds, so it actually had a stronger lineup than the parent leg of the festival but Reading was utterly rammed with a crowd much, much younger than even the previous year and much rowdier, and even though there’d been a rape in 2001 not far from where I camped, the feeling of insecurity in some parts of the site on that wander in 2002 was scary, especially since I was supposed to be sort of looking after Nat, even though she was perfectly able to look after herself. The festival however was in a state of flux as it was moving from a festival full of kids to adults wanting to indulge in music one last time in that summer, to one where lots and lots of very middle class kids wanted to turn up and make themselves very ill while smashing a load of things up. The atmosphere in parts of the site was dark, and even being a veteran of raves 12 years earlier, or those early Glastonbury’s I did which were still edgy, this was different and somewhat scarier at times. Still, where we’d camped seemed ok and Nat and myself were getting on well, so that first night we got horribly, horribly drunk and talking bollocks before ending up in the same tent together.
Next morning we got up in a very, very hungover state to sort ourselves out and wander off to get some breakfast in Reading, so we ended up getting some food, drinking more and staggering (and I mean staggering) back to the festival and into the arena to plant ourselves by the beer tent to drinking heavily and generally muck around while watching the White Stripes. After this we wandered round the arena for a few hours drinking heavily while waiting for Pulp to come on and seeing as we both adored them, this was our main thing to watch on the first night. Sadly it was also the last gig they played for nearly a decade, but it was a spectacular gig we both loved in our by now amazing pissed states. After Pulp, we legged it across the site to watch the Aphex Twin play a set which to be honest I don’t remember much of apart from the fact by now we were hammered and falling over each other. After that we staggered back to our tents to crash out in a heap.
Saturday came as a shock, and we took it easier on this day mainly because we’d broken ourselves the day previously and we wanted to make it to Ash and Muse.We both loved Ash, but whereas Nat wanted to see Muse, I wasn’t convinced but fuck it, I was having a great time so I went with the flow as we were getting on like the proverbial house on fire and then some, so we had an amazing time watching Ash who played probably the best set I’ve seen them play, and as the rain came down I was more convinced about Muse, but to this day I’m still dubious of them as they still remind me of those prog bands from the 70’s who went on and on and on and on…
The Saturday night was closed by Foo Fighters who played a good show but seemed like they were clocking on for a days graft rather than anything else, so we decided to go back to the tents to drink vodka and fall over, which we did and by now we were sharing the same tent and using Nat’s tent to store beer. As it was we were running low, so we made a good night of it and that Saturday night was one of the best days/night at a festival I’ve ever experienced. Next morning was about getting up early, having a wander into town and getting breakfast before heading back into the arena for a quietish day of music.
There’s not a lot I remember about the Sunday apart from noticing that suddenly we seemed to be the tallest people in the field as kiddie Slipknot fans poured into the arena to see them play. Later on we decided to leave after watching the Prodigy try to capture old glories but fail horribly, so we wandered by to our tents to finish off our beer and discuss what we were going to do next in our lives. Monday morning came, we woke up, packed up our tents after a cracking weekend, walked to the train station where she stood on the London-bound platform and I was on the westbound platform looking at each other being quite miserable we were splitting up. A few weeks later Nat moved to Bristol and this started an odd few years.
In 2003 Reading rolled round, and Nat had moved back home, but we were going to go to Reading together as again, it was a good line-up.
We were both by this time utterly obsessed with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and if you squint we’re in this video somewhere, but again this year was a blur, though I did watch a great set from the Polyphonic Spree, Scissor Sisters and FC Kahuna. We both watched the Libertines collapse and Blur go through the motions, but we did join in with building a mountain of rubbish on one of the many casualties Reading throws up each year.
That sadly, is the only picture I can find that we took from that year and we took loads, but all seem to be lost, though I do have a load of floppy discs with pictures on them but sadly no way of reading the discs!
Anyhow, 2003 ended with me being very, very, very drunk on the Monday morning fighting my way back to Bristol smelling like a tramp, before staggering into my bed for 12 hours sleep and a vow never to go back to Reading. The reason being things had changed. It was no longer a music festival per say, but rather another box for teenagers to tick before starting university, which festivals kind of had been but with working class kids mainly priced out the festival was pitched towards the sort of person the festival previously wouldn’t have allowed near the site.
2004 though saw myself buy a ticket more out of habit than anything, so did Nat, but I wasn’t working full time at this point as I’d decided to make my money from low-level dealing of comics and mushrooms, which was actually more profitable than it sounds. We’d done Glastonbury together that year, but Reading was something we really wanted to do out of habit as this year the line up was iffy to say the least.
It was an ok lineup, with Friday standing out, but Sunday was awful, but hey! It was Reading!
August came that year and for those who can’t remember it started raining at the start of August and didn’t finish til September, which seeing as the Reading site is right next to a river then this means that you should expect serious flooding and we got serious flooding. In fact up til the Thursday morning when the gates opened they were still pumping water out of the campsites around the arena, so when I arrived on site I struggled to find a dryish bit to camp our tents on. Eventually I found a reasonably dry bit though it was not too far from what was a swamp. I just had to wait for Nat to show up and she was stuck trying to get through the swamps which were now the carparks. Eventually she turned up and we struggled to be cheery in a what were conditions which were dry, but were threatening rain and next morning on our way into the centre to get stocked up it rained, and rained, and rained.
We stopped at a pub to get a breakfast, not to mention tidy up a bit before heading back into the swamp. The barmaid took sympathy at us as we must have made a pitiful pair sitting there dripping wet covered in mud. She kept bringing us tea and tried to cheer us up but that couldn’t last all day so once the rain died down a bit we headed back to the festival site hoping it’d not been washed away.
We tried to have fun. Really we did. We found the mushroom stall that had served us so well a few months earlier at Glastonbury to supplement my mushroom supply. Once ingested, we proceeded to enjoy another cracking performance from Ash, letch over The Distillers before Nat went off to see Graham Coxon and I laughed at The Darkness who were, briefly, the biggest band in the world for around a fortnight.
Saturday was dry, but we were knackered from being soaked the day before, plus the comedown from the shrooms hit us hard, so we tucked into more shrooms to try to make the day better. It was all good fun, but Nat went back to the tent to have a kip as I stayed to watch a Morrissey set vastly better than the one he’d played a few months earlier at Glastonbury. I couldn’t help feel that Reading had changed for me and that all these people burning plastic, or talking over songs they didn’t know weren’t people I wanted to be at a festival with. Maybe it was the comedown mixed with the rubbish weather but I wanted to go home so when I got back to the tents after The White Stripes, I mentioned to Nat that I might go home on the Sunday afternoon to which she said she was thinking the same so we decided to leave it til the morning to decide.
Sunday morning saw Nat decide to go home early afternoon, while I fancied stayed a bit longer after waking up a bit cheerier, so I helped her pack up and walked the long walk to the train station to see her home. After we said our farewells I popped into the pub next to the station to have a couple of beers and watch the Olympics which were on at the time. At this point I really just fancied going back to Bristol to sit down the legendary Cat & Wheel watching the Olympics and drinking from a glass while sitting in a comfy seat.
I headed back, watched the Loose Cannons, wandered round the arena for a bit, before going to my tent, packing up and fucking off before 50 Cent came on. In fact as my train was passing the site on the way home I could see the hail of bottles aimed at him as he was on stage and I partly wished I’d stayed to see it, but that would mean staying to see Green Day who are pish, and staying another night in a swamp. The prospect of a nice pint in a pub after a shower was too attractive.
That was the last Reading I really did for a full weekend. I’ve been back to do the odd day to see Rage Against the Machine, but there’s nothing to attract me. The crowds are full of joyless, empty kids burning tents and acting like thugs and I can’t be dealing with that acrid smell of burning plastic and faeces as another portaloo goes up in flames.
So here we are and as I write this coverage of Reading 2013 is on BBC Three with a faceless pair of middle class presenters who look like they’ve been genetically bred to be as bland and empty as possible. Bands like The Blackout wander round the main stage throwing empty poses while saying nothing to an audience lapping up the empty words because they fit the current style of the day. Having an opinion or actually saying something is frowned upon now as it’s all about empty statements from empty vessels. A$AP Rocky prances around singing about ‘niggers’ and ‘bitches’ without being pelted off stage for being the prick that he clearly is.
Reading still has the odd shining diamond, but the Indiefication of the festival to become the festival current NME readers deserve is sad to see. I may well return should the right band turn up and of course, should the inclination and finances be there, but the festival is no longer for me, although I do appreciate people and festivals change, seeing Reading become what it has and the carnage left by those attending it is a pity. It deserves better.