The Rise and Fall of the Reading Festival part five

Part one. Part two. Part three. Part four. 

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!

Oh progress…

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.

An Autumnal Update

As things get colder and personally, seem to be calming down a bit after my recent redundancy, I thought I’d make a few things clear, not to mention tell those people who do read this of where I stand in relation to my original plans for this blog.

  • The festival blogs will carry on though the Reading Festival blogs are nearing the end. I’ve let the Glastonbury blogs slip for a bit, but I’ll be picking them up again soon enough.
  • I’m probably going to do more music blogs because it’s a subject I think I’ve barely touched.
  • Politics.  The Daily Bale blogs have fired me up a lot, so I’m going to do a lot more of this.
  • Comics. Oh, there’s more to come. I really have barely scratched the surface of telling the stories of the British comics scene from the 80’s to the 2000’s. There’s something coming up very soon on this subject…

I’m going to continue threading a sort of rough biography throughout all of these subjects, so that if you read though all these blogs I’ve written, and will write, you’ll get a full picture of my good self. I am considering some more straightforward biographical pieces but I find it better to have it hiding in the centre of a bigger story so it’s a bit like the middle of an After Eight mint.

Mmmmm, minty….


Lastly, I’ve had to made the comments on the blog approved only. I didn’t want to do it but I was tired of deleting threats from barely literate EDL members, or from insanely paranoid American Truthers, so sadly I’ve taken this move for the foreseeable future.

So that’s it. Expect something meatier coming up very soon…


The Rise and Fall of the Reading Festival part four

Part one. Part two. Part three.

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…