This was my first festival. All my mates had been to Glastonbury a couple of months previously, but I had a bastard Spanish A Level exam on the Monday morning afterwards, so had to exercise a little self-control. Anyway, enough about that – I was bitter at the time, but I got an A, which is the only reason I got into Uni. My parents had had the fantastic idea of going on holiday to the states for 3 weeks, leaving me home alone with a car and a house, which at the age of 18 is pretty fucking sweet. So, everybody, we’re all going to Reading in my car. 5 of us plus another carload rocked up to the middle of a turnip field near the railway in Reading, in the days when you were allowed to camp/park in the same space. Once you’re in, you’re not getting out until Monday morning.
Reading festival, despite its many incarnations, as a rock festival, metal festival, indie festival, is just about 100% white middle class, full of Tarquins whose parents come to pick them up afterwards in the Volvo. The atmosphere is definitely ‘rock festival’ as opposed to ‘festival’ and there is quite a lot of drunken (albeit fairly harmless) aggression that you don’t get at the more er, crunchy-granola festivals like Glasto. Anyway, I write with twenty years of hindsight, but at the time I knew fuck all about anything.
The Friday lineup was the weakest, as far as I was concerned, but this being the days before the second stage, the comedy tent or any of that other stuff, you watched the main stage or entertained yourself really. So, with the intention of getting my money’s worth (I think the weekend ticket was about 35 quid) I sat down at the back of the main stage field with my slab of Strongbow Super (8.5% – get in) and listened to the day’s fare. Megacity 4 were good, energetic, a bit lost on a stage that size, but pretty frantic. Couldn’t tell you anything about An Emotional Fish, they have left a very minimal impression on me. Janes Addiction, one of the few bands that I was looking forward to that day, cancelled due to illness. Bumses. I remember enjoying Mudhoney though, didn’t know or like them at the time, but they were a nice little surprise. Think I went for a piss or had a little sleep during Gary Clail, as he registers a big fat zero on the remember-o-meter. I saw a bit of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but as far as I remember, that was only because I was trying to get near the front for Faith No More, the other band I actually wanted to see. So, they were on next, and they rocked ass man. They opened with ‘Out Of Nowhere’, which was and is my favourite of theirs. The studio version of ‘We Care A Lot’ I can take or leave, but live it was really something. My only dabblings with rap metal were Anthrax, but ‘We Care A Lot’ is not at all bad. The mosh pit was pretty intense, and I remember at one stage dropping my car keys in the middle of it, and managing to retrieve them before they were trampled forever into the mud, with the added bonus of not getting any fingers broken. The Cramps were the headline act on the Friday, but I only stayed to see a couple of songs. They looked good, and the whole New York punk thing was very cool, but they just didn’t sound that good to me. Anyway, I had half a crate of Strongbow Super waiting back at the tent so I made my excuses and left.
The next day started with Neds Atomic Dustbin, Psychic TV, Wire, The Young Gods and Ride. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the Strongbow Super, but I don’t believe I witnessed any of them. Come to think of it, I definitely spent a lot of money at the record fair in the Riverside Centre, and I think we might even have gone into town to have a poo in a proper toilet (Woolies or Smiths, I can’t remember) so that may account for the lack of musical memories that afternoon. Definitely saw the end of Billy Bragg, who has never done anything but set my teeth on edge, but the first band I actually paid attention to was The Buzzcocks. I knew the greatest hits, they played the greatest hits – bit long in the tooth to still be doing that stuff, but they were good honest fun and worth hanging around for. The Wedding Present were OK, never been massively into them but the ones I recognized were good (‘Kennedy’ my favourite). Then the last act on the middle night, Inspiral Carpets. I only knew a couple of theirs, but they were brilliant, easily the best so far that weekend. Pretty sure they had only released their debut album that year, but went down an absolute storm. Really energetic, dancey stuff, and a good lightshow.
Sunday. The Senseless Things, Thee Hypnotics and The Telescopes all blur into a sort of jangly frantic guitar pop. I saw them all, I’m sure, but none of them did anything to make themselves stand out from the others. Stereo MCs and Living Colour passed me by. Why did I not see Living Colour? They had been brilliant when I saw them before. No idea. Could have been in town having another posh poo. We’ll never know. Loop I do remember. They had been all over the TV with ‘Arc-Light’ and I loved the fuzzy wall of sound that they created. It didn’t really work in the daylight though, that sound was best suited to darkness and strobes. Tackhead – another blank. Jesus Jones were very good though. I don’t think I ever owned one of their records, but I knew the ‘Liquidizer’ album very well. I think that was all they had then, plus maybe ‘Real Real Real’ and ‘Right Here Right Now’. Not bad at all.
I endured most of ‘The Fall’s set, I think I was just waiting for Pixies really. Now, I only knew ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, from a dodgy indie compilation I had acquired, but I liked it enough to see what the rest was like, and after all, they were the final act of the weekend, so what else was I going to do? What a great decision I made. They were one of the best ‘surprise’ acts I’ve seen, before or since. Seeing as I had no expectations whatsoever, they could only really be a bonus. Every track was just electric, and when they eventually got to ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ I pretty much was in heaven, innit. So were the other 50,000 souls in front of the main stage – a lot of people seemed to know a lot of words to a lot of their songs, and it opened my eyes, to tell you the truth. Those 90 odd minutes were the turning point in a musical career – turned me off metal and onto indie/alternative, I’d say. Not definitively, but made me realize that indie wasn’t just for middle class fops called Tarquin.
Anyhoo, managed to get the car back in one piece, and the parents didn’t find out for another 20 years (accidentally showed them a picture of Reading Festival with their old car in it – doh!).