It’s that time of the year again where I have to write about yet another Reading Festival. It was now becoming the first date I would ring on my calendar. This particular Reading Festival had a special significance as it was the last one that I attended before starting University. All my others had been taken in whilst I was at college or just finishing school, so it was a little emotional knowing that this would be the last big blow out for many of my friends before they moved off to start the next part of their education. We made a point of getting as many of us together as possible to make it a good year, but in terms of entertainment value it was about one man and one man alone.
Lee had been Skye Masterson to my Nathan Detroit in our college production of Guys and Dolls, or the Marlon Brando to my Frank Sinatra if you like the film. We had become really good mates, we went out for a curry together at least once a week (in fact one week we went for four in five days. Mental.), We would go to gigs together, we would go out and I’d watch him pull girls whilst I stood there being awkward. We made a great team. He still had one more year at college, but I was off to Winchester. I was desperate for him to come to Reading and he needed very little persuading. For all the fun and dicking about our party of friends did, no one was prepared for Lee. He was a tornado of carnage. He arrived on the Thursday and helped me set up our tent, he then told me we had to go to the station to meet a girl that he hooked up with in Wales a week ago (?) and we did that. He immediately spent a little time with her in my tent and the rest of us talked slightly louder than usual for half an hour whilst that was going on. She left to go and meet her friends and Lee went and got a henna tattoo. We went to the club night at the Alleycat before the festival started and Lee spent the evening getting drunk and shouting “INNIT!” in a high pitched voice into the face of everybody he came into contact with. When we all went into Reading to stock up on Pot Noodles and Beer for the weekend Lee bought a bottle of Rum and a Kazoo. Lee spent 90 per cent of the rest of the weekend only communicating via the kazoo. It was a lot funnier than it sounds. You had to be there I guess. The only time he didn’t was when he noticed a girl he liked.
What happened on the Friday night was possibly my favourite thing to ever have happened ever at Reading Festival, I wouldn’t swap it for seeing Nirvana headline in ’92. Lee had managed to lose the Welsh girl, having grown weary of her charms he instead had his sights set on the girl next to our tent. Thing is, Welsh girl had left her clothes in our tent. After the bands had finished on Friday and we were sat around the fire watching Lee seducing this poor new girl he suddenly went “GULP!” like one would if one were a cartoon character and pulled his T-Shirt over his head, the Welsh girl, whose name I can’t remember you’ll have realised by now, was stood there staring at him. She looked a bit annoyed and I got the feeling that Lee had just run off into a crowd and left her. Her daggered gaze never broke as she stared at him and she uttered, after a really long and awkward silence, “Has anyone seen Lee?” Lee was sat right there with a T-Shirt over his head. Clearly. Cue another long and awkward silence. Until Euan said “No… He’s… just gone off looking for something… under his T-Shirt.” Lee popped his head up, punched Euan and called him an idiot for “Blowing his cover”, even though he had clearly done no such thing. Lee fetched Welsh ladies clothes and she called him something under his breath, he said see you tomorrow and waved at her. We waited about ten seconds before cracking up, and Lee insisted on laying the blame on Euan. Which made it all the funnier. Still, he shagged that girl from the other tent that night, and I slept in a puddle outside. Worth it, totally worth it.
Did I mention that there were bands playing the festival too? Well there were. The first couple of days were less interesting than a man speaking via Kazoo. We spent Friday wandering about purely out of desperation looking for something vaguely interesting. The first stop was the Main Stage, we watched The Donna’s open the whole festival and tried to hear the bands that they had been compared to in their sound. A sound that was weaker than a fat, toddler with ME and being blown about by the swirling wind. Female Ramones? More like The Bangles in crop tops. Next up were Apollo 440, who did the theme for the Lost In Space movie with Matt Le Blanc and Gary Oldman, they were pretty good fun if my memory serves. Although that could be the fact that I’m thinking about being 19 and stood in a field in the summer with my mates, as opposed to where I am now; sitting in my bedroom in February with the Kiera Knightley version of Pride And Prejudice on the telly. It was Take Me Out: The Gossip five minutes ago. What a load of old fucking shit.
Preferable though to the rest of the guff on the Main Stage that day. The Dandy Warhols? GENE!! SPACE?!!! FUCKING SPACE!! REEF!!! AGAIN?!! FUUUUUCCCCKKKKK!!! I quite like Echo And The Bunnymen these days, but I didn’t’ at the time. Ditto The Charlatans. The only other band I wanted to see on the Main Stage were The Chemical Brothers, who I thought were dull as shit as it happens. The only thing that made their set bearable was Lee dancing as if he’d been “Jacked up on some major drugs” as he quite eloquently put it. He ended up with a huge circle of people staring at him and some even asked where he had got what he had taken, then he just stopped, said he was bored and walked off. Again, should have been there…ahem.
I just ate and drank and said derogatory things about bands on every stage loud enough for people who were enjoying them to hear and then skulked off to do it on another stage. I did watch my old mate Ishmael from Liberty 37, and his band of course. They were one of the few bands, maybe the only band, that day whose material I was familiar with. I was also one of the few people who were familiar with their material as the tent was largely empty, containing just a smattering of like-minded individuals searching for something to watch that wasn’t a Melody Maker wank band. They were fair to middling. The fact that they were probably the best band I saw that day says more about Reading’s Friday line up than their own personal merits.
The third stage was at least trying to cater for Rock fans, just not very well. Not only Liberty 37, but Llama Farmers, Sona Fariq, The Jelly’s and Cyclefly too. Hardly a particularly inspiring bill. The evenings two headliners were My Ruin and Nashville Pussy. We decided to watch both as it was that or nothing. My Ruin were on first, they were playing their first ever gig in Britain… in fact it might have been their first gig ever. That really doesn’t sound right. Well, whatever, they were pretty high up the bill considering they were in their infancy. All because they were Tarrie B’s new band. This hardly seemed like much of an event as Tarrie B changed bands as much as Jordan gets married… three times. So that was an insult and a fact at the same time. BOOM!! If you don’t remember Tarrie B then allow me to enlighten you, she started as a bleached blonde solo rap artist that was signed by Easy E, then went Rap-Metal fronting Manhole, she got a fair bit of press in the UK and was famously dating Burton C Bell from Fear Factory which probably helped her profile, then Manhole had to change their name to Tura Satana for a some reason, then they split up because everyone liked reading about her and looking at pictures of her but didn’t ever buy her records and then, finally, she formed My Ruin. Which is what she is still doing now I believe.
If it sounds like I’m having a go then I’m not. I’m not familiar with any of her music and I think she was a pretty good role model for young girls. Especially when you compare her with a female role model now, someone like Hayley Williams from Paramore. Who is basically a ginger Kelly Clarkson if I’m being nice or Shirley Manson from Garbage if she had spent the first 18 years of her life locked in a room watching every episode of ‘Beauty and the Geek’ on repeat with her eyes pinned back like a some sort of douche bag version of ‘Clockwork Orange’ if I’m being totally accurate. Just to clarify, in case you missed the subtext, I’m not keen on Paramore.
My Ruin were certainly different from what had been served up by Reading so far, they weren’t just a Rock band, they were a full on nihilistic Metal band. Every tattooed and pierced alternative kid at the whole festival were there to see them on the tiny third stage and it was quite a crush, they definitely benefitted from playing the Friday. Lord knows how many people they would have pulled if they had clashed with, say, Pitchshifter on Sunday. They weren’t very memorable, I stop short of saying good, and the lack of familiarity in the songs gave the vibe something more of intrigue rather than excitement, not just on my part but everyone in attendance as the band had no material released at this point. They did do a passable cover of ‘Stoopid’ by Snot, which I liked as I never got to see Snot and I bloody loved them. Worth seeing for that moment alone.
Nashville Pussy closed the night and were not good at all. It’s all very well and good claiming that you are bringing back good old fashioned Rock And Roll, but if you write crap songs and sound like a pub band then it’s hardly worth bothering. Again, people weren’t really there for the music. They were there to letch over the two ladies that played in The ‘Pussy and see if they got their tits out. It’s pretty hard to get aroused when they were onstage flanking a warthog with a moustache on guitar and vocals, which is what I was looking at onstage. I didn’t like that sort of music too much when I was this age and I’m sure their redneck, sub-Ted Nugent isn’t that bad, but I have nothing positive in my head when I recall them.
Come Saturday morning it’s clear that the day before was, musically speaking at least, the worst day I had ever experienced at Reading. So this day owed me something, anything, a little bit special. Holy shit! Did we get it! The opening band on the main stage that day, that morning in fact, were Atari Teenage Riot. A total and utter unfathomable head fuck of a band if ever there were one. A band who collaborated with Slayer and had their sound mellowed because of it. The sight of four militant German psycho’s clad in black screaming about ‘Revolution Action’ and ’60 Second Wipe Out’s over the top of shapeless, formless white noise was incredible. I don’t actually know if I enjoyed the music but I loved the spectacle. I loved watching Catatonia fans that had got up early and wandered down to the stage to relax having their senses raped for half an hour. How? How did they ever get on this bill?!! The only other example of a band like this playing on such a bill was The Dillinger Escape Plan a couple of years later, although they shared the day with Raging Speedhorn and Slipknot. ATR were playing on a line up alongside The Divine Comedy and Beth Orton. Worth the price of admission to the festival alone.
After lots of people were laid strewn across the turf, beaten and brutalised, like the start of Saving Private Ryan but with more Blur T-Shirts. Euan told me I should stay with him and watch The Pharcyde, which I did, they were very good. A bit like the 1999 version of Jurassic 5, who were so impressive a year previous. Hard to do Hip-Hop well live as well. Saturday already kicking Friday’s weedy little bottom.
Then came the wait. Again, there was nothing going on for Rock fans on this day. It was certainly better but most of the stuff we watched was out of curiosity rather than genuine love. Snuff, Pavement and, Stuart’s favourite, My Life Story came and went with very little to report. I spent a lot of time back in the camp site dicking about and then as the evening came along I went to meet Lee and whoever he had pulled in the last half an hour to watch The Fun Loving Criminals. They are a very underrated band the FLC, their first album is really brilliant. Smooth, cool and a little bit dangerous like Tarantino meets Sinatra meets House Of Pain. I was into them quite a lot around that time. At this point they were really big as well and the whole field bounced along to “Bombing The L’, “The Fun Loving Criminal’, ‘Loco’ and the inevitable closer of ‘Scooby Snacks’. A hard band to pigeon hole and a rare case of a group achieving commercial success without any kind of compromise to their sound. They got really crap after that and Huey ended up presenting TFI Friday with Donna Air. Oh well, nice while it lasted.
I went over to the comedy tent after that and got some LOL’s ten years before that was a thing. It wasn’t a funny as Catatonia though. The boring, plodding, Welsh space wasters not the Swedish, Prog-Metal titans you’ll understand. It was a joke that got old pretty quickly though. Better instead to watch a guy calling himself ‘The Bastard Son Of Tommy Cooper’ swallowing swords and walking off because he thought he was being heckled when, in actual fact, the lights were being shone in the faces of the audience and we couldn’t see a bastard thing. The roar when he came back on was probably louder than when Catatonia finally stopped their tuneless cuntiness.
Blur were headlining the main stage that evening and we waited around at the back of the field and saw Damon and Co. come on and play a lovely version of ‘Tender’ to open their set, as well as true classics like ‘Girls And Boys’ and ‘Song 2’. I was/am a fan of Blur but we left after twenty minutes or so to head over to the second stage to watch the last ever gig by 3 Colours Red.
You might think that this was a bit of a dumb choice, but I actually loved the first 3 Colours Red album ‘Pure’. The follow up was decent as well, not amazing but acceptable. I’d seen them a few years previous on this very stage at my first ever Reading and it seemed fitting that I go and see them headline on their last ever gig. They were great as well, the perfect 20th century Reading band in a lot of ways. Summery, catchy, Pop-Rock that took on a whole new lease of life when set free over a field in Berkshire. ‘Sunny In England’ was triumphant, ‘Paralyze’ was a mosh pit starter, ‘Copper Girl’ sounded extra poignant and the bands two focal points, Chris McCormack and Pete Vuckovic, played their two very different roles expertly. Chris with a low slung guitar, dressed in black, sneering and slashing power chords, every inch the punk rocker. Pete, charming, sensitive and able to carry the more emotional moments in their music, one for the ladies. He looked a bit overwhelmed by it all, the others played it like it was just another gig. When you looked at Pete you could see him drinking it all in, determined to remember every second of it as if he knew he’d never be in this position again.
They ended with the big hit, ‘Beautiful Day’, the ballad. I thought that was a shame, ending with a full throttle, rocket powered ‘Nuclear Holiday’ would have been 3 Colours Red going out doing what 3 Colours Red do best. Instead they pulled at the heartstrings and left with a whimper. As sad as it might have been for the band, I couldn’t get teary about it. They just didn’t mean that much to me, and I don’t think I was alone either. The fact that the last ever song they played was the song that, apparently, split the two main men down the middle, caused so much tension within the band and made them question the direction of their music was an irony not lost on me. Still, they reformed a few years later. No biggie then.
Sunday is the RAWK day, the famous and iconic old school Rock day. Which meant all of us that had been trundling round the site for the last two days suddenly had something to get excited about. Lit opened the Main Stage that day and pulled a huge crowd for the first band. With their big hit ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ riding high in the charts they possibly should have been higher up the bill, and they were an excellent start to the day too. Mostly thought of as a one hit wonder these days, they actually had some really great Pop-Rock tunes, like’Zip-Lock’ and ‘Miserable’, and were complemented by a blue, cloudless sky. The perfect environment for their music to be experienced in. They vanished after that, like so many bands did in those days, one hit, bit of hype and then silence.
I preferred them to both Backyard Babies and Buckcherry, even though I’ve got a soft spot for both of them these days, mainly because I didn’t like the old fashioned Rock and Roll sound that much back in the day. It was dated and redundant, guitar solos and high-pitched vocals had no place anymore. It was never coming back… WRONG! Obviously. Even then I enjoyed a bit of both bands, especially Backyard Babies rap influenced ‘Babylon’ and Buckcherry’s big hit ‘Lit Up’.
I really was just killing time for Sick Of It All, who were up next on the Main Stage. That’s right, Sick Of It All on the MAIN STAGE. I was ridiculously excited just by the thought of it. This is meant to be my memories, but I will regale you with a memory of someone else’s quickly. Deany told me that his main memory of that Reading was our group being sat at the back of the field during the first couple of bands and then watching me run off down the front on my own just before SOIA came on. He says that during their set the camera panned across the crowd and the screens captured the full insanity of a Sick Of It All pit, and that, stood alone in the middle of the pit with his arms flailing around his head and screaming with his face contorted, the whole of Reading could see yours truly. Now, I don’t know if that’s true or if I was doing that but I was definitely down the front and I was definitely going bloody mental. They were as brilliantly terrific as Sick Of It All always are. Just louder and further away. Lou Koller was his usual likeable self, Pete Koller his usual high-kicking pitbull, and they played some of New York Hardcore’s most recognisable anthems. ‘Us Vs. Them’, ‘Step Down’, ‘Injustice System’, ‘Just Look Around’ and ‘Busted’ with Craig on lead vocals. It was brilliant, and brutal down there too. A huge circle pit in the afternoon heat kicked up a dust cloud of epic proportions. There were a few Indie layabouts sneering near the back. Sneering that is until Lou told the crowd that they were going to do a “reverse wall of death” and everyone at the front had to take a few steps forward and those at the back take a few steps back. I saw a bunch of confused looking Catatonia fans, that turned to a bunch of terrified Catatonia fans when Lou said “When this song kicks in you all run at each other. Let’s mix this place up! SCRATCH THE SURFACE!!!” and a few thousand frustrated Rock fans went tearing toward the more sedate members of the crowd. It. Was. Brilliant. What a band. What a moment.
If a genie had asked me what two bands I would like to have next to each other on the main stage of Reading back in 1999 I’d probably have plumped for SOIA followed by Pitchshifter. So, I guess I only have two more wishes now. To be honest Pitchshifter never really top the previous performance. Although, being a UK Metal band, there is something a little extra special about the occasion. They bang out most of the excellent, and never bettered, www.pitchshifter.com album and two new tracks. One called ‘Everything’s Fucked’ and another named ‘Un-United Kingdom’. The former is a slow burner that doesn’t really impress on first hearing, whilst the latter is a killer mix of early Clash and Ministry that definitely gets the blood pumping straight away. Closing, as usual, with the stunning ‘Please Sir’ Pitchshifter are possibly the only band of the day that could have followed SOIA. Lucky then that they did.
All of this is bad news for Feeder, who bear the brunt of having to follow the two most viscerally thrilling bands on the bill. I think this may be the moment that I could no longer consider myself a fan. As I sat back and watched thousands of young, nubile, pretty people (Most of whom were wearing Reef T-Shirts) go bonkers for Feeder’s ‘nice’ music. That was it, they were nice. Nothing wrong with their nice, catchy music, but, after chest-beating New York Hardcore and riot starting Techno-Metal, nice is not good enough thanks.
Unfortunately we went from ‘Nice’ to ‘Boring as fuck’ when Silverchair came on. Their first album, Frogstomp, is great in a “ooh it sounds like all those Grunge bands I like all at once, but by kids” kind of way, you can’t argue with tunes like ‘Tomorrow’ or ‘Pure Massacre’. Second album ‘Freakshow’ is more of the same but not quite as good. They had just released their third album, ‘Neon Ballroom’, at the time and, although that is a good record, it’s ‘maturing’ of the Silverchair sound meant that, rather than the three kids in skate clothes rocking out that I expected, we got Daniel Johns in a sparkly blouse, flouncing around and being a bit odd in between songs while Ben and Chris stared at the floor and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. They started with ‘Emotion Sickness’, which is a truly brilliant song but not one suited to making the kind of ‘BOOM’ impact you need when opening a set. It went all over the place, you’d get a seething ‘Israel’s Son’ and it would be followed by something plodding and anaemic like ‘Ana’s Song’. Silverchair could be good, but today was not one of those days.
For the third time in four years Terrorvison played the main stage at Reading. I didn’t bother with them or The Offspring, having seen them too many times and not wanting to be surrounded by people who were shouting for ‘Tequila’ and ‘Pretty Fly For A White Guy’ over and over again.
Instead I went over, for the first time all day, to the Vans Warped Tour stage. As I said previously, why they chose to have this stage on the same day as the main stage Rock line up was mental. I’ve already addressed this though, and this year it wasn’t such as problem as the bill for the Vans stage was utter dog shit. ALL Ska bands! Pretty much all of those bands were the terrible, parping knobs that made the late 90’s so difficult. I did see The Vandals though, who I liked a lot even though they were terribly juvenile. It helped that they were actually funny and guitarist Warren stripped naked and climbed up to the top of the tent to sing ‘I Have A Date’. That was good, naked man good. I missed Suicidal Tendencies, who were one of the few bands that day that I’d like to have seen, and I caught a little bit of Blink 182 who went down like a band that were going to become very big indeed. Still fucking terrible though. Um… and I saw some other band that wore big shorts and had Saxophones’ and sang about girls not liking them. You can pick who they were, they’re all the same.
After Terrovision and Offspring had finished playing “The Hit(s)” I wandered over to watch that evening’s headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now, as you may know, there are two stages to the career of RHCP’s, there’s the stuff when they took loads of drugs and were good and there is the rest. The awful, terrible, totally lacking in any artistic merit on any level whatsoever rest. This was on the apex of that crossover though, they had just released ‘Californication’ and it hadn’t become totally apparent just what a steaming heap of unlistenable toss it was yet. Instead we stood and waited for them to come on with thoughts of ‘Sir Psycho Sexy’ and ‘Suck My Kiss’ in our heads. When they arrived it was with very little fanfare or ceremony, they just walked on and began ‘Around The World’, by some considerable distance the best track from ‘Californication’, and it was quite good. Then came ‘Give It Away’, a bona-fide belter of a song. Having never seen the Chili’s before I was a very happy bunny at this juncture. Not for long though. I can’t quite remember how many tracks in we were or what exact song it was, but I remember feeling a little bored by what I was seeing. What I was seeing was a really long, jammed outro to a song that should have finished a couple of minutes before but didn’t. This was about the third song on the trot that they had pulled this trick and it was getting a bit old, like Chad Smith’s face. I also remember that they played A LOT of stuff off of ‘Californication’ and I remember thinking “Bugger me sideways if this isn’t a crap song”. I remember feeling pissed off every time they went into another new song and refused to even acknowledge my favourite RHCP album ‘One Hot Minute’. I was starting to feel nothing but pissed off. What tipped it over the edge was Anthony Kiedis.
Anthony Kiedis is a fucking cunt. For a man with so little vocal ability, for a man who is basically a torso with feet, for a man who has just surrounded himself with supremely talented musicians and then done nothing more than burped as many words for willy over the top of their compositions as he can summon up Anthony Kiedis is the least humble, least appreciative, least genuine frontman of a band that I have ever seen in my life. At one point in their set the other three Chili’s begin to jam and Kiedis fucks off. So they continue to jam, and it’s fucking dull as shit. Then after about five minutes he comes back and stands with his back to the audience. The rest of the band all look a bit awkward and stop playing, Kiedis goes mental and starts shouting at all of them, pointing fingers at Chad Smith and basically having a little temper tantrum. Flea calms him down and they continue their set. He rarely addresses the audience and when he does it’s with sneering, passive aggressive contempt. Despite all of this, Anthony Kiedis lives in a mansion made out of gold on the top a mountain that he owns and sleeps on a diamond encrusted mattress, stuffed with hundred dollar bills. How is that fair in any way? He may have been having a bad day, but considering I’d waited about five years to see his band he might have wanted to hide it just a touch. It’s this moment that I realised “The Red Hot Chili Peppers are bollocks!”
I should be thankful in a way. If I hadn’t of seen them, if I’d have done what a few of my mates did and gone off to watch Pennywise headline the Vans stage as they did so brilliantly in 1997 (I was tempted you know) then I might not have had this realisation and I might have bought ‘Stadium Arcadium’ or stood in Hyde Park with an insurmountable number of wankers with scrotum’s for brains humming along to the fucking ‘Zephyr Song’ or whatever it was called. I didn’t though, I stayed and waited for ‘Under The Bridge’ and realised that “even that song isn’t that good either.”
I walked off before their encore and heard the feedback ringing out from Pennywise’s awesome closer ‘Bro Hymn’. I said “fuck sake” under my breath and I walked back to the camp. This was not how my Reading was supposed to end. Then I watched Lee try and order some soup from an angry fat woman with his kazoo. It was hilarious… guess you had to be there… unless you were Anthony Kiedis… It was definitely better without him.