I’m writing this at 6am in my too-low-a-tog sleeping bag, in a prison cell like university hall room, on the final day of Reading Festival. There’s a niggling and relentless buzzing in my legs, I’ve got a hormonal break-out, and I’m feeling anxious about heading back to site (and all those people,) but even with all that considered, this will go down as one of the best weekends of the summer. It always does.
As I said in my Reading look-back piece, it has become a staple fixture for almost half of my life on earth, so it’s no wonder it holds such a pivotal position in the calendar. Weirdly it’s become a bit of a landmark weekend for me too, one which makes me look back on what I’ve achieved in the last 12 months, even more so than new years eve. Mentally I always say to myself ‘by the next Reading I want to have done ‘insert some sort of achievement’ and I want ****** to have changed. Sadly another Reading has come (and nearly gone) and prior to it’s arrival I realised that I’ve not managed to tick off anything from the list of mental goals I had, and pretty much nothing has improved (in terms of career, financial position, the industry as a whole). In light of this I decided to do Reading very differently this year, realising that working your ass off isn’t actually recognised by the industry and doesn’t lead to any tangible reward, and that it actually just means you miss out on so many of the aspects that make a festival weekend freakin’ awesome.
So instead of being held hostage in the sweaty press tent doing interviews, I decided I’d do what the majority of my friends do, who jam-ily still guest privileges through their industry mates without having to do any work over the weekend, and just have a ruddy nice time watching bands and catching up with mates. There were 2 bands I wanted to interviews though (one of them being Korn) as they’re one of the only bands left from that I loved from that nu-metal musical era, that I am yet to chat to, so I fired their PR an email. When I discovered they weren’t do any press, I just thought ‘heck I just won’t do any interviews’ and just do an easy breezy blog this weekend, as I didn’t just want to interview the same people that have featured lots on my channel already. Of course a few days before the festival kicks off your inundated with emails from PR’s asking you to interview their bands. As an innate people pleaser I inevitably gave in on a couple of them, but only because I genuinely think the acts they were proposing are rad and I’d feel very happy spreading the word about them. The majority of those emails I had to ignore though as I know how I tend to fold, and how my planned chilled work weekend turns into the same old hectic story.
On the whole I’m so pleased I’ve kept the work volume down, but my workaholic tendencies to tend to deliver pangs of guilt, and that feeling of a missed opportunity. There were some big acts I could have got time with this weekend and I know some people will think I made a bad call in terms of my channel ‘looking cool’ content wise, but it was a move taken with self care firmly in mind. I think it’s so important to remind yourself and others what’s important and necessary. I don’t NEED to do interviews or to push my limits work wise at every festival, but I do need to ensure my mental/physical health is looked after particularly on a weekend that is fairly taxing on those things to begin with. I also realised that when I stop going to festivals entirely, I don’t want to look back on my times at these musical meccas and think about all the ‘friend time’ I missed out on because I was so obsessed with getting content. Just writing that sentence makes me feel sad, and I don’t want to do it anymore. Or at least I want to get the balance A LOT better. My friends that seem to have the best festival experiences don’t even have an unblurry picture to prove their presence, I think that say’s a lot. Live in the now people.
That said, this year I have had a lot of fun just walking around to the tents and stages with my little LUMIX GM1 round my neck, ready and waiting to capture some atmospheric moments. In another method of making festivals more pleasurable, and less draining on my personal battery levels, I’ve been making a point of putting my head down and attempting to leave the guest area unnoticed so I can just go and enjoy some music on my own. Watching a live performance with my friends is a blast – getting silly, dancing badly and screaming the lyrics in each other’s ears – but sometimes I want to stand in silence and just connect to the songs, and also not feel like a party pooper if I want to sit down while absorbing the music, or the lyrical mood. I also like that I can change my position in the crowd whenever I fancy, to try and get all the different shots without worrying about ditching or losing my mates.
So before I got myself trapped in the guest area and unable to leave I darted out on my own to explore the site -I wanted to familiarise myself with each of the tents (Main, Comedy, NME/RADIO 1, The Pit, Alternative Stage, BBC Introducing, Jack Daniels, Radio 1 Extra, Dance etc) and catch at snippet of an act on each. I managed to catch Iain Stirling of Love Island commentary fame, Haus, and Marika Hackman.
Opening the MainStage was Judas, who had an army of devoted followers singing along during their introduction to the weekend. I would meet the guys later on in the press tent and what a happy and buzzing group of lads they were too – they seemed genuinely thrilled and grateful to be there which was lovely to see.
I was so pleased to finally catch the badass ladies of Deap Valley, proving that a duo can provide enough impact and rock ’n’ roll to tantalise a MainStage crowd.
I’m actually glad to not be Twilight fan, in fact I’ve never completed a movie, so the fact that Jamie CB is the frontman of the band Counterfeit is pretty irrelevant info to me (and I really don’t want to mention it), but I’m so pleased when a band that features a well known face can stand strong on their own merit, which I found to be the case here. I just wanted to know if they were a good band and if their live performance made me feel anything, and I definitely felt riled up. I even found myself on the edge of a circle pit.… not intentionally of course, but I was there all the same. All I can say is that it’s such a pleasure watching bands that invest everything into a live show, they well and truly leave their musicals guts on stage at the end of the battle and this lover of gore applauds them for that.I had only previously caught a song or two during their performance at Slam Dunk, but I hear what I experienced is definitive for the band. They’re a band that deliver intensity and vitriol, but also enough melody and hook to grab the sonic attention of new listeners.
A moment of comparative serenity now and some time languishing in the delightful harmonies of Jimmy Eat World. I chose this relative peace to have some food, and got some Halummi and Sweet potato fries from the veggie stalk to munch on/spit out while singing along to the likes of Sweetness, The Middle and Pain. I’ve never met someone that dislikes Jimmy Eat World, and I’m not sure I’d like to.
While on route to QOTSA/You Me At Six we caught a bit of Kasabian ‘You’re in love with a Pyscho’. Although they’re undoubtedly a good example of their genre, with lots of massive tunes, and I actually really like them as people, they’re not quite headliners in my head at this current time. But I think that more about me being immersed in a slightly different scene within the industry. I’m sure their ticket sales/record numbers would suggest otherwise.
QOTSA was another of those not so secret sets over the weekend, alongside The Pretty Boys (Don Broco), Drake and Stormzy. The tent was as brimming as you’d imagine and the ginger haired Elvis made a lot of people very happy.
I knew the crowd would be impressive for my pals in You Me At Six and the turnout for their headline set on the NME/Radio 1 didn’t disappoint. Despite their relative young age, they are veterans of the scene and five albums deep, it’s impossible for them not to curate a crowd pleasing set list full of songs perfect for those memorable festival sing-alongs, shirt wafting and pogo bouncing. A couple of tech issues didn’t faze the crowd in the slightest, with a nice mix of new and classic songs, fantastic light production and a feel good vibe, everyone left Friday in great spirits.
Saturday I was feeling fairly ropey when I woke up. When you’ve overdone it with CFS, you tend to get an onset of flu like symptoms and I arose to a sore throat, sniffy nose and all sorts of aches and pains, and I think that late night and lengthy (1 hour plus) taxi queue post YMA6 had delivered just that. Rather than force myself on site for when he bands kicked off I decided to just chill for a few more hours in my cell, hoping that it would increase the probability of lasting till Eminem.
I was sad to miss Casey and Mooseblood but also knew there would be plenty of future chances. When I went on site I was greeted by of my favourite faces and heard all the drunken antics of the night before which is always entertaining. Matty from the 1975 was on a nearby table, here to enjoy a day of watching bands with his friends like all of us music fans, I hope he wasn’t bothered too much by people for selfies and such while in his non work mode. Must be a bloody nightmare.
First act we watched was PVRIS, who have literally just released much anticipated new material, so must be really in the thick of things right now. You could tell Lynn was struggling with her throat a wee bit, but it didn’t matter at all because they’re a class act, so endearing, and have tune after tune. Everyone just wants them to smash it, there’s so much love for them here in the UK. The guest area was rammed today, I’m presuming the Real Slim Shady drew in the extras, so there was a conveyer belt of people to catch up with before heading back to the main stage again. I was persuaded by my friend’s fella that Migos was something we should experience, but it fell a bit flat for me to be honest. A few of us felt the hype man/DJ part was a bit to lengthy and it started to be a bit comedic with the explosion sound effects – a bit Ross Geller in friends with that keyboard. There were definitely people buzzing off it though, so I’ll just put it down to ‘not my cuppa tea’ – although next year I’ll probably be obsessed knowing me. I then referred to my Reading Festival app and realised I’d missed Marmozets watching it, and then felt the feeling of ‘meh’ turn to ‘grrr’.
The next band I went to see was At The Drive In. This was due to be my first time watching the band and I was hoping to see all the acrobatics and afro wobbling I’d fallen in love with when I first saw the One Armed Scissor video on MTV2. Cedric didn’t disappoint on that front, almost risking ripping his beautiful double denim combo with every leap and bound. Annoyingly I got a text to say my interview had been brought forward so had to tear myself away from the mintage and sprint back to the press tent to set up in a sweaty panic.
My interview was another for my Mind Matters series, this time with Sean of While She Sleeps. It proved to be a bit of a game changer. He offered a real insight into an alternative way of dealing with anxiety, a method which has worked complete wonders for him. It’s made me rethink a lot about the information I share regarding tools to cope with anxiety and depression.
Next up was one of the acts I have been most looking forward to, as a former noughts ‘metaller’ , the mighty Korn. I haven’t seen them live for a number of years. I was not only impressed by the dedication to complicated and impactful hairdo’s but also Jonathan’s voice. I thought they sounded great and when you hear that intro sequence of Blind, you are reminded of their very particular genius. I loved every minute of it, and even the guy next to me who didn’t know any of their stuff and who ‘wasn’t into this type of music’ said he was loving it. Someone needs to restrain me during Got The Lift though, my attempt at ‘that’ bit is probably the most embarrassing things to be seen as Reading, even worse than the people being sick in bins or with dicks drawn on their backs.
The man we’ve been waiting for was here. A little bit older, and with a brown stubble we’re not at all used to, still lithe darting round the stage grabbing his man bits and doing that thing with his fingers he does in time with the lyrics he’s spitting. He played a lot of the hits, the collabs with Dido and Rihanna, and a bulk from Marshall Mathers. A hella amount of nostalgic fun, but sadly lacked a bit of impact due to some volume issues. I actually wish I had gone to see While She Sleeps for a bit, as they’re one of THE BEST live acts going, but my body was struggling and the walk to the tent was enough to tip me over the edge sadly.
Sunday came and inevitably some of my friends were starting to flail…I’m being kind, if I’m honest they looked like extras from 28 Days later after two days of ferocious drinking. I was planning to come and cheer up the last minute editions to the line up, The Xcerts, who would be opening the MainStage on this final day, but sadly taxi issues and hungover mates meant I just missed them.
Their pals in Architects would be the next band I managed to catch, having spent the majority of the day catching up with everyone who had come for the final day of festivities. It was an inevitably emotional performance, but one full of guts and glory. As well as chants for Corbyn, the crowd made of a point of sending support to boys thrusting arms towards the stage and shouting, as they did for Tom too, whose presence was felt throughout this show (and every single performance). I defy anyone to have walked away from that maintstage performance unmoved, it had vitriol, hurt, passion and motive and you could help but get caught up in it. This was the first time I’ve witnessed an Architects set in full, and I did so from the mosh pit to experience it at maximum intensity…it definitely won’t be my last.
One of the best parts about having a press pass, is that you’re more inclined to hear rumours of surprise sets and guest appearances. One of my journo pals received a text from an industry pal saying we should expect to see Drake appear with Giggs, so we knew to be at ready to dash out of the tent and sprint towards main-stage. I only managed to get one image to prove I was there, but it’ll do.
There was no doubt that I was going to spend some time watching Liam Gallagher this weekend, he is an icon for my generation after-all, and also has some of the most amusing merch going right now. During the Brit-pop era I was a rare breed that loved both Blur and Oasis, but I think I always leaned a tad more to the Gallaghers, so I was stupidly excited to get to see him this weekend him as adult. His stance and vocal was classic Liam, and I was pleased that he was happy to perform some of the classics for us.
One of the biggest crowds of the weekend goes to Charlie XCX in the Dance Tent. I couldn’t help but notice it was a predominantly young crowd, of both girls and boys, who were lapping up her unique edgy-pop formula. Of course ‘Boom Clap’, ‘I Love it’, and her latest song ‘Boys’ garnered huge cheers and enthusiastic sing a longs, but I was surprised to hear that pretty much every track received the same level of cheer. She’s a star, and has the perfect balance of relatable and ‘cool’ factor,
I was surprised that the tent wasn’t fuller for Halsey, but I think scheduling meant that many were torn between her and our brit sass-pot Charlie. I loved her set, both the cool pop melodies and the floral stage which was bombarded intermittently by huge black inflatable balls.
I’ve never really understood why Muse are so polarising, I can’t imagine watching them live and being able to come away with anything but adoration and , but each to their own. I could have confidently written this review last week, as they predictably blew my socks off (and the rest of my sweatied clothes). With so many huge songs in their armoury it’s impossible to have a lacklustre show, and even though they missed out a load of my favourites I didn’t feel bereft in the slightest. In fact promenades of their quality always remind me why I wanted to be part of the industry in the first place. Just the songs, their production, and masterful musicianship would have been enough, but they had to cement their Reading legacy further more with a guest from Brian Johnson of AC DC, who performed Back in Black, accompanied by a clearly ecstatic Matt, whose face said ‘is this really happening?’ throughout.
What a weekend! Once again this iconic festival reminded me why I come every year. Yes it’s changed a lot since my first time 15 years ago, and it does appear to be evolving into an event that’s very different to the rock festival I first fell in love with but that just means there’s new things to discover and fall for. Massive crowds for the likes of Major Lazer, Migos, Charlie XCX are testament to the audiences the festival is now drawing in, but perhaps also prove how we are more open to having varied music tastes these days. You’ll be hard pushed to find a festival which caters to so many moods, genres, and tastes, so if you’re looking for weekend to deliver a heady amalgamation of metal breakdowns and mosh pits, grooves and indie spangly guitars, grimey beats and rhymes, and infectious pop and euphoric choruses Reading and Leeds 2018 tickets are on sale now.
All pictures taken by me on my LUMIX GM1 – Reading gallery coming soon…