The Pandemonium at Reading Station is an unfortunate reminder that we never do really learn. In it’s 41st year, even the American visiting bands know the extremities of the crowds now. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl talked at length about the increasing crowd numbers and notoriety of Reading Festival, yet as I sit on the tube scrambling my way home it’s not the poor facilities on site that have left me a stinking mess, it’s the challenge of escaping the site itself.
Arrival at the town is a more amenable memory as numerous stewards and helpers navigated tens of thousands of visitors onto £1 busses and right up until this morning I have been in the fortunate position of remaining clean and refreshed throughout. I appreciate this isn’t everyones experience as I do have the perks of press camping and facilites, the price of this paid through unnecessarily rigorous security checks. As you can imagine, I wasn’t delighted to have been forced to miss a good 10 minutes of Kaiser Chiefs because the woman at the press office pressed the metal bar on my wrist band three times instead of twice and the guard obviously saw me to be some kind of security threat.
Guard: “When did you get this band? why do you have three stamps?”
Me: “Friday, I don’t know, I didn’t stamp it”
Guard: “but they are only supposed to stamp it twice”
Me: “I don’t know why it’s stamped three times. I only went out to get some food!”
Guard: “Do you have ID on you?”
Me: “No, I dont generally get asked for ID at the burger bar”
Guard: “Ok, I need your name and the name of who you are guesting for. I need to check this out further”
Press Lady: “Oh yea, she’s been around the press tent all weekend, I stamped her band”
And STILL the guard goes on! In the back ground ‘I Predict a Riot’ is hitting it’s peak and I’m going to bloody miss it over a band!
So the grass isn’t always greener – just incase you were wondering 😉
Reading is a big one for me. Aged 15 (nearly 16) my b/f took me there as my first ever festival, from memory I think Deftones and Marylin Manson headlined but really, I was pretty drunk for most of it but the experience was awesome. Within about five minutes we had made new friends full of crazy stories. Having forgotten my tent poles a scour of the woodland area provided me with a suitable improvisation in the form of fallen branches and the tent got graded second worst on the Orange field. Yes, there was another worse than mine!
Several rounds or Reading/Leeds in the following years gave me the bug for watching some of the biggest band names in the world – early days these were all up close as we were well up for reaching the front barriers, in later days following a bad experience at the Dandy Warholes set I opted for a little more distance and the advantage of looser crowds. Although not as serious as others experience I can not only confirm that sexual abuse does occur at festivals but that security are (were?) completely unwilling to deal and at the time I was left in a very vulnerable position surrounded by the initial aggressor and a suitably intimidating number of his friends. Now days I’d confidently land a pretty strong strike somewhere unpleasant, such is the glory of hindsight.
Asides from that I got my first ‘Ash’ experience at the main stage and was blown away by headline act Muse and their magnificent light display into the summer night. Those moments do have a way of creeping into the recesses of the mind, but as the years have gone on and I’ve explored other festivals with completely different music focuses much of the feelings experienced are committed to the moments of photographs captured at the time.
So to return, to see the set-up nearly identical to all those years ago (11 since the most recent visit) and wander about the fields and the mash of different sub-cultures has brought about a wave of mixed feelings. Being there alone, for instance (technically part of a team but only in passing) is and absurd way to re-live the weekend. The fear of wash-out seems so much worse stuck on your own, using the wrong poles to erect the tent (apparently I have a thing with poles!) and, under watchful eyes make the call to dismantle and start again, to go on a hunt for food and make the toss up between sitting alone in Tobys Carvery or grabbing a burger – none of these are reasons that drive me to work these events!
Arriving on the Friday was a peculiar experience – I had woken at midday on Thursday afternoon and failed to fit in any sleep before my nightshift. I completed the nightshift and went straight to the festival – although my rucksack felt far heavier than it should have done I didn’t feel too worse for wear! I met the team and headed out to the main stage for Coheed and Cambria, You Me at Six and Paramore, all on my review list. All were awesome and I was in my element. The reviews were all in on time before headliners The Cure were on and, as my writing partner was down for that review I could happily kick back and watch.
During this time I met a fantastic guy from Leeds whos’ girlfriend works in PR and didn’t want to leave the VIP area. We talked at length about the excitement of actually being in front of the stage as opposed to luxury pens, band types, eras, work and the music industry. Before our goodbyes we danced to Love Cats – these are the little things that make festivals so wonderful. These random people that you will only ever meet once – but that make moments in time fantastic memories.
Over the days I took refuge in the press tent to get things written up and avoid the torrential downpour. The press tent is always an interesting experience, a cross between various companies claiming space, the access to power (really, utterly de-hydrated and desperate for water I STILL found myself prioritising charge for phone / computer first!), a splash of hospitality and bands wandering in and out for their interview and photo slots. There is always and element of regret involved as the professional side gives way to allowing the bands their space and to get on with it and the missed opportunity to introduce yourself. The most frustrating experience of this weekend has to be when Dry The River were in for interview – as the review covers, bassist Scott gave away his shirt tagged with twitter name @scottoftheriver – after a cheeky text I got a response to say he would get a shirt for me. Having learned they are local to my home I replied to suggest delivering in person… then ran into the press tent to collect my phone and literally nearly ran straight into Scott! Seeing they were with an interviewer I could but give a cheeky grin and go about my own business.
That particular experience was on the Saturday, by far the most challenging day for me as I had six bands to cover. This translates literally to timing toilet breaks in accordance with bands and locations. Dashing across the fields to reach various fields can be tricky and so I did a quick early morning rekki of the field to get my bearings. That’s the best move I have ever made in my life. Preparing to settle in front of the front stage I took a final wander to a neighbouring tent when I saw a sight that I desperately would have loved to have filmed if only I had the battery. Thousands, literally thousands of people running through the arena entrance and heading to the NME tent to the rear of the field. (Rear, from my perspective, front to most). It took a minute for the penny to drop – Green Day. This is something I’d chatted about to PR girls’ b/f. The rumours we all knew to be true, Green Day were going to make a ‘secret’ appearance. This had been announced as cancelled due to security risk and the replacement rumour was 12:30 – here I was at 10am, most of the camp still fast asleep and my legs were spinning cartoon style as I propelled myself across the full length of the green into the centre of the tent. I’ve never felt so F*king lucky about a sequence of events as I did then. Later reports emphasised that luck as the barriers were erected and only a limited number made it anywhere near the tent. Now, another of our team in the know covered the review – which is just as well as I had no way of making notes and my headspace was full of buzz, but I will update WordPress with my own as it was truly extraordinary.
Behind the scenes I also had the pleasure of meeting the PunkTastic team and Jake Thomson from Kerrang Radio, not to mention my own team (always great to meet others from Virtual Festivals) including the editor! Amazing to be able to put an actual person to the e-mails. Some of our 5-strong team are pros in the industry, myself and the other writer are just passionate music fans working in the real world. Both public sector, incidentally. Unfortunately Kai was pick-pocketed during one of the sets – I can’t emphasise just how lousey this is when you’re part of a writing team. As is the nature of what we do, all of our notes get stored on phones until the opportunity to forward it etc. I’ve got a small degree of backup (when the press setup is as good as it was at Reading) as iphone and ipad communicate with each other as long as they are both online. This means that all of my notes back-up at regular intervals. Unfortunately Kai lost the lot with his phone which was painful for him and downright depressing for the entire team as that’s we all felt that pain. Worse still it took one of our team completely out of the loop, meaning that flash news and meeting points could no longer be communicated.
Throughout the Saturday I managed to complete my quota with Blood Red Shoes, Dry The River, Santigold, Jaguar Skills, Katy B, and Kasabian. There is often an element of bias in my review selection, I have admittedly reviewed Blood Red Shoes before, I just love them. For two people to hold a stage like that is amazing, their crowds were tremendous and they were genuinely excited to be there. Dry the River is a band that I caught at IOW but didn’t have enough knowledge to get a review squeezed in (it’s pretty essential to know the songs otherwise remembering the music/descriptions is difficult and time consuming). Jaguar Skills, I was just curious?
I had a terrible experience at Katy B which I can’t fully explain, however I managed to get something totally wrong and mail my editor who swiftly got it out as a news story. As the realisation of my mistake took hold I felt pretty sick and dizzy, I genuinely wanted the ground to swallow me whole. I felt techy at the tight crowd, at Katy B and the festival as a whole. Thankfully the set was SO great that I managed to put it to the back of my mind (after painfully having to admit the error) and got on with what I was there to do – watch the goddamn show. This was further helped by Kasabians’s set which was pretty kewl. The last time I saw Kasabian was not that long ago and to no more thatn 30 people including their mates. Somehow they propelled to this – crowds as far as the eye can see. I felt a little despondent at the fact Kaiser Chiefs got shafted with 3rd from headline on Sunday nights bill, personally I think they deserve as much as Kasabian however the show was pretty awesome.
For a headline act I don’t think my review was one of my better ones, re-reading the next day it felt a bit wooden.
That’s not a great feeling as a writer but I had more to be getting on with – so I thought. My Skint’s slot had been duplicated by the Leeds team (can hardly blame them, anyone catching The Skints are bound to want to shout about them). With The Gaslight Anthem I moved past this only to discover half way through the set that this had been covered by out Metro reviewer. Gutted. At that point I realised that I do this as much for the love of writing as I do for the music. Without the review to compile I lost the edge I was looking for and excitement waned.
Despite all my misgivings at that point in time, headliners Foo Fighters were still to come. I felt genuinely nervous. I want at this point so badly for this to me a memory of a lifetime, but the Leeds review was a damp squib at 7/10. I won’t relay the entire review here, but they didn’t disappoint. Imainge, Grohl stated “This is just about the most important night of my F*cking Liiife” – to be there, part of it only a matter of meters away for a whole 3 hours of songs that invoked some memories from obscure recesses of the mind…
This is it. This is the feeling I do it for, nothing else in the world makes me feel as alive as being stood in front of a main stage watching history be made. I know most people aren’t quite as sentimental about these things but really, there is probably something else in their life that they are. This is it for me. I furiously typed for about an hour back at the tent which was utterly therapeutic. Struggling with the final line I had a quick break to mull it over. As it happened the editor had something up her sleeve already to round up the review with – reference to Neil Armstrong. What a way to go out.
By Monday morning I was the last remaining member of the team. I lay awake listening to the conversations surrounding me and decided I really didn’t care much about getting out before the crowds or getting home early. This changed, obviously, as the patter of rain saw me pack my tent in record time (I swear it was less than 3 minutes which isn’t bad given my stuff all needed packing and I’d opted for the sturdy, heavy tent). Running into the mass crowds at the station was painful, but I did discover that arriving without a ticket was a much faster route in and somehow ended up on an empty train back to Paddington, full of Burger King goodness.
I am now at home, listening to Kerrang Radio as Jake Thomson is on from 3-7. I am in chatter with Scott from Dry the River on Twitter and am planning my first feature article in years. The quirks, the perks – they might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I wouldn’t have it any other way.