ATN UK correspondent Stuart Green attended this past weekend's Reading
Festival (August 25-27). Here is his report: Not so long ago Festivals meant
only one thing to trend conscious BritYouth: hippies. So they were left well
Glastonbury and Reading came and went each year like an embarrassing
relative who is best avoided.
Then 1988 happened. The warring tribes of indie, metal and dance came
together under the influence of ecstasy and some irresistible music and
found they just loved gathering in huge numbers in green fields. 60,000
lost souls used to go to
on average; the official capacity for
next year's festival is being set at a 120,000-plus, to try and account for
all the gatecrashers. Reading has also grown enormously over the course of
the last seven years. In 1987 only 11,000 were there to see Alice Cooper
headline, this year it was a 40,000-plus sell-out.
Glastonbury, which traditionally opens the Festival season in June is now,
undoubtedly, the premier event on the European festival circuit. But with
so many different attractions vying for the attention, from ascorbic comedy
to holistic medicine, the focus is never entirely on music. Indeed, it is
common for people to go ten out-of-it-years and not actually see a single
earnest young pop group plying their wares. Hence the often inconsistent
The Reading Festival takes place every year over the last weekend in August
- followed fortuitously by a bank holiday on the following Monday. In
contrast to the open architecture of the Glastonbury site, where camping is
allowed practically everywhere but directly in front of a stage, Reading
consists of a single, walled arena with the crowd distributed over 24
separate camp sites after the strictly enforced midnight curfew.
Reading is not, therefore, a week long, all-day all-night party like
Glastonbury. It is, quite simply, a mammoth gig. Every effort is put into
producing a killer line-up that demands your attention from midday on
Friday to midnight on Sunday. This year there seemed no choice other than
to wander between the main and second stages thinking about what you were
missing on the third stage where the unsigned but heavily tipped young
bands were playing. As for the comedians - wait until they get a TV series.
FRIDAY ON MY MIND
Due to an administrative cock-up and some dreadful bank holiday traffic I
didn't make it on to the site until four in the afternoon on Friday.
Typically, one of the acts I was determined to see no matter how many free
drinks were placed as obstacles in my path was coming to the end of his set
when I arrived. Beck is a real one-off, without peer in the sad suicide
obsessed American alternative scene. His mix of folk, punk, funk, hardcore
and hip-hop; his openness to influences outside those laid down in the
rules of engagement devised to fight the Punk Wars, sets him apart from all
those who can't remember any further back than Never Mind The
"Beercan" was the only tune I caught before Beck headed backstage. Sounding
bigger than it does on the brilliant Mellow Gold, its acoustic funk,
half-spoken rap and jazzy organ had the toes tapping and the brain working
to assimilate the diverse range of influences he packs into four sublime
minutes. One to cherish.
Teenage Fanclub played it strictly for laughs when their retro West Coast
sound first brought them to the world's attention. Nowadays they aren't
quite as embarrassed to play their simple, driving tunes but they still
can't quite see themselves as bona fide sausage down the trouser leg rock
stars. Thus every song is introduced with a joke at the Fannies own expense
which endears them to a crowd waiting impatiently for Courtney to make her
expected, calamitous entrance. In the meantime, the Fannies choral guitars
and Byrds-like harmonies transport the crowd to a beat heaven where Jack
and Neil are forever roaming across America. As the Fannies come to the end
of their set, the sun disappears behind
clouds that have been creeping slowly over the site from the east. The
stage is now set for Ms. Courtney Love-Cobain and her band Hole.
For the time being and for obvious reasons, it is almost impossible to
judge Hole purely on their music. It is as equally difficult to honestly
admit to your own motives for wanting to see them. Hole are tight little
band who work powerfully within their limitations. Never over-stretching
themselves, they released one of the best albums of the last year in Live
Through This and, in Courtney, with her stocking-clad leg famously
on a monitor, they have a real star whose skag-wracked voice can be a truly
harrowing instrument. But they aren't the only reasons why we are packed in
front of the main stage tonight, the other acts forgotten. We're here to
see what she does next.
Last year Hole chose Reading to be the venue for their first gig since
Kurt's suicide and Kristen Pfaff's overdose. It was, by turns, a macabre,
frightening and inspirational set. Overshadowed by tragedy but never
overwhelmed, it was a triumph for the band and personal vindication for
Courtney. Since then they have barely taken a day off, while the on and
off-stage antics of their singer have placed the rest of the band as bit
players in a bizarre soap opera no afternoon hack would dare hand in.
This year Courtney pulled up in a London taxi (the city is only an hour's
drive from Reading). Clearly the worse for wear, she had to be supported by
a minder as she staggered through the crowd of industry professionals
thronging the bar in the Guest Area. The signs were not good, perhaps the
ghouls would get what they wanted - whatever that is.
As Hole take to the stage, the atmosphere crackles with expectation. They
begin strongly in front of an enormous silver lame backdrop, ably
supporting their singer through many of the songs from their two albums.
But in between songs, her smart-assed one liners begin to lengthen into
monologues that range from the funny, to the tragic to the plain tiresome.
On seeing a guy crowd surfing toward the stage she quips: "Make it past
the guy in the blue shirt and I'll give you a blowjob." Later she informs
us that "Francis Bean was three yesterday. She looks just like her Dad."
Then she has the obligatory attempt at currying favour with the crowd by
having a go at the media: "Do you know all those people back there got in
free while you guys had to pay thirty bucks." Well, actually, we had to
make a five pound donation to the promoter's favourite charity.
ALT="[Live Through This]"
Then she goes into an unrehearsed solo version of "Pennyroyal Tea." As her
voice cracks on the high notes, Eric adds some extra unscripted guitar. It
is incredibly sad. When the set comes to a close, Courtney pulls the drum
kit apart and throws a back-line amp into the photographer's pit. The rest
of the band leave her on her own wandering the stage, unsure what to do
next. Technicians swarm, anxious to prepare the stage for the next band.
Unable to ignore her any longer two of them grab a leg each and carry her
off stage. Thank you and goodnight.
Half an hour later I'm watching Menswear on the second stage. In contrast
to Hole and other American acts on display over the weekend the well
dressed boys from Camden Town have no problems with the media. Only two
singles old, with their first album not due for at least another month,
Menswear have assiduously courted the music press from the day they were
little more than a twinkle in the eye of singer Johnny Dean. And it's
worked, they've made the cover of Melody Maker and the NME and
charted with both their first two records. But put yourself up on a
pedestal and there will always be people wanting to knock you off.
Menswear are another band with great affection for the sound of 1978 - the
last single, "Daydreamer," is note for note Chair's Missing period
But they are such a young band - less than a year old - that they haven't
quite decided on their own sound. Nor have they worked out the harmonies
which are excruciating and force me to seek shelter in the bar while I wait
for the Smashing Pumpkins. Amerigrunge 1, Britpop 0.
>From Britpop pantomime, to punk pantomime pure and simple. Green Day make
all the right moves, write some great singalong ramalama tunes but they've
got more of The Dickies in them than The Clash unfortunately. Still,
entertaining enough in their own way.
Billy Corgan's team suffer badly from Festival Sound. Wind whips the
guitars back and forth, across and away from the crowd, destroying the
dynamic between the soft bits and the loud bits. Only "Today" lives up to
expectations while the songs from the forthcoming album come over as little
more than muddy thrash. Still, Billy takes time out to thank everyone for
coming despite the treatment of the band by "your shitty media." When will
people realize that music journalists are simply fans who fell in love with
the music at an early age and just want to contribute somehow? People who
have taken on the task of articulating their basically emotional,
instinctive responses? Disappointing. Wind 5, Pumpkins 1.
SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALRIGHT FOR FOO FIGHTING
Mid-afternoon on a big stage in front of a large crowd is not the best time
or place to experience the intimate trip-hop soundscapes of the radically
original Tricky. It is to his credit that his psychedelic soul manages to
concentrate the attention throughout his set.
Ian McCullough's new band Electrafixion
Electrafixion are the new band formed by former Echo And The Bunnymen,
singer Ian McCullough and guitarist Will Sergeant. The tent housing the
second stage isn't packed to the gills as they make their entrance but
the air is heavy with good natured curiosity. As their second single is
only just getting its first airplay in the days leading up to the Festival,
Electrafixion are playing to a crowd that have heard practically nothing of
With the first song they grab them around the neck and slowly squeeze until
the crowd have completely surrendered. By the end guys are moshing in
approval. It is a solid triumph. Mac's back and I'm completely overwhelmed,
lifted up and out of it, prepared for home not really waiting to see
anything else. It can only be down hill from here.
I take the precaution of making my way back to the second stage a full
half-hour before Foo Fighters are due to appear in order to claim a decent
vantage point. As I near the tent it seems like about 20,000 of the great
unwashed have had the same idea - it's Glastonbury and The Battle To See
Portishead all over again (see "Music News Of The World" June 28). Dave
Grohl's new band are clearly one of the most popular draws of the weekend,
way way too popular for a tent that holds maybe 3,000 people.
I make my way to the far side in the hope of sneaking in around the back
but there's thousands ahead of me. We're hundreds and hundreds deep outside
the tent. Whose bright idea was this then? Their album went straight in the
charts at number two, didn't it? What a farce. I'm about 30 yards from the
tent with no chance of even catching sight of Grohl's hair, in close
proximity to someone who's forgotten to bring their deodorant with them. I
am not happy.
I weigh up my chances of climbing up on the roof of the tatty looking coach
which is parked next to an exit gate only 25 yards from the tent. But, no
luck. There are about 50 smug looking people up there buckling the thin
sheet metal until security comes to remove them. Hah! That'll teach 'em.
Young people today.
To make matters even more unbearable, the Foo techies take an age
sound checking. When suddenly a roar goes up and they're on, steaming
straight into "Winnebago." And they're loud, even outside the tent. Inside,
every one of the outer support poles is occupied by shining examples of
headbanging British manhood. Oddly enough, no one has taken the central
support which is conveniently made up of easy-to-climb scaffolding. I'm
thinking this to myself in between doing some vague approximation of
dancing when some nutcase dives into the moshing hordes from about thirty
feet up. Someone's going to get hurt.
But that's the cue for as many people as the central support can hold to
climb up until they are forming a precarious looking human pyramid. Sure
enough, about four songs in, after a crushing version of "This Is The
Call," Grohl stops the gig so some lemming can be dragged out of the crowd
and the squad occupying the central support can be forced down.
The Foos play another bruising, melodic slice of choice hardcore followed
by a request to take a couple of steps back so that those at the front can
escape with their lives. It's crazy, intense, murderous and I love it. I've
had enough of being on the fringes and push my way past those smaller and
frailer than me in order to get me a slice of the action. Inside, the band
are obscured by a cloud of steam that rises from the mosh maniacs who are
having to be hosed down at regular intervals.
The band are mad for it too. In every instrumental break Grohl joins his
nutty on-stage dancer, Tony, in a hair tossing contest that has me looking
for the brain matter that should surely soon start escaping from their
ears. The rest of the band just can't believe what is happening out there.
It's goofy grins all round, even though Grohl betrays his anxiety that
someone might get hurt in between every song. Then with a scream of
powerful hydraulics they shudder to a stop. It's all over. Everyone in the
crowd looks around at each other suddenly hollow, emptied out.
SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY
Well, that was enough for me. I know I should have stayed to see Grandpa
Grunge, but the current credibility of Neil Young is beyond me. I would
love to have told you that Cast are the best new band to come from
Liverpool since, well, the Bunnymen (which they are) but I was exhausted
and needed to go home to nurse the tinitus the Foo Fighters had triggered.