Fast forward to 2015 it's striking to note the change of demographic in terms of mainstream appeal. For anyone who hasn't been to Reading before, it's a large (yet compact) festival making it easy to skip around from one stage to the next. Access is very easy being on the edge of Reading itself, hence upon arriving closer to the site I noticed a procession of devotees making their pilgrimage through the city centre in standard issues festival attire (shorts, band T-shirt, wellies and of course multiple slabs of lager).
As I finally arrive on-site, It was reassuring to see (in essence) very little has actually changed, yes of course there was the addition of a dance tent etc; but essentially what you get with Reading is what you see (and it's all the better for it). You won't find healing fields, literary corners, spoken word tents or children's zones…what you will find however is out and out rock n roll. There is none of the pretention that you sometimes find with other festivals, or music "tourists" that are there literally to buy the t-shirt and say "they were there".
The line up in terms of headliners this year is pretty much spot on…. although I don't personally care for two of the headliners, you can't deny that there is something for everyone across the age and genre spectrum.
But as with any festival it's not all about the headliners, and it is always worth venturing away from the main stages. The first of many unintended treats in the NME tent were Twin Peaks whose low-fi scuzzy offerings are the perfect introduction to the weekend. As I have now commandeered a good spot in the rammed tent it would seem rude not to stick around for the frankly bonkers Slaves. Those who did not get here early enough were relegated to watch them from the screens outside. For two guys they make a heck of a lot of noise and are all the better for it. For the first time in a long time I feel that I am actually in a gig, instead of being surrounded by people on their phones who treat bands as mere backing music.
I should really get myself over to another stage but the lure of Spector was too much, in hindsight though I should have explored more. This was Spector mark 2 with a new image (in that they don't really have one anymore and look kind of anonymous) , also missing in action was the random (but very entertaining) between song banter and musings from their lead singer Fred Macpherson. This was a band playing it straight and sadly the new material didn't really help either. Time for a change of scenery and tempo as I venture to the main stage to catch Modestep, who are a furious fusion of rock and dubstep. Singer Josh Friend cuts a frenetic figure as he stalks the stage. Big sound, big performances are what's required on the main stage and Modestep proved they are more than capable of handling it.
Before going further I have to point out that the stewards and security so far have been absolutely brilliant…it's the kind of set up where I don't even notice they were there (in a good way). I've not seen any heavy handed stuff which I think contributes to the overall positive vibe (this is a welcome contrast to the Reading of old).
Back to the music and this is a band that have been on my "must see" list for a year and Wolf Alice do not disappoint. It's hard to put into words how good they truly are, they clearly have the songs and the engaging presence of charismatic frontwoman Ellie Rowsell (complete with a Spice Girls T-shirt) in their favour. But it's more than that, they are a solid live unit and the bond they have with their fans is clearly evident on the faces of the crowd and band alike.
Say what you will about the plethora of metal and rock bands that dominate the main stage, they do at least engage and inter-act with their fans (even if all these bands do share the same between song patter (insert the words Reading, crazy with liberal sprinkling's of expletives and you're there). It makes a change from surly indie bands who don't even acknowledge the audience with even so much as a glance.
Royal Blood despite the hype surrounding them come and go and much like Bring Me The Horizon that follow, I find it difficult to distinguish one song from another. However it's Bring Me the Horizon that seize the opportunity and look every inch main stage headline contenders. Their production, performance and attitude simply filled the stage;even though song wise I'm not converted, I can't fault them as a live act. At one point Oliver Sykes (lead singer) gives security a headache by diving into the pit to get up close and personal with the crowd. As good as they were, they are a band still in their infancy when compared to Metallica.
I'm not sure what exactly to expect from Metallica as it's a genre of music I rarely listen to. Things for me get off to an ominous start as a result of their slightly po-faced/pretentious short film that preceded their arrival onstage.An army of fan-club members stand at the rear of the stage I imagine not believing their luck. This is what for many Metallica fans, is what dreams are made of.
When the band finally emerges, frontman James Hetfield simply introduces the band with the words "we're Metallica, and this is what we do". It only took the second song "For Whom the Bells Toll" for the penny to drop. I was literally transfixed with their energy and prowess as a live act. After a thrilling 2 hours, the set culminates in the release of hundreds of Metallica beach balls (Black naturally). The real juxtaposition with Metallica is how a band so dark, intense and heavy can leave you totally elated and exhilarated.
Black Honey despite being hung-over from yesterday's Leeds leg of the festival are not one's for lazy Sunday mornings. Delivering what is arguably a headline performance at 11.40 in the morning! As the saying goes, it's the early bird that gets the worm and I suspect all those who made the effort to get to the tent early, left with rather full bellies.
Musically for me the line-up away from the main stage holds the most interest.
The NME stage offered another embarrassment of riches from the languid Ghostpoet, the assault on the senses that was AwolNation and the sublime Glass Animals all of which highlighted the strength of emerging new artists. After a bite to eat, it's off to the main stage where The Cribs, and The Maccabees, do their stuff. Again these are two bands that have previously passed me by, so I am looking forward to playing catch-up to see what all the fuss is about.
Whilst The Cribs worked hard in terms of performance, song- wise I found them forgettable, the same applies to The Maccabees. A real eye-opener is the crowd reaction to Jamie T who mere appearance signals chaos for the stewards and security who race around in front of the stage catching and escorting exuberant fans as they tumble over the barriers. I think the appeal of Jamie T lays in his ability to be "one of us done good"; as he spits out vignettes after vignette. Subtlety has no place here, especially as he flawlessly dispatches "Sticks and Stones" causing another crowd eruption!
It's been a joy getting re-acquainted with the festival. All the things that troubled me in previous years have gone, and in its place is a solid, no-nonsense festival for actual music fans. The most striking difference between Reading and other festivals is the genuine passion for the bands and music. I had forgotten what it's like to be amongst a crowd who actually listen and show appreciation for the band or artist. They cheer loudly and sing their hearts out….this is how I remembered gigs/festivals used to be. Don't also be swayed by arguments that it's "just for kids"… that gives the festival a disservice. Yes there majority are under 25 (but quite a few aren't) – not once did I witness anything remotely anti-social; just people up for a good time and enjoying the music. What more can you want?
Reading has proved itself to be truly diverse (especially away from the main stage). As with any festival, you can't possibly do and see it all….but that won't stop me trying again in 2016!
latest on this festival
line-ups & rumours
awarded by Attitude is Everything's Charter of Best Practice
festival home page