Reading Festival 2001

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This recounts my own personal experience of the 2001 Reading Festival weekend. I didn't go alone but I've withheld the names of the people who accompanied me to save embarrassment on their behalf.

Friday, 24st August 2001

Noon, Main Stage

The Donnas, a San Fransico female 4-piece into grungy rock'n'roll, kick off this year's Reading Festival weekend. A good start but becomes very samey all too quickly.

1.20pm, Radio 1 Evening Session Tent

Adam is dressed like a Robin Hood reject while Kimya obviously wants to be a Thundercat. Together the duo are The Moldy Peaches, a New York outfit supported by a male guitarist in a dress, a bassist dressed as Spiderman and a drummer who I can't quite see. They create an offbeat sound with amusing, though often rude lyrics, making for entertaining listening, including the NME Single of the Week Who's Got the Crack?.

2.35pm, Main Stage

Run DMC may be the first rap group with an album to go platinum, but they seem short of material. They perform Walk This Way and It's Like That and a few others. The rest of the time seems to be depicated to introductions as to who each member is. By the end I think I know which is which. DMC is the one concerned about the location of his hat. Run is the one who donates his signed T-shirt to a member of the audience. Jam Master J is the one with the decks. And that's the way it is.

4(ish)pm, Radio 1 Evening Session Tent

Returning to the tent is a nice reprieve from the glare of the sun. Glaswegian quintet The Cosmic Rough Riders saunter onto the stage. They sound like a cross between REM and Neil Young but this visit is shortlived because...

4.35pm, Main Stage

... public pressure, fuelled by the NME and the release of a forthcoming album, have pushed The Strokes from the Radio 1 Evening Session Tent to the Main Stage. Something that has never happened before. The field is the most packed it's been all day with a very expectant crowd of some 20,000 very sweaty people. The band fall slightly short of the hype, possibly due to nerves, but give a credible enough performance. There is the promise of greater things to come from them. They are far from the worst thing on stage that weekend.

5.35pm, Main Stage

Iggy Pop has an inability to keep still. His microphone stand takes quite a beating as he prowls around the stage. You wouldn't want to meet him in a darkened alley. His set includes the more recent Corruption and Beat 'Em Up and the older, though no lesser, Real Wild Child (Wild One) and The Passenger. During his slot, he attacks a photographer, cuts his nipple, dives into the crowd 'to be touched' and then drags people on stage, one of whom promptly moons. Probably the most entertaining act so far even if the sound isn't quite right.

7pm, Main Stage

P.J.Harvey is one of the big surprises for me. Not just because she is clad only in a black bra, a black pvc miniskirt and black knee-length high heels, not to mention black eye-liner, but also her music is truly great. For years I have got it into my head that she is rubbish. I'm not entirely sure how I've come to this conclusion considering I can only remember one of her songs - Down By The River. Quite possibly the musical highlight of the day, for me anyway. The most entertaining act is to follow...

8.30pm, Main Stage

It's not everyday that a lead guitarist/singer, Billie Joe, squirts the audience with his supasoaker then gets a drummer, a bassist and a 16 year-old guitarist up from the crowd to take over from the band. But this is what happens when the American punk band, Green Day, are unleashed on stage with a trumpeter clad in a bee costume and a trombonist in a monkey costume. After an hour of 'non-stop sex', pumping songs and general goofing off, the drumkit is piled up and set alight. The bass is buried in the funeral pyre and the band leave. Or so we think until Billie Joe returns for a solo acoustic number before the firemen arrive to put out the blaze. The crowd hasn't been this big all day.

8.30pm, Main Stage

The Scottish band Travis closing the evening's events seem a disappointment considering the intense debauchery of the previous act. At least they help the crowd, now thinner in numbers, wind down for beddy-byes. They play the usual hits and album tracks Sing, Coming Around, Why Does It Always Rain On Me?, Turn, All I Wanna Do Is Rock, etc. The lead singer, Fran Healy, has a little chat with the audience between songs, advising us to use toilet paper and wash our hands afterward as well as apologising for swearing - or 'roadmouth' as he calls it. (Aah, isn't he sweet?) Their 3 song encore includes the David Bowie number All The Young Dudes sung by the bassist, Dougie Payne, who, I think has a better voice that Fran.

It may only be 11.30pm, but its a long way back to the train station and then to Didcot to recover and prepare for another sweltering day.

Saturday, 25th August 2001

Today starts starts slightly later than the day before. I'm still recovering from the events of Friday, the first day of the Festival. Today is hotter as well and the crowds seem bigger.

1.30pm, Carling Stage

The sun is baking and I carefully creep further into the tent to avoid sunburn and to see Thirteen:13. Seeing them is virtually impossible, but hearing them isn't. My Reading Festival day has begun with mellow indie tracks such as Perfect Imperfect and The Truth Hurts easing me into the day's listening.

2.40pm, Main Stage

I'd like to give a review of And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead but I can't remember much. I have to admit that I sit through most of the performance hoping that the crowd might keep me in the shade as the back of my neck is burning. It's too hot for this sort of thing. I think the band destroy their instruments at the end. I'm not sure. It's possibly the best noise they've made since being on stage.

4pm, Radio 1 Evening Session Stage

At last in the shade again and the Welsh band Gorky's Zygotic Mynci are playing their psychedelic folk music. Their eclectic taste in instruments include a violin and, unusually and unfashionably, a Hammond organ. Poodle Rockin', possibly their silliest song, is the only one whose name I can remember.

5(ish)pm, Radio 1 Evening Session Stage

Out of curiosity, I stay to listen to Mancunian band and Mercury Music-nominated Elbow. It seems that Pink Floyd have had a huge impact on this band. But I'm tired, hot, irritable and not really in the mood for this sort of thing. It takes a lot of stamina to survive a Festival like this. I leave in search of something to drink at a reasonable price (virtually impossible) but can still hear them droning on from a distance.

6(ish)pm, Carling Stage

I've been looking forward to this all day. At last a chance to see some home grown talent in the form of Reading's 6-piece Cooper Temple Clause. The band are renowned for being noisy. The tent is packed and I'm just outside so the music is loud but muffled. An album is eagerly awaited from them after their debut The Hardware EP which was followed by The Warfare EP.

7.05pm, Main Stage

Isn't it nice of Oxford's Supergrass to take time out from recording their forthcoming album and play for us? They play just about every single they've done from Caught by the Fuzz to Pumping on your Stereo via Richard III and Sun Hits the Sky but not Alright. They also play some new stuff. They seem happier and more relaxed here than when they played at South Park, Oxford in the shadow of Radiohead.

9(ish)pm, Main Stage

Stick 'em up, punk, it's the Fun Lovin' Criminals, or at least the last half hour. Possibly the coolest, most laid back act of the weekend munching on Scooby Snacks and reminiscing about Barry White. They leave after Huey, tongue firmly in cheek, spends ten minutes recounting to us "that there's A Supermodel on my 'D'".

10pm, Main Stage

The screens show a man with a beard and, oddly, an English accent. He greets us and introduces himself as Karl Marx and then has the pleasure of welcoming on stage "the Greatest Band in the World", The Manic Street Preachers. The Reading festival may be a second home to them now, but does it pale in comparison to the Karl Marx Theatre, Havana? Does it matter? Here the bassist, Nicky Wire, can get away dressed in a military camoflague dress for the first half and in a nurse's costume with a stetson in the second, complete with Burberry knickers, while the guitarist and singer, James Dean Bradfield, bounces around the stage and the drummer, Sean Moore, beats out the rhythms. They begin with You Love Us and then play just about every hit they've had in the past ten years or so including Design For Life, Ocean Spray, If You Tolerate this, Your Children Will Be Next, La Tristesse Durera (Sream to a Sigh), and so on. Before launching into Motown Junk they confuse and delight the audience with the opening bars and verse of Van Halen's Jump. James Dean Bradfield asks us:
'How fast do you want to go? Or better, howdo you want to get there? Car? One of those sh*tty little silver scooters? Or motorcycle?'.

Too much riotous cheering Motorcycle Emptiness, possibly their best song ever, then follows. They are not known for fluffy love songs and whip the mob into a frenzy with Masses Against the Classes before leaving. There are no encores. But then, Everything Must Go. Including me. Home.

Sunday 26th August

It is quite late by the time we leave Didcot. To be honest none of us can be bothered with the last day of the Reading Festival Weekend, but somehow we muster up the energy. Sunday is traditionally the Goth Rock day and none of us are particularly into that sort of thing, apart from the few exceptions. Instead of proceeding directly to the site in the rain we take a detour to the pub. The beer is a fraction of the price compared to the Festival. At the Festival you have a choice of two lagers - both of which taste like watered down rat's urine, one more so than the other, in comparison to the pint I'm nursing in the pub. This is the last chance I'll get for a decent sit (no, that isn't a mispelling) until I go home. But unfortunately time is running out and we must away...

4.30pm, The Carling Stage

Gloss are the first band I see today. They are not an unpleasant start to the day's listening. They are a five-piece mix from Liverpool, Norway and Ireland. They are reminicent of Blondie but remind me more of Catatonia.

5pm, Main Stage

For a Northern band, The Cult, sound American which seems slightly ironic when the singer, Ian Astbury, informs us that they are the only British band on the Main Stage today and we, a largely British audience, have to show these Yank bands what we're made of. During the performance he insults the make of shoe I'm wearing (can I help it if I go for comfort rather than style - at least my shoes are waterproof) but it makes up for it by insulting the beer available, the brewers who are sponsoring the event, and also informs us that he hasn't washed since they played in Japan a week ago. Perhaps, this is worrying for the crowd when he decided to go crowd surfing at the end of the set. They have recently recorded their first album in seven years, some of which they play, but they also play some of the older stuff including the surely classic She Sells Sanctuary. Their set should end here but the singer is enjoying the attention and goes crowd surfing while an epic guitar solo ensues.

6(ish), Main Stage

Supporting sexual equality, and not to be outdone by the hordes of scantily clad girls and women this weekend has seen, a nude, bald but bearded man in the form of Nick Oliveri, the bassist of Queens of the Stone Age, appears on stage. He's isn't the only naked male as a screen flashes up crowd shots of an audience member clad only in a skimpy orange mac. No one tries to get too close to him. Queens of the Stone Age bring their version of rock to our ears, pumping out Feel Good Hit of the Summer and The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret. Mark Lanegan, formly of the Screaming Trees, appears for a song. Though he may be in a rock band, Joshua Homme, the guitarist and singer, looks as though he'd be more at home (no pun intended) as an extra in the college scenes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but decidcates a song to the girl who gave them the ecstacy. Wendy Ray Moan (surely not her real name?), appears on stage to duet with Oliveri for Quick and to the Pointless (sic). She tries to join in with the nudity but gets no further than taking her top off. The bra remains on. So much for equality.

7.45pm, Radio 1 Evening Session Stage

Gene are my musical highlight of the day. They play older hits much as Olympian, We Could Be Kings and As Good as it Gets as wells as stuff from their forthcoming album. All the songs have a certain majesty to them. Unlike a number of other performances, none of Gene's songs are out of place nor a waste of time.

9(ish)pm, Radio 1 Evening Session Stage

Having failed to see or hear Marilyn Manson on the Main Stage, I return to the Evening Session tent to hear Stephen Malkmus, the former Pavement songwriter, guitarist and singer. I'm not sure that singer is the right word though. He can't hold a note to save his life. It is painful to listen to his voice crack and grate over good songs he wrote but, perhaps, should have been performed by someone else. His rendition of Blondie's Heart of Glass is unexpected and amusing. After that he seems a bit confused as to what his last song will be.

10.15(ish), Main Stage

Possibly the biggest name this weekend, Eminem, is on with his D12 crew. They tell the audience to listen hard to keep up with them but the beat slows down. The links are overly contrived. I can't be bothered to put my trigger finger in the air. The lyrics may be full of violence and obscenities, but are mainly filled with self-obsession. Tonight they are neither really offensive or controversial, just boring. We've heard all this before. It's not original, clever or likely to start a riot as like me, most of the audience have had a tiring weekend and it takes too much effort to stampede. So I've seen the 'mighty' Eminem. Big deal. I'm festivalled-out. Tired and grumpy I leave him to bore someone else instead.

10.45(ish)pm, Radio 1 Evening Session Stage

Mercury Rev have a very atmospheric soaring sound, owing to a lot of 70's Prog Rock I'm sure. Frontman, Jonathan Donahue, has a squeaky voice like Placebo's Brian Molko, and to be honest, looks slightly camp to me (but what do I know? Ian Astbury insulted my footwear earlier). They do such songs as Goddess on a Hiway(sic) and Dark is Rising. During the latter, which is their closing song, Donahue waves his arms round like an eccentric conductor and flexes his weedy biceps at the end on the cue of the lyric 'strong'. My girlfriend and I have the following conversation during the song (and the weeks to come):

MG: They sound like glam rock.

Me: Sound nothing like T-Rex.

MG: You know. Like in Velvet Goldmine.

Me: You mean more like David Bowie?

MG: Yeah.

Me: I suppose...

We leave the Festival, tired and longing for bed. We can hear Eminem's encore as we exit. We vow that we won't do the Festival again. I pass a tent with 'Reading '99, '00, '01' scrawled on the side in black felt tip pen. I wonder if I'll see it next year?

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