Friday, 29 October 2010
303, THE 1995 READING FESTIVAL
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 1, FRIDAY 25 AUGUST 1995
Had a good run down to Reading with weekend travelling buddies Clive and Beef, and parked unimpeded or delayed in the usual industrial estate at the back of the site. I got my wristband sorted out within 15 minutes thanks to some queue-jumping, as opposed to my polite friends, who joined an immense queue and thus waited for nearly 2 hours! Bollocks to that!
Popped into the sunny arena for the first band on in the Big Tent (sponsored by Melody Maker and thus referred to hereafter as the MM tent!), at 1pm; local chaps BENNET, who kicked up a confident Stuffies/ Superstar kind of noise, at odds with their obvious nerves and pleasure that so many early-doors punters were watching. One nonsense "Country" song about Bracknell, of all places, highlighted a good opening. Saw a couple of HEATHER NOVA's songs - she may be the Mayoress of Babe City, but her songs really aren't my cup of folky introspection - and then moved to the main arena for the early-running mainstage openers, Sunderland punks CHINA DRUM. The last couple of numbers I caught included a gleeful Mackem massacre of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights", and the drummer/vocalist featured band doing a very hard-rocking, Leatherface-like final number.
The first highlight followed; sadly not Scarce as vocalist Chick's illness had precluded their scheduled appearance, but JULIANA HATFIELD on the main stage. She, herself now fully recovered from a bout of fatigue-related illness, wowed the crowd with a well-rocking set of her spangly pure college pop. The urgent "What A Life" and closer "Nirvana" ("for Kurt") were high spots of a set I experienced from the moshpit! I then met up with happy campers Rich and Ady on the way to the MM tent for WEKNOWWHEREYOULIVE. These purveyors of mental hygiene played a far tighter and more consistent set than recently at Bath Moles, vocalist Ange's bekilted antics working better on a bigger stage. The mesmeric frontman led the former Wonderstuff back line boys through an enjoyable groovy, taut, funky experience, taking the piss out of Oasis and Blur on the way, and suggesting on this evidence they're getting it together.
Wandered over to the tiny tent for my scheduled late-afternoon meet with Clive, only to find him chatting to Geoff, Dianne and Brett from our faves Tongue, formerly The Julie Dolphin! It turned out they were very late additions to the bill, and due to play later today! Superb! Chatted along while SOLAR RACE whipped up a Babes In Toyland confrontational storm in the tent behind us, then quickly wandered into the arena to check out some of BECK, who unfortunately was hosting a hippy dippy bore-in. The timings were all skewed by this point as well; he's 20 minutes early, the tiny tent is running 45 minutes late! D'oh! At least the sun is shining, so Reading has something right!
Saw a couple of SPEEDWAY's spunky but one-dimensional numbers in the tiny tent, then had a quick wander around the stalls. Beck finished at 5.30, and the excellent "Sparky's Dream" drifted lazily over the sun-drenched arena from the PA. A lovely, subtle Summer groove, but sadly the nearest I'd get to Teenage Fanclub, next up on the main stage, as I had an appointment in the tiny tent! Clive and I were a 2 man moshpit for the beginning of TONGUE's set, but we were quickly joined as their passionate punky rock took hold. "Birthday", the splendiferous old TJD number, had us rocking and sweating cobs, and newer, more considered but no less thrilling stuff impressed as well. A gripping "Omni" and newie "Supermodel" climaxed a great set; highlight of the weekend to date!
Met up with the boys and the band after, and had a convivial few beers. A lovely way to spend a sunny early evening, and it was a funny experience being "buzzed" at Reading, given that I normally stay sober to catch all the bands I want to see! Anyway, I popped over to the MM tent just after 7 for MARION. They put on a dynamic show, their brilliantly shiny boy-rock laying waste to a packed tent. "Time" and "I Stop Dancing" the highlight of another moshpit-bound (for me!) 40 minutes. I eventually emerged, sweaty as a big sweaty thing, for the final chapters of the HOLE tragi-comedy show on the main stage. Saw a vicious "Violet" and another final, agonising number, which ended with Courtney Love being carried off after trashing the stage. I have to say, right now it bothers me that people have the gory fascination to watch an entire Hole set; it's probably a similar mentality to slowing down on the motorway to gawp at a car crash, I suppose. However, the Sheriff verdict is; their music's painful and she's developed into a Class A Fruitloop. Period. End of story.
New story. Once upon a time, a trio of cartoon-fuelled Yankee bongheads formed a band, captured the US post-slacker "zeitgeist" by chugging out urgent but melodic speed-punk, made millions, and, suitably empowered, brought their Ramones/ Buzzcocks-like stuff to inflict upon us Friday night Reading punters. GREEN DAY blasted a hole into Reading with brilliant spunky and spiky punk pop thrills, with Dickies-style cartoon anarcho-showmanship, and no little melody and class. "Chump" rolled into "Longview" with effortless ease for an early highlight, and I spent much of their thrilling set getting the shit kicked out of me in a violent moshpit populated by be-muscled punk bruisers. Quite appropriate, really, as the Green Day set was doing the same to my ears!
Stayed in the arena for headliners SMASHING PUMPKINS, bumping in to young Tim from Level 3 in the process. Their lumpen grunge dirge bored me to tears, which was a shame as I was looking forward to them in a way - one last chance to impress me, and they blew it! Did a bit of shopping in the stalls instead, then met up with Clive and Beef at 11.30 after catching FLYING SAUCER ATTACK's very odd oboe (yes, that's oboe) led encore, finally getting home and hitting the sack at 1/4 to 1, after a white knuckle drive home!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 2, SATURDAY 26 AUGUST 1995
Shed on! D'oh! Sneezes! Double D'oh! Rain forecast for this afternoon! Double-plus psycho nuclear hyper ultra D'oh! with big knobs on! Still, piled in with Clive and Beef, and hit the arena at 10.30 - no rain, yet! - for a wake up call from EMBASSY in the MM tent. Their urgent, jolly, guitar driven mod-ish set was quite enjoyable, if short, and their vocalist was an energetic presence and could also sing! Then met up with the happy campers, plus day trippers Jared and Nina, and Dave and Liz, then trotted over to meet up with Ady's Southampton mates. Enjoyed a couple of games of footy by the riverside in the midday sun, scoring a hat trick in one of the games, both won convincingly by the Swindon posse!
At 2.30, after our game, I could quite understand why some people come to Reading then stay by their tents all weekend. I was knackered from the footy, and sitting by the happy campers' tents in the warm sun was a happy and mellow (if a little sweaty) groove, aided in no small part by one of Ady's beers! I could have stayed there all day, but nevertheless we headed back into the arena to catch 60 FT DOLLS in the MM tent at 10 to 3. They kicked up a fine set of their usual acerbic Jam-ish rock, and sounded well at home in the crowded tent. Saw a couple of COAST's numbers in the tiny tent thereafter - lazy guitarry and groovy, but insubstantial - then had some scran and ventured into the arena for SHED SEVEN. This year I quite enjoyed their set, which was good old 60's-ish beat pop with some New FADs-ish taut funky grooves thrown in for good measure, and a lot less Smiths-derivative than before, I'm pleased to say. However, it clouded over a little, rather ominously...
The scene darkened and a light drizzle fell; quite an appropriate entrance for THROWING MUSES' moody little set, which, nevertheless, led us back into the light. The eccentric but wholly captivating Kristen Hersh cut an obliquely odd figure in green t-shirt, tiny pink shorts and severely cropped hair, and also sounded rather throaty. Nevertheless, she led the Muses through an attention-grabbing and varied set of harsh, discordant, touching and awesomely beautiful mood muse-ic. The, erm, manic "Mania" and the wholly unexpected yet tremendous epic oldie "Vicky's Box" were brilliant highlights of a titanic set.
Then we heard the footy results read over the PA, and cheered (soliciting some odd glances in the process) upon hearing Swindon Town's 1-0 triumph at Carlisle! A trip to the loo meant I missed about half the BLUETONES' popular and cute, but directionless wallpaper pop set in the tent. Stayed tent-bound, however, for former Bunnymen Mac and Will's new charges, ELECTRAFIXION. Their set, including the haunting (as in, hairs on your neck standing on end, seriously!) new single "Lowdown", was superb; Mac and the lads dished up a heady cocktail of magic, mystery and menace. That bloke may not be Bunny anymore, but his new charges have retained the EATB sense of suspense and intrigue, and have allied it to a hard and dynamic "in your face" sound. The climax of their brilliant set, "Burned", swooped and soared, and evoked "Do it Clean" live. Yeah, that good. Stayed in for DRUGSTORE; they premiered some new, more accessible numbers, and were also superb, sparkling and magical. Their recent jaunt across to the States has seemingly added some extra dynamism and space to their already multi-faceted sound, and apart from a few dickheads throwing cups of water, the set was very well received. Isabel, a little pissed off at the end of the set (partly by the water throwing, partly by punters piling down the front - already! - for headliners The Foo Fighters), will hopefully look back on it as a major triumph.
Had a mid-evening drink with Ady, Dave and his girlfriend Liz (who despite Reading being about a million miles removed from her type of thing, was holding up well), then popped back into the MM tent for ECHOBELLY. The tent, now stuffed to capacity, was lapping their perfectly delivered agit-pop set up. I kept a watching brief from the tent side and enjoyed Sonya Madan's perfect enunciation, and her band's magic pop thrills. However, the huge tent crowd thereafter seemed to expand even more for headliners THE FOO FIGHTERS, creating a rather disturbing crush and a number of almost-panicked bottlenecks, and prompting a couple of serious questions;
1. The stage in the MM tent was set up at right-angles to the arena - all well and good, but why then put corrugated iron screens up behind the mixing desk? This created alarming bottlenecks, and also reduced the effective capacity of the tent!
2. The obvious question - The UK debut of the Foo Fighters, a band led by Dave Grohl, an ex-Nirvana chap, was bound to be a totally humungous draw (underlined by their debut single crashing into the charts at No. 3 this week), so what the hell were they doing playing in the tent? They should have been on the main stage!!
Anyway, I kept a watching brief from my now very tightly packed side of the tent, during most of their patchy but eminently listenable Dinosaur Jr.-esque heavy guitar driven Yank rock set. Dave Grohl revealed himself to be a very nice guy, and certainly a more considerate human being than whoever saw fit to put those screens up, by showing genuine concern for the well-being of the kids at the front, and continually interrupting the set to exhort punters to move back, take it easy and generally be nice to each other.
However, after "This Is A Call", their single and finest melody-packed moment, I heard a different call - from my stomach, for mushrooms and garlic bread. So, after a late night snack, off we went, glad that the anticipated rain had held off!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 3, SUNDAY 27 AUGUST 1995
With more footy on our minds this morning, we hit the site early today and headed straight over to the happy campers' tent, with the TTP ball (replacing the one we knackered yesterday!), for another game against the Southampton posse. Much closer this time, thanks to Beef "bottling out", but no less enjoyable, particularly as I got the winner! Relaxed by the river awhile afterwards, then into the arena at 1 pm - or should I say, into the dustbowl! With a covering of dust being whipped around the crowded and bleary hollow-eyed arena, it evoked visions of a post-fallout X Generation theme park in Arizona!
Caught the final numbers of NILON BOMBERS' standard glam-flavoured Britpop in the tiny tent, then wandered around the arena stalls during BLIND MELON's pointless mainstage grunge dirge. Watched a bit of the Belgian Grand Prix on a telly behind one stall, then absent-mindedly happened onto the Melody Maker signing tent, five minutes before Buffalo Tom were due for a signing session at 2! Yowsers! Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I barged my way to the front of the immense queue, and got in there! Got a cool photo signed (the last one available, so Bill signed it "Lucky You!"), had a brief chat with the Tom about Boston music, and shook Chris Colbourn's hand. Right result!
Into the tiny tent for STAR 69, who sported a babe vocalist with a big pink acoustic guitar and a head full of angst, and were a tasty amalgamation of The Belltower's spooky mood and Madder Rose's sleazy, smoochy lilt. Great stuff, actually! Next up in the tent, PULLOVER, an odd collection of brightly attired individuals and a large female vocalist, made a post-C86 noise resembling early Wedding Present giving Talulah Gosh a good kicking outside a sweet shop. They would have been well at home at Subway Records in the late 80's, and had one great lyric; "your body's a temple, mine's a shed!" Overall, light-hearted but good and entertaining pop fizz.
Saw the second half of the BABES IN TOYLAND mid-afternoon arena set. I actually enjoyed their thrashy cat-screech rock this time, especially their surprisingly straight cover of Sister Sledge's disco classic "We Are Family". I then stayed arena bound, for my pre-Festival highlight faves, and picture signees from earlier today! BUFFALO TOM kicked off with "Tangerine", the raucous opener to their new, precious and damn near perfect LP "Sleepy Eyed". Thence followed 50 minutes of absolute top drawer rock, packed with emotion and drama from the finest purveyors of haunting emotion on show on this bill. Vocalist Bill Janovitz veered between being a self-effacing nice guy, exhorting the moshpit to, "get your raft back, man!" (??), and leading the Buffalo boys through a bleeding raw set of spellbinding intensity. Band Of The Weekend? It rather goes without saying...
But, this being Reading, I had little time to reflect on the plangent magnificence of The Tom's set, before buggering off to the tiny tent. NYACK confused both myself and Clive with a set of totally new material, the new numbers featured being more driving and rockier than the chunky guitar pop of their recorded output to date. The closing "Facedown" was however both spooky and groovy, and a post-set chat with tall vocalist Craig Sterns cleared things up; they fancied playing a new set as they figured no-one would be there for them! When I lamented the absence of fine single "I'm Your Star" from the set, in fact, Craig suggested I was the only one who did! Anyway, I then popped over to the MM tent for ASH's set. Their take on post-Undertones style fresh punky pop innocence was entertaining and enthralling, and attracted a huge crowd. I bumped into Andi from Level 3 at the tent side, and we bopped to pop gems such as "Petrol", and the whole tent pogoed as one to recent "hit" single, "Girl From Mars"!
The festival was winding down now, for me at least, as I had early evening scran by the MM tent, unfortunately within earshot of REEF, with their lumpen and clumsy trad rock bollocks. The whippy wind brought a real chill to the early evening; I bought a waistcoat but still felt the chill, so we headed back to the tiny tent mainly to get out of the cold! In the process, we also got to see LICK; their pretty boy amphetamine rock set was exciting, and resembled Sweet Jesus in bed with early Manic Street Preachers, entertaining accordingly. Then THURMAN, next up, were our final band of the festival. Their set was very much of the "zeitgeist", their modish guitar pop with a bit of glam was derivative but entertaining, and reminded me of Kinky Machine. Methinks despite occasionally sounding like a Michael Caine "B" movie soundtrack, they might be the best bet to emerge from the current "New Mod" scene. Good luck to them, anyway!
And that was it, for us anyway. Nobody fancied paying any real attention to the appalling SOUNDGARDEN (who sounded terrible from a distance), so off we went, missing headliners Neil Young (too old-hippy for my current tastes! Sorry!) and Carter USM (past their sell-by date for me) in the process. Reading - and Summer - is now over, but thanks to Buffalo Tom, Reading's Top Band, it had a rousing send off!
THE SHERIFF 1995 READING FESTIVAL AWARDS
Friday Best: 1. TONGUE, 2. GREEN DAY, 3. WEKNOWWHEREYOULIVE (of 14)
Saturday Best: 1. ELECTRAFIXION, 2. THROWING MUSES, 3. DRUGSTORE (of 9)
Sunday Best: 1. BUFFALO TOM, 2. NYACK, 3. ASH (of 11)
OVERALL - 1. BUFFALO TOM, 2. ELECTRAFIXION, 3. TONGUE, 4. THROWING MUSES, 5. DRUGSTORE (of 34)
Best New Band: 1. STAR 69, 2. EMBASSY, 3. THURMAN.
Crap! 1. HOLE, 2. REEF, 3. SOUNDGARDEN
Sorry I Missed: TEENAGE FANCLUB, BOO RADLEYS, VENT (in the tent). Biggest miss was of course the absent SCARCE
Stars Of The Show: 1. BUFFALO TOM (of course), 2. GEOFF HAYDEN (for getting the beers in), 3. DAVE GROHL (for being a totally nice guy onstage), 4. CRAIG STERNS (for being a totally nice guy offstage!), 5. ME (hat trick hero!