Friday, 15 October 2010
332 THE 1996 READING FESTIVAL
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 1, FRIDAY 23 AUGUST 1996
Mud! Mud! More fucking mud! It was raining on the journey down, and when I hit the campsite at 10.30, the desolate sight of rivers of mud, drenched punters and grey drizzly skies greeted me. This had all the makings of a weekend from hippo heaven; okay for wallowing, not so good for watching bands. D'oh! However, after a couple of hours waiting in intermittent drizzle for the arena to open at 12, as soon as it did, the sun came out! Amazing!
SEAWEED opened up the proceedings in the arena, at 1pm. Their urgent but standard US post-grunge rock started off well, but tailed off into Rage-ish dirge, and I could have done without the vocalist's exhortations to, "dance you English fuckers." Hmmm. Popped into the Tiny Tent (sponsored by Doc Martens this weekend) for CHEST, who offered something a little more challenging. Good choral vocals and nice, if rambling, muse-music from the odd duo of singer-guitarist girlies.
The skies were considerably bluer now, so my coat went in the "left luggage" tent. Watch it rain now! (although it didn't!) Meandered awhile and caught a bit of NEW KINGDOM's horribly messy rap set in the Big Tent (NME tent!). Moved quickly back to the Tiny Tent for a bit of FEEDER; resplendent in silly orange boiler suits, they were like Smashing Pumpkins' reserve XI, all lumpen beats, heavy riffs and howls. Hmmm, better change that to Green Apple Quick Step's reserve XI...Saw a Keith from Prodigy clone on my way out of the tent, right down to the hair, missing eyebrows and panda bear eye make up. Sad twat!
Back to the Big Tent, meeting up with Ady and the Southampton posse, then joining them in the mosh for URUSEI YATSURA, who were pretty much the Jesus And Mary Chain reserve XI, all droney guitars and feedback, with Undertones-like lyrics about chocolate and girls. I then pushed further forward into the melee for the first real Festival highlight, from SPARKLEHORSE. Led by wheelchair-bound Mark Linkous (a long story - basically he fell over!), they played a terrific set of their dusty, parched rock with a C&W twist. Linkous, obviously a very tall man indeed even sitting down, was the focus of attention throughout. Another highlight followed; PLACEBO, who were stunning in a Marion-esque driving and thrilling fast pop-rock way, with a sexy glam lilt. Diminutive soon-to-be-star Brian Molko led this young trio through a set of dynamic 90's Sexmusic. Great stuff!
Took a wander over to the Southampton posse's riverside campsite for a cuppa, then wandered back, hearing WEEZER kicking off their good-sounding mainstage set. They, however, were casualties of the first upsetting band clash of the weekend, as I headed out of the slight drizzle and under the cover of the Big Tent, for the late-running DRUGSTORE. Their set, allegedly billed as an acoustic set but with just Damon playing a 12-string acoustic and e-bow as concession to this, was slower paced, and highlighted four almost jolly new numbers, vocalist Isabel singing about eating bears and planning her own funeral, wherein she envisages her ex-lovers reminiscing about her, "cunt made of gold!" Mad, pristine, velvety, absorbing, and the Set Of The Day by some distance!
Popped into the little tent for SENSE FIELD's shouty loud and fast set; again, as per their recent Cleo's support slot, they were good and bad in equal measure. Into the arena for early evening now; the sun is out and TERRORVISION are getting the dweebs at the front dancing with their pop-punk-metal set. "Oblivion", with the doo-wops, is an obvious crowd favourite. After they finished, I wandered around as the breeze picked up, completely ignoring the background growl from the Jam's reserve XI, or 60 FT DOLLS as they're better known as. Got garlic bread instead.
Back into the arena for OFFSPRING, kicking off a 7.30. They had 2 speeds - jolly sing-along pop-grunge (mainly their singles), and hardcore thrash (the rest). I quite enjoyed bits of their set, particularly newie "It's Cool To Hate" (which I thought was "It's Cool To Eat"!), and the vocalist urging the large crowd to throw trash onstage when their set was cut short. Better than I expected, and certainly better than BIS, whose big tent set I then caught the residue of. Bloody awful screamy shouty beatbox mess; Carter USM meets Shonen Knife, but without the tunes. Worst band of the festival!
Then finally, for me at least today, were SEBADOH. Amazingly, despite my largely US rock-orientated musical taste, this was my first experience of Lou Barlow's US low-fi alt-rock pioneers and troubadours. They had a nice line in self-deprecation (the intro tape making reference to Lou's last Reading Festival appearance, when he stormed off in a huff) and silly humour (one song which went, "walking down the street, you want something to eat, you need a... CHIP BUTTY!!" Surely some Smudge influence there!). The serious stuff was pretty good as well, veering between sweet melancholic strum-alongs a la Luna, and driving yet melodic college rock. My first Sebadoh experience won't be my last, I hope! They were done at 10 past 10, so I was on the half past 10 train home!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 2, SATURDAY 24 AUGUST 1996
Mud! Mud! No fucking mud! The shower I had this morning was at home, and involved soap and shampoo, and after a brisk drive down the M4, I hit the Festival site to blue skies and ground more solid than yesterday. Things were looking good for a bright and dry day; little did I know...
Headed for the Southampton posse campsite, thence indulging in the traditional footy marathon by the riverside in the midday sun. Got some goals, sweated some and kept putting the damn thing in the river. D'oh! Eventually remembered I was at Reading to see a band or two as well, and wandered into a now-overcast and packed arena at 2.30, bumping into Tim on the way. So SUPER FURRY ANIMALS, on at 2.45, were my first band of the day! However, they were disappointingly 60's derivative, blandish pseudo Britpop, with one or two examples of a more enjoyable thrashy riffery to their music, such as closer "God! Show Me Magic". Few and far between, however, from Blur's reserve XI. By contrast, MARION, next up, were magnificent, prompting a re-appraisal of their initially disappointing debut album. Storming, moody, high-octane sinewy pop from the top drawer, with a clutch of impressive, if slower-paced (i.e. 5th gear instead of 6th!) new numbers. Marion, with pretty boy superstar Jamie Harding confirming his stadium credentials with a top performance (and hey, the boy can sing, too!) were great.
And it's totally their fault that I suffered from a horrible cold as a result! Two-thirds of the way through their set, I faced upsetting clash of the weekend number two; stay for the rest of their set, or catch the start of Big Tent-bound CHINA DRUM? I stayed, despite increasingly-threatening rainclouds, and, sure enough, virtually at the dramatic opening bars of the wonderful "Toys For Boys", the heavens opened. But 'twas so good, I thought, who cares? So I stayed and got thoroughly soaked dancing, forging an indelible Festival memory in the process.
Then, after their set, the heavens really opened and went biblical on us, so I finally scurried to the Big Tent for the Drum. I actually caught most of their impressive hard-rocking set; some numbers seemed to merge into each other, as sneezes echoed around my head, but they played with energy, integrity and rolled out their great cover of "Wuthering Heights". Great stuff!
Hung around on the fringes of the tent for the start of MY LIFE STORY's cinematic big band Burt Bacharach pop, then wandered into the still-drizzly arena for BILLY BRAGG's final number. True to his status as "new dad", rather than "new lad", it was "New England" with slightly revised lyrics; "I'm not looking for a New England, I'm just looking for a decent babysitter!" Deadpan as ever, old Bill. This took me to 5.45; the rain stopped and I'm wet and cold. Grabbed lots of garlic things for tea and found out the footy scores, Swindon Town only mustering a 1-1 home draw with Port Vale. D'oh! Still, t-shirt slogan of the weekend just made me smile; front says, "Ask Me If I'm An Orange", back says, "No"!
Still, into the big tent for SALAD. The very tall vocalist Marijne (height accentuated by very short skirt perched atop extremely long legs!) and her band of anonymous back-up boys (even more so than Louise Wener's Sleeperblokes!) played a nice enough set of girly pop rock, some of which seemed a little half formed, but with a great closing "Drink The Elixir", which shows what they can do if they put their minds to it.
Then out into the sopping wet arena; with a pale evening sun faintly mocking us bedraggled punters ("ha ha, you're wet, I'm not, I'm the sun, aaah!"), I wandered absent-mindedly up to see JULIAN COPE. Expecting the unexpected, as ever from the prize fruitcake of pop, we weren't disappointed. Firstly, Cope took the stage in a clingy white fronted dress with fluorescent accessories and similarly glowing backing band, and kicked off a set of his more accessible pop-tastic recent moments. My total and undivided attention was grabbed from the outset, as the self-confessed drude-dude gave a riveting performance of the art of the frontman, bristling with showmanship and stardom, and demonstrated that the menacing madness is actually a real advantage "live". Then, with 3 to go, the unbelievable; a strident singalong "World Shut Your Mouth", followed by a rampant "Trampoline" and a monumentally huge, jaw-dropping "Reward", rounded off the most captivating and exhilarating performance of the weekend.
As darkness fell, could GARBAGE top that? Well, no, actually, but they gave it a bloody good go. Shirley Manson was an energetic and dynamic frontperson, bouncing over the stage to Garbage's sleazy new wave pop, with post-grunge and Goth overtones, all seething synths and scuzzy guitars. Like Curve if they'd been bothered to write other songs really, Garbage were eminently impressive "live", and showed that, despite their indecently speedy rise to mega-stardom, they may well have the stadium credentials to carry it off.
Then, into the motor for me, and home by 20 past 10 for Match Of The Day!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 3, SUNDAY 25 AUGUST 1996
I had Dave and Ady accompany me today as I drove down the M4, getting to the Southampton posse campsite just after 11. Got a quick game of footy in by the riverside, with Southampton beating Swindon by the odd goal (for a change!). Then into the slightly muddy but brightening arena for the day's early highlights. Caught the death throes of AUDIOWEB's mainstage set, a dubby shouty mess really. The closer, a cover of the Clash's "Bankrobber", was however a bit good, I have to admit.
Headed front-centre - pitching up leaning right against the barrier, noticing all the straw that had been laid down to soak up the naturally-drying-anyway ground - for TRACY BONHAM. I was so front-centre, in fact, that drummer Shayne later remarked that when the band took the stage, he noticed me before he noticed he was even carrying his sticks! Drew, Phil and Tracy also followed suit, and I had the wonderful feeling that they were playing their set just for me. The set was one of outstanding jagged beauty, with Tracy leading off with such frightening nonchalance it was hard to believe she was playing in front of a huge field who had never heard of her. Great stuff again from a humongously talented lady and a superb rocking backing band. My highlight was "Bulldog", a track so jolly it made me grin from ear to ear!
Phil and the boys popped into the arena from backstage just as THE POSIES took the main stage, so I exchanged quick greetings before heading into the mosh. I've been ambivalent about The Posies before, their shimmering pop sometimes being too perfect and lacking in feeling for my liking, on the whole, but with their best ever LP "Amazing Disgrace", which adds mood and passion to their shine, punctuating their set, I loved them today. A mighty harmonic pop beast, I rocked out in the straw-showered moshpit to Seattle's finest, bumping into Tim in the process. Got covered in straw, but who cares?
Came back out of the mosh during COMPULSION. All bedecked in black with uniform-esque bleached blond crops, they whacked out a well rocking, very high octane set of growling and loud punk rock. Blow the cobwebs away stuff for sure, with "Mall Monarchy" a highlight. Stayed arena-bound for MOBY's subsequent surprisingly hardcore set, the former techno guru having changed his musical spots - with gusto! A vicious cover of Mission Of Burma's seminal "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" was the highlight and was actually rather splendid!
Went into the Big Tent for Tim's tip GIRLS AGAINST BOYS, who disappointed with a clumsy pseudo Goth growl, like a Catherine Wheel reserve XI (not done one of those for awhile...). Bumped into Phil and Drew during VENT, next up. Phil was well into them, and I must confess I enjoyed their set much more than before; a bit punchier and poppier than the Rollins Band-like behemoth of yore. However, that might have had something to do with the cries of, "Right on! Yeah, Miles!" coming from the enthusiastic American to my right!
This took us to just before 5 pm, so we had a scheduled pit-stop back to the motor for snacks and layers. It tried to drizzle on the way back, but failed; luckily this was the only rain today! Back into the Big Tent for a pointless xylophone instrumental set from TORTOISE. Stuart from Southampton enjoyed this jazzy meandering, but I thought his mate, the entertainingly pissed up Martin, put it best; "Difficult? Difficult bollocks!" Dave and I then had a wander into the dusty early evening arena, as GENE were on. I caught their early numbers, which were even more Smiths-derivative than usual (I swore one was a cover of "London"!) then left the Smiths reserve XI to it and nipped to the tiny tent. LAXTON'S SUPERB - a lovely name! - attracted me over, but the name revealed a pleasant but innocuous band of young Brummies who played unassuming, polite guitar pop which went in one ear and out the other. The Bluetones reserve XI?
While over there, I ran into Miles Hunt's brother Russ, who I had met at Tracy Bonham's Birmingham gig. Exchanged pleasantries with a nice guy, before he popped off a couple of numbers into Laxton's set, saying it wasn't doing it for him. I only lasted a couple of numbers more!
Caught ASH on the mainstage after some chicken tea; they were actually disappointingly thrashy, and messier than their usual enthusiastic buzzsaw pop. A case of not quite being ready for the main stage yet? I didn't stay until the end, disappearing to the Big Tent for the arse end of BABY BIRD. They're hot tips, but played a curiously mid-80's influenced pleasant strumalong pop set. The Bodines reserve XI?
Heard the mainstage fireworks after Ash's set whilst waiting for THE FLAMING LIPS. The real musical pyrotechnics, however, were all from Wayne Coyne's band of Oklahoma troubadours. A great set of crazy, lazy, blissed out trippery, with a gorgeous "(She Don't Use) Jelly" the obvious highlight. Absorbing, fascinating, wigged out and totally wired!
Okay, the mainstage then beckoned for THE STONE ROSES' headlining set. Met up with Dave and Ady, as darkness fell into inky night, anticipation growing. Then on they came, and kicked off the haunting intro to "I Wanna Be Adored". Then... Ian Brown opened his mouth, and out came a flat, droning, out of tune total mess of a voice, trampling all over the musical splendour. Oh God oh God oh God, please shut up!!! I don't know what Ian Brown had been on prior to taking the stage, but tonight he was utterly wasted, and also wasted this potential highlight. The band were ace, the music absorbing psychedelia, but Ian Brown embellished it with a flat, drunken bricklayer's karaoke drone. The fact he was singing numbers such as "I Wanna Be Adored" and "I Am The Resurrection" only made it sadly more incongruous. The only saving grace was that the set was short, as I'd never seen a Sunday mainstage headliner at Reading Festival playing to such a sparse and rapidly thinning crowd.
So, a flat end (in more ways than one!) to a good but not superb festival. Glad the weather held off, and well pleased I'd seen a musical resurrection of my own - from Julian Cope! Summer is now officially over, but Cope, Phil, Tracy and Marion gave it a good send-off!
THE SHERIFF 1996 READING FESTIVAL AWARDS
Friday Best: 1. DRUGSTORE, 2. PLACEBO, 3. SPARKLEHORSE (of 14)
Saturday Best: 1. JULIAN COPE, 2. MARION, 3. GARBAGE (of 8)
Sunday Best: 1. TRACY BONHAM, 2. THE POSIES, 3. THE FLAMING LIPS (of 14)
OVERALL - 1. JULIAN COPE, 2. MARION, 3. TRACY BONHAM, 4. THE POSIES, 5. DRUGSTORE (of 36)
Best New Band: 1. PLACEBO, 2. SEBADOH (well, they're new to me...), 3. Erm...
Crap! 1. BIS (comfortably the worst!), 2. TORTOISE, 3. IAN BROWN'S voice!
Sorry I Missed: TRIPPING DAISY (pulled out at the last minute!), WEEZER, OCTOPUS
Stars Of The Show: 1. JULIAN COPE, 2. PHIL HURLEY, 3. TRACY BONHAM, 4. JAMIE HARDING, 5. MARTIN FROM SOUTHAMPTON when pissed up!