This week I was given the opportunity to see how a different social stratum live, by the accidental procurement of a ticket to Reading Festival. Not a working class congregation exactly – not with tickets at those prices – but perhaps less upper-middle class and more middle-middle class. The bands (nouveau riche) had wonderfully colourful names like Guns N’ Roses and This is Hell, but I soon realised that these names had little to do with the content of their shows, which was probably for the best.
Firstly, let’s get the inevitable moans out of the way. There seemed to be little concern that it was very, very muddy. A typical outfit of the day was: pristine neon from the waist-up, Battle of the Somme from the waist-down. Perhaps in future years they could consider relocating to a church hall or primary school sports gym in case of bad weather? The rusted troughs serving as public urinals confirmed it: yes, we were to be swine for the day.
The Young Guns opened the do. They performed a medley of covers of Guns N’ Roses songs, confessing to us that it “was the stupidest thing ever”. Now, I hardly think that is likely. Perhaps they incurred a remote risk of copyright infringement, but obviously history has provided us with examples of more stupid things, e.g. 1 and e.g. 2.
The name ‘Young Guns’ was very appropriate and in fact could have been used to describe the crowd as a whole, which comprised mainly i) people who had just left school, ii) people were just at school, and iii) people who had left school a long time ago but had deluded themselves into believing they were in either of the two former categories. Yet we were reassured throughout the day by the various bands that we were certainly, absolutely, definitely the best audience they’d ever seen, as if they were the mother and we were some diffident, sickly child.
New Young Pony Club was completely non-equestrian, which was a shame, but as expected. Early into the set, the lead singer lady cried: “This is the moment where your expectations get confounded!” I had no idea what she meant by this, and I waited around for some time, but no confounding occurred.
Then came a lot of unsavouriness. First Billy Talent’s brazen exhortation to “Take all your drugs and keep smiling”, which made me chuckle, since I hardly thought 24 Rennies would’ve had that effect. Then the members of NOFX traded anti-Semitic and anti-Mexican jokes, and repeatedly told us that they didn’t want to be there (which was a transparent attempt at reverse psychology that did not succeed in dousing the enthusiasm of the crowd). They then told us they were waiting for their next shipment of cocaine and proceeded to bully the black camera men with racist jibes.
I have never been required to stand for so very long at a concert. Some parents had the right idea, sitting on deckchairs and drinking tea out of flasks. I tried to share a knowing look with them but I think they were too busy contemplating their many layers of guilt and repression as it dawned on them that they’d allowed their children to revel in immorality in front of their very eyes.
I then had a dark turn, lingering in a tent called Lock-Up, where I observed many angry men – who surely have deep psychological issues . I soon realised that, despite the facades, these tough-looking ensembles were just modernising The Hokey Cokey. The instructions were slightly different: “Put your hands in the air”, “Make some f**king noise”, “Let’s see a circle pit”, “Now go f**king crazy”, but the effect was the same. If the bands forgot their place in this structure they soon resorted to “dance you f**king mother f**kers”. Oh dear.
And then I made a fatal error in standing far too close to the stage for Lost Prophets. Never have I been so congealed into a mass of teeming, steaming human beings. It would have been folly to gaze too long at the band, for one had to be vigilant of outbreaks of violent vortices of all kinds, and of surging tides of men, and of dubious liquids hurled from malevolent strangers.
I was hoping to have a calm end to the day with some light folk music from Mumford & Sons. Not so. The crowd were baying for folk in such frenzied jubilation that one would have thought one was at some Marxist rally. But it was hard to resist warming to Marcus Mumford, bless him, who found it rather difficult to blink, and in the process evoked many a collective sigh.
And then Guns N’ Roses were over 40 minutes late, which just wasn’t on, so I bid adieu to the whole affair and had an early night.
It was not essential to form an opinion on the day, since I was assured by a stranger on the train that it would be ‘awesome’, and was assured by a different stranger on the return journey that it had been ‘awesome’. The second stranger then went on to describe everything that I had just witnessed. Never have I been somewhere where so many reminders of very recent events have been necessary. So apparently – and I have to trust how other strangers reminded me it was – it was ‘hectic’, it was ‘messy’ and it was ‘wildcore’.
Next week, the Working Men’s Club.