A Lovenote To Reading And Leeds, The Festival Season’s End-Of-Days

Patrick Wolf throws the mother of all hissy fits onstage at C/O Pop Festival in Cologne, lobbing chairs and mics at the crew, presumably angry that his vulture-feather cape and head-dress ensemble hadn’t been properly primped by the herd of greased transsexual midgets he’d specified on his rider.

At Summer Sonic in Osaka, Placebo’s Brian Molko is carried offstage having passed out in anticipation of the rockingest event of the summer, or a dodgy teriyaki kebab.

At Bloodstock the crowd perfect their aim, cracking Cradle Of Filth’s guitarist on the bonce with a missile (thereby, according to organisers, ruining the vibe and “camaraderie” of a festival called Bloodstock – what next, Oktoberfest ruined by ‘a few drunken louts’?) and declaring themselves ready for Fall Out Boy.

It’s the Summer Of Chaos. Festivals across the globe are descending into bloodshed, artist Vs crew warfare and mild overheating issues. It can only mean one thing: the world is warming up for Reading and Leeds; each festival season’s End Of Days.

Oh, there might still be Bestival to go, but that’s just like an annual convention for all of the idiots you see dotted around the rest of the season dressed as Batman who gather there because they’ve taken so many drugs they’ve started to think that life is one big festival season and they never have to sober up and go back to work at an estate agents.

No, the event-formerly-known-as-the-C*rl*ng-Weekend is the traditional final blow-out and I’ve felt both sharp and blunt ends of the madness.

One year watching Muse I helped throw out the giant bouncing moon-balls from the photo pit; another year, during another Muse show, I was attacked in the crowd by a random, rugby-tackling stranger. One year I headlined the Lock Up Stage dressed as Jack White with a tumultuously received karaoke cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’; another year I DJed post-show for two hours at the Rivermead to a seated audience of four.

There’s none of the laid-back attitude of Glastonbury, where you know that, somewhere out there, the party’s going on all night; Reading and Leeds has the happy hour mentality of knowing the rock’s on a curfew.

Here’s every band you need to see this year in one place, and here’s a strict 36 hours in which to see them all. It should be the subject of a Panorama on the dangers of binge rocking.

As a punter on my first trips to Reading, I could instantly tell it was more Guantánamo Bay than Worthy Farm. It was full of metalheads and goths for a start; metalheads and goths, indeed, not afraid to piss on my tent while I was trying to sleep in it.

The site itself was a grotty exercise in human cattle-herding liberally dotted with rat fajita stands, the drugs weren’t drugs and the campsites rang with frustrated campfire cries of “bollocks!” until dawn. For some unfathomable reasons, probably based in masochistic self-loathing, I loved it.

It wasn’t until the poisoned chalice of music journalism granted me entrance to the hallowed halls of Reading’s inner sanctum – well, the Renaissance Hotel bar – that I saw the full, horrific extent of this orgiastic festapocalypse.

Here bands, PRs, A&Rs and journalists ran rampant through the halls and cubicles in Caligulan scenes of degradation and minibar-rape. Indie bassists were our playthings; major label expense accounts our whores.

The entire bar would try to sign their tabs to Graham Coxon’s room, knowing he’d probably just think he’d drunk it all; 3 Colours Red’s Chris McCormack would grab the megaphone from the manager trying to clear the bar at 5am and shout, “I’ve got all the drugs! Party in my room”.

There are two sets of people I’ll never forgive: the receptionists who refused to let me into the hotel sauna at dawn simply because I was accompanied by two strippers and the band who allowed me to drink the can of cider they’d been using as an ashtray. If I ever remember who they were, they’re finished.

Then the Renaissance got wise, the police brought sniffer dogs and the bands ran off to the Malmaison or straight up to Leeds. These days it’s only the hacks that remain; a couple of years back the once booked-solid Renaissance had to start double-booking us with wedding receptions.

Instead, it’s the site that’s packing them in. Festival Republic has gained permission to allow another 10,000 punters into the Reading site, a piece of news that reminds me of looking at ‘studio’ flats to live in recently.

Having been dragged around dozens of shoeboxes that made the NME stock cupboard look like the Palace Of Versailles, I expected at some point to be shown into a room lined with stacked-up cages and told, “This is yours, Number 497, £850 a month, you just slide yourself in there and feed through this tube”.

Try shaking that image as you’re shoving your way into the Festival Republic tent for The Big Pink…