What does Reading and Leeds mean to you? So many associations to quicken the pulse… Cries of “Bollocks!” echoing plangently through the night. Middling emo bands/rappers getting pelted with polystyrene. The thick, enveloping fug of sweet-and-sour noodles, burning portaloos and poppers. Bloc Party on the bill, again.
But it’s precisely these flaws – the sheer, roiling anarchy of a Reading/Leeds crowd at full throttle – that make the festival so uniquely appealing. In a calendar dominated by ’boutique’ bashes, Reading and Leeds stubbornly resists gentrification. Geoff Hoon is unlikely to make an appearance. Baby yoga is not available. If there was a poetry tent, it’d get burnt down inside the first 45 minutes by scowling 16-year-olds in Lamb of God T-shirts.
Crucially, this is a festival for young people, not smug couples from Dulwich trundling customised buggies. Moreover, given the sheer volume of bands on the bill, Reading/Leeds has a habit of crystallising the musical trends that have taken root over the past few months (admittedly in 2009 this mainly means Ivy League graduates with trust funds singing about unicorns, but we’ll pass over that).
There’s also an end-of-the-summer feel to Reading and Leeds, a sense of autumn chill creeping in. This in turn lends a certain desperation to the hedonism, with people’s enjoyment simultaneously tempered and intensified by the awful, looming realisation that this is it for another year: the party is almost over.
Everyone has a Reading/Leeds story to tell. The first time I went, in 1996, I fell in a muddy ditch on the first night and my tent flooded from beneath (the misery didn’t end there: The Stone Roses also played that weekend). Still it can’t have been too desolate, because I went back every year for the next 12 years.
How about you? What are your standout Reading/Leeds memories? To get you started, here are a few of ours.
Emily Mackay: In 2002, the deafening roar that greeted Axl Rose’s ironic drawl of “I don’t wanna be accused of inciting a riot or anything, but if you stay, we’ll stay, and we’ll see what happens…” as Leeds organisers tried to force Guns N’ Roses offstage halfway through their set, which they’d begun an hour-and-a-half late.
Tim Chester: Chasing Guy McKnight round the campsite for some reason and watching two people follow two policemen playing ‘The Bill’ theme tune on a stereo for hours. Oh, and boarding Peaches’ tourbus from Reading to Leeds for a “debauched on the road” feature where she was really ill and tired so took some painkillers and fell asleep within an hour.
Jamie Fullerton: Watching seas – literally hundreds – of fans cascade towards Foals on the NME/Radio 1 Stage, crowd-surfing to a stage invasion while the band dived back into the crowd. Incredible musically too.
Alan Woodhouse: Seeing Nirvana’s last UK show in 1992. Being so off my face that I kept shouting at The Prodigy to play ‘Firestarter’ in 2002, even though they already had. Seeing Damon Albarn fall off the stage during Blur’s headline slot without Graham in 2003. Meeting Kate Moss backstage in 2008, and chatting to her for about ten minutes before I realised who she was.
Paul Stokes: Watching NME’s Alan Woodhouse joining all the drummers onstage when Franz Ferdinand headlined. They got drummers from lots of bands to join them for The Outsiders and Alan was invited up too. I didn’t know he was doing it – I thought he was watching the gig side of stage when I heard he was going up there – so I was a tad surprised to see him up there with the sticks. Animal from the Muppets eat your heart out!
Matt Wilkinson: Gallows’ Radio 1/Lock Up stage headline set last year was a brilliant amalgamation of destroyed equipment, stage invading roadies and Frank Carter attempting to climb the tent rigging.