The Wombats at Reading Festival 2021: cuddly indie from “stubborn” scene stalwarts

August 28: after two years away, "Murph" and the gang pick up where they left off. Well, they actually pick up from about 2007

In the bad old days of 2007, it might have seemed improbable that, almost 15 years down the line, Liverpudlian indie scamps The Wombats would still be nibbling away at the festival circuit, chowing down main stages with their heady concoction of woozy pop hooks and winningly self-deprecating lyrics.

And yet here we are, at Reading Festival 2021, and Little John’s Farm is teeming with teenagers roaring along to ‘Moving To New York’, a song that first soundtracked the spilling of snakebite across indie club dancefloors back when most of them were toddlers. Hundreds of kids are pushing at the stage’s safety barrier, chanting at non-plussed security guards: “Let us in! Let us in!”

Earlier in the day, asked the secret behind The Wombats’ longevity, frontman Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy told NME: “We’re pretty stubborn, and when we set our mind to something, we don’t let petty nonsense get in the way.” In other words: the trio have kept their heads down and ploughed on with their brand of cuddly indie, subtly altering the formula to reflect current trends – a trill of synth here, a crunch of drum machine there – with no rock’n’roll ego to obstruct their path.

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That might sound workmanlike, but tonight’s set seems warm and heartfelt, the band underlining the continuance of their unlikely success story by drawing on all four albums to date, with renditions of 2015’s bubbly ‘Pink Lemonade’ and 2018’s sweet, sharp ‘Lemon To A Knife Fight’. At one point, stage invaders dressed as furry marsupials dance around the lads. Fellow indie stalwarts Catfish And The Bottlemen put in a polished but soulless performance here on Friday night, but The Wombats – whose frontman endearingly stumbles over his words as he thanks the audience, belying the group’s two years away from the stage – certainly haven’t succumbed to cold careerism.

And this, explain 17-year-old audience members Sophie Wain and Alexandra Harris 17, is key to their appeal after all these years. “They make you feel alive – they make you feel like a teenager, like you want to enjoy life and live it to its fullest,” says Sophie. “Instead of work, school, it’s like: ‘Go and let me live my life,” adds Alexandra.

Credit: Emma Viola Lilja

For all that, though, it remains true that Catfish and The Wombats aren’t the only stubborn indieheads gracing Reading and Leeds’ stages. Halfway through this cheerful set, hordes of the kids in the pit – who earlier on were chanting to be let in – turn back to leave this main stage, presumably to catch Two Door Cinema Club on the other side of the site.

Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021

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