11. Reading Festival, 26-28 August 1994

The next day we make an early start, dine in the railway station and then motor on to Reading with American Music Club on the car stereo. The rivers of indie kids streaming through town to the festival are a jaw dropping sight. We drop Val at Sid’s place in Caversham (they both have passes and she doesn’t do camping) and then Rebecca and I go back to the site to pitch our tents.

We rendezvous with Val and the Abuse fanzine posse at the signing tent. I try to plan what bands I want to see but I’ve never been to a big festival before and the programme is a bit baffling.

We split up. Rebecca goes off to see some bands; Val and the Abuse gang slope off backstage to get beer and schmooze. I try to get my bearings. I eventually catch a bit of The Verve’s set on the main stage. It’s sunny, it suits them. I’m surprised by the amount of Radiohead T-shirts people are wearing.

We reconvene and everyone else wants to see Hole, I’m the only one who doesn’t get it, I wander off again and see a bit of Sleeper in the Melody Maker tent, and then the Auteurs, one of the bands that I actually wanted to see and then find Val for the end of the Lemonheads’ set.

Rebecca and I manage to find our way back to the tents to sleep in spite of the Wedding Present echoing across the field. Thank god for earplugs.

I waste the next morning waiting for people, being made late by bumping into other people and generally feeling like a bit of a spare part. Eventually I find some friends back on the site. But Val doesn’t turn up for our appointed meeting, at the ice cream van near the back stage entrance. Rebecca and I find each other again and sit in the sun for a while watching whatever happens to be on the main stage (Reverend Horton Heat). She spots Thom, Jonny and their mate Nigel (later of The Unbelievable Truth) heading for the Melody Maker tent. Rebecca wants to run and follow them; I want to play it cool. Thom’s got his impenetrable pop star sunglasses on and they are like a sign that says ‘Do not approach’. I assume that I will see them later.

Girl band Jale are on. We see Jonny hiding behind his hair as a girl asks for his autograph; Thom has disappeared into the crowd. We wander about some more. Colin spots me and says hi. I’m so confused I ask him if he’s seen Val. I feel like a little kid who has lost her mum at the fair. I wish him luck and he says he’s going for a lie down before they play, as he’s a bit tired.

We’ve given up waiting for Val, between her latest faves Shed 7 and Radiohead we know she’ll be at the signing tent soon enough, so Rebecca goes off to see some more bands while I sell some copies of PID to the kids in the queue. They go very quickly and I soon have a pocketful of money. Lisa and Val miraculously appear as the queue for the signing tent gets busy and advise me to join it. Caffy has given the chaps T-shirts to hand out but they are soon all gone. I talk to kids in the queue and give them flyers for the fanzine. We don’t seem to be getting any closer to the tent, I watch people leaving with their signed stuff, a lad has a shirt and Thom has written ‘bootleg!’ on it. Tim spots us and comes over; he says we might as well give up, as the band have to go.

 

I catch the end of Gene’s set and then go to see Pulp, who are my second favourite band at the moment. There are girls in tight tops getting excited about Jarvis, but my reason to be here is to get a bit further forward because Radiohead are on next. Steve Lamacq, who is comparing, plays Ping Pong by Stereolab on the PA and then it all goes quiet.

Time for Radiohead. Thom walks on last in a homemade green T shirt, inscribed “20th Century Skin”, you can tell he’s drawn it himself because of the antennae and the way the i’s are lower case. On the back it says W.A.S.T.E. and I don’t know yet what it stands for but something tells me it is very significant.

He starts the set with bug-eyed shades on. There is silence then he takes the mic and sings alone. “In my mind I where I long for you…” (I find out later that this song is Tim Buckley’s Sing A Song For You off Thom’s much-mentioned favourite Happy Sad. But right now I don’t know what it is). The sun is shining, I have a good view, and I have space to dance. This fragment of a song is out of place and beautiful. It mentions malls so I think it must be something he’s written. It is payback for missing last year’s festival, it says ‘I’m here now and I can sing’, without a pause it become Bones and they’re off.

You, Ripcord, Creep… the crowd clap along trying to make it a stadium anthem. Today it’s a song about “Staring at the sun”; It doesn’t feel quite right here. Duncan the guitar tech brings Thom’s shades back, he threw them away after the intro. They play new stuff and I am willing them on with my whole being, wanting to feel every note, wanting to move about, wanting to scream. They end on Anyone Can Play Guitar with Jonny breaking strings, then grabbing hold of them and spinning the guitar around his head. It all looks great on the big screens and I can see them and the stage from where I’m standing. It’s all over before I’ve had time to catch my breath. I crawl out to the side of the field and frantically dig in my bag for money at a lemonade stand. “Either you’re on drugs or you’ve lost something,” says the man, I must look deranged at this point. I find Val and collapse into a hug. She drags me to another stage to see Shed 7.

Wide-eyed and buzzing, I try to dance off some of my adrenaline to the Sheds but it’s not the same feeling. Val is full of it, as she’s been talking to Rick Shed backstage. Lisa appears and says she saw Ed wandering around backstage looking fed up, and no one has seen Thom since they came off stage. Something wasn’t right. It feels weird to have to watch more bands now. Rebecca and I catch a couple of Elastica’s songs but they’re turgid and dull and it’s too packed to see so we give up. I eat greasy food and avoid watching Ice Cube.

I find Val again and we try to watch Madder Rose. But the lure of backstage beer is too much for her and she disappears again. Lowly wristband holder that I am, I have to stay here on my own, overwhelmed by a mix of joy and frustration. The tent is cold. The realisation that there is nothing else in the world that makes me feel like this is suddenly incredibly painful.

After another night of trying to sleep on the cold ground in my poorly equipped tent, being woken every few minutes by the cries of “Bollocks!” that reverberate around the campsite, I get up for another day of festivities. I wander around the Rivermead Centre record fair in a sleep-deprived daze. I buy Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Portishead’s Dummy. (and set in train my musical taste for the next few years).

I find Val back on site and she takes me to Sid’s place for a much needed cup of tea. When we come back to the festival I lose her again. I stumble into the end of Jeff Buckley’s set and know I’ve missed something important. Later I enjoy Morphine’s set and then have the funniest moment of the weekend seeing Henry Rollins onstage. He looks angry, constipated and heavily tattooed. I can’t take him seriously.

We see Rebecca’s faves American Music Club and then fail to appreciate Red Hot Chili Peppers. I end up in the Melody Maker tent, on my own again, watching Tindersticks. I’m so exhausted I sit down on the ground and cry my eyes out.

Val ran into Colin as he was leaving and asked him how it went. He thought they’d gone down well, having seen the audience reaction but the others felt a bit let down, as Gloucester had been such a good show. The festival had felt like an anticlimax.

On Monday morning, we ride back northwards through the Oxfordshire countryside in the Metro. Val feels nostalgic for last December. Rebecca drops us off, Val and I decamp to my Gran’s empty house. The record player works and we can be as noisy as we like without disturbing anyone. We play all my vinyl and proceed to work our way through a bottle of Southern Comfort with no mixers, as it’s all I can find to drink. We sit up until 2am talking and listening to records. I am learning how to have drunken late night revelations, the kind you never really remember in the morning.

I should probably feel worse than I do, Val can’t believe she has to go and catch a bus at noon with this hangover. A couple of cigarettes on the patio impresses my parents with her punkiness and then I take her to the bus station, so she can go back to Manchester.

I spend the last of my money on a copy of Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish and the Sonic Youth cover of the Carpenters that Thom had reviewed in that week’s Melody Maker. I get back home and my brother has bought me the other tune he liked, Flaming Lips’ She Don’t Use Jelly. I book tickets for a couple of the gigs that the band are playing in September so my next fix is already in place.