Reading Festival Friday Review – How Were the Mumfords?

The first day at Reading Festival (pictured  five minutes after the gates opened in its pristine loveliness) was dry, muddy in the campsites (by the look of it), and a good rather than stunning day for us anyway. Of the bigger bands on the main stage, Bastille got the crowd singing along and looked like they’re only one more decent album away from being headliners themselves – they have some great tunes, and their cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” was a highlight.

But much as I love Alt-J, a large field is not the best environment to listen to their complex, layered music, even with a very nice light show. And as for Mumford and Sons – well, we only saw the middle 40 minutes or so of their set. And I have loved the band since I saw them supporting Laura Marling when they were unknown. But long gaps between songs, the gloomy “Thistle and Weeds”, an interminable “Ghosts that we knew”, lovely as an acoustic ballad but not as an overblown stadium piece, and versions of the anthemic “The Cave” and “Roll Away Your Stone” that were slower than the album pace, all seemed designed to suck the energy out of the set and the audience. I suspect it was very different if you were close to the stage but not half way back.

OK, let’s be positive. Charismatic rock god performer of the day award goes to Luke Spiller of the Struts – good old fashioned 70s charisma (Mercury, Jagger even) and straight ahead rock with touches of glam and metal to match, great fun. Swim Deep had the staging gimmick of the day – an amazing dancer who spun round for the entire eight minutes of the hypotonic Fuelho Boogie, her huge skirts forming different shapes. Hard to describe ... they are transitioning from a pop/dance to a more serious trance-y, dance outfit and I wasn’t sure it all quite holds together yet.

I love The Districts album and thought the performance was strong, although the less committed members of our group remained at the “good not great” assessment level. A highlight for me anyway. And it was a good day for the Bear contingent. Hunter and the Bear were good, and Eliza and the Bear brought real energy and tight playing to their tuneful indie in the Festival Republic tent and got a very good reaction, as did Bear’s Den. Their set was a little less upbeat but the crowd singing along to the emotional Above the Clouds of Pompei was a real highlight. Fame would seem to await.

Sunset Sons was a pleasant surprise. Not so much for their tuneful, somewhat middle of the road material, but for the size of the audience and the atmosphere created. “Keane” said Guy Allen and I think it was a compliment, so another band that, based on their reception here, could be playing the main stage in a couple of years. Our sources (wife and daughter) also tell us that Panic at the Disco made a "triumphant return to the Main Stage, after being bottled back in 2006 on the same stage. Their Bohemian Rhapsody cover was fantastic".

Now the two “best set” winners of the day. St Raymond was up against The Mumfords, but kept a two-thirds full Festival Republic tent thoroughly entertained with a set full of energy, danceability, tunes, and engagement. He seems to have a very high proportion of young woman in his fan base too, which must be nice...

Reading skinny listerAnd Skinny Lister provided the first time I have ever seen an artist crowdsurfing – while carrying a full size stand-up double bass! And Lorna Thomas, their energetic (and perhaps just slightly bonkers?) lead singer took a different sort of risk when she emulated him in her rather short dress.  But their “English Pogues” contemporary folk stompers and sea shanties were just perfect for a mid afternoon celebration. A band I will see again, I’m sure, and I suspect they will be a Reading regular from now on; I hope so.

Off again shortly - Metallica in the pouring rain is the forecast. It might just be an early night...

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