Reading Festival Review, Day One – Green Day, Bastille, Frank Turner, Kodaline and Slaves star

The rain held off and it was one of the warmest evenings I can remember at Reading – overcast but very pleasant.  And continuing on that positive note, well done to the organisers – the focus on logistics and crowd movement definitely improved the experience. There are two entrances, the arena has been made 30% larger and feels every bit of that, there are fewer bottlenecks, although it is now a long walk from the new Radio1 Extra tent to the Festival republic, for instance! But you can’t have everything... anyway, much appreciated by at least four festival goers.

So what did we learn at Reading day One? Green Day are an excellent headliner, playing the whole of their classis Dookie album (and more), getting audience involvement (within 10 minutes of the start they had a kid up on stage with them). Good sound too even a fair way back.

Dry the River opened the event to a big crowd on the NME stage (the “big tent” as we call it) with their blend of folk and grunge working well.  The two new stages did as you might expect spread the audience, so the small Festival Republic stage was noticeably quieter than previous years. Even the Strypes, the precocious early 60s  R n’B (in the original sense) kids didn’t fill it for their tight and enjoyable set. Kate Nash probably came the nearest actually to tent overspill to my surprise (not a fan).

But we also learnt that the younger element of Reading’s clientele, by which we mean the 90% of the crowd who are between  16 and 25 really like... the same music their parents, and probably their  grandparents like. Certainly that’s true in terms of what we might loosely call “rock” – today’s teen rebels are more likely to be found at the extreme regions of dance or (modern) R n’B.

It was sad for instance  to see what a small audience Frightened Rabbit pulled for their somewhat angst-laden but always interesting Scottish indie-rock, whilst Kodaline had a huge turn-out for their pleasant, unchallenging blend of Mumfords and Coldplay. But I must admit they do it very well and yes, I enjoyed it, with the audience singing along to give some hairs on the back of the neck moments. This clip isn’t Reading but gives you a taste of their thing.

But theirs was nothing compared to the crowd Bastille attracted. A packed big tent with at least another 10,000 people gathered outside (including us) watching the screens. Now I‘ve grown to like the album, and Mr Bastille knows how to write a tune, a hook, and a lyric you can sing along to, but it seems faintly depressing that this is what today’s 16 year olds are going crazy over. Bastille also played a short semi-acoustic set on the Introducing stage so at least we saw them there!

Of the less well known bands, Half Moon Run had lovely harmonies and a rhythm section that kept the crowd shuffling even in their dreamier moments. Promising new bands like Temples and Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs were energetic and are clearly talented, but didn’t quite achieve that audience feedback loop that turns a gig from good to special.  I  also enjoyed – without them hitting the absolute heights - Night Engine,  Peace, Chvrches (who got a decent crowd despite competing with Green Day), Ms Mr, Parquet Courts and Men Can’t Fly, who claimed this was the first time they’d been south of Yorkshire!

So onto the three heroes of the day. Frank Turner did his first main stage set after working his way up from the small tents over the years and gave a typically feisty performance despite being in a back brace and advised to pull out. His Mum (or so she claimed...) introduced him and explained that she’d told him he shouldn’t play but he had insisted!

Clean Bandit were excellent - my one foray into the Dance Tent suggested people there were having a great time, and they get a special mention for the song which featured some brilliant clarinet paying along with violin and cello – achieving that musical excellence in the context of keeping several thousand people dancing happily is pretty impressive.

And then, my one bit of personal Reading magic. Jane had heard a band on the radio, so we wandered over to the Radio 1 Introducing Stage for Slaves, to find one young man beating hell out of his drum kit from a standing position whilst.. shouting / screaming I think you’d have to say rather than singing. Meanwhile his colleague attacked his guitar with a certain venom. If you remember Jilted John, from the late 70s, imagine him having taken some lyric-writing lessons from Mike Skinner of the Streets, and then deciding that hardcore punk (cf. Crass)was really his favourite type of music...

Absolutely brilliant! And the hilarious “Girl fight” is undoubtedly my song so far of the Festival.  (This isn’t a great video, and isn't from Reading, but you get the idea).  You can see more of them - and many other bands - on the excellent BBC website here.

But that’s what Reading is all about. Coming across those unexpected treasures. More tomorrow assuming we don’t drown today...

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