Reading Festival Saturday Review – Metallica, Catfish, and Nothing but Thieves Impress

A better day than Friday musically (for us anyway) but not for the weather, with drizzle and some heavier showers.

We started with The Mini Band, five kids from Newbury, just down the road, (12-14 years old) whose video of them playing a Metallica song went viral a few years ago. They were invited to meet Metallica at Reading yesterday, then learnt this week that they would be playing as well. So a novelty act, you might think? Not at all – just five talented young musicians. The two guitarists were excellent, and their latest, the self-penned Step Into the Light is simply a very good rock / metal song. And there weren’t many better guitarists – of any age or either sex – playing the Festival yesterday than Zoe Thomson; she has the potential to become a real hero (heroine?) to female rock musicians everywhere.

Straight after that, we had more youngsters, the three Japanese teens who along with several masked and gowned musicians form the very weird Babymetal. We reported on them here – this was very odd stuff, super choreographed dance moves from the girls in front of speed death metal, played with great skill and panache, you had to say. The biggest crowd for any Main Stage opening act I've seen over the years too.

Leaving Babymetal quickly, Nothing But Thieves were our first “band of the day”. Their big rock sound, with echoes of Muse before they went a bit odd, Queen when they were doing rock, and Radiohead at their more tuneful, topped by the amazing voice of Conor Mason – truly one of the best rock vocalists around - made for an excellent set. Album out later this year, it’s on the list!

And that sums up the beauty of Reading. Within an hour of arriving, we had seen those three bands, each fascinating in their own way, and none of whom we would have contemplated going to see individually. (And clashing with Nothing But Thieves, our sources tell us Walking on Cars were excellent too – “a lovely voice, I would pay to hear him read audio books” said daughter!)

Two years ago Catfish and the Bottlemen played to 50 people at the Festival on the BBC Introducing stage. Now, the 10,000 capacity NME tent was filled to bursting for them, (with impressive light-show; see not very impressive picture), and a very high proportion appeared to know the words to pretty much every song! Van McCann looked very much at home on the big stage; which was not the case for Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice. Whilst their set was another highlight, with songs from the excellent debut album that feel well suited to big venues, she was not very communicative and took some time to get into any sort of audience engagement. Nerves perhaps? But they sound like a future mega-act anyway.

Last year, Circa Waves did a good but not great set in the Festival Republic tent, but this year they stepped up to the NME stage and got a great reception with a set of chirpy, upbeat harmony indie-pop numbers that hark back to both the Mersey sound and Brit pop. Twin Atlantic was another highlight in the big tent –their audience engagement can’t be faulted and they’re undoubtedly stepped up to the premier league of British rock bands.

Other highlights were Spector, with the sardonic , dark songs from the new album sounding good, San Fermin – fascinating, complex songs and instrumentation (but started late so I only heard two songs – get yourselves organised guys!), Blossoms, Slaves (a huge crowd for them) Lucy Rose (who provided a lovely, calming Metallica alternative), Wombats and Neon Waltz. Only caught a couple of songs from Area 52 and John Joseph Brill on the Introducing stage, but both sounded worth checking out later.

Now to the main stage. The disappointment for me was Royal Blood. Love the album, loved them here last year in the big tent, but their limitations were exposed on yesterday. As a duo, the lack of variety and just physical “stuff to watch” was lacking, and there was too much padding between songs. Their debut album is only 33 minutes long, and they just did not seem to have enough material to fill the hour. The killer songs still sounded great but it just never took off as a set.

What can you say about headliners Metallica? Criticising them would be like criticising the Himalayas. Massive, eternal, unmoving, awe-inspiring, and covered in snow (well, maybe not that one). I find it all a little unemotional but also very impressive, they are incredible musicians, but the novelty of having a group of fans in a section behind the stage worked well and the lighting was brilliant – during the first song it looked like the whole stage was in flames. I’d be lying if I said I watched even most of the set, but very few people left early, always a sign of success.

And so, off we go again for Sunday. It’s going to be a muddy one today after last night’s rain!

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