Sunday, 30 August 2009

Round-Up: Reading Festival 2009

August Bank Holiday weekend is the traditional date of the Reading Festival when tens of thousands of visitors descend on the town in the single biggest cultural and commercial event in the local calendar.

Accordingly the statporn is recited in timely tradition: in "five days, more than 230 artists will perform, 10,000 cars will be parked on site, 50,000 burgers will be sold, 600 tonnes of rubbish will be collected and 4,000 members of staff will be working hard to get the festival up and running."

2009 was no village affair, with an equally massive response generated online.


Natalie Slater got the plum job of marking the schedule and watching the headliners. She "eagerly anticipated" the return of Kings Of Leon following their 'superb performances in 2005 and 2007', but was sceptical about Arctic Monkeys after they returned from a 'legendary' set on the NME Stage in 2005 with an 'over-confident' effort on the main stage the next year.

However it is Radiohead on Sunday which is the main event for her. They have a "history of awe-inspiring festival performances," she cooed. Their experimental style guarantees they "always give you what you least expect" - excitement and trepidation combine in equal measure to form an undeniably explosive mix.

Reading Post also provided a guide of 'unknown' bands to watch out for which included Bombay Bicycle Club, Sweethead, Golden Silvers, Magistrates and Chase and Status. Marina and the Diamonds were favoured with an interview feature.

But it's not just about the famous and the wannabes. The Alternative Stage offers a vibrant mix of 'comedy, poetry, film, lectures, political debate and party games' giving anyone with even the most far out tastes something to suit their mood.

Meanwhile Maxwell Kusi Obodum trailed Ellen and the Escapades (whose bassist hails from Henley). The band gained their booking as one of 29 groups recommended after playing regional BBC Introducing shows. Singer Ellen Smith gushed "Great bands come to Reading every year so it's been good to be playing alongside them."

BBC DJ Huw Stephens, said
"I thought the line up was exciting and the music was of a really high quality this year. Reading is a real music fans' festival and it's been very special for all the bands to be playing in front of a large audience."
Elsewhere Ben Graham is an old hand at festival-going, but this will be his first experience of Thames-side jiggery (but less of the pokery - you can get too old for that sort of thing). He was particularly looking forward to Placebo.

Cllr Warren Swaine got goosepimples at the thought of The Horrors. Placebo, Kaiser Chiefs, White Lies and Glasvegas also stand up high on his list of 'must see' bands. He's clearly happy to take advantage of his complementary tickets - which means he no longer has to blag his way in!

It is with particularly relish that he records the Telegraph's description of the jamboree as "all about the music, and not much else. It is an utilitarian operation, which simply delivers the best bands across one weekend, without the idealistic claptrap [of Glastonbury]."


The Daily Star's James Cabooter agreed with Cllr Swaine's appraisal, stating that "For festival purists it’s hard not to appreciate Reading’s no-nonsense approach to having a bloody good time."

A kindred spirit, clearly, who was also thrilled by The Horrors, but was blown away by The Prodigy.

Reading's notorious reputation as a demanding crowd meant that the lack of a 'heritage' band in the top slot with well-established credentials and who could guarantee a pure celebration of the music left the impression it was more pop than rock, at least according to Amber Cowan of the Evening Standard.

The controversial flag ban also left some feeling this years event downgraded the live experience as it was tailored more towards catering to a multimedia audience. The 20ft plasma screens can't have helped either.

The Guardian makes a short video montage to cater for their readership's expected highlights and the extravagantly named Rosie Swash and Tim Jonze provide separate reviews of 'Day One', 'Day Two' and 'Day Three' - almost as though they'd planned for it like a military campaign!

In contrast to previous years when campers have experienced rain and swamp-like conditions, this year's event was marked by gusty winds. Organisers attempted to defend the sound quality, but the issue was apparently more about the low volume.

The Arctic Monkeys got a frosty response for their 'unfriendly attitude', while the Kings Of Leon grew frustrated with the lack of audience participation as the elements conspired against their set.

This cleared the way for bands with a more distinctive sound to steal the limelight and plaudits - The Prodigy and Radiohead went down a storm with the punters.

Inside in the tents Le Roux tore up the Festival Republic stage with a set which attacted an overspill crowd.

But most of the buzz surrounded Oxford-based indie supergroup Radiohead, who wrong-footed many onlookers with a jazz formation and a short cover of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah's 'Maps' as they approached their own finale.

Radiohead's 'triumphant' 2-hour set included some rarely played favorites from their early albums (such as 'Creep' and 'Street Spirit'), providing a fitting climax after the disappointment suffered by the headliners on Friday and Saturday night.

Jess Grant gives further extensive reviews over at There Goes The Fear.

Meanwhile punk quartet Sixty Watt Bayonets kept the local flag flying (despite that fan flag ban) as the only Berkshire band in the lineup.

On Another Planet

Sleb-spotters weren't left disappointed as Rupert Grint provided a highly visible contrast to Daniel Radcliffe (who cloaked himself in the invisibility of the crowds).

But the oddest occurence of the year must have been to hear Faith No More play a rendition of the Eastenders theme tune - my eardrums are still bleeding!

Local commentators didn't restrict themselves either, as they were more than prepared to hitch their blogs to the band-wagon even without attending.

Adrian Windisch showed he belongs with the the grey brigade by concentrating on advising attendees how to avoid causing residents problems with traffic hold-ups - clearly he isn't a fan and didn't buy tickets or he would have been enthusing about the newly abundant recycling points which meant it took a "little longer than usual to look like an apocalyptic wasteland" (Amber Cowan).

But nevertheless he will have been pleased at the use of a temporary footbridge over the Thames to enable easier access for revellers.

Reading Post's Linda Fort also worries more about toilet rolls more than the music these days - she was able to reminisce about watching Led Zepellin in the 70's without even mentioning John Paul Jones' appearance as a member of special guest band Them Crooked Vultures.

The main focus of the news media's attention however, was inevitably on the attendant levels of crime experienced at the festival.

When 85,000 people are gathered together in such close confinement there will always be some reflection of general society in the crowd, so taxpayers and law & order advocates will be pleased that reported crime fell.

BBC recorded 61 arrests made in connection with 279 incidents (compared with 294 in 2008). Chief Inspector Les Stone was relatively pleased with the way things had gone, stating:

"There was some public orders instances on the campsites but there were no serious crimes or significant incidents."

"Overall, we are pleased with how the festival has gone. The crime levels are in line with last year's festival and it has been a largely good natured event. I'm really pleased with the joint working between ourselves, British Transport Police and the festival's security teams and I think that Reading Borough Council's traffic management in the build up to the festival was excellent."

Perhaps the public should be thankful for the dourness of on-duty officers!

And Finally...

...after it has all passed and you realise to your amazement you've survived the experience you're able to look at Reading in a new way and look forward in a positive mood - at least until you realise there's only another 12 months until the next one...


Update: Paul Robins grudgingly praises the event, despite the fashion statements on view, the prices charged by on-site vendors and various other incidents, saying "you can't scoff at genius, can you?"

And here's the view from the boaters on the Thames.


More Reading Festival coverage.


  1. Another great summary, thanks OP, I didn't go but saw some of it on TV, I didn't pick up the Kings of Leon vibe (maybe it was edited down?).

    Another factoid for you, a mate of mine supplies Reading festival with pies, he told me that this year was a record at 1.2 tons of meat & veg pastries (wow!) imagine the baked beans you'd need to go with that lot!

  2. Don't tell anyone, but I think I know who ate them all!

  3. Thanks, Steve.

    What kind of music are you into? How do you think the event could be improved?

  4. OP, I like most things but tend to obsessively listen to a particular thing for a bit then move on, Kings of Leon on repeat-all at the mo.

    Improvements - ban young people for a start, then us miserable old gits who incessantly bang on about seeing Led Zep live, wouldn't feel so decrepit (and fat) :)


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