Most people make sure they go on holiday once a year at the very least but for me, I go to Reading Festival: Reading is my holiday. The first time I ever set foot on the festival site was back in 2000; a year that was so great, nothing after that would keep me away. Having just received my GCSE results combined with the fact that drinking was still a novelty as well as escaping a weekend from the parents meant that the festival was already in itself, set up to be an unforgettable experience; one that I would return to five years consecutively.
That was until this year when I ended up going to Leeds, what’s always been known to me as the “lesser half” of the Carling Weekend. It has to be said that it took quite some time to come to terms with the fact that I would not be returning to my home of rock where I would bump into other ‘Reading Regulars’, wander into Reading town centre for a scrumptious fry up at the Rainbow Cafe or get caught up in the debauchery and drunken shenanigans of the Yellow Campsite.
Feeling like an old fart stuck in the mud with the comfort of familiarity having been snatched away, right from under my nose, I was determined to still have a good time so I kept myself free of expectations.
The drive up to Leeds was a long one – roughly five hours from London with the odd stretch your legs, service station-toilet break here and there but was pleasantly surprised to get into Leeds and actually feel like we were out in the countryside. Unlike Reading, which sits behind a busy road, it felt good to be away from the chaos of London and to have a change of scene.
Thursday night at this festival is one of my favourite, most looked forward to nights of the year because there’s just this immense, overwhelming feeling of everyone having left all their inhibitions at the door for what will truly be a wild, hard partying weekend, so I was pleased to arrive in Leeds and sense that the party had already started.
The extra money spent on the train fare up to Leeds is certainly worth it because there seems to be a lot more to do here compared to Reading. For a start, Reading doesn’t have its own campsite bar. How cool is that? A bar right in the campsite for hours upon hours of drinking, which ultimately, is what we’re all here for – as well as a few bands of course! Opposite the bar is the Oxfam Tent, which has some top tunes blasting through the night till 2am. Packed full to the brim, we spent a good part of the night dancing away with 400 hundred festival party hungry festival-goers in what was the place to be for Thursday night Leeds.
Something I did not expect to see at all was a fun fair. Ok, so it was only bumper cars and a ferris wheel but none the less, this is another feature that Reading doesn’t have. This and the fact that the arena is open on the Thursday night leaving us free to wander down to the front of the stage where in less than 24 hours thousands of fans will be squashed up against the barriers behind thousands more beer guzzling moshers, loving every minute of seeing their favourite bands.
An extra stage will always work in Leeds’ favour if you’re looking for value for money from a festival with the Lee Sounds Unsigned Stage. Featured throughout the weekend on all three days, the stage showcased the best unsigned talent around and this was certainly apparent when in a rush on the Friday, I dashed past the odd, pointy looking stage only to be caught mid-stride as my ears drew me like magnets to a fridge right into the gathered crowd of onlookers. This band that quite frankly should have been playing on a bigger stage were a fine example of the calibre of act that you could expect to see on such a stage. I think, so far, that makes it 4-0 to Leeds.
On the downside, the site layout isn’t as good as Reading, which is where Reading can finally make it off the mark and score a point. Walking into the arena towards the main stage, we pass the four other stages enabling us to pop our heads in and see if we’re missing anything before passing the outskirts, which are lined with food stalls. It’s all so convenient at Reading whereas at Leeds, the site is hilly, awkward and tiresome with stages placed too close together (Dance Stage and NME/Radio 1 Stage) and too far away from the main stage (Carling Stage).
The one thing that both sites do share are the crazy people that you come across in the sociable, open atmosphere that is the Carling Weekend. All feelings of weariness from Leeds’ notorious riots were banished over the four days as I realised that this crowd are just the same as the good old Reading crew, just in a different part of the country and with Northern accents! Leaving the festival on a high after seeing my favourite band, I think it’s safe to say that it’s likely that I will be returning to Leeds next year. Without a doubt, a visit to Reading’s Northern sister is well worth it just for the experience and who knows; you might go from being a ‘Reading Regular’ to a ‘Leeds Lover’!