Hundreds of bands, thousands of fans and a flock of geese descend on Reading and Leeds for the biggest rock weekend of the year.
Excitement grows for the return of The Smashing Pumpkins – or Billy Corgan at least. With only two surviving members from the original lineup, you fear it could be awful. Fortunately it's incredible. Yes it's all about the self absorbed Corgan, his ego further swolen by the chants of 'Billy, Billy' rather than any mention of the Pumpkins, and he does nothing to dispell the myth when he tells the audience, "This is off my new album" before launching into 'Tarantula'. The classics 'Tonight Tonight' and 'Today' inevitably get the best reception but 'Heavy Metal Machine' is perhaps the most impressive, as the main stage speakers boom fiercer than they have all weekend. Corgan has a pop at a girl who flashes her breasts, reassuring her afterwards, "Don't worry, American girls are sluts too". And he's in good form throughout, telling the crowd he loves us and to look out for each other before closing with a riotous 'Cherub Rock'. A triumph for Corgan and co and yet another fantastic finale to Reading Festival, in what's been one of the best Carling Weekends in years.
Lost Prophets put on an impressive show on the main stage, the Welsh rockers sparking singalongs to their greatest hits. 'Standing On The Rooftops' really does have everyone singing their hearts out, as the song instructs. Nine Inch Nails follow with a stunning visual show as darkness falls but it washes over the young crowd who leave in droves to see the likes of CSS and Klaxons. Nu rave Nine Inch Nails are most definitely not.
It's a tough call between Seasick Steve on the Carling Stage and Gallows in the Lock Up. Having heard that Frank Gallows climbed the rigging to the top of the tent in Leeds on Friday, we decide he may not be around for much longer so plug for the punk sensations. Arriving just as 'Abandon Ship' comes to a dramatic close, it's obvious we're going to get nowhere close and depsite getting inside the tent it's far too quiet to do the band justice. At their Download performance the frontman called his mum on his mobile phone but now he’s called her onto the stage to give her a kiss. Then the guitarist from New Found Glory is onstage giving the singer a tattoo before the band launch into ‘Sick Of Being Sick’. As the band performs their final song Carter leaps into the crowd, as he’d done in Leeds yesterday, and scales up the main rigging in the centre of the tent. He then leaps back down and is lifted by fans back onto the stage. We quickly head over the bearded blues singer and stand awestruck as he makes an arena filling racket with a four-string guitar.
Kate Nash has just drawn a huge crowd at the Carling Stage at Reading. Surely a guilty pleasure for the legions of Sunday rockers, we reckon there were a lot of excuses made at around 6.15pm. "I'm just going to the toilet for, err, half an hour". She opens with ‘Mariella’ and soon after someone throws a pint at her. It hits the star in the stomach and she says: “Someone threw a beer at it hit me in my stomach and it’s winded me. In future if you want to throw something throw confetti.” Nash continues her set but people are climbing up the poles and the stage manager announces: “If anyone climbs up a pole we’ll have to stop until you climb back down again.” Her huge hit 'Foundations' is the penultimate song, prompting half the tent to leave as it chimes to an end, proving our theory right! Before she plays 'Merry Happy' Nash says: “This is my last song,” prompting boos from the crowd, to which she responds: “I hate it when this happens, don’t boo me.”
Having endured the odd bottling during their festival career, Fall Out Boy sacrifice one of their mates in the hope that the crowd will be persuaded to give them a break. Pete Wentz explains:
"People were asking us if we were nervous about playing Reading. We said no, because people here have always been really hospitable to us. But we don't want be hit in the head with a bottle, because that sucks, so we brought our friend here, and he's going to break a real beer bottle over his head." Called 'Dirty', their burly pal walks on stage and smashes a bottle over his head, slashing his nose in the process. He doesn't seem too bothered though and showed his ongoing support by dancing to the emo rockers' covers of Michael Jackson's 'Beat It' and Huey Lewis & The News' 'Power Of Love'.
The Maccabees just played a storming set at the Radio 1/NME Stage, which has been packed all day. Around 10,000 indie fans squeezed into the huge blue tent to see their Brighton based heroes, with mass singalongs greeting favourites like 'First Love' and 'X-Ray'. The band then whizzed over to the Nokia Rock Up & Play tent to field questions from fans, perhaps the most memorable being "Who masterbates the most when you're on tour?" Unsurprisingly, no one volunteered an answer.
Republic Of Loose are on cracking form in the Reading guest area. Having calmed down their infamous partying so they "can actually make some music", singer Mick tells us the Irish 9-piece are loving life on the road at the moment. However, having played two well received shows in the Carling Stage at Leeds and Reading they're now looking forward to returning home for some r&r.
The Radio 1/NME Stage compere is a right laugh. He jokes, "What noise does a nu-rave ghost make?' 'Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo…. aaaaaah' (to the sound of Klaxons' 'Golden Skans'). Hilarious. What noise does the stage compere make? Far too much.
We meet Maps (aka a bloke called James). He had a bit of a late night after bringing a wrestling belt and parading himself around the guest area like Hulk Hogan in a Slamdown contest. 'Let's Wrestle' is written up his arm in marker pen and he has no idea how it got there. Despite being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize he reckons Bat For Lashes will win – or should at least.
Gym Class Heroes are waking up Reading this morning on the main stage. They murder ‘Good Vibrations’ by The Beach Boys by losing any sense of harmony or melody the original captures. They’ve moved onto their biggest hit ‘Clothes Off’, which borrows heavily from Jermiane Stewart’s 1985 pop hit before playing ‘Cupid’s Chokehold’ which samples Supertramp’s ‘Breakfast In America’. It's not as fun as Goldie Lookin' Chain on a Sunday morning but it's as funky as this stage is going to be all day.
We chat to J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr in the guest area at Reading. He doesn't really chat back and the conversation – or lack of – gets a little awkward. Especially when we ask 'Have you got anything to say?' and he mumbles 'Yes'. There wasn't a dictaphone in sight and we were merely expressing our drunken delight at meeting a childhood hero. Award for the grumpiest man at Reading? After conspiring to have one of us kneel behind him as another pushes him over we realise it's maybe time to go to bed. Which we don't.
After finishing with ‘Give It Away’ the band are back for an encore which is actually another jamming session. But Flea is on trumpet. It looks like Arcade Fire have stolen the show tonight.
It’s heaving at Reading’s main stage for Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Americans have arrived on stage slightly late and begin with a jam before flowing into ‘Can’t Stop’. Anthony Kiedis has come in too early for the first line of the opener and jumping around in his usual 'look I don't do drugs and more but still love it' manner inadvertently steps on John Frusciante's pedals, bringing the whole performance to an awkward stopgap as the two glare at each other. It never really recovers from that; the sound is really quiet and the front rows are calling for it to be turned up while others nearer the back are booing. Beginning and ending almost every song with a self-indulgent jam, it gradually picks up with 'Snow', 'Dani California' and ‘By The Way’ among the highlights. Luckily for the band, ‘Californication’ prompts a mass-sing-along so those at the back can hear something.
We Are Scientists seem to have acquired a fourth member for their Reading gig when they take to the NME/Radio1 Tent. A second guitarist hides meekly at the side of the stage as the band pummel into ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Gets Hurt’. Once the track ends their lead singer, Keith Murray, jokes: “Reading started five minutes ago and ends in 35 minutes time.”
Arcade Fire have just closed with an anthemic ‘Wake Up’. The Canadians are as energetic as they are talented and the nine-piece have left Reading echoing the ‘Wake Up’ harmony long after they’ve left the stage.
Arcade Fire are absolutely euphoric on Reading’s main stage. Win Butler and co are playing possibly the set of the whole summer. They’ve opened with ‘Keep The Car Running’ before launching into some of their hits including ‘Funeral’ and ‘Rebellion (Lies)’.
We meet Hot Hot Heat who are big and hairy and extremely excited about headlining tonight's Carling Stage. They have vowed to take 7000 ecstacy tablets to round off the Carling Weekend. But that won't be until they've done the business in Leeds on Sunday.
We’ve grabbed some burgers and sheltered from the sunshine in Reading’s Alternative Stage to watch a bit of comedy. A heckler down the front is being bottled by the majority of the crowd after trying to outwit the comedian and failing miserably.
Bizzle is covering House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ but with his own lyrics. But he’s not over yet, the rapper is now playing ‘Pow (Forward)’ – the track they tried to ban.
Lethal Bizzle is unleashing one of the sets of the day so far. The Dance Arena is absolutely rammed and a legion of fans are still trying to get in. It’s so hot in here that the wafts of heat gushing from the tent are melting ice creams as quickly as they’ve been pulled. Lethal has just dropped ‘Bizzle Bizzle’ and the place has erupted.
Pigeon Detectives have just asked the crowd, "Have you all got hands?" Not exactly high brow this lot but their bouncy rock brings out the white van man in us all. Suddenly a lager and a kebab are very tempting. Talking of food, it's f**king rubbish here but that's about the only complaint of the weekend. The Leeds band sound great so other laddish pleasures will have to wait.
Flag watch in the Radio1/NME Tent. There's the obligatory blow up blond, the standard Spongebob, what looks like a trout, England, Scotland, but the winner is the inspired choice of a multi-coloured umbrella. It appears the blazing sunshine has failed to convince one sceptical festival goer.
The Shins’ are pumping out a sun-soaked set on Reading’s main stage. It’s probably the hottest it’s been all year and a crowd of sunburned faces are bobbing along to the American’s indie-pop. ‘Gone For Good’ is the trigger for men’s to take their tops off and ladies to scramble onto their boyfriend’s shoulders. 'Phantom Limb' for anthem of the summer?
In the Radio 1/NME tent Scroobius Pip is preaching to the masses with 'Thou Shalt Always Kill'. The irony of a packed crowd shouting the lyric 'think for yourself' in unison is sadly lost. Meanwhile a grown woman swears that she will never wash her hand again after the "fit one from Panic! At The Disco" touched it. Messed up place this festival.
Eagles of Death Metal cover the Stealer's Wheel classic, 'Stuck In The Middle With You' on Main Stage. It's a fitting tribute to the thousands of red-faced, sweating nutbags in front of them, all moulding into one huge ball of pogoing rock mush.
Good Shoes are rocking the Radio 1/NME tent, the shade seeking hordes caught up in their catchiness. Their bass player even has time to get the whole crowd to swear at his girlfriend, focusing all attention on "This girl here in the white t-shirt".
The Dead 60s leave the main stage after their reggae and ska infused tunes wake up the Reading crowd. Entering and departing the stage to a loud air raid siren the Liverpool lads thunder through tracks from their first album, including crowd pleaser ‘Riot Radio’, plus tunes from their wicked new record with future single 'Balls Of Steel' a noteable highlight. We meet singer Matt afterwards who tells us he's absolutely buzzing to be back. He looks like he may die of heat exhaustion though. We're tempted to go Ditto and strip to our pants.
Secret festival gigs under fake names seem to be the thing this year. Taking a leaf out of Foo Fighters' recent V Festival book, Kaiser Chiefs stunned the crowds at Leeds with a set under the name Hooks For Hands in the Radio 1/NME tent. The Leeds rogues put on a greatest hits half hour playing the half dozen or so chart hits they've had including 'I Predict A Riot' and 'Ruby'. The news spread like wildfire throughout the morning ensuring that the tent was three quarters full to greet the local favourites. Cue the chants of "Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire!"
So it’s down to Razorlight to bring the opening day of Reading to a close. Borrell has ditched his usual all-white get up for a grey top and dark suit. The band open with ‘In The Morning’ before skipping between tracks on their two albums. An energetic ‘Rip It Up’ is followed by indie ballad ‘Who Needs Love’. Borrell plays an acoustic version of ‘Fall Fall Fall’ before he’s joined by a string quartet for his Friends of the Earth recording ‘Funeral Blues’. The frontman then turns the air blue himself after their closer ‘Somewhere Else’ by shouting to the crowd: “Thank you so much you’ve been fucking amazing.” Day one of Reading has been ‘floody’ fantastic.
Jon has gone to bed. In his own tent this time though.
Kings of Leon absolutely steal the show. A massive crowd floods back from the main stage to see the brothers Followill growl through ‘On Call’ from ‘Because Of The Times’, classic ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and a riotous punk version of ‘Charmer’. It’s all kicking off here!
Jon has been spotted sleeping outside the Lock Up Tent. Is he drunk or are Mad Caddies that bad?We’re going for the former…
The sun falls as The Subways take to the stage. They get the crowd going with ‘Rock and Roll Queen’ before lead singer, Billy Lunn, launches himself into the Reading crowd and emerges topless.
Jon, our technical guy has gone AWOL. He was last seen looking for the cash point…
A healthy crowd gathers for Interpol at the main stage. The New Yorkers are all clad in black except drummer Sam Forgarino who is in pink. They are well received and they entertain the hot punters with hits, ‘Evil’, ‘The Heinrich Manoeuvre’ and their new single ‘Mamouth’ as the sun begins to set.
There’s a boy dressed as a cow outside the Nokia Rock Up and Play tent. “I’m hammered,” he tells us – just in case we hadn’t noticed. Went we asked him why he was dressed up he said: “If you dress like a dickhead then you don’t get treated like a dickhead". Quite.
Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly takes to the stage at Reading dressed like a substitute school teacher. The troubadour trundles through ‘The Chronicales of a Bohemian Teenager’ before hollering, “Shout out to the Southend crew.” You can take the boy out of Essex…
Up in Leeds Fall Out Boy cover ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ before launching into a medley of hip hop and dancehall covers. Are they ever going to do their own songs?
Clad in ‘Never mind the Reading, it’s Leeds’ t-shirt (an adaptation of the classic Sex Pistols’ design) Funeral for a Friend take to the main stage in Leeds. ‘This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak’ makes the first circle pit of the weekend.
Finally the tents are up and we’re inside just in time for The Gossip. Beth Ditto and co are ten minutes late and she seems she want to play catch up with her now mandatory stripping. Within the first minute her pink and black dress has become just a top and Ditto’s black knickers. The band hammer through their set including ‘Jealous Girls’ and ‘Listen Up’ before they finish with their beigest hit, ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ which prompts a mass sing-a-long. It also allows Ditto to strip down to her bra and knickers, put her bum to the crowd, bend down between her legs and give Reading the middle finger.
In a marvel of high tech determination, VF is submitting this blog entry whilst sprinting along the side of the river Thames, pushing a Tescos trolley piled full of tents and rucksacks in a desperate yet fruitless dash to catch openers The Pipettes (due to open the main stage)! We'd better re-cap…
After a straightforward car journey to Reading we arrived at the festival only to be directed by a mutant to the 'White Car Park' (kids, do not let them take you there at any cost!). It is the furthest place you can possibly be from the arena. In fact, it's on the other side of the river, so we had to wait 40 minutes to catch a ferry across (no joke). The crossing itself took about 30 seconds! The Tescos trolley we found on the other side was a god-send, though. Then things got even stranger as we found ourselves walking along the river bank with enormous, millionaire, waterfront mansions, complete with willow trees and private jetties, on one side and a big steel fence, keeping 75,000 crazy, muddy festival-goers at bay the other side! Our pace quickens as we strive to be on the dirty side of that fence… Oh and we get attacked by a flock of geese just to complete the journey.
We haven't quite made it there yet. We were meant to set off from London at around 9am but inevitably got way laid. An hour late isn't too bad. My housemate spent all of last night laughing at me hysterically after seeing pictures of the Reading Festival site, which as we know has already become part of the River Thames and is currently being churned into a mud swamp as thousands of eager campers stamp their wellies across it. It's a familiar tale. There have been few festival weekends this year that haven't threatened the dreaded M factor. Fortunately, this weekend promises something else too; lots of sun! Yes you heard right, almost uninterrupted rays. I say 'promises' as I can't actually see any of it yet, but saying that I can't see any mud either. It's probably a good idea to actually get to Reading and see what the score is.