As one of the UK’s most established festivals, The Reading Festival is not, as some overseas observers may assume, a place where noted authors gather with their literary chums to swap notes on the trickier passages of Ulysses and enjoy a bookish shindig.*
Indeed, some observers note that the only bookish types present are the waistcoat-clad ones headlining on Friday. Coming a couple of weeks after the release of A-Level results, The Reading Festival (or Reading/Leeds as we should call it) has become rather densely populated with 18 year olds all looking to let their (ridiculous looking) hair down after the stress of going through summer with nothing to do but waiting for their exam papers to be marked.
This year’s headliners are Mumford and his Sons, Metallica and The Libertines, and festival goers can hire luxury pods from £435 (plus ticket) or pre-erected tents with electric hook-ups to make sure they keep their phones charged and (for the boys) their hair straighteners powered.
It’s all a far cry from my first and only visit to Reading Rocks (as it was then known) as a seventeen year old in (oh dear I’m old) 1987. As a then veteran of no less than four outdoor gigs (Queen at Wembley, Marillion at Milton Keynes, Ozzy and then Bon Jovi at Donington) Reading was the obvious next choice, mainly because it was the only other heavy rock festival in the country (Glastonbury 1987 line up: Elvis Costello, Van Morrison and The Communards: a line up I’d pay to see now but which, in 1987 seemed distinctly lacking in long hair, squealing guitar solos and leather trousers. Except for the Communards, obviously, in the case of the latter item).
Let’s compare the two events in some Key Purchasing Criteria:
In 1987 I took a day ticket for £12.50, which in today’s prices, adjusted for inflation, is £24.58. I was young enough not to worry about getting back home from Reading to Essex before my last train. After all, I was going to see the mighty Quo! The least of my worries was the time of my last train.
I followed the Saturday morning herd of people from the train station to the festival site during The Quireboys set. Back then, acts would alternately perform on two main stages situated side by side so that one act could set up on one stage whilst a performance was taking place on the one next to it.
Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts followed Blues n Trouble and The Quireboys.
Dumpy’s were a cockney biker band – imagine if Lemmy had joined Chas and Dave – and their best song was “Boxhill or Bust (Riding Me Hog)” which refers to Box Hill in Surrey which was a popular place for bikers to attempt to outwit traffic police at a weekend, and which was later used for the London Olympic road cycling circuit. The song carried the refrain “Boxhill, Boxhill, ‘ere we come / I ain’t ‘appy ’til I’ve reached a ton”, and in many ways that tells you all you need to know about Dumpy’s. Glorious stuff.
I saw Dumpy’s perform the following year in Chelmsford. I phoned a friend at his place of work to invite him to come with me, but spoke to him for a good five minutes before realising the switchboard had put me through to somebody else – who had the same name as my friend. The stranger I had spoken to for five minutes was so polite and confused at being offered the chance to see “Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts” that I’m not sure he knew what to do. He may never have found out exactly who “Dumpy” was, or quite why his nuts were rusty, and least of all why they might be on display in Chelmsford, but I dare say stranger things have happened.
Dumpy’s filled a small Chelmsfordian hall with an enormous array of Marshall Stacks which they turned up to at least eleven, if not twelve. It was quite the loudest gig I ever witnessed, Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts at Chelmsford Chancellor Hall, a venue of little historic importance except that it once hosted a gig by The Clash supported by The Slits, and presumably then decided that it couldn’t top that and so never tried. You won’t find the Dumpy’s gig in the Guinness Book of Records but believe me it was loud.
Anyway, back to Reading.
On the bill:
- Terraplane – a band that morphed into Thunder with success a year or so later.
- MGM: Formed of all the good players that David Coverdale appeared to fire from Whitesnake for not being good looking enough when he decided he wanted to be an MTV star. At least, that’s how it seemed at the time. Bernie Marsden, Mel Galley, Micky Moody. I recall a set peppered with Whitesnake tunes and some new material which I’m not certain ever saw the light of day.
- Bad News: Perhaps the most memorable band of the day.
They were selling t-shirts proudly emblazoned with the slogan “I Saw Bad News F— Up At The Reading Festival” and as for the sheer volume of (plastic) bottles hurled at them by the crowd when they came onstage – a British rock festival tradition that Meatloaf, to mention just one performer, experienced more than once, well, it was a sight to behold. Ade Edmonson looked imperious as Vim Fuego (AKA Alan Metcalfe), and just took the abuse with a smile on his face. Their signature tune “Hey Hey Bad News” had a lovely call and response piece of audience participation, which, I suspect by design, was subverted by the crowd as follows:
Vim: “Hey Hey Bad News” (holds hand to ear for crowd response)
Crowd: “F— Off Bad News”…
The band, also featuring Rik Mayall, (Colin Grigson) Nigel Planer (Den Dennis) and Peter Richardson (Spider Webb) lapped it up.
To cap it all, Brian May joined the band on stage for an appalling version of Bohemian Rhapsody. At the time I thought that Brian May would never play with such a terrible band ever again.
How wrong can you be?**
Also on the bill, the only female act, Lee Aaron, plus Magnum (still going – there’s a great piece on Bob Catley in the Guardian via this link), The Georgia Satellites (their debut album still sounds great) and to end the day, headliners Status Quo.
Reading was a sea of blue denim and people doing that faintly odd dance, facing each other with their hands in their pockets as they roll their shoulders back and forth like a pair of denim-clad long haired Great Crested Grebes performing a mating ritual, which of course is exactly what that dance was.
* Pronunciation note: Reading, as in Otis.
** How was I to know there would be collaborations with Dappy from N-Dubz and ’90’s boy-band 5ive?