‘Stop trying to give me things!”
That’s my son shouting. Having reluctantly accepted a toilet roll, but drawn the line at a tin of sardines..
‘Well just be careful..” That’s me, trying to give fatherly advice that I’m sure doesn’t even go in one ear..
” And don’t do anything stupid..”. Me again. What else can you say? You just hope they’ll stay out of trouble, don’t you? The teen leaves. Off to the Reading Festival 2014, with his mate. Four days away from home, camping in a field. It’s a big milestone. His first festival. Don’t do anything stupid. This time it’s my mum, saying it to me, years ago..
..I close the Youtube page. I’d been playing the boy a Hozier track. I saw him at Glastonbury this year on telly, and I thought the boy might like him. But ‘dad’s choice’ went down about as well as the sardines. I open my Facebook page. They are in there somewhere, amongst my 695 ‘friends’, those folk that I haven’t seen in person for years, but sometimes read their posts and pass the odd comment..
1979, six of us crammed into a 4-man tent..
Wow, was that really thirty-five years ago?. You see, Reading was my first festival too. And it’s nice that I’m still in occasional contact with most of those that I shared that overcrowded tent with in 1979. I’ve told the teen about it. I think he was listening, you can’t always be sure can you? Don’t do anything stupid..
The 1st Reading
There was me and my best mate Stuart, travelling down from Sheffield to Reading on the train. Excited as all hell. We had ‘the suitcase’ of course. And we were meeting our mates, Andy Mac and Ian, there. It felt like a big adventure. Like Stand By Me for older lads, but without the dead body. Although we would stumble upon quite a few comatose casualties before the weekend was out..
Here we were at, ta da!- Reading Rock ’79. – The 19th Jazz, Blues and Rock Festival, proclaimed the poster. The year previously, the organisers had tried to shuck the festival’s heavy rock image by encompassing the spirit of punk.. They’d had Sham 69 and The Tom Robinson Band. But by all accounts it was mayhem on the Friday when there was a load of aggro from skinheads turning up for Sham 69. So this year they were playing safer with a mix of heavy rock and ‘new wave’. Friday headliners were The Police, Saturday headliners were supposed to be Thin Lizzy but we heard they’d pulled out. Ditto one of Sunday’s big draws, The Ramones. Sadly these were not rumours and the bill was hastily revised, so we got The Scorpions headlining Saturday and Nils Lofgren instead of The Ramones. But to be honest, it wasn’t really about the music for us. It was about being away and having a laugh. And of course, we always had ‘the suitcase’..
There were some choice band names on the poster that year. Bite The Pillow, Molly Hatchet and the charmingly named, Little Bo Bitch.. balanced out by bands like The Members who brightened up the Sunday afternoon, The Tourists, The Jags, The Speedometers and bands of that ilk. And the uniting factor, Motorhead. Everybody loved Motorhead..
There were quite a few scary looking bikers around the site ( me and Stuart nicknamed them ‘The Unsaves’, short for ‘Unsavouries’ ) And I remember on the first morning, taking my nice, clean white towel off to the washing facility, such as it was, laying it neatly out on the grass whilst awaiting my turn at the water pump. At which point a hairy, leather jacketed ‘Unsave’ roared past on his bike, leaving in his wake a zebra crossing, or rather, my freshly laundered towel, now striped with a greasy black tyre mark down the middle. Things deteriorated quite quickly in the washing and ablutions department and in no time, the’ official toilets’ became a cesspit, a stinking horror-show of a place that had a remarkable effect on my system, in that my digestive system went on lockdown. Didn’t even feel like a poo for three days. The body is remarkably adaptable when you’re young.
Later on the Saturday afternoon I thought The Ramones must be playing after all, as wasn’t that Joey right over there? Hang on, he seemed to be waving at us. Turned out it was the drummer of a local Sheffield band that we all knew, who was a Joey Ramone clone. He and his girlfriend (who would go on to enjoy a breif solo pop career in the early 90’s) had come down without a tent and had stayed in a communal ligger’s tent the previous night. Imagine that, a free for all space for those with nowhere to sleep. Sounds great eh? Wrong!. Please, they implored us, let us squeeze into your 4-man tent. The desperation on their faces at the prospect of ‘another night in the Nam of Reading, was enough to sway us, and so, in with us they did indeed squeeze..
But the drummer did not expect to be given his board free. No, because that night, with the all-around-sounds of Unsaves, lolloping and crashing drunkenly back to, and falling over, their tents, our Ramonesque lodger produced something naughty. Again, I recall Stand By Me, and that scene where they all sit around their campfire, shooting the breeze. Well, in our case, we sat around, wait for it – smoking a joint! Yes, I had my very first ever puff on a cannabis cigarette that night. Even as that first floaty feeling began to wash over me I remember thinking, So I go to a rock festival for the first time and end up trying drugs. How predicatable. Yes, I had gone and actually – done something stupid. There was a worrying moment later when some police,( and I don’t mean Sting and Andy Sumner out for an evening lollop), shone a torch on our tent. I thought, that’s it, arrested for drugs after my first ever smoke. My mum will go ape-shit. Turned out they were just checking because there had been a lot of tent-theft around. I instinctively looked for the suitcase, ah, good, still there..
And in no time, it was the final night, and whilst Whitesnake snake-hipped around the main stage, we six had a last wander, a stoned jaunt around the site. I took in this fascinating, slightly askew and slowed down world. A fire-eater spewing out petrol in an arc, the ever-present smell of incense, Bad quality Reading Rocks 79 T-shirts on sale everywhere. I didn’t buy one. But the little clip-on wristband that they gave you when you arrived, that was none transferable, ie: if you snapped it off, it wouldn’t re-fasten; I kept that on for about a week after I got back to Sheffield. Staring at it whilst having my first welcome hot bath..(shortly after my first welcome back poo…)
The 2nd Reading
I never went back to Reading as a punter. But in 1992, some 14 years after that first festival foray, I returned, this time as a comedian playing in the comedy tent. I was now living in London and had not been in contact with any of my festival-cohorts of yesteryear for, well, years. I was quite excited to go back though and evoke those memories. Getting stoned for the very first time. Ah, bless..
The first thing that struck me when I arrived was the size. It must be smaller than it was back in 79, surely? But after asking around, I was assured that the site was as it had always been. In my memory, the Reading Rock of old seemed massive, almost the size of Glastonbury. This time I walked around the whole site in about 20 minutes. And nary a hairy unsave in sight. I was 32, but felt rather old. It was like a youth club in a field. But the gig went well, but I didn’t stay over as I was only there for one night. There were other comics who took advantage of the free pass to stay all weekend, but I didn’t fancy it. I left just as Public Enemy came on. Big fan though I was, this seemed a bit odd. I hadn’t seen one black person all day. As I strolled across the grass in the dark, to the car I was getting a lift home in, I heard from the stage ”Suck Public Enemy’s dick!” There was an appreciative roar from the white kids..
The 3rd Reading
The following year, 93, I returned again, this time not thinking much about it beyond it being a festival gig, which could be hard work, depending on where you were on the bill, who you follwed, who was on the main stage etc. I don’t remember the comedy gig tbh, The poster says Eddie Izzard headlined. I took my neighbour, who was chuffed to get in on the guest list. Apparently the comedy tent blew away on one of the other nights..
The 4th Reading
After a 6 year gap, I was back again. The poster for that year doesn’t even have the comedy tent performers listed. And in fact, the only reason I know I was there is because that was the year Terrorvision performed on the main stage. The comedy tent had been moved that year too, and was some distance, but directly opposite the main stage. I distinctly recall going onstage and a wall of sound from Terrorvision rolling over me. It was a peculiar experience. The comedy tent was packed but I could hardly hear myself speak. The natural was inclination was to shout but that was unnecessary as the crowd could all hear very well, they being facing away from Terrorvision with our P.A. facing them. So I could see their laughter, but not really hear it. Or maybe it was just that there was some very strong gear going around the festival that year, and they were all just happy-stoned, and doing something stupid..
I do hope the boy is having a blast, but I hope he wasn’t as stupid as we were in 79. And I don’t mean taking illegal drugs, or buying over-priced T-Shirts, or overstuffing his tent with liggers, or any manner of larky teenage funstuff. No, I mean, like the stupid thing me and my best mate Stuart did. With the suitcase. You see, once we’d procured our Reading Rock 79 tickets, we then heard that you would pay an arm and a leg for booze on the festival site. So we took Stuart’s suitcase, a humongous, oblong, old fashioned great trunk of a thing, and filled it with cans of Stella Artois. It had no wheels. We lugged a ton weight suitcase full of canned lager to a rock festival. Now that is stupid..
And that’s that. My four Readings. What? Oh yes, the funeral. Well, look, it was a long time ago that first festival. There have been a lot of related funerals over the 35 years. For instance, several members of Molly Hatchet, who played that year, or, all of The Ramones, who didn’t. ( I never did get to see them live) Then there was my old mum, who once said to me, just as I did to my boy, Don’t do anything stupid.. No, I’m thinking of another demise..
I said at the start of this, that, via FB, I still kept in touch occasionally with most of my mates from that crammed tent? Yes, there’s Andy Mac, and Ian, and even the Sheffield drummer , who’s still making some very innovative music. (Not sure what happened to his old GF though, after her brief pop career..). But the funeral in this story, is one that I found out about 3 year’s back after it had already been done and dusted. My best mate Stuart. I got a call from my sister up North, telling mm she head Stuart had a a heart attack and died. Aged 53. Although I hadn’t spoken to him for many years, I always thought we’d meet up again. We’d go over all our escapades and Reading would be sure to come up. We’d reminisce and laugh hard. Remember that bloody stupid suitcase? we’d say..that was your idea..Really? I thought it was yours..
My phone beeps and it’s a text from my son, saying he got there ok. Good. Enjoy it. xx – I reply, thinking, I bet he’s glad of that bog roll..