I went to Reading Festival this weekend. I've been going virtually every year since my first time in 1989, apart from when I got banned, which is a long story (yes, I really am that old and yes, I really did get banned).
And you know what? It was still absolutely brilliant. Despite all the moaning that festivals aren't what they used to be, there are too many nowadays, Reading's line up wasn't great this year and that it's only for kids, yadda yadda. Well pants to that, it was fantastic.
The amazing thing about Reading is that it's still just for music fans. There are no distractions from the meat and potatoes of live music - just tents and stages with bands playing. No banquet halls, no jugglers, no five pound pints of peas in the pod as a bar snack (hello Wilderness!) no art, no anything apart from musicians giving their all under canvas or the rain that the relentless British summertime always seems to bring.
There's a minimalist beauty to it. While so many other festivals have transformed and mutated over the years to pursue the more mercurial fairweather al fresco music lover with ever-increasing bells and whistles (and ie Secret Garden Party is incredible and my absolute favourite as a result), Reading is resolute. Bands. Booze. The weather. That's it.
A history lesson. The first year I went to Reading - tie dye skirt, hair sticking up every which way and cadet boots with flowers painted on - the headliners were New Order, The Pogues and The Mission. It was when the event had tried to distance itself from being the Reading Rock Festival, which the year before had seen Bonnie Tyler leave the main stage after being assaulted with a hail of bottles filled with piss. As much fun as I'm sure that was (though not for Bonnie) Reading was reinvented for good reason and for that, I am ever grateful, as being the all-genre music lover that I am, but with a particular passion for that of a more indie/alternative flavour, I suddenly had a place to make pilgrimage.
The headliners in 1989 tell a tale of a music scene that was arguably less monotone than nowadays, where indie fans, dance heads, goths and punk Irish folk sorts could happily live side by side. Further down the bill reveals even more.
Just looking at the main stage (and I saw most of these acts) the musical bounty is epic. Spacemen 3! Sugarcubes! My Bloody Valentine! The House of Love! The Wonderstuff! Pop Will Eat Itself! Loop! Jesus Jones!
Then uh, okay, New Model Army, The Men They Couldn't Hang, The Mighty Lemon Drops, Tack Head and more. All great acts in their time to be fair. And all on one bill together. It led to being one of the best weekends of my life. So I kept going afterwards, year after year, and Reading Festival was always ace.
There are so many tales.
One year, I got flooded out of my tent after one night but stayed up the whole weekend as I had to see Nirvana headline the Sunday (it turned out to be their last, legendary UK gig, and was the one where Kurt was wheeled out in a wheelchair). There was the Sisters Of Mercy doing a cover of 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore' (I am sure I didn't hallucinate this), Public Enemy complete with a set of terrifying backing dancers, a dreadful Stone Roses made worse with go-go dancers and Inspiral Carpets with a troupe of cheerleaders and a pantomime cow. Daphne and Celeste being pelted with everything from frozen chickens to a man in a disability scooter (I was at the side of the stage for that) to Donita from L7 throwing out a used tampon into the crowd mid gig. Slipknot licking my face pre-show, Dave Grohl giving me a hug backstage, Noel Gallagher telling me I knew what Oasis were doing before he did, back when I was a music journalist. SO. MUCH. FUN.
I also did a club night at Reading for a few years in the nearby Rivermead Centre to keep the after-hours party going once the bands had finished on the main site. The year our room trounced the very amazing Wall of Sound in the room next door is one of the proudest moments of my life.
Reading was just always the most fun you could have in three days if you loved music.
And if you look at this weekend's Reading bill (and Leeds of course as it's now a twin-header) it's not that different. It's still pretty much the same mix of indie, alternative, metal and dance with a wealth of different genres to choose from. If I hadn't been seeing Metallica, I totally would have loved Azealia Banks headline the Radio 1xtra Stage for example.
Of the bands I saw on the Saturday (I could only go for one day this year), Wolf Alice were mesmerizingly amazing, Royal Blood a revelation live (their drummer Benji put in the performance of the day and is my new crush) Reading veterans Ash were incredible as ever, and well, Metallica were awesome. What else did you expect? Yes, the majority of the festival-goers are youngsters, but there were still plenty of us 40-somethings around, and even 50 and 60-somethings. And what I love so much too, all the stages etc are still where they were 20 plus years ago. Bar the introduction of some cocktail bars (heavens) and a few extra tents for even more great music, nothing has changed at all at Reading really. Because it doesn't need to.
And if it goes on for another 20-plus years, I'll probably still be going. Reading Festival? It still rocks.