READING FESTIVAL: tales from the 1970s.
Rain, mud, collapsing tents and prog rock
» Reading Festival 1975
» Reading Festival 1977
On the way to Reading Festival with a load of chums. Check out my stylish all-denim outfit and aviator shades! And look at all the hair!
READING 1975 My first festival!
Hitching down from Cardiff on the Thursday morning with a school chum, we arrived on site gloriously unprepared, with very little money, no food and only the bare minimum of warm clothing and equipment.
Despite the appalling weather the week before, we'd brought an astonishingly crap tent with us - so crap in fact that it didn't even have any poles. We tried to erect the thing using bits of wood found around the town but soon gave up and resigned ourselves to sleeping in the rather scary communal 'crash tent'.
This was a large marquee made available to tent-less travellers and was not for the feint hearted.
Large, dark and emitting an unpleasant odour, we ventured in and claimed what looked like a safe spot, not far from the door.
Our first evening there was awful. The tent quickly filled with rambunctious drunks, shouting, snarling, swearing and loudly imploring sleepers to sing along to their drunken caterwauling.
In-between the alcoholic howling could be heard the strange outbursts of deeply troubled acid trippers, some of whom would occasionally roll over our sleeping bags, cackling to themselves. Sleep was going to be in very short supply.
NME advert for the Reading Festival.
On the Friday, we woke feeling like shit. Overnight, the tent had filled with some of the most noxious smells known to mankind and a low yellow fug hovered over the snoring sleepers.
We got up early, grabbed the cheapest breakfast we could find and settled down for the day's entertainment.
We watched 'Stella' get canned off stage, followed by an afternoon of the likes of Judas Priest, Kokomo, Wally, UFO, Dr Feelgood and Hawkwind. My rather spoddy festival diary 'scored' each band with Dr Feelgood coming in on top with an impressive 9.5/10 - so I had some taste in those days!
Being sixteen years old, all day drinking seemed like a fine activity, so we wolfed down voluminous amounts of cheap beer, Party Sevens and Bulmer's cider. I was sick later.
When we staggered back to the crash tent we realised that space was now at a premium. The hippies had doubled in number and I suffered an uncomfortable night wedged in tight between two great-coated fart machines. And someone had stolen my watch.
Saturday offered a mixed bag of bands, most of them long forgotten: Zzebra, Snafu, Babe Ruth, Kursaal Flyers, the excellent Heavy Metal Kids, Alan Stivell, Supertramp and pomp-tastic prog rock monsters, Yes.
After the (ahem) excitement of Supertramp, things took a turn for the worse as the heavens opened and the place turned very wet. And very muddy.
When we got back to the Crash Tent we realised that the roof had developed a huge great hole - right above our gear. Our bags were wide open and floating in a mini-lagoon.
Somehow our clothes had ended up being liberally scatted under hordes of sleeping hippies and dribbling alcoholics and it took us ages to reassemble our stuff.
By this time, there wasn't a scrap of sleeping space to be found, so we ended up wading through the gloopy mud outside in search of somewhere dry to sleep - eventually huddling underneath a dripping speaker scaffold.
On Sunday things didn't look too good. I was soaked through to the skin and had only managed to grab about an hour's sleep. I had no dry clothes left and I'd run out of money.
Happily, there were still bands galore to be enjoyed so I secured a relatively mud-free spot for the day and settled down to watch Joan Armatrading, Jack the Lad, String Driven Thing, Caravan, Climax Blues Band, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Robin Trower, Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoia and Wishbone Ash.
My diary records that the Albertos and Caravan were my personal faves for the day.
Later that night we were entertained by some drunk hopelessly trying to steal people's tents before we settled down for another uncomfortable night under the scaffolding. Happily, it didn't rain, but it was freezing and we were covered in mud.
We slept so badly that we gave up trying at 5.30am and headed back to the motorway to start the long hitch home back to Cardiff - a process that ended up taking 36 long hours!
READING 1977 ('It's cold and it's wet and it's bloody miserable': NME)
Two years later and change was in the air.
I'd been working as a drummer in a covers band, playing some dire working mens clubs in the Welsh valleys, where songs weren't requested - they were demanded (think of the wire-covered stage in the Blues Brothers and you'll get the idea!).
But punk was happening and I was captivated. Ever since I'd heard the manic energy of the Sex Pistols blasting out of my Amstrad (ahem) 'hi fi' system, I'd realised that Eagles albums were never going to hold the same magic for me.
Punk seemed exciting, new and inclusive and the appeal of sliding about a muddy field with a bunch of old hippies was fading fast.
Reading Festival had been slow to react to the punk conflagration, with RAAAWK! still reigning supreme over the weekend.
So this proved to be my last festival for several years.
A month after Reading, I'd cut my hair, dumped my flares and moved to London with a punk band.
Then, as now, it was considered good form to customise your tent with a witty or eye catching flag. This design (hand drawn on one of my Mum's old bedsheets) was based on Tony Benyon's 'Lone Groover' cartoon character in New Musical Express. This time, I'd packed a decent tent!
Much denim around the campsite! The small bottle being proudly aloft held is the awful Gold Label Barley Wine - a drink more appreciated for its high alcoholic content than taste.
Southern Comfort was my tipple of choice for the festival, and I polished off several small bottles of the bourbon liqueur over the weekend. Here I am starting on a fresh bottle (and already acting like an arse).
Unhappily, an unfortunate incident involving a half pint of Southern Comfort and a trowel full of sick a few weeks later (don't ask) meant that I've never touched the stuff since.
A view of the festival crowd. I fancied the girl in top hat something rotten and spent some considerable time trying to woo her with my Welsh charms - not entirely unsuccessfully, I may add! :)
Friday's acts included hastily ejected 'punksters' Staa Marx, SALT, the dire U-Boat (led by Bowie's old drummer, Woody Woodmansey), Kingfish, Five Hand Reel, Lone Star, grizzled rockers Uriah Heep, The Rods and Golden Earring.
School friend Jon Evans slowly sinks into the muddy lagoon in front of the main stages.
Although punk was tearing apart the musical landscape of Britain, hippies, metalheads, greboes and spaceheads still ruled the roost at Reading. We spotted this lone, flare-free punk braving the long-haired masses.
Another view of the two main stages. Saturday's mixed bag of a line-up included Gloria Mundi, Krazy Kat, No Dice, George Hatcher Band, Ultravox!, Little River band, John Miles, Aerosmith, Graham Parker and the superb - and much-missed - Thin Lizzy.
Campsite and chums.
The time honoured 'double moon', bravely delivered from the safety of our tent. Heck, I bet a few of us crazy kids were even shouting 'Wally' around the site later too!
Bottle attack! It wasn't all peace and love at the festival. A cross-festival fight broke out, with salvos of bottle, cans (and, sometimes, piss filled containers) being exchanged. Hapless festival goers cowered under their coats as the missiles rained down.
Yours truly, looking more than a tad muddy. And most probably drunk.
Lying in the mud. Note the discarded 'Party Seven' can to the left and bin-liner legwear to the right.
Sunday's fare included the Motors, Tiger, Enid, Blue (not the shite boy band!), Racing Cars, Electric Chairs (canned off in minutes!), Hawkwind, Doobie Brothers, Frankie Miller and the highlight of my festival - the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
The mud seems to hold an inexplicable attractive to some festival goers and, sure enough, several people decided to partake in a mud bath over the weekend. Here's one guy diving straight in.
I assume drugs must have played a part in this mud wallowing as guy proceeded to slop around the mud while making strange noises.
A selection of muddy, festival-soiled footwear, featuring sensible wellies to the far left, wise waterproof hiking boots to the right and damn fool platform boots with plastic bag inserts closest to the camera. That'll be what I was wearing, then! Doh!
(Thanks to Paul Davies for the extra photos)
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