20 May 2010

Reading Festival '89 (Day One)

I only went to Reading once. Glastonbury was my thing. But a recent twitter torrent (well, a twitter twinkle) of nostalgia beans from various people about Reading 1990 kickstarted hardly ever dormant (i.e. formative) memories about Reading the year earlier... I found this and, well, the retroscending began....

This is why events unnerve me,
They find it all, a different story,
Notice whom for wheels are turning,
Turn again and turn towards this time

I mean, look at this bill (okay, the Sunday's a bit crap, except for The Pogues) and imagine you're a 17 year old slightly left of centre indie kid. The whole Industrial tangent aside, lots of my favourite bands came to Reading that year; the schoolyards of Yeovil were ablaze with rumours... Reading was going to be different this year, something had happened, the metallers had been defeated, we were taking over...

Obviously, all this has to be imagined through the gauze of Thunderbird (Tundy), Kestrel Super, Moroccan Black/Red Stripe(?), Autumn Gold Cider (for sophisticated afternoon drinking), Lambrusco screw cap wine - white n red = rose, badly rolled cigarettes (I smoked only for effect then, and the effect wasn't very impressive, it has to be said):

Well, I had Drill Yer Own Hole etc but, really, I was too excited about seeing Spacemen 3 to remember much about Gaye Bikers On Acid. They were probably okay. I can't remember them being much better than that. It didn't matter. It was a good background to drinking in preparation for the Spacemen.

Now, Spacemen 3 were a big deal in 1989. No, really. Their 'fucked up children' t-shirts were everywhere (I wasn't allowed to wear mine; my Mum disapproved and I sold it to a friend who didn't even come - wanker). Back home, we'd prepared for this by betting my mate's sister £2 that she couldn't mime the guitar all the way through Revolution... she forgot it changes just at the end and lost the bet. We had at least £2s of Tundy to play with, even before we'd got there.

What'd (you say you'd) find
Then come, come, come
Get the hell inside
You can close your eyes
Well you might as well commit suicide

They didn't play much from the then new album but we pushed down the front and waved floppy fringes into each others faces. Then they played Revolution and I tried to get my third eye opened, just to give it a bit of an airing...

My Bloody Valentine next. They'd just gone good. We were still a little cynical, to be fair; most of us had seen them in their jangle pop guise and, though we liked the new direction, we felt it wouldn't last...

It's not raining yet, but somebody is encased in mud and blood; more than one person looks like Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.

That Petrol Emotion? Nah. It's gone. I spent a little time arguing with t-shirt sellers instead. I'm not sure that the Swans t-shirt I was trying to buy was altogother there, it seemed strangely insubstantial, quite literally lacking in substance, in matter... "It's just the Tundy!", I hear you yelling but, believe me, this was a point of some various principle and, at 17 years thin, I had plenty of time to start the ethical ball rolling - the t-shirt seller had enough facial hair to throw me into doubt; I still possessed a pink cassette of The Pistol's Never Trust A Hippy and I just wasn't sure that this guy's pineal gland was entirely on the level...

I didn't buy the t-shirt. Convinced myself it would disappear anyway.

Picture stolen from Reading Museum

Tackhead were on, or rather not on. People were wondering around on stage but the sound was blown almost from the off. This has a huge disappointment; I'd dragged at least a couple of friends to the middle of the crowd with the promise of bodyshaking bass, cementer mixers thrown into the mix, collapsing new buildings, wraparound sound...

In a garden in the house of love
Sitting lonely on a plastic chair
The sun is cruel when he hides away

Instead, one of the Sugarhill Gang played a frankly mental guitar solo; sort of a bass line on the top strings and and a guitar line on the bottom. I can't remember the rest of the set, except that I strained my neck trying to see what Adrian Sherwood was doing.

Then Swans, rain, Swans. Immense. Barefoot Gira. Folk-sludge as heavy as hell. Rain. More rain. "Let it come down." An Invocation. Hair and feet. A wailing Jarboe. The air thick with... horsehair? I can't quite place that thickening... it's like being in Asia...

Thread worms on a string
Keeps spiders in her pocket
Collects fly wings in a jar
Scrubs horse flies
And pinches them on a line

There's no justice I can do to Swans. They were utterly intense. The sky's had to open, just to release the pressure. The Burning World album might have been regarded as a little lightweight at the time but on stage it's so... immense

The thing I remember most is that no one is talking. The field empties a little with the rain but those who stay, stay silent.

This was like bumping into Nietzsche in a Caspar David Friedrich painting and arguing about the structure of the world.

Some Of Us We Run From A Shapeless Form
And Some Men They Hide From A Howling Storm
Now I Will Wander Through The Falling Flames
And I Will Drown In The Burning Rain
Sha La La La La La La, Let It Come Down

This gig is one of reasons this blog got started, one of the reasons that I thought music was worth writing about - take a little trip back to the Dog Days of 2004.

I don't remember anything about The House of Love.

But hold on a second
I smell burning
And I see a change
Comin’ ‘round the bend
And I suggest to you
That it takes
Just five seconds

The Sugarcubes were at their most shambolic. I'd seen them before in a cramped London venue and they'd been an intense thrash of pop, this time Einar had the arse and was yelling and trumpeting through all the best Bjork bits... a little petulant, if truth be told, a band not quite at ease with sliding this far up the bill... The Sugarcubes could have been perfect pop, could have transcended things - this time they chose not to.

I down the last of the Tundy. The Sugarcubes are at least a great drinking band - like CSS are now. Maybe they weren't all that shambolic, maybe I've simply dislocated myself a little with fortified wine.

New Order sobers me up a little. In fact, a lot. I can't afford to be this sober. I'm camping with several other teenage boys. I don't want my olfactory systems to be reconnected. It's gonna break my bank to get drunk enough to sleep.

New Order are one slick unit. Everything note perfect, pristine. It could be a CD. A laser-disc. It's hard to tell whether or not they're even actually here. It could be a ruse, a rupture, a con. I've always liked the idea of New Order more than most of their music; it doesn't seem live at the best of times and this performance is... well, you can hum all the tunes, you can sing a long, you can even dance, a little but... there's something a little soulless about them on record and live this is even more apparent...

I'm gonna have to start trawling the beer tents... night is drawing in.


Mr Tear said...

This was also the only Reading festival I ever attended. About 10 of us hired a van and made the journey from Bishop Auckland in the North East; we were expecting a weekend of totally abandoned hedonism, but were extremely disappointed to find that everything closed at midnight. I was also 17 and Thunderbird was the drink of choice.

Tackhead sorted out their sound and were wonderful...that guitarist was Skip McDonald, by that time a full time member of Tackhead. Swans were amazing, but nowhwere near as good as they were when I saw them on the White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity Tour. Spacemen 3 - yes! But no mention of the Butthole Surfers who played on the sunday afternoon. I was entrusted with the care of the hire van's keys. I pushed my way to the front for the Butthole's only to discover at the end of their set that the keys were no longer in my pocket. The drunken search was fruitless. On the Tuesday after most people had left the site, we had to break open the ignition and hotwire the sorry vehicle (the insides were coated in mud and the roof had caved in slightly where we had been dancing on it). On the journey home we had to knock off the petrol cap with a brick, fill up then stuff in a rag. The driver drove over a grassy roundabout on the way home to keep himself awake. Needless to say, we kissed goodbye to the deposit, and never went back to Reading.

guttersnipe said...

well if a few tweets tossed-off by me and Eden can inspire blog posts of this calibre then perhaps we have finally found a reason for twitter's existence.

i just wish i could muster a decent post's-worth of memories from Reading '90..but it just ain't there anymore. curse that thunderbird wine. i think we were on the 'red label' that weekend.

Cloudboy said...

nice one... 1990 was the only time I made Reading... stood in awe of Kim Deals knobbly knees and her big bass gut-tar... fond memories of nick cave getting out his sad waters and spittle carnyyyy even if it all seemed too theatrical , and psychic TV being a bit crap.

Sean said...

My first and last Reading was 1989, the highlight being The Men They Couldn't Hang during a ferocious rain storm. Talking of which, I'm almost certain that that picture of the main stage is said TMTCH. I'd love to get hold of a high rs version - can you tell me where you got it from as the Evening News website is coming up short.



pharmacy reviews said...

I love those festivals because we can not only to meet people from different countries but also that we can enjoy something amazing.

Skell said...

I don't remember much of that weekend.
I think Hooky poured lighter fuel over his bass then failed to get his lighter to get it to burn 'cos of the wind.
The Buttholes came on stage and immediately trashed their instruments; then disappointingly they went and got their real posher instruments and carried on; and in 88/89 they were at the height of their powers.

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