Friday 24th. Early afternoon. The Comedy Tent.
Mobile phone numbers were exchanged, we split up, heading for different tents, an attempt to get around to watching another band without suffering the same fate as the dancing woman. Stilt walkers were again avoided, were they giving out condoms or lolly pops? I knew I didn't want either, I knew I didn't need either
More wandering around was embarked upon, checking out the merchandise points for new, cool t-shirts, none were found. The Dance Tent was entered "They're not the Moldy Peaches are they?" "Look at his Afro tho, that's pretty cool" That's right, the Dance tent is different to the Evening Session Tent, however this year it's right next to it, this proved confusing to me all weekend, oh well.
The first band to be missed at Reading: The Moldy Peaches.
I'd forgotten they were playing, we were heading in to get an early place for The Strokes, about 3 hours early, but then there wasn't anywhere else to go. Then I spotted the ice cream bus. Ordering a mixture of strawberry and vanilla, without being forced to resorting to using the stupid names attribuited to them by either Ben or Jerry was a sucess, in the background a man dressed an a pixie/robin hood was making other band members giggle, crucialy, the member who was at that point trying to sing.
It was all over by the time I arrived back, dripping frozen dairy products over the ever more litter covered grass. Soon the merits of waiting to see, or attempt to see, The Strokes were again discussed. Against it was the fact that it would be full of NME readers rubber necking the Next Big Thing tm, and that those without suitably behemoth shoes wouldn't be able to see. In their favour was the fact that it was far easier to stay sat where we were than move. We stayed.
South began to play, no one really paid them much attention, even when they took every between song opportunity to remind the crowd that they were South, in the way that an American will repeat your name to you during a conversation in an attempt at becoming part of your world via the medium of the over use of your name, even after dedicating a song to John Peel they still continued at the same pace. They did score points for all changing their instruments over between almost every song, bass and guitar duties being swapped with a particular passion, as well as "the drummer giving me funny looks" in the words of one observer.
They reminded us that they they were South, just one more time, then departed. A worried looking girl approached covered in guest passes and coloured access wrist bands, that was the first I heard of The Strokes moving stages, or a should say it was really the announcement on the PA system minuites later that really did it, she just asked if I knew about them moving, I told her that I barely knew where I was, never mind where The Strokes were.
"Due to popular demand" said the corporate announcement, Carling beer logos flying high before the deoderant and alcohol adverts punctuating the giant video screens either side of the Main Stage "The Strokes have been moved to the Main Stage and are on after the Eels"
Great, more sun.
The Eels started shortly after we arrived, E strode on to the stage in sensible shorts and t-shirt, only in the direct light for less than an hour, safe from burning, accompanied by the rest of the band, and his large, bushy beard. He didn't talk to the crowd about how great he was feeling, he didn't need to, the ironic edge falling away from their more up beat songs, the set consisting of fan favorites and singles from the last few years, all played with E on guitar/keyboards and vocals, it could have just been the beard, but he seemed to be smiling for every single second of it.
The best song of Reading: Get Your Freak On.
"What's that tune? I'm sure I know it..." the croud all think, puzzled, then, there's laughter, clapping and finaly realisation, The Eels are playing a note perfect, full length, live version of Missy Elliot's last big single Get Your Freak On, the pantomime R&B translating perfectly to a sunny friday in front of tens of thousands of people. What could have been the biggest disaster of the weekend turned into the biggest single triumph.
The Strokes didn't get as big a cheer when they arrived, or if they did, it wasn't deserved.
"The Band You Must see" was the headline, now exposed to not only the thousands who wanted to see them, but also the thousands of normal people, the people who were just there for the big bands, all being confronted with the Next Big Thing, a thing they'd never even heard of.
They played most, if not all, of their album, released 3 days later, just in time for all of the kids to get home and burn some more money, during the performance barely a word was spoken to the crowd other than to apologise for being there when most people didn't know who they were. At the end the drummer took part of his drum kit apart and handed it to the crown, I thought he was going to hit someone in the front row with it, but he didn't, that would have been too interesting.
By this point it was mid-afternoon, nothing more could be seen to be worth standing up for until Arab Strap, headlining the Carling Premier (new bands) tent that evening, the campsite was headed for with my unfailing sence of direction getting us there in almost no time. A packet of crisps and a Smirnoff Ice later and I'd slept for 3 hours, in a, by now, sweat soaked grey shirt.
The decision was made to leave for Arab Strap by 10 that night, different versions of the day were being linked together by that point "then they broke my phone in the Orange tent, that's why I couldn't contact you" "I came back to the tent, no one was here so I went to the Main Arena again." However my thoughts were all towards Arab Strap, headlining my Reading Festival Friday.
On the way there it was noticable that now the human traffic was mostly heading towards us, heading out of the Arena back to their tents, the evening was over for them already, the prospect of setting fires and drinking their beer supplies was too great, and when the Main Stage headline was Travis, it would be hard to blame them.
"Our last song's a cover version to, but it's not All the Young Dudes" declares Aidian Moffat, with a mixture of disgust and bewilderment, were Travis really meant to be a festival headline band? Practicaly stadium rock? I know that Arab Strap aren't, in this tent they work. I later realised that I was never less than 4 rows from the front, when I remember the evening it feels like I was actually on the stage, was as if I were the one singing, that they were my words. On the main stage a band were playing someone elses song, while in a small tent, Arab Strap were playing my song.
Taking the recent singles and the best songs from their 4 albums, Arab Strap played a story out to music, Aidan moving from vocals to keyboard/effects with Malcom, dead eyed on guitar. All the band members being parts of other operations, calling them side projects would belittle them, really their side projects are their main bands, Arab Strap are something different, something everyone has and everyone needs, proved by the appearance of Mogwai's Stuart at Reading 2000's version, this isn't just a band, this is people.
By the time it was all over, our group was down to 2, we returned to the camp to find others had already made it back. It was cold, I was glad I'd put on my body armour before leaving that evening. The Main site was shutting for the night and the still air was filling with the smoke of a thousand fires, all containing at least 50% plastic.
People started shouting 'Bollocks'
No one had any doubt that this was the Reading Festival.