Underneath a thousand blankets, just to find a place

18. Dream All Day – The Posies                                                                                        1996

The legendary 1996 Reading Festival… Legendary for me, that is. Not particularly for anyone else I suspect – nothing special about the line up, nothing remarkable happened (beyond, maybe, the shambolic demise of the Stone Roses)… and yet. And yet it remains frozen in my  memory as one of my favourite weekends and, in hindsight, seemed to mark an important transition in my life. I hesitate to say that it drew a direct line between adolescence and adulthood but it does feel a little that way. I was 24 at the time; something of a late developer.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not, probably, going to turn into a lachrymose lament to my lost youth – I haven’t forgotten the mud, the hassle, the people, the hangovers, the Supernaturals, the puking, the dizziness, the traffic, the piss, the toilets and all the rest of it – but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that missed it. For a variety of reasons music has progressively become a less communal experience for me as I’ve gotten older. There was always a balance between the private, listening on my own at home, and the shared, out at a club or, as in this case, a festival. The balance has steadily tipped towards the private over the years and I regret that I’ve let that happen as there’s a whole range of things music can do beyond helping you sit around feeling sorry for yourself…

Surfing various other blogs I came across a brilliant event / idea that some people run down in Devon. The blog’s called Devon Record Club and the basic premise is that they get together on a regular basis, each bringing along a record, and they listen to ’em, discuss, and share their thoughts via the blog. Not complicated, bit like a book club. Bet it’s a lot of fun. Exactly the sort of thing that I, and friends, used to do informally – it was just a natural part of our lives to sit around and talk about why “Verdi Cries” by 10,000 Maniacs should always be in any top 5 best records list… So, if you’re in the Bucks area or fancy doing something virtually – must be a way for that work – then drop me a comment below…

Back at that festival there were inauspicious beginnings in 1996. I was working in Nottingham at the time and didn’t have a car which meant a meandering train journey through the midlands in the rain. Changing trains at a rain sodden Coventry station was just the thing to evoke the festival spirit; “sent to Coventry” indeed. Connection. The train to Reading picked its way down the country, the skies opened and it poured. I was listening to a compilation of old Kandi Klub (my old club haunt in Bristol) favourites during the journey, watching the rain splatter incessantly against the window, and thinking of old flames. Or, in some cases, old flickers. In the movie-of-my-life playing in my head (more of a straight to DVD cult classic than blockbuster success) this made me feel romantically nostalgic, melancholy, deep and imbued with the soul of a poet. To the untrained eye I may have appeared as a mildly sulky young man in need of a hair cut.

On arrival the rain stopped but the break in the weather was short lived and by the time I’d reached the festival site it was pelting down again and the ground had turned to mush. At this point the local Holiday Inn probably looked strangely alluring… Avoiding its charms I met up with I. and R. and we shuffled away to our tent, joining the slow procession past purveyors of, variously, bootleg tee-shirts, posters, beer and drugs. Perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps it was just experience, but the sense of anticipation from previous festivals (we must have been veterans of at least 10 by this point) was conspicuously absent this time out. It all felt almost routine. Fortunately that feeling didn’t last.

Friday. In the morning we trekked into Reading to buy provisions and a water proof coat. Weather noticeably improved after I’d spent £30 on said coat; I should have stuck with the strategically torn bin liner. Managed a quick pint in a pub on the way back and I guess that started it all off as we proceeded to drink for the rest of the day which obviously meant that we got drunk. Really drunk. I should mention bands that we saw that day but none of any note spring to mind. For much of the weekend the bands played a secondary part to our drunken letting down of hair, which is perhaps how it should have always been.

It’s not possible to try and recount a daily version of events from here on in. I doubt I could have recounted it later in 1996, let alone in 2013. Things passed too hazily, too drunkenly. The only constant was booze, each day building on the last to the, frankly, ridiculous events of the Sunday when I think we may have kicked off with vodka at breakfast. I don’t really know what it was about this year that was different to previous festivals in terms of drinking. We’d always had a drink before but we’d never really gone all out and just relentlessly gotten hammered.

Through the fog of time and alcohol there are still memories that loom large. They won’t make any sense – I think the point was that they weren’t supposed to – but they loom large. From beating each other about the arse with some discarded pipe lagging, to the straw fight by the main stage whilst The Posies were playing, to waiting for Billy Bragg in a torrential downpour… just small details that will mean very little if you weren’t there but never fail to raise a wry smile if you were. And then, of course, there was the lemon. At some juncture – may even have been as late as the Sunday (when the wheels really fell off) – someone found the aforementioned fruit. Nothing unusual in that. However, for reasons that even at the time made little sense, we decided to worship it for the rest of the day. Worship quite actively. Largely this involved chanting “lemon” a lot, passing it round to be fondled and kissed, and occasionally encouraging other people to temporarily join our little cult. That’s cult. Journeying round the site we proceeded in single file, usually running, with the leader holding the lemon aloft and the rest of us trailing in its wake; shouting our mantra in a bizarre call and response.

I think it was also the first time I was particular aware that I was getting older – that there was another generation coming up behind. Obviously now it happens all the time (usually in terrible circumstances – 22 year old newly qualified doctor having to check your prostate, that kind of thing). We ended up sat round our camp fire one night with a load of people from neighbouring tents who were all a good few years younger than us – I think they were 16 and 17 as I’m sure we had an astonished conversation about sitting with people born in 1980. They, in turn, were equally astonished that we’d been “lucky” enough to witness Ned’s Atomic Dustbin first hand: in their pomp no less. We were 24ish at the time and incredulous that anyone at a festival couldn’t have been born in the 70s…

Somewhere amid the drink, lemons, lagging, rain and sheer glee of it all, some bands played. Instead of appearing front and centre in my memory they seem to just provide the soundtrack – it was maybe the only festival I’ve been to where seeing the bands wasn’t the main reason for being there. I remember seeing Catatonia – I think Cerys came on stage wearing a big pair of boxing gloves – as we spent much of that day singing “You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For“, apropos of nothing. Otherwise ? The Roses headlined and were awful: lifeless, leaden and topped off by Ian Brown’s atonal apology of a voice. Experience the horror for yourself here if you’re curious. This should have been a massive disappointment as we were (are) all huge fans but, at the time, I think we just found it funny. Black Grape and The Prodigy were the other day’s headliners – the former were good fun, the latter were touting a set that was heard at pretty much every festival in Europe for three years. Beyond that, and the previously mentioned Billy Bragg and The Posies, I’m struggling. Looking at who played I could guess that we would have seen Rage Against The Machine, Drugstore, Super Furry Animals, Ash, The Wedding Present… but I have no memory of any of them. Did I get drunk because the line up was so poor or can’t I remember the line up because I got so drunk ?

Here it is, anyway, for posterity:

reading96

For me the weekend acted as some sort of pressure valve – releasing the pent up stress of a transitory period in my life. The friends that I had in Nottingham were leaving and I had long been looking for a way to move down to London – it took me another 18 months or so but I eventually made it. I’d left University a couple of years prior to this but I think this was the weekend that drew a line under that phase of my life before I moved on to the next – a last outpouring of childish glee before settling in to the serious business of careers and houses and relationships and being a grown up.

So The Posies make the list. Not particularly because I think it’s a great song – it’s a decent slab of power pop but there’s lots of stuff in that genre that I’d ordinarily pick ahead of this (for starters I’d have to dig out the short lived, under appreciated Silver Sun). It’s here simply because I can’t hear it without being back in a field, jumping around, chucking straw (only down due to the mud) at my friends having pretty much as much fun as it’s humanly possible to have.

Anyone up for a 20th anniversary reunion in 2016 ?

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2 thoughts on “Underneath a thousand blankets, just to find a place

  1. Dan

    oooh, I loves a bit of Silver Sun! I remember we did Reading in 91, but I didn’t go again till 2000, and then 2001, when I decided I was too old to sit in a field with a load of pissed up 16 year olds who had just got their GCSE results. I’ve rediscovered festivals in the last three or four years though. Prefer the smaller, approx 5k people, ones, but yes, drinking heavily does still play a large part, which makes me think that Cider Arms Race Escalation would be a brilliant title for a Fall song.

    Virtual record clubs. I was in one a couple of years back which worked quite well – six people in it, there would be a theme each month, and you would make a mix according to the theme and send out 5 copies, and then get 5 different mixes back. I’m up for trying it again if you are.

    Reply
    1. Phil Post author

      We went back around about 2000 for a friend’s sort-of-stag do. Felt very old. Funnily enough I’ve got some other friends who recently did that festival in Portmeirion which looked more the thing for people of our advancing years.

      Definitely up for the virtual record club. Do you want to get the madness of Xmas out the way first ?

      Reply

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