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FESTIVAL REPORT: Reading Festival
Ringo P. Stacey , September 10th, 2014 08:43

Heading there for the first time in over 20 years, it's a family affair as Ringo Stacey heads to Little John's Farm with fifteen year old son Jad in tow

Sometime in the late 90s on the Adam & Joe Show there was a feature where Adam's apparently genteel, educated, slightly pompous sounding father would pronounce his judgement on pop acts of the day such as Radiohead and The Verve. The called him Baaad Dad. One episode I can vividly remember watching at the time was a special edition where he went to the Reading Festival. Can't remember what music he saw, much less what any of his judgements were, but what does stick clearly in my mind is the image of this bemused old man sitting in a glorious sun drenched field confusing any awkward teenagers that happened to be hanging about on the edge of the frame.

I'm not quite as old now as he was then, but I'm closer to decrepitude than is entirely comfortable. Close enough to feel a little apprehensive about going to Reading for the first time since 1993. Not that I've thought through exactly why, but the noise from peers hasn't exactly been encouraging. Even the initial contact about this piece, from Quietus editor Luke Turner. "We've been offered tickets to Reading and Leeds" he told contributors back in July, towards the end of a more general email about various festivals over the summer, "for anyone brave enough for those". I'm not sure I'd even have replied if I wasn't a bit pissed at the time.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not Baaad Dad because he doesn't have my festival memories. I loved festivals as a toddler, as a teenager, and now as an (only-just) thirty-something. But I am him in other ways, I've been somewhat outside the target demographic for a while now. Looking at the lineup in the week it's sobering to realise just how far I've wandered. The only two acts I've heard full albums by are Arctic Monkeys and Macklemore. I tried listening to a Queens Of The Stone Age album once and switched it off halfway through having temporarily decided Josh Homme was the most whinge-y irritating twat ever.

Probably the single most important thing I have in common with Baaad Dad though, is that, well, I am a dad. And the main reason I'm going to Reading Festival this year is to accompany my son. Jad is 15, and his favourite band is Arctic Monkeys. This is the first time he's been totally up for going to a festival, with a whole list of people he wants to check out and a desire to spend as much time as practically possible parked in front of a stage.

On Thursday we arrive at Reading train station and are approached by a teenage boy, maybe a year older than Jad, who's trying to find his way to the festival site. Turns out he's just gotten his GCSE results. Nine passes, his dad gave him £10 each. Did he know what you were going to spend it on? "Yeah, he told me to get totally wasted. This weekend is going to be so mental." You meeting up with your mates later? "Yeah. Purple campsite is where it's at!" We don't see him again, of course, but I'm fairly sure it was the good folks of the Purple campsite who entertained us at 3am on the final night with their rousing version of Bon Jovi's 'Living On A Prayer'. On the one hand, mental doesn't even begin to cover it. On the other hand, I'm fairly sure I've never heard that song sound so beautiful in my life.

Soon it's Friday and it's just gone 11am and the gates have opened a wee bit late. We're alone down the front of the main stage for a minute, the first and last time we'll have such an opportunity over the weekend. All the more striking in its emptiness, I'm momentarily taken aback by the partitioned spaces. I don't think I've ever been to a show large enough to need those before. We pass by quickly in our rush to catch Gerard Way on the Radio 1/NME stage. I know this is one of his first solo shows because I bought Kerrang's festival preview issue with his manky bleach blonde bob on the cover and the tease that he might play some songs by his old band, former headliners My Chemical Romance. Maybe Hayley Williams will be playing this slot next year. The good news is he's scrubbed himself up and looks quite dapper, zero roots showing through that glorious crown of vivid orange. The bad news is his music is really quite dull. Someone in the crowd is holding up a sign, 'Hello Gerard', I misread it as 'Hello Grandad' and Jad sees 'Hello Gandalf'.

Across the other side of the field on the Alternative Stage (read: mostly comedians but the odd curveball) Kate Tempest is all about sweet moments. She stares out at the crowd, can't quite believe she's here, can't quite believe anyone's turned out to see her. It's like she's a primary teacher in a Steiner school, apologetic: "It sounds a bit cheesy but it's important – there's all these lovely young faces in the crowd, so – you can be what you want to be." A few minutes later: "I hope you do something you feel embarrassed about in two days time, have an epiphany in a field."

Sadly, Jad is uninspired. Funny that, he's rarely inspired by people who try to inspire him. Makes my job really easy.

We race back to the Radio 1/NME stage and find the pretty boys of Drenge doing their best to challenge gender stereotypes by wearing snappy black dresses. The drummer's outfit is decorated with a cartoon cat over each breast, the singer's substitutes pineapples. There's a guitar malfunction and Jad wonders if Pineapple tits is having a breakdown. He isn't, they get horribly epic towards the end, we leave and I start to salivate over the prospect of a long afternoon in the 1Xtra tent listening to rap music.

Dirty Dike sounds way too tinny and looks baffled by the audience but succeeds both in provoking polite mayhem and offering sage advice to his audience: "How many of you have ever been chased by the police and got the fuck away? It's one of the best feelings in the fuckin' world." For a split second it's so sweet I have to wonder if him and Kate Tempest have been sharing notes.

On Jad's urging I make it back to the main stage for Enter Shikari but after Crossfaith anything in a similar vein musically is going to sound wanting. Thankfully, Jad is less cynical than me and is genuinely impressed by the singer leading the crowd to chant in support of the NHS, "Illness isn't a crime for which you can be punished". Why doesn't that move me? I love my free prescriptions.

We see ten minutes of Paramore when the sound starts to cut out, five minutes later it's gone completely. Losing barely a second to confusion Hayley Williams improvises with so much class we both wondered if the whole thing had been rehearsed. First they give her one mic and she leans in so it'll pick up her voice and her guitarist's acoustic, then he gets his own channel, then drums fade in right before the song entered its epic build zone. Jad thinks they are surprisingly good, the exact inverse of his experience earlier in the afternoon with Twin Atlantic. Overall they just confuse me, especially the hierarchical stage setup with the anxilliary bores at the back. Such a shoddy compromise! They should go all-out and stick them behind a curtain. Jad doesn't agree. He says keep the guitars, it's pointless otherwise.

I miss Queens Of The Stone Age, Jad catches their set and reports it's full of songs he didn't realise he knew. He makes a mental note to ask me for their albums when we get home. He figures they're the kind of people he would be ecstatic to see in two years time. In six months time he plans to look up their set on YouTube and see it in a whole new light. Instead I catch a triumphant set on the 1Xtra stage from Giggs. I've always liked his voice but never been truly grabbed by one of his records, on stage his charisma (that shy smirk) is more pronounced, his deliberate flow a valuable asset. Even so that song about his monster dick irritates the hell out of me. I don't want to know. A guest performance from Ghetts doing 'Artillery' had been sweet (or would have been if they'd turned his mic up) but bringing out Skepta to do 'That's Not Me' made my weekend. All day I'd been embarrassing Jad in my 2006 vintage Boy Better Know tee. "You go to a festival with your son and you wear that?" Now I feel like I've personally summoned Skepta to the stage.

After we meet up and compare notes. Jad observes that he's been watching dadrock while his dad's been watching rap music. It's true, I'm not the only father at the festival. I've seen a handful of fellow wrinklies with offspring in tow, most of the kids looking a bit embarrassed by a glowing old fart with a beer gut in a QOTSA tee. It's sweet. I feel no shame in showing up my kids, there's no point in wincing at something so inevitable. Jad wants to say something about the Dadrock Agenda, he thinks it would be a good name for a band. I wonder if anything I like is dadrock by definition.

Jad ends up around forty metres ahead of me for Arctic Monkeys and loves every minute of it. How could he not? He's the one who's memorised all five of their albums, the one who argues passionately that Humbug is their finest moment. He's disappointed they don't play '505' and 'The Jeweller's Hands' but happy with what he gets especially 'Arabella' and 'Snap Out Of It'. I'm the grumpy old git halfway down the back of the field wondering whether Alex Turner really does love himself that much or it's all masking deep insecurities. How many albums before the breakdown? Jad won't tell me what the guys in front of him were saying about Alex Turner. It was very rude, possibly libellous. He surprises me by agreeing that they're very much Matt Helders' band, wondering aloud "they must be the only band where the drummer is the star". I fill him in on the existence of Genesis.

By Sunday we don't have the energy to do much except stand up straight (occasionally) and let the noise wash over us. Tinashe's set on the 1Xtra stage is all the more striking for being entirely unexpected. This is a festival. We expect fancy dress, adult babies and gangs of roving power rangers, we do not expect perfection. Tinashe and her crew radiate fresh like they've just stepped out of a salon. She's dancing her slick routine, lip-syncing to a fully-realised backing track with the odd breathless ad-lib and a live drummer. The banter needs work, but today that's part of the attraction. "How many bosses do we have in here tonight?" she asks to a muted reaction from a few happily deluded souls down the front. A few minutes later and now she's grabbing imaginary balls and grimacing a strained machismo as she mouths along with Rick Ross, "I'm the biggest bawse". Jad isn't convinced, "all the songs sounded the same". As a long term fan of the various USA left coast sounds she's playing I confirm that's part of the appeal.

Joey Bada$$ impresses both of us with an aggressive energy you'd never guess possible from listening to his mixtapes. It's so inspiring I find myself wondering if there's been a mix-up and somehow Billy Danze has ended up on stage. Maybe he's just gruff from touring but it doesn't sound painful, more elated with the joy of being up there. "A lot of kids where we from never get to leave the block" he tells us, "so it's a privilege to be here". Moving on with a tribute to Capital Steez and the melancholic 'Sit 'n Prey' where he recalls advice Steez once gave him for hiding drugs from police proves a poignant way to close what's been perhaps the most balanced set of the evening.

Detroit legend Danny Brown offers no such let up, of course, and no surprises for someone who's now seen him three times in just over a year. The songs may change but the modus operandi remains similar. Nuanced sound is mostly off the menu and actual lyrics are unintelligible but Brown makes the situation work to his advantage. All the subtleties and romance of his studio work are bulldozed to the point of cartoon, amplification and a wall of flesh blur his voice into an agitated squeal. It sounds great. Even the decision to do the final verse of his infamous ode to the joys of sexual submission 'I Will' a capella just emphasises how demented the vocal is, how horrific the final numbness when he's stood there screaming how he's "gonna fuck you for an hour cos I can't feel".

He exits stage right offering the crowd one last salute, "thank you Reading Festival" to my delight he pronounces it like we're some kind of book group. Jad isn't impressed at all. He wants to hear the words. We walk back to our tent past Blink 182 playing on the main stage, briefly consider hanging around but end up listening to the tail end of their set from the comfort of our sleeping bags. Jad doesn't want to watch them because he figures they remind him just a little bit too much of early childhood favourites Busted, I'm worried they'll be nowhere near that interesting. To be fair, 'All The Small Things' proves a decent enough lullaby and it's all icing anyway. By then we'd had enough highlights already.