Up until Summer 1990 I hadn’t felt inclined to investigate the world of music festivals. I’d obviously read about them in the music press but to be honest the thought of camping in a field in Reading didn’t sound particularly appealing. Also looking at the line-ups there weren’t that many that I thought would hold my attention for a whole weekend. This changed a bit when that year’s Reading line-up was announced. It felt like somebody had arranged the Saturday just for me.
I discussed it with my mate Pete and we decided to go for the Saturday. Now I know this may seem a bit lightweight but the other days looked a bit weak. Although looking at the Sunday line-up now I feel slightly ashamed that I didn’t make the effort to see the Pixies supported by The Fall. Sounds like the perfect evening. In my defence though, also playing on the Sunday were Jesus Jones, Stereo MCs and Tackhead so you may see where I’m coming from.
So Saturday the 25th August arrived and we set off in Pete’s mini down the M4 towards Reading. It was a relatively easy journey and we got there in good time. I think it’s fair to say that in 1990 festivals were a bit more basic than they are now. We got ourselves a drink and the compulsory chips and wandered about a bit taking it all in. Everyone I wanted to see were playing on the main stage so we shunned the likes of The Railway Children, Fatima Mansions, Milltown Brothers and Martin Stephenson who were playing in the Mean Fiddler tent and went to find a good viewing spot.
Looking at my list in the Filofax it shows Psychic TV, Wire and The Young Gods up first. It may well be that we were still mooching around the site when these three were on stage. For whatever reason I can’t recall much about them, however memories of the rest of the day are quite vivid.
Pete and I found ourselves a good vantage spot to the left of the stage and eagerly awaited the days entertainment. Up first were Ride. I’d purchased their early singles and loved them to bits so you can guess how excited I was to see them live. I wasn’t disappointed. The ‘Nowhere’ album was yet to be released so there were some new songs to savour. Hearing ‘Dreams Burn Down’ for the first time live was incredible. Luckily by 1990 some people had the novel idea to film proceedings. This shaky, jumpy, slightly grainy footage gives you a good crowd-eye view of the set.
I’d have paid the entrance fee just to see Ride but this was just the beginning. Up next was Billy Bragg. Having seen him a couple of times I knew what to expect, not only great songs but some entertaining chat as well. I’ve asked Pete if he has any recollections of the day and remarkably he remembers Billy Bragg advising the audience how to spot any undercover police, “They’ll have short hair and last year’s t-shirt on”.
Following Billy Bragg were the legendary Buzzcocks. They played what was essentially a greatest hits set so we had the pleasure of hearing ‘What Do I Get?’, ‘Promises’, ‘Autonomy’, “Ever Fallen in Love..’ and ‘I Believe’ amongst others. It was one of those sets that reminded you how many great songs they’d written. They were just tremendous.
The legendary Buzzcocks made way for the semi-legendary Wedding Present. Though at that point in time I’m not sure they’d earned the ‘semi-legendary’ status that they have now. They were, as always, great. Consistency is one of The Wedding Present’s many strengths. The set was quite Bizarro focused as you’d expect and was crammed full of great songs including my favourites ‘Don’t Talk Just Kiss’, ‘Crawl’ and ‘Take Me’. As we were standing a fair way back I’m not sure what the moshpit situation was like, looking at this footage I guess it was fairly lively.
It was now getting dark and you could feel the atmosphere change. There was a real buzz and air of expectation waiting for the headliners, Inspiral Carpets, to appear. Before they did they sent out a pantomime cow out onto the stage, this was met with the customary ‘moos’. It’s rumoured that one half of the cow was one of their roadies, a certain Noel Gallagher. Which end I’m not quite sure.
Their set is still one my all-time favourites, they caught the mood perfectly. The highlight was easily ‘She Comes in the Fall’ during which a troupe of drum majorettes marched onto the stage. They were the same group that appeared in the video. For some reason even now it makes me feel quite emotional.
So that was that, what a day. I’ll take a punt that it was the best line-up I’ve seen anywhere.
The next gig on the horizon was one I was particularly looking forward to. Pixies at the Hammersmith Odeon. They’re a group that I was fascinated by, the way they existed in their own world, one of aliens and Old Testament stories, the way musically they didn’t follow any trend and of course that screaming vocal. I’d purchased everything they’d released so seeing them live was the next step.
I must have got there late as I missed the support. After perusing the merch stall I found my way to my seat. I was in row F, six rows from the front directly in front of Joey’s position and adjacent to a large P.A stack. With the help of the slightly sloping floor I had the perfect view. The venue was packed and buzzing with excitement. I didn’t have too long to wait and on they came.
They kicked off with ‘Cecilia Ann’.
It’s fair to say I wasn’t prepared for the volume.
Blimey it was loud. So loud in fact that someone sat to my right walked out dramatically holding their ears. Not quite My Bloody Valentine loud, I wasn’t worried the roof was going to cave in, but still bloody loud.
I don’t think it occurred to me for one second not to remain in my seat and soak it all in. This was the Pixies after all.
The opening two songs are here.
It didn’t take long to get used to the volume. The set was incredible, no chat in between songs and hardly any gaps. One song ran into the next and they just kept coming. I’ve found one set-list for the evening which lists thirty-one songs. Yes, thirty-one. I can’t recall precisely but I do know they do manage to fit in a lot of songs in their sets, helped by the fact that a lot of the songs are quite short and there’s little time wasted. When I saw them at the Troxy years later it felt like they played every album they’d released in one set. As a live group they’re hard to beat.
So with my ears buzzing, as they did for days after, I left Hammersmith a happy man.
Next up was something a bit different, Pop Will Eat Itself at the Town & Country Club. Pete was into this lot and as I never turned down the opportunity to see a gig, off we went. I’ve always been a bit perplexed with PWEI, I suppose it’s because they don’t fit cleanly within one particular genre. I find this a bit of a challenge to process. Putting my issues to one side it was a good gig even though I didn’t know any of their stuff.
A couple of weeks later I was at the Kilburn National again, this time for another Wedding Present gig. Support was from a group I wasn’t aware of, The Boo Radleys. Unbeknown to me they’d released their first album ‘Ichabod and I’ in July. Listening back to the album today they were the perfect support for the Wedding Present with fast songs and distorted guitars. I must have enjoyed their set as I purchased the album soon after, as the sticker shows, for £5.49 from Our Price. Remember them?
The Wedding Present’s set was released on the ’Live 1990’ CD so I have the benefit of listening to it again whilst writing this. My excitement levels must have gone through the roof when they came on and started with ‘Dalliance’, still one my favourite songs. Cue lots of head bobbing by the crowd and people pushing their way to the front to get to the moshpit before the end of the song. I was standing on the edge of it waiting for that moment when the song explodes. When it did the place went berserk, with David Gedge bent over his guitar, beer was spilt all over the floor and you were thrown this way and that whilst shouting “You don’t care!”. I just managed to keep upright as it came to an end.
They quickly went into the next song, ‘Don’t Talk Just Kiss’. Like ‘Dalliance’ it starts off relatively sedately which gave everyone a short moment to get their breath back. However we all knew what was coming up. You can’t beat that sense of anticipation when you know that in a few seconds everyone around you is going to react in the same way. Then the chorus arrived and off we went again, smashing into people next to you, concentrating on this incredible sound as well as trying to avoid slipping on the beer soaked floor. The verse came around again to give us a break, there were lot of people grinning at each other. These moments are just perfect.
Then came the familiar greeting ‘Hello, we’re called The Wedding Present’ which was met by a loud cheer. The next song was introduced with “It’s Alistair Cook’s birthday today, and this is called ‘Kennedy’”.
Shit. It’s all going to go off again.
That distinctive jangly introduction rang out and we lost ourselves again. It’s easy to forget what a physical experience gigs like this were. I felt like I’d started a marathon at a sprint and wondered whether I’d have enough puff to get me to the finish line.
It felt by this point that the whole place was jumping.
Eventually the song ended. By now I was dripping in sweat. Being November I’d worn a few layers which in retrospect was probably a bad idea. I know I could have used the cloakroom but that was something we never thought of doing. Anyway, now a few pounds lighter we all waited in anticipation for the next one. Despite feeling like a lightweight I could have really done with a slower one just to get my lungs working properly again.
That wasn’t to be as the acoustic chords of ‘Crawl’ rang out.
Here we go again.
The moshpit started bouncing up and down as one. We were all waiting for that one moment, that big ‘Oh!’ at the end. ‘Crawl’ ended quite quickly and we grabbed a quick breath. I could have done with a drink but that disappeared ages ago.
Next up was a new song ‘familiar to listeners of late night weekend Radio One’. I’d got this on a cassette so recognised the intro to ‘Heather’. I reckon even the most hardened mosher appreciated a quick breather at that point knowing that we didn’t have long to wait before an another heads-down guitar section arrived preceded by another “oh!”.
A small bit of chat followed then the distinctive intro to ‘Brassneck’ started. I don’t think I’ve experienced a Wedding Present gig like it, by then I was like a limp rag doll just being thrown all over the place. Despite hoping for some respite none arrived. ‘Corduroy’ came next and then ‘Take Me!’, a shorter version than usual which I was probably quite thankful for.
The sweaty masses were by this point in a right state and were as overjoyed as I was that the next song ‘Bewitched’ gave us an opportunity to get our heart rates back down to something resembling normal. There was a fair bit of bouncing up and down but at least I felt like I could breath.
The next song was introduced with “This is the newest song we’ve ever written”, I wasn’t to know at the time that this song, ‘Dare’ was going to become one of my favourites. Despite it being a new one it didn’t stop the crowd from erupting again. Listening to it today it’s a ferocious version, one I recommend tracking down.
And the hits kept coming. ‘What Have I Said Now?’ was up next which, much like ‘Bewitched’, gave us a rest. Granted there was still a lot of bobbing up and down but at least it was possible to remain upright. That situation didn’t last long with ‘I’m Not Always So Stupid’ coming next. I’ve heard this one played at various tempos over the years, this was a fast one. Very fast. I’m amazed how they manage to play it so fast, I’ve tried to play along and find it virtually impossible. Anyway, it’s over in a flash and we brace ourselves for whatever’s next.
‘Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’ starts up and we jump about joyously, beaming at these sweaty strangers who we’ve spent the evening with. It’s always a very friendly moshpit at Wedding Present gigs in my experience. There’s always a helping hand to grab hold of if you find yourself heading for the floor.
David Gedge announced the final song with the customary “This is our last song for tonight” and we finish the night with ‘Niagara’.
What an evening.
I travelled home on the Jubilee line in a right sweaty mess having had one of the best nights of my life.
Thirty years later they’re still as good as they’ve ever been. Although gigs are out the window they’re doing a streamed gig on the 10th of October, details here. It’s bound to be good.