Guest Post by Peter Smith
We have had the hottest day ever in Britain this summer, and last weekend was the hottest Reading Festival of all time too. Three days of 30C temperatures meant the default resting place for attendees was in the shade within one of the tents (stages) or basically in any bit of shade that could be found. That meant even bands that might not have attracted much of an audience found themselves playing to good crowds, which helped make it one of the best Reading Festivals I’ve been to in 15 years.
I don’t go to Reading really because of the headliners, but to check out new bands. However, this was for me also the best headliner roster for a long time (Post Malone excepted). Twenty One Pilots who co-headlined Saturday with Malone really shouldn’t work as a concept. Only two of them, a chiselled drummer and a jack of all trades frontman. A weird mix of rap, metal, pop, dub, a bit of gymnastics on stage, a climb up the lighting tower, emotional engagement with the audience… but somehow it all comes together live and draws a huge response from the audience. The albums are OK but you really need to see them live.
Twenty One Pilots
The 1975 are both old fashioned (some of the music could be 1980s pop, or even MOR) with the very contemporary – lead singer is a woke (in the best sense) frontman as well as an old-fashioned rock idol, adored by fans of both sexes, a Jagger for this age. They absolutely worked as the headliners on Friday, with great visuals, slightly too many monologues about the meaning of life, and they will be back I’m sure.
Along with Billie Eilish, who drew arguably as big a crowd as any headliner, and showed that she can absolutely handle a big stage and audience, these acts made the Foo Fighters seem a little … old? To be fair, I only watched a quarter of their set (3 hours!) but covering Under Pressure, bringing on Rick Astley and doing basically a greatest hits set all seemed a little less contemporary than the three acts above. Anyway, they went down a storm, so what do I know.
Part of my absence from the Foos was because I joined around 700 people in the Festival Republic tent for the last set on that much smaller stage and the best party of the event. I haven’t seen the Crystal Fighters before, and my goodness, they were dynamite. Basque / Caribbean dance pop with an anarchic edge, a crazy shaman-like singer plus two superb female vocalists – our 30-year-old friends were dancing, as were my friend and I who are (ahem) somewhat older. Not a pretty sight, but a great way to end the Festival.
Kudos too for the organisers. The toilets have improved beyond all recognition – even the blokes now have proper “buildings” with cubicles and sinks like you see at golf tournaments, as well as the traditional metal troughs! “Health and safety” have been improved too, with a “pen” to stop the mosh pit getting crazily crowded, and more thought about traffic flows. The main stage sound was the best ever and the huge video screens are state of the art – super high-definition, so during close ups of Royal Blood’s singer and guitarist, I could literally count the follicles on his stubbled chin!
So finally, my top ten relatively “new” British artists from Reading that you may not know. What are the odds one of these will be headlining in a few years’ time? We saw both the 1975 and Twenty One Pilots here in the smallest stage around 2013, (and did identify them as future stars) so the odds are pretty good on at least one of these becoming huge! Here is the list with a very brief description and some references for older readers – by definition, all were very good live, but do go and check them out on Spotify, YouTube or wherever.
The Larkins Strong songs from young Manchester indie band with touches of classic 90s pop - Reminds us of: Blossoms, Bastille, ABC, Duran Duran
Anteros Bouncy pop / rock with a dance vibe and a charismatic, capable and gorgeous lead singer Blondie, Garbage, Of Monsters and Men
Crystal Fighters See above ... Paaarrttyyyy! Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Chic
Sea Girls Classic indie with a rock edge, big tunes, emotional engagement with audience and I’d be amazed if they don’t get very big - Coldplay, Maccabees, Catfish and the Bottlemen
Sophie and the Giants Female singer with a big, soulful voice, and tuneful rock with touches of new wave - Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux, Adele
Vistas Melodic indie / punk with energy and commitment from Scottish threesome - The Strokes, The View, Courteeners
Basement Been around a few years but gaining momentum with their classic rock allied with grunge and punk edges - Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Biffy Clyro
Marsicans Intelligent pop / rock with harmony vocals and strong songwriting – The Beatles, The Feeling, Mystery Jets
Cavetown Young self-effacing Cambridge singer-songwriter, slightly drippy but engaging songs and performance - Isaac Gracie, James Taylor, early Ed Sheeran
VC Pines – “altsoul” artist with touches of poetry / rap, as well as a great falsetto, with a tremendous bass player and horn section playing chilled soul. Perfect on a hot afternoon! Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, The Streets