|All images by Kevin Lawson - Thanks Kev!|
The first time I attended Reading Festival was the best day of my life. No scoffing at the back, I’m serious. It was Thursday 27th August, in 2009, I’d just landed myself 4A*s and 7A’S at GCSE that morning, and as my parents drove me to the festival I had watched on television for as long as I could remember, in the bright sunshine, I genuinely felt as if I had everything I had ever wanted in my life at that moment. Yes, I was the classic post-education teenage cliché, but it goes some way to explaining why, out of all the festivals, Reading and Leeds holds a special place in my heart.
Having moved up north for University, Leeds Fest became my nearest option and after being thoroughly impressed by it’s atmosphere in 2012, I was thrilled to be invited back as press this year. Boasting one of the most impressive line ups in years, it read like a who’s who of bands who soundtracked by teenage years and in Arctic Monkeys, has an irresistible headliner homage to my first ever Reading five years ago. With guest camping, REAL toilets and a press area to charge my phone, speak with bands and write up this here review, the normal perils of festival camping were minimised, leaving me to take in over 30 acts across the weekend. Let’s get into it shall we?
The pressure is always a little off for the first band on stage on the Thursday night (everyone is normally off getting too pissed on cheap cider to be particularly scathing about who they watch), but that doesn’t stop Leeds natives Post War Glamour Girls putting in a strong set. They have the package – good stage banter, a full, warm sound and dark vocals which are reminiscent of an old band I couldn’t put my finger on and haunted me for the entire weekend.
After distinctly underwhelming in a support slot for Wild Beasts last year, I had massively low hopes for Fryars, but the fact that I had to check who they were on my Clashfinder three songs in speaks volumes about how unrecognizable they've come to sound. Coming across somewhere between Everything Everything at their most introspective and newbies Breton, Fryars, consider this a public apology.
If Leeds Fest had an onsite casino, I would have placed money on Honeyblood being American. My head is filled of images of them frolicking on a spring break beach with Beth Cosentino of Best Coast on an LA beach, but then they HAVE to go and ruin it by announcing that they’re from Glasgow. Sheesh. Once I’m over my initial disappointment, I’m fully sold on their summery blues and effortlessly cool stage presence.
With the rain pounding down, we decide to bail on Toy and Superfood in favour of the VIP Guest Bar. Yeah I know, we’re those sorts of people.Taking refuge in the marquee, we’re treated to delicious triple cooked chips and the sorts of RnB bangers that magnetise people to the (muddier by the minute) red carpet. As Notorious B.I.G segues into Justin Timberlake into Mary J Blige, I did find myself almost wishing this was an RnB festival… snap out of it Williams, this isn’t Wireless. Off to bed!
If there is a better way to shake off the morning cobwebs than watching The Wytches tear up the NME/BBC Radio 1 Tent, then we haven’t found it yet. Howling through curtains of hair, they remind me of the stomach lurching feeling of missing a step in the dark, eerily off kilter like The Horrors back when they had massive hair and immediate tunes.
The cacophony sit at direct odds with Twin Shadow, who is so slick and radio ready that he may as well consider hiring someone to edit his entire life into manageable 3 minute 30 chunks. No fuss or bother – just smooth, classy modern pop. We like.
If ‘bands who are sort of all about the soloist, but are kind of still a band’ is your preferred niche genre, stop reading this blog right now and peg it over to YouTube to check out Saint Raymond. Drawing a crowd size practically unheard of at this time of the day, he/they fills out the Festival Republic tent with teenage girls sporting 1975 t-shirts and does a brilliant job of executing memorably indie pop that perfectly fills the gap left by Two Door Cinema Club. We’re very hopeful for his future.
Causing the first annoying clash of the weekend, Saint Raymond’s overlap with blogger captnip Jungle means we only catch the last tent minutes of their set, which feels like a genuine festival moment. Turning a tent the size of the NME into a smokey and intimate club is no mean feat, but their multi-layered brooding funk is enough to get me wishing I’d caught the whole thing, and my parents texting to say they were loving it on BBC Three. The ultimate seal of approval.
Similar parental plaudits commend Clean Bandit’s televised set from Reading Festival, but unfortunately for Leeds, something got lost in northern translations. As expected, ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘Rather be’ inspire sing-alongs but the music itself is barely audible halfway back in the tent which dampens proceedings somewhat, and a cover of dance classic ‘Show Me Love’ serves only to highlight the lack of consistency in their own debut album. A bit of a shame, but definitely not the end of them just yet.
We plump for a change of pace and pay comedy king Simon Amstell a visit in the Alternative Tent. His half hour set takes in everything from racial segregation at radio 1 and 1xtra to autism, but he rather brilliantly manages to flirt with offense rather than gleefully submerging himself in it like so many other comedians. Jokes about his sex life cause mass exodus as the lady majority appear unable to deal with gay sexuality, but he remains unflappable, politely dismissing hecklers without missing a beat. Definitely worth a rebook.
Another ghost from my very first Reading and Leeds experience, I’ve fallen somewhat out of love with You Me At Six and their lackasadical treatment of fans (note: never ask your fans to take items of clothing off at gigs when the majority of them are underage), but I have to admit that the popularity of their mainstage set is impressive. ‘Bite My Tongue’ and ‘Lived A Lie’ eclipse the reactions to older material, showing that they really are making progress. Whilst it often comes across a little too much like hard work with Josh Franceschi leaving the crowd to a little too much ‘sing it’ than is strictly acceptable, they’ve they've sanded off enough of their edges enough to become the huge rock outfit they've clearly always dreamt of being, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if they make it to cult headliner status in a few years.
Feeling cynical is never a good thing at a festival, but The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart restore my faith in music within minutes, despite the Festival Republic tent being virtually empty. People of Leeds fest you're missing out- their super bright driving indie is a lovely sincere thing and they seem genuinely happy to be here (and to see Papa Roach, but who wouldn’t be.)
Large quantities of breath is bated around the Leeds site as we wait for this years ‘controversial’ booking of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but as their take to the stage in a blur of explosions and bombast, but in the muted reaction to ginormous hit ‘Thrift Shop’, it becomes quickly apparent that they’re incredible showmen the way only Americans can be, but they just aren't big enough in this country yet. The crowd is sizeble, but the reality is that most of them are just staking their places out for the headliners. Macklemore fights, and fights, and performs his face off, but it's an undeniably slow start. Equality anthem ‘Same Love’ fares okay, but perhaps the pastoral, evangelical approach to his stage patter just doesn't translate as well on British shores. It takes two renditions of 'Can't Hold Us' to get the crowd reaching for the invisible ceiling, but by this point the band look understandable exhausted. Get these boys to Glastonbury: with another big album, Macklemore& Ryan Lewis are headliners in waiting, but just maybe not at this festival.
Having heard comments on their live tekkers ranging from the high praise to the dreadful damning, we approached Blink 182’s headline set with some caution. Can a group of 40-something blokes really pull off fart gags and your mom jokes with the same humour as 20 years ago? We needn’t have worried: exploding on to stage with ‘Feeling This’ in front of a huge Union Jack flag, it’s a greatest hit set complete with an all-you-can-stomach offering of lewd jokes and heartracing choruses. There are lovely, genuinely touching moments with ‘All Of This’ and ‘Stay Together For The Kids’, but they don’t linger long:as they tear through their back catalogue with the glee of a band twenty years their junior, they appear to be one of the few bands of their age left who look as if they're actually still enjoying doing what they do. Sure, the singing isn’t the best you’ve heard in your life, but was it ever? And let’s face it: propelling the word ‘fuck’ in giant flames is the embodiment of schoolboy cool.