Friday, 25 October 2013

My Twenty years at the 1992 Reading Festival - Nirvana, PJ Harvey, L7, Shonen Knife, Bjorn Again

My Reading festival diary from 1992, the year Nirvana played their legendary set. A victim of multiple software crashes, latest thanks to the new GMAIL chat/txt editor, and brain fades.  More recent observations notes are in square brackets, italics are from second or third draft in approx. 1995.
I have grown to appreciate Nick Cave more in the intervening years

My Twenty years at the 1992 Reading Festival

These few remaining parts of Capt. Hodgson’s journal were found by the Norwegian rescue team a few weeks after his ill fated attempt to single-handedly conquer one of the most inhospitable music festivals in the world. The slow disintegration of body and mind in the midst of arctic weather and chronic snakebite (surely frostbite - Ed) are fully in evidence here in the first part of the journal which is repeated here as it appears in scrawly black pen on the back of a "Reading Campaign Against Racism and Fascism" leaflet.

' "But its coming from that way now!" A tall blonde Antipodean is trying to manoeuvre his tents entrance away from the direction of the rain.  I feel like grabbing the sad Australian git and shouting "YES ! Welcome to English weather you tanned bastard - AND THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING"

Its just begun to rain at Reading (17.55 - Friday) and as I'm here on my own I thought I'd keep a journal. No Matter what the conditions. I think the John Pilger book I've been reading is getting to me. Vietnam, Cambodia ... Pah ! This is READING and even a gut full of snakebite and a lack of tent pegs isn't going to stop me describing the horror. God. The Horror."

Ironically a major reason for the eventual abandonment of the journal some 36 hours later is the requisitioning of all pens in the tent to hold it down during the gale and torrential rain of Sunday morning. It continues.....

"A man opposite my tent has started hitting a large piece of scrap metal with a hammer. My first impression is that he's building himself a toilet. I haven't been to the toilet yet. I think this is a bad sign."

"I am pretty pissed actually."

"(Maybe he's trying to make Reading campfire music. Is he going to be doing this all night ? At Cambridge (Puffy, fiddly, diddly etc) Festival they play Roger Whitaker songs on acoustic guitars quietly so it doesn't wake the kids up. Here they just hit pieces of scrap metal with hammers. At least it provides a use for the deck chairs."

"And I actually am quite pissed.  Exhausted by the toil of bending all my tent pegs. I realised I needed some more but found the Camp Shop (no - they weren't all dressed as Danny La Rue and I'm glad I didn't mention it) had sold out of everything but Mars bars. (WHY? Would we really be able to get obese enough on confectionary over a weekend to improve the stability of our tents ?). Beer and Programme them" ? 
Increasingly hard to make out
 "Programme cost 4 quid. I don't know where its worth it or not coz I'm still talking to you (I hate writing when I'm drunk). Beer - one thing I respected Reading for last time I went was they way they had a " "Strict" or "Shit" Oz lager tent. Fiddly diddly nearly put Chris off festival puff shithole Cambridge Folk Festival's only alive bit is its Guinness tent - very fucking.." 
"+ woobily swelter"
Probably meant to say "Sensible and woolly sweater"

"The guy across from me has just emptied a sweater full of scrap metal into a bin bag"

"Reading Festival had a lager tent. But this year - Nothing ! I THINK - especially from the camp/site car park, that they,re trying to take over from Glastonbury. The beer is all workers beer company. £2 a pint !"

At this point his delirious mind seems to hear the voice of a colleague now sitting at home watching the weather on Ceefax saying "III tooolld yooouu soooo ...."

Gradual improvement in the scrawl would indicate the amount of blood circulating around the snakebite in the brain is on the increase.

"I made a note of the best t-shirts I've seen so far. My favourite at Glastonbury was HIPS, LIPS, TITS, POWER (Silverfish). Most of the t-shirts here are Nirvana ones worn by 15 and 16 years olds. The best of those that aren't are:-
KEEP MUSIC EVIL (Fatima Mansions)

"Interesting comparison No.2- Glastnobury is surrounded by the slopes of a gorgeous West Country valley. The only scenery visible from the main stage here is a tall and quite ugly block of flats." 
A clumsy X has been scrawled after this. This block of flats became the target of much of the shouting during Public Enemy.

"Its lovely to see neckless skinheads on the Hog Roast stall- which someone how seemed to attract customers at Cambridge and Glastonbury- being treated like the KKK here." 
During Saturday night when the Ice Age descended the piles of rubbish and discarded Workers Beer Company paper pint pots were collected together by Reading Man to form primeval bonfires.
 "What da fuck is dat ? Da KKK ? Put dat shit out !" said Chuck D  (thankfully shielded from the sight of the Hog Roast boys by a speaker stack) in a very Public Enemy idiom.

"I'm writing this in my tent on bits of paper. Nowhere sells notebooks. I asked a guy at a Workers Beer Comp bar where to get paper from and he thought I meant Rizlas. No amount of talking to this man could convince him that I actually wanted a notepad. I wanted RIZLA's and I was too embarrassed or paranoid to admit it."

"I must unpack now and digest the sight of the main area about 3 hours into Day 1. When I was last at Reading it was a sunny day and the clientelle and setting reminded me of Bartertown from Mad Max 3. You just knew Tina Turner would have gone down a storm. Today under broiling black clouds (normally only seen in Spielberg films) and the occasional bright blue sky the mindless, doomed, stumbling hordes look like characters from the end of Moorcocks "Stormbringer", as the forces of law and chaos square up for the battle that will bring about Ragnarok. In essence much like Donnington (Monsters of Rock) but with more O levels and less denim and acne. PiL are on soon. Must now unpack"

The journal continues on the back of a "Youth Against Racism in Europe" leaflet. He has just entered the main site and the snakebite has been topped up with real ale. Evidence of feeling sorry for himself. The attempts at Hunter S. Thompson now seem more like Thompson Local.

"This is a moment in time. Years from now grunge metal and Nirvana will be history and I'll be at Donnington or .... "

A totally unreadable word.
He wanders over to the main stage and begins to gaze at the startlingly intelligent and clean looking brunette on stage with the guitar. Is she at the wrong festival ?

"Spooky ! I asked three times at a club this week"   (Dizneyland) Actually night before last, what a rock and roller ! "I asked about 3 times who does a song they kept playing called Sheena-na-Gig. Its the first thing I hear when I turn up ! PJ Harvey ! And its the last song of the set..."

"The PiL clientelle are arriving" Lots of mean looking bastards kicking Utah Saints fans out of the way on the way to the stage. "PiL start by doing a Led Zeppelin tune I Know they are taking the piss. Some of the crowd don't and they are swaying admiringly to the music as Johnny leers at them. "England gone soft" he shouts - the first of many jibes at the crowd. I'd like to see him at the front row of a Godfathers concert. He lives in fucking Hollywood. He pulls a moonie, showing a big middle aged bum. He's suffering from chronic Townsend Syndrome"

"The crowd if front of him are now shouting "Johnny is a Wanker".
"So I'm a wanker" he says loving the abuse "I'm proud of it. The trouble with you youngsters is you're afraid of you're own sex tools"
A couple of actually pretty good songs later he's got the crowd and me on his side. "There's aren't many good things left from this country - And I'm one of 'em" A moment later he adds "Not bad for an Irishman" as if he's having trouble taking himself seriously these days. Q says Johnny Rotten/Lydon is not so much a singer as a music hall comedian. You can see why. Just to be nice they overrun by half an hour to play EMI- an old Sex Pistols song. This is good. And funny. Because it means the Wonderstuff, who are on last, are going to have their set cut short. He he he. 1 - Nil to the oldies."

Suddenly the young trendies equalise with The Charlatans. Millions of school girls in baggy t-shirts appear out of nowhere. I feel like an alien so I leave.

Unfortunately none of the food stalls are specialising in non-terrestrial …

<no idea what I’m talking about here. I was, and am knocked out by the food at Glastonbury and it always one of the highlights>

…so he makes do with some scrumpy and oggles for a suspiciously long time at the poster stall. This fact coupled with bizarre hippy bullshit about "The setting sun making the edges of the storm clouds glow gold" could possibly indicate Capt. Hodgson had been hitting the morphine quite hard. A final admission that "Frank Sidebottom - V. Funny" would seem to confirm this.

Here our on the spot commentary ends - the remaining pages lost in the apocalypse that also ended the journal and should have been a decent English Sunday morning. Later - under hypnosis to avoid further trauma, Capt. Hodgson would recall the rest from memory

Mmmm... Saturday. I did make a mental note that whatever instruments the Smashing Pumkins were using were of excellent quality. Try as hard as they might they just could not smash them up at the end of the set. As well as John Peels Full Results Service the real highlight of the day was Shonen Knife. Cute oriental schoolgirls playing aparenlty innocent nursery rhymes in the manner of The Clash.
"This song..." said the lead singer from a mouth in which butter would not melt as if talking to a class of 4 year olds " about a cat" Before launching into a song more Black Sabbath than childrens tv she sneaks a cheaky "Meeoow" into the mike prompting a WAAAARRRRGHH !!! from the seething horde of salivating greebos.

Sunday morning is really beyond description. Maybe I should read some WWI poetry. Imagine waking up in a gale in a badly secured tent and realising you're sharing the Somme with 30,000 irresponsible grebos and crusties with toilet training even worse than you're own. Also the men on the Somme hadn't been drinking snakebite for days.

Hours later, about 30 minutes before the first band of Sunday was to go on the rain had stopped and we all trudged up through the ankle deep mud toward the entrance to the main sight. I didn't know weather we were going to enter it or surrender to it. It was then I met a friends who I found disgustingly chirpy and clean - who had just arrived for one day with some of his friends. "You mean.." said a girl "You've been HERE for 2 DAYS ?"

Three pints of snakebite later it was raining again but I felt much better. The day really got swinging when Bjorn Again came on. We made our way to the front and in the sweat hot crush and ankle deep mud we wished we were wearing platform shoes as we pogoed ourselves deeper into the mire. It was a wonderful atmosphere, like Tom Jones at Glastonbury. No macho crap. Mass frenzied silliness. Made all the more funny by the way everybody new the words to all the songs and sometimes our singing seemed to drown out the band. It seemed hardly out a place that a man stood next to me wearing a mud caked wedding dress. During "Take a Chance on Me" he got me to give him a leg up - something I immediately regretted as soon he began to suck his foot out of the mud. My hands after this were enough to make the girl next to me shriek.

We got very muddy. Though not as muddy as some of the other bands that day (mostly Seattle type stuff - what others would call Sub Pop grunge crap) notably L7, who turned from Girlies with an Atitood to girlies with genuine bad moods under a constant (but basically good natured) barrage of mud from the crowd.

<I distinctly remember a guy directly in front of me thowing mud at the L7 bassist who seemed to think it was me. I was quite embarrassed about it. She stormed off and then back on to throw something back before continuing. Next week found out from Select magazine that someone from L7 had thrown her tampon at people in the crowd. It’s possible general embarrassment at this incident stopped me mentioning it the first time>

Other than PJ Harvey and Shonen Knife (all girlies) the only other band who came on who weren't pretending to have an Atitood were Nirvana. Huddling in the cold around a burning pile of rubbish waiting for fucking Nick miserable twat Cave to get off the collection of bikers I was with was taking bets on whether Nirvana would turn up at all, such was the level of rumour about the lead singers state of health.

<At some point I detached myself from the others. I thought they were so fed up they were about to leave. Sentiment was generally very anti-Nirvana and response to Cobain's health rumours was “I hope he’s dead”. We were all in agreement on Nick Cave though now I would probably have enjoyed it..
…Just forward to 1997, a Stag Night at the Hogs Head in St. Albans, the news that Kurt Cobain has shot himself is the start to the evening and the general response is
Only seeing a semi conscious soon to be groom in a shopping trolley travelling down the old railway line later would save that evening for me>

Then Nirvana came on. In response to rumours that the Mr Cobain was at deaths door a nurse pushed him on in a wheel chair, while Mr Novoselic made a Dr. Kildare speech thanking doctors and family for their support. They were taking the piss. They didn't play "Teen Spirit" (Bjorn Again had done their own version earlier). Asked us to say hello to the lead singers new baby, we sang happy birthday to the bassists Grandma (who thankful was safe at home in - wait for it - Bosnia), and told crap jokes while they were re-tuning guitars. I mean - obviously they smashed all their instruments up at the end - OBVIOUSLY but you got the feeling its coz they were having a laugh rather than making a statement.

Towards the end of the last song each member of the band began to do their own thing. Lead singer sat at the front showing the crowd experimental guitar, the bassist wondered off in search a fire extinguisher and the drummer began standing his drums on top of the amps. He then used a symbol as a frisbee to knock them off. Eventually the fire extinguisher arrived and the band escaped through their surreal musicscape covered by clouds of carbon dioxide that glowed bright white in the lights.

Music was pretty good too.


2013 notes
  • I was a huge Nirvana fan before after and since. I played it down then as virtually everyone I knew hated the band, but at the time I placed that Sunday night in my top three live performances I'd ever seen.
  • The crowd singing is often mentioned during 'Lithium' - it reached a climax during that song but everyone around me (and I was about 20ft in front of stage) was singing loudly to everything we knew the words to right from the off! Perhaps a collective and climactic bonding experience after three days of weather misery, I've experienced similar at Glastonbury.
  • Wow those jokes were bad :-)
  • They did play Teen Spirit apparently. When I finally caught up with the Nirvana Live At Reading DVD I remembered previously unheard The Money Will Roll Right In and D7 were highlights that ended the set very strongly
  • The fact that Nirvana insisted on the insane lineup for the Sunday - Shonen Knife, L7, Bjorn Again etc - because they didn't want 'lame' British bands (this would have been Britpop) makes it one of the first ATP like events, were performers are asked to curate the festival.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, as one of thepeople who probably said "Who?" I'm trying not to be insulted by that last remark. I mean, I know my music knowledge runs to being pretty ignorant, but I never knew it was responsible for making somone move out of Hertfordshire.

    In my defence, I've spent over 20 years on the other side of the conversation, looking at blank faces and hearing the answer "who?" every time one of my musical idols dies.I guess that's what I get for only listening to obscure blues bands all the time.