After two years away for some reason, Readipop returned to Christchurch Meadows for three days of art, love and music. It was delightful and strange to be back. Can we remember how to festival?
The first evening is designed to ease we revellers in gently. This has to explain the openers on the main stage. Air Circus provided an easy flow of mellow jazz funk which took most of our group right back to the eighties. Real smooth, man.
The pace changed with the next act. Jesus Jones were loud and lairy, as expected and hoped for. There was dry, deprecating humour from Mike Edwards (‘here’s another of our singles that didn’t hit the top 40’). The glorious racket roaring out from the Big Shell took us right here right now on a nostalgia trip back to our Doubt-loving days.
A quick side shuffle to the Purple Turtle tent to commune with King Kuda. They were glorious: heady psych-pop with a bit of bite and a brilliantly charismatic frontman. These guys are all ready for the big leagues. I think we were lucky to catch them on a small stage. That won’t be happening for much longer, mark our words.
The main stage closed out with Morcheeba. What can you say? We mean, it’s Morcheeba. You know what you get. Blunted, bluesy, sweet vocals, the perfect soundtrack to a sunset and moonrise. Skye sweetly serenaded the big half-moon glowing over the site, and everything seemed right with the world.
We have to mention the struggles with beer on the first day, which led to queues halfway across the festival ground. These were teething troubles on the busiest Readipop Friday ever, which the organisers were admirably quick to recognize and address. More tills and staff made it much easier to get a beer from then on… which explains the Monday morning headache, alas.
As we wandered onto the site, we were accosted by a smartly dressed and polite young lady who invited us to check out her acapella group. Who could resist when we were asked so nicely? Readiphonics were good fun, and in very good voice. We had to resist the temptation to call for Fuck the Pain Away when they asked if there were any requests…
Imogen Halsey’s tender love songs had to compete with a full blown drum circle cooking off outside. To her credit she kept going and managed to keep the tent focussed on her. We saw her around the site for the rest of the day checking out bands and soaking up the atmosphere, clearly having a great time.
Typically for an English music festival, every artist we saw talked about the weather, asked us if we had enough suncream on and urged us to stay hydrated. Thanks for the concern, we’re managing thanks. To be fair though, it was very hot.
We stuck to our shady spot by the Readipop stage for Jess Tuthill. More delicate sad songs, played with warmth and humour. It’s amazing what you can do with a ukulele and a loop pedal. Jess was genuinely impressive and we really enjoyed her stuff. Are we right in thinking she used to be part of Reading’s ukulele collective The Small Strings?
A note on the food. We were very happy to see local favourites Fat Tabby and Makan Malaysia on site. Other options were available (including the excellently named Bohemian Wrapsody) but honestly, the Beefy Boy burger and chicken rendang were the big hitters for us. There was no danger of going hungry or thirsty on site, although a cocktail bar would have been nice. We heard rumours about positive changes in that direction for 2023…
The Menstrual Cramps! So much fun. Bouncy shouty agit-punk from this Bristol bunch, who admirably kept their mid-afternoon set (almost) swear-free. Bags of energy, impressively so in the hotbox that was the Purple Turtle tent. There were two small girls near the front, sitting crosslegged in caps and ear-defenders, absolutely transfixed by the onstage shenanigans. The next generation? We bumped into the band later on, and they were all lovely, happy to sign t-shirts and shoot the breeze. We’re fans!
The Readipop tent had an afternoon slot showcasing the reason we were all there–the young people the charity helps every day. It was a remarkable experience. Being part of the audience while these kids openly blossomed on stage was emotional and humbling. A tangible reminder of the healing power of music.
While we’re on the subject, it’s important to stress that Readipop has more than music on offer. There were interviews with Stephen Morris of New Order and Richard Jobson from The Skids, craft stalls and kids activities and loads of theatrical performances across the site. A salvage-punk dinosaur trundled around. There were two blokes dressed as trees. Of course, the big question remained—who is Cherry Nuggets and why should we want her autograph?
However, let’s return to the music. A change to the programme meant we could catch Didcot’s own Tom Webber, and boy are we glad we did. His rock n roll credentials are impeccable, his songs coming from a deep well of soulful meaning echoing back through the decades. It doesn’t hurt that he looks like an old-time matinee idol and sounds like Sam Cooke. This was the real deal. Watch this guy take off.
We faded a little after that, happy to sit in the sun and listen to Ben Ottewell from Gomez and The Shard Project bump and bounce and growl in the Purple tent. Look, this isn’t intended as a review of every band on site. We were just there for a good time.
And suddenly it was 8pm and Stealing Sheep were on. Our favourite Scouser pop-synth surrealists did a bang-up job, getting the main stage crowd hopping about to their cheerfully skew-whiff electronica. They looked to be having the time of their lives, and their joy was wildly infectious. We are happy to report the balloon suits were out and made for a winning finale. Stealing Sheep are a scream live. We cannot recommend them highly enough.
If only we could say the same for Grandmaster Flash. The cardinal sin of any DJ is to spend too much time talking. Flash talked a lot. His skills and influence on modern music are undeniable, and worth celebrating. But without the Furious Five to back him up (they bailed for personal reasons), he offered a set heavy on visuals and low on content. Padded and stop-start, it just didn’t ever catch fire. We left before the end, hobbling back up the hill to Bedfordshire in the warmth of the evening.
A slightly later start. We hit the site just in time to catch Nigel Clark, the curly-haired dude from Dodgy. He matched the mellow-vibe feel of the day nicely, mixing old and new with charm and an endearingly ramshackle approach to timing and set structure. He would later join Reading’s other ukulele collective Tea And Jam for a rousing cover of Staying Out For The Summer. What a gent!
The Readipop stage was subject to a BBC Introducing takeover, handy for us as we just parked up in our usual spot and let the music roll by. Du’Val brought all of his extended family along, packing out the tent for his soulful funky tunes. Elucidate changed the tempo with some great shoegazey sounds–we were reminded of local legends Slowdive at times, which is never a bad thing. Wynona’s country-adjacent stylings gave us early REM flashbacks–if their guitarist arpeggiated his chords we’d be deep into Peter Buck territory. Someone get that guy a Rickenbacker! None of this is a complaint, by the way–early REM is our happy place. Meanwhile doops (note the lower-case) regretted their choice of white boiler suits as stage wear in the increasingly sauna-like conditions. The music, like the band, were hot and heavy.
We needed some air, but strange attractors pulled us into the Purple Turtle tent. To be specific, The Pink Diamond Revue, turning up the temperature on an already roasting purple canvas bag. Two blokes, one showroom dummy, endless costume changes (for the dummy) and a blaze of retro-phuture dirty rock. And zero banter. PDR are the one band of the weekend not to mention the weather. Or indeed, anything. That’s fine, it adds to the kohl-eyed, shiny-shirted mystery of it all.
Things kind of blurred a little after that. Perhaps there were psychedelics in the dry ice. Perhaps that last pint of Soundwave was a bad idea. Aaanyway. Before we knew it Badly Drawn Boy was on the main stage and we were dozing in The Very Large Deckchair. The sky was dappled in mackerel-scaled blue and the temperature had mellowed deliciously. Damon Gough’s music has always suited this kind of weather–too warm-hearted and generous to soundtrack the rain. We had a glow on now, partly from the sun, partly from the bliss of being somewhere in a field in Berkshire on a glorious Sunday afternoon.
And that, apart from a quick spin round the merch stall for a (too small) black metal t-shirt and a Four Tops record, was that. We decided to skip Transglobal Underground and finished off the weekend on home turf. For a mellow-vibe kind of event, we still felt pretty knackered.
But that’s a a good sign, right? Readipop has become a high point of the Dingtown social calender, evolving smoothly from a local showcase to something with its own distinct air and flavour. As a charity, Readipop do brilliant work. As a festival organiser, they know how to bring people together in a peaceful and beautifully inclusive way. We like to think of it as the real Reading Festival.