There was a cartoon octopus at Paddington Station today. Supposedly advertising some kind of property website, the thing that struck me was how little attention he was getting. The weirdness-hardened English commuter takes things like the inevitable giant mascot in it’s stride, only seeking to react if the stupid thing gets in the way.

The most extreme example of this was encountered a few saturdays ago in Broad Street, reading. There was a testicular cancer awareness drive going on, and leafleteers were out, accompanied by a mascot.

Yes, you’ve guessed it.

Ballsy the Friendly Nadsack.

Complete with cheesy grin and hairy cheeks. The crews of teenage girls that are a feature of Broad Street on a Saturday afternoon found Ballsy endlessly entertaining, and there were a few blokes trying to get their girlfriends to have their photos taken (one priceless response was “Why? Everyone’ll just think it’s another picture of me and you.”) but for the most part he was sturdily ignored.

Good grief, what do you have to do to get noticed in this town!?

File under “You couldn’t pay me enough” and “Yet another one of those occasions when I wish I had a camera with me.”

Eye Of The Storm

“This blog is being brought to you by two guys too dumb to get out of the way of what is turning into one of the most destructive natural forces to hit the mainland U.S. ever.”

An extraordinary, unfiltered, and increasingly angry view of the carnage on the Gulf Coast. If you can, read from the bottom up. An amazing story.


ROB ROCKS READING day two

Saturday morning is kind of a blur, as I bumble around, make coffee and cook a big ole fry-up (grease and caffeine. Curative and preparatory all at the same time. if England has ever given the world anything greater than the Full English, I’ve yet to see it), give Clare the blow-by-blow account of yesterday’s events, while waiting for the crew to arrive from points east. I’m mellow and not at all aching, deary me no.

Dad’s got a ticket as a 60th birthday present from me, as he’s a bit of an old rocker. He bounces in at about 11, pleased as punch and ready to party. We’ve cracked the beer by the time Dom and Tony arrive. Dom has a family connection to one of the headliners, so it’s backstage all the way for that lucky pair. No begrudgeness, though. I did the same thing with Dom back in ’03. I’m just looking forward to a day out with chums and family.

We hit Richfield Avenue at about 1, settle in with a beer and some veggie chili, and let Biffy Clyro peel our skulls back. I’ve got a sort spot for avant-metal, especially when it’s played with the verve and enjoyment with which these boys deliver their set. The lead singer is resplendant in a white hooded tracksuit that doesn’t stay clean for long. At one point the bass response is strong enough to knock Dad’s hat off. A good start.


We amble around and take in the sights a bit before finally getting our asses up to the R1 tent. Clare’s curiousity has been piqued by Juliette Lewis and The Licks, so we decide to give it a go. Huge fun. The music is nicely primal rock and roll. Juliette struts about in a spandex-and-bra outfit giving it serious amounts of Iggy attitude and, initially at least, a Viking helmet. We’re all jumping by the end, and Juliette manages an extended crowd-dive that surprisingly doesn’t end up in her losing her top. The banners go up: “Lick me, Juliette!” A new Queen of Rock is born.

After that, it’s time for Mojitos at the B-Bar, which makes a nice change from the ever-present Carling, before ambling back up to the main stage. Dinosaur Jr are laying down slabs of noise that instantly put a grin on my face. J Mascis looks like a shoo in for Dumbledore in the next Harry Potter movie, all long white hair and slouch, and he is a bit of a wizard on the Fender Jag (sorry). They finish off with “Just Like Heaven” and “Freakscene”, and even dad admits it’s an impressive racket.

The Charlatans are next up, but we’re too busy chatting and drinking for them to make much of an impression. Dom and Tony are at the front, though, and loving it. The Charlie’s are a fine soundtrack to a warm summer afternoon, but to my mind just that: backing music. I guess, though, it’s really like the Coral yesterday. My mind is on the next band on the bill.

The Arcade Fire hit the R1 tent and on my insistance we’re front and centre. The buzz is extraordinary. this has the feel of a real event, and the Canadians do not disappoint. They launch into “Wake Up”, and everyone, strangers and friends alike, got their hands up and their voices high. The mood is joyous, celebratory. Any immovable object on stage gets used for percussion. Mock fights break out on stage. There’s a newie or two, an oldie for the hardcore, and all the best bits of “Funeral”, which is, let’s face it, just about all of it, get fired off with a verve and energy that takes the roof off. Extraordinary. transcendant. Everyone’s chuffed, and I quietly point out to Clare that this is the album I’ve been playing for months when she asks why she’s never heard of them. Band of the Festival. If they’re not on the main stage next year, a major injustice will have been done.

After that we need a break, so Kings of Leon mumble away agreeably in the background while we nosebag noodles and espressos. babyshambles? I’d sooner eat my socks, and I’ve been in them for eleven hours.

All of a sudden it’s ten o’clock, and the Foo Fighters insist they will die for our honour. Very nice of them. Dave Grohl’s speech on how Reading is the best festival there is has been widely reported, but he does have a connection with this site, and we pour love back at him. When he tells us he fuckin loves Reading, well, so do we, and at this point there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

The Foos are, as always, fantasic live, keeping everyone bouncing and singing along, slinging out gigawatt lasers in the night that must go halfway back to Caversham. Off to one side of us, a guy who’s had ten too many lurches about. His girlfriend, deeply unimpressed, edges closer to us, at one point hiding behind Clare. Finally, as the buffoon nearly falls over someone, she loses patience and stalks off. Several seconds later, matey-boy notices and lollops after her.
He returns half an hour later, not smiling any more. A couple of songs later he will fall over. A few years ago that probably would have been me. Right now, I’m just jumping up and down, hollering to “Monkeywrench.” A cracking end to a storming day.

It’s a slow but jolly walk home, as we amble and chat. Poor Dom and Tony still have a drive back to the Smoke ahead of them, but for the Wickings contingant it’s a well-deserved cuppa and bed. We promise to get our weekend tickets in early next year, and bemoan the fact that we’ll be missing Iggy and Maiden. But that’s next year. For now, we’re just enjoying the glow. Does Reading rock? Only completely!

*As yesterday, I’ve cribbed photos from other sources, mostly eFestivals.co.uk, and the Reading Festivals site. Fanks.


ROB ROCKS READING: day one

12:45
The sky is a tower of cloud, there is mud underfoot, but it’s warm and the vibe is mellow. I arrive at the Richfield Avenue site in time to catch the last squalls of feedback from Fell City Girl. It’s very nice feedback, but not enough for me to form an opinion. I probably would have caught more of their set if I hadn’t been bumbling around aimlessly for 20 minutes trying to find somewhere to exchange my crumpled tickets for that most precious of articles, the wristband. It’s a sense of relief to finally get sorted, and into the arena. I head for the main stage.

13:00
Goldie Looking Chain are flooding the field with bouncy Welshness. I arrive just as they launch into “Guns Don’t Kill People…” The scrum of faithful at the front are loving it. Me, I’m starving, so I enjoy the rest of the set with a burger and a beer. “Your Mother’s Got A Penis” is a highlight.

I’m on my own today, due to circumstances beyond my control and the fact that nobody loves me. That’s fine, but I’m not the most gregarious of persons, so I’ve alreay made a pact that today is all about the bands and being observational, and I’ll save the social aspects for tomorrow.
Reading fashion, at least for the ladies, is all about rocking the short skirt, knee-high socks and flowery wellies look. Which is fine, but Kate Moss has clearly got a lot to answer for.
While sat quietly and scribbling in my notebook, i’m offered my first toke of the day. I refuse. Another disadvantage to being on your own – no-one to bail you out if you get silly.

13:30
Thirsty Merc (Carling Stage)
Caught the last ten minutes of this Oz combo’s bouncy pop stylings. They’re a smiley bunch, surfer-bloke handsome and the crowd in the Carling tent respond in kind. I think they’ve made some fans. Very reminiscant of Crowded House in places, with a distinct Beatley tang to the harmonies. A band Clare would like, I feel.

13:40
The semi-legendary Wedding Present clang through a tight, sharp set that takes me right back to the days when they were scoring top forty hits on a monthly basis. David Gedge is as lovelorn as ever, I see. They present war dispatches from the frontline of the heart, groove-based poetry that twists it’s way into your heart. As you can tell, I really rather liked it. Appropriately, as the set finishes, rain starts to fall.

14:30
I skip around a bit in search of a vibe. I find Performance in the Dance tent. An earnest young man in a skirt bleats about guilty feelings while 80s synths squelch behind him. I last two songs.
In the Radio 1 tent, The Dead 60s pump out turgid agit-ska. I saw them supporting the Thrills last year, and they were dull then, too.

14:45, and I circle back round to the Carling tent, where Two Gallants are just kicking off. A pair of San Franciscan dudes on geetar and traps, they hammer out swamp-folk very much in a White Stripes style. OK, but distinctly lacking in showmanship, and trouble with the kit doesn’t help.

15:15
On a whim, I head back to the R1 tent for Death From Above 1979. Again, two blokes, guitar and drums. The difference here is the full-bore blast of filth-dirge they spew out, played with a head-crushing intensity. Fast. Loud. Tight. Hard. Blew my head off.

My ears are ringing as I stumble out of the R1 tent, grinning like a loon. Into the dance tent for a bit of a bounce to Dreadzone, who know how to work a crowd, especially one that includes blokes dressed in cow-suits and scantily-dressed ladies whirling pois around. Fun, but i’m hearing whispers about The Subways next door, so I scoot back into the R1 tent.

16:30
Juicy nuggets of pop goodness, dispensed by a happy young chappy and his blonde, mini-skirted bassist fiancee. The tent is heaving, and everyone is grinning. Too heaving, actually. I can’t see, and the situtaion is made worse when two German s in sombreros plant themselves right in front of me. I take the hint, and leave for the main stage.


17:00
Elbow
Launching an album the muso press is already calling the best of their career, and I’m rabidly looking forward to it on the strength of the new songs showcased here. I wasn’t initially sure about the Bury boys in a featival setting, always preferring them myself in a late night, thoughtful and drunk kind of mood. They were great here though. Guy prompts a marriage proposal from two lovers in the crowd during “Newborn” (the most romantic song ever to mention a corpse in a bathtub), and gets the mob play-acting and Mexican waving. Glitter cannons go off, and the sun comes out. Result.

17:45
Clare calls, to see how I’m doing, and reports that she can hear the festival from our house. That’s money well spent on two day tickets, then. Base camps starts sprouting by the main stage, as folding chairs come out. I sit in the mud, and scribble in my notebook. Somewhere in the distance, the Coral play. Very nice, but I have to be in the mood for pscychedeliscally stuff, and I kind of wasn’t. The crowd response was fine, though, so what do I know.


19:15
The Queens of The Stone Age
Much more my speed. “I dunno about you,” Josh Homme Says, “but I’m fucked up already.” Sadly, no. But the set is extraordinary. Classics, stuff from the Desert Sessions (“Punk Rocker’s Blood”), the lost track from Lullabies, “The Fun Machine Took A Shit And Died”, and as a finale, an extraordinary 15 minute breakdown and rebuild of “No-One Knows”. Apparantly, a busted knee meant Josh almost missed the festival. I would have been distraught. As he leaves, he hopes everyone gets laid tonight. What a guy.

As the sky darkens, impromptu fires bloom, fuelled with old Carling mugs and stray bits of whatever’s to hand. The air is heavy with the smell of burning cardboard and dope. I’m either knackered or at least secondarily stoned. A bloke dressed as Batman chats up two girls, while a trio of blokes dressed up as a McDonald’s value meal stroll past. The shake gets especial attention from the ladies.
Like I said, at least secondarily stoned.

2030ish
The Killers roll out just about all of “Hot Fuss” and it’s splendid. Brandon Flowers is very Duran in white black-trimmed jacket and eye-liner, and the set boasts a sucker 1-2 punch in “Mr. Brightside” and “All The Things That I’ve Done”. I love the “Mrs. Brightside” banner in the crowd, by the way. Slick, glossy, glamourous. Not very Reading, then!

I catch a bit of Lemon Jelly in the Dance Tent. Mostly stuff off the new album, which I haven’t got, and I’m too tired to dance. No matter though. I know what’ll lively me up, and it arrives on the main stage with no fuss or announcement five minutes earlier than expected.


22:05
The Pixies
Oh joy. Oh happy wallow. I sing along to everything, screaming when I can, although no bugger can match the nastiness at the back of Black Francis’ throat. David Lovering is a metronome, a machine. Joey Santiago makes his retro-fiitted Gibson sing, cry and bellow. Kim Deal, the only person on the planet who can be that cool while rocking a red pully over a sensible shirt and BHS slacks. She sucks fags down to ash in momonts, yet still sings as sweetly as a schoolgirl. There’s a feeling that bad blood and animosity is being wiped away as we watch, as the Pixies shrug, smile and share wry jokes. Black Francis and Kim share a hug at the end, before they launch into “Hey!” and “Gigantic.” Holy crap, they’re back. No new songs, but who cares when you can cram 80 minutes full with songs about alien abduction and eyeballs and the apocalypse that have 50 thousand people singing along? I’m whooping like a nutcase. Sailing away on a wave of mutilation.

00:30

Home. My feet feel like they’ve had a hammer taken to them. I’m ten yards from collpase when I get through the door. But then. I’ve got a comfy bed and a shower to hand, unlike the thousands of willing victims under canvas tonight.
Clare, abed, mumbles and nuzzles. “Have a nice time?” she asks.
I just grin in the dark. I’m shredded, and i’m doing it all again tomorrow. I can’t wait.

*NB all my photos on the day are rubbish. Everything on here has been nabbed off the Mean Fiddler and NME wubshites. Hey, it’s only rock and roll.


Reading Station was filled with hairy young people with rucksacks this morning. Slightly bewildered, a bit bleary but all smiling. The Festival is here finally. One of the principal plusses to us moving to this corner of Berkshire in te first place, and this time tomorrow I will be in a field with the people I saw while waiting for my train into work this morning, enjoying the music. Knowing that if i need to, I’m a twenty-minute walk from home, shower, bed, Clare.
The sun, hopefully, will be out. The beer, without a doubt, will be cold. I will come home, starry-eyed and raving. Hopefully, I will have at least one new favourite band. I’m really up on the idea of the happy accident, of some random discovery blowing your hair back and plastering a grin across your face. However, I will be most miffed if I miss any one of the following:
Elbow
The Pixies
The Killers
Queens Of The Stone Age
The Arcade Fire
Kings Of Leon
The Foo Fighters

How dreadfully XFMTV2 of me.

I’m missing the metal day this year due to mismanagement on my part. That’s something I regret now, as some of the smaller stages are at their strongest on the final day, and seeing Iron Maiden would have been a blast. Especially bearing in mind the crap they got put through by the Osbournes on the last date of their stint at Ozzfest, (Full story eye witness account here) I would imagine they are going to be greeted as returning heroes. Which is of course, as it should be.
Remind me to bore you with my Iron Maiden connection someday.
Up The Irons!

Found my new favourite drinking hole on Saturday night, during one of our all too infrequent weekend nights out into Reading. The Hobgoblin is crammed into a tiny site on the main Broad St drag. There are always people outside, which led me to suspect that it was tiny inside too. Not so. The place is a labyrinth of woodlined corridors and cubbyholes, the ceiling encrusted with beer plaques from the 4000 guest ales they’ve served since 1993. One nice feature is that the graffitoes on the walls, tables and chairs have been left to accumulate, and they have a bit more class than the usual “John Shagged Jane ere 2002” tags you get in most pubs (although there are plenty of those too). Love stories, cryptic sayings and rude jokes jostle for your attention. The music is the right side of gothy, and I was even feeling mellow enough to forgive the odd burst of folk. What’s more, they’re selling old vinyl for a quid a pop (some collectable stuff too, no I’m not saying what, too late sucker) and all in all a mellow vibe that is light years away from the Yate’s and All Bar One’s clustering on Friar St. If you’re a lagerhead you may as well forget it (however, Budweiser Budvar on draft? not too shabby!), but speaking as a beer bore, I had a fine time.
In other alcohol related news, this was introduced to me earlier in the evening by a very nice man at Santa Fe on the Waterside. Beats Jack and Coke into a tipped hat. Won’t be trying this in a hurry, though.
Hangover report for Sunday: heavy, overcast, thundery in places.

That’ll teach me to blog. Running for a bus last night, some wag yelled out “Everybody off! He’s got a bomb!” Highly amusing. This is in Reading, by the way, hardly terrorist central. However, I’m now seriously contemplating changing my bag, which at least should have the effect of cutting down the amount of crap I’m lugging around with me these days. For example, today I’ve got my iBook, iPod, associated chargers, library books to go back, writing implements, assorted bits of paperwork, for some reason a tube of Krazy Glue, and this is before we talk about my phone, keys, wallet and travelcard secreted about my person. It’s a good workout, but starting to tire me on too many different levels. Maybe I should just invest in one of these.
On a related note, apparantly a girl toting a big rucky on the tube yesterday had a note pinned onto it saying “Don’t shoot me, I’m going camping.” Made me laugh, anyway.

Back in England, things aren’t quite so rosy. Coming into London is of course a jolly experience. There are signs at both Reading and Paddington listing bus services for those too un-nerved to travel by tube. If you are brave enough, try not to be dark and in possession of a rucksack, unless you’re prepared for a journey filled with sideways looks and uncomfortable shiftings from your fellow passengers. I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t get more of a tan on holiday. Meanwhile, the weather continues to disappoint and the jet lag from the flight back still has it’s claws in. And I haven’t shaken the cold I caught on the plan. And I cricked my neck at work last week and the bloody thing’s still twingeing.

Hi ho. Post-holiday grumpiness makes for poor blogging. I will get me some happy and write again when smiling.