Thursday August 21, 2003
Anticipating big crowds, we took the fastest possible route to Reading, with the aim of meeting the others in the festival car park. As luck would have it, we phoned them from Reading Services on the M4 just as they were pulling into the Services car park. We travelled to the site in convoy. Our favoured camp-site was rammed, but our usual spot appeared like magic from the sea of tents already up – it’s almost as if it’s reserved for us.

Quayley and Sam were arriving by train, so Dan and I went into town to meet them and spent a leisurely few hours in the pub before getting back on site. Thursday’s tea was a blinding curry from Curry in a Hurry by the arena entrance, and I decided that would be my food of choice all weekend. Things were, however, to change…

Predictably, we ended the evening getting drunk by the fire, followed by a very early night for me. Hey, there were bands to be seen the next day!

Friday August 22, 2003
Looking down the laminate revealed Friday to be an unexpectedly great day for bands – especially with the Darkness replacing the thankfully-cancelled Jay-Z. Dan and I stayed on site for breakfast while the others went to the pub. Also, Dan had recently introduced new drinking laws for himself at festivals: no alcohol until the sun is over the yardarm (ie mid-day) in an attempt to see headliners. It was to prove a very successful rule, though it only applied to Dan, of course…

Why Mean Fiddler haven’t sorted out the arrangements for letting people into the arena yet is a mystery, but there was the usual vast crowd getting nowhere fast. Come on, Mean Fiddler, do something about it next year!

Eventually we got through the seething mass of sweaty Goths and were in the arena. First, we saw Violent Delight making a fine punky racket on the Radio One Stage, followed by the best band of the festival: Young Heart Attack. Somehow, discoveries like this are even better when you can return to your mates later gloating about something they didn’t get to see! Plus, it was great to see people clearly approaching middle-age playing proper metal again at Reading. And they’ve got a chick with a mullet playing percussion and singing. Remember where you first saw them recommended, won’t you?

The Datsuns make a great racket (they always do) but its impact is diluted on the main stage. The reason is showmanship and they were soon to be shown how to do it properly, but before that could happen, it was time for Staind. Unfortunately for Staind, one of their guitar amps broke right at the start of the set. Now why a band of their size doesn’t bring a spare along just in case, we’ll never know, but they didn’t. Nor did they seem to have the basic common sense to ask another band if they could borrow one. Obviously they were never Boy Scouts. So the singer played an acoustic set. The old adage about a great song still sounding great played just on an acoustic guitar was also proved to work the other way: a shit song will still sound shit on an acoustic. And boy, did Staind’s songs sound shit. Dreary tuneless rambling does not a good 45-minute set make and it was a merciful release when it was all over. Then it was time for the showmanship…

The Darkness had steadily worked their way up the bill over the previous few weeks as their stature grew and it became obvious that they were going to be one of the big draws of the weekend. Frankly, they could have headlined. Despite having played every festival in the world, they showed no signs of being tired or jaded and were simply magnificent. Great tunes, great lyrics, great stage presence – sounds like a simple lesson so many other bands could learn from, but there’s some secret ingredient that sets bands like the Darkness apart. Maybe it’s Justin Hawkins’ stripy cat-suit?

How Placebo must have felt after that we’ll never know. Especially as we weren’t there by the time they came on stage. Nor were many others to judge by the mass exodus that followed the Darkness. We headed off to the Carling Stage for McLusky’s excellent Shellac-inspired show.

By now, drinking was starting to have an effect, despite Dan’s drinking laws and a little sit-down was in order, even though it meant missing The Black Keys, who I’d been looking forward to. But a trip to Curry in a Hurry was a huge disappointment – not only had they put the prices up, but the curry was lukewarm, too.

Back in the camp-site a new tent had appeared by our fire. The owners turned out to be a couple of girls who said hello and apologised for squeezing the tent in. We warned them of the impending swearing (with the added threat of nudity thrown in for effect) and they didn’t say a word to us for the rest of the weekend. Obviously not very well brought-up at all. Still, it was their loss, though they did appear to be involved in some threesome with a bloke they appeared to have met that day, so maybe their thoughts were elsewhere. We re-christened them Trini and Suzanna for no good reason at all.

A couple of hours sitting down talking shite did wonders and I was able to make it back to the Carling Stage for Evan Dando’s headlining slot. As laid-back as ever and with more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Ramone, it was a fine way to round off the first day, with some drinking round the fire thrown in, of course.
You can see these pics bigger by clicking on them
Chance meeting at Reading services bodes well for the coming weekend... does an evening drinking round the fire, of course
Gail and Phil travelled from Newquay with baby Phoenix - a new festival recruit Dan and Kev - polite as ever
Best band of the weekend - the awesome Young Heart Attack It's warm and sunny, and we're soon to witness The Darkness
Quayley readies himself for the weekend Dan's always been a messy eater Now there's a happy Quayley - the fire's going and he's got lager
Good things about Reading 2003
• Lager
• Great bands
• Good Weather
• Having a proper, sit down meal from china plates in a
Chinese restaurant…
• …with cognac to follow
• Cocktails on Sunday

Bad things about Reading 2003
• Too few toilets in the campsites
• Terrible, rip-off festival food
• Staind – the worst band I’ve ever seen
• Overpriced merchandise
• Security still allowing a huge crush to build up at the
arena entrance
• Dan showing everyone his bollocks