Sunday, October 28, 2012

London 2012 Part VI: Reading Festival Part I

We had exactly one day to rest before Reading happened. I was bracing myself for the worst, but I didn’t honestly believe that there were no showers. I just thought everyone was pulling the leg of the poor South African who didn’t know any better. I was wrong, but we’ll get to that.

Somehow it took a lot less time to get to Reading that it had taken to get to Chelmsford, and despite all the warnings, we encountered no traffic whatsoever. Well, until we reached Reading town. So that’s where all the traffic was. We were backed up for miles and miles and miles but at least this afforded us the opportunity to creep the rest of the festival goers – people-watching is super entertaining. By now it was lunchtime and we were absolutely starving so we stopped off at the mall to track down a McDonald’s. Oh, but there was no McDonald’s. And no Starbucks. Burger King would have to do, but I swear their burgers are barely an appetizer. Ugh.

The fortuitous thing is that we’re a few meters walk from the Hexagon, where we have to collect our tickets. And by some miracle they let me collect Lauren’s ticket so we’re spared another trip through the traffic. By now Lauren’s coach has arrived, but after the Hexagon, we’re stuck in ridiculous traffic to get to the drop off point. But eventually we get there and after getting lost a few times, we follow some people towards what seems to be a parking lot. Yay! Memorizing the location of the car would probably be a good idea, seeing it’s a hire car and we don’t even really know what it looks like. It’s in row 28. Or 8. (I’m writing this two months later, and the smaller details have abandoned me.)

There’s a guy with an accent in front of us in the line to be searched be security, and the security guard asks if he’s from South Africa. Se-ouff Efrikah. No, he’s Australian, but we pack up laughing and the guard raises an eyebrow. “We’re from South Africa.” He wonders what we’re doing, leaving sunny SA for the UK, and is absolutely shocked when we say we came over for Reading. “Just for this?!” Yep. We know we’re nuts.

The camping area is, well, rather large to say the least. White camping is the furthest – and apparently the quietest -  but it looks like a hell of a walk from the arena, and we’re planning to be absolutely dead tired after seeing the likes of Dave Grohl perform. We’ll be in no state to walk this far. It also seems that a lot of the camping space is full already, even though it’s only Thursday evening  - music gets underway tomorrow afternoon. We settle for the second-furthest campsite – Brown – and set up along a fence next to the ‘supermarket’ so that we know we’ll find our way back at night. Our neighbours don’t seem to like us much though. They’re all about 15, but they swear like sailors, and drink like fish. They’re also not too happy that we’ve set up camp in what they call their ‘back yard’. Tough luck, kids.

We mission back to white camping to find food  (chips with cheese on top, not as great as it sounds), and then have another adventure in the form of setting up Kirsten’s tent in the dark. Thank goodness for the torch, which think I managed to break. Whoops.  Our attempt to go to sleep early is thwarted by our dear neighbours, who decide 2am is a great time to start a singalong. I can deal with them singing Oasis, but when they launch into renditions of Pitbull’s worst songs, I growl and my head hits the roof of my tent as I sit up to stick my head outside and give them a piece of my mind. Luckily I manage to restrain myself. I don’t really want to be beaten up by a group of 12-year-olds before I’ve even seen Brian Fallon’s face. Also, I’d never camped before in my life (besides on my friend’s front veranda when I was 12, and that time on school camp when I was 13), and by the time the sun began to rise, my body was aching like that of an 80-year old. Moving was very difficult indeed.

It’s Friday, and we’ve realized that the showers are communal. Ew. On the upside, at least it’s not too hot this weekend, so we’re not sweating.  I can do this whole not showering for four days thing… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that.

Reading’s giving us free breakfast baps every morning (a bap is basically a roll with something on it), and of course I choose bacon over egg or sausage. Bad idea. I’ve never tasted something so salty in my entire life. Plus it’s tiny. At least walking the festival grounds and standing in the food queue gave us chance to keep the rest of the festival goers. It really bugs me that half the population was decked out in Beatles shirts, even though I’m sure 90% of them had no idea who John Lennon even was. No don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some youngsters who have great taste in music, and know all the words to ‘Hey Jude’, but these were not amongst them. Trust me.

So we creep around stalls (much creeping was done this weekend) and then at 11am we creep into the arena (“No cans, no open bo’oles”) and as soon as I’m inside, someone hands me a flyer advertising touring bands and the first thing I see is The Gaslight Anthem. I wish they were playing today, but alas they’re only around on Sunday. Oh well, guess I’ll have to see PARAMORE tonight! But even before that we have Angels and Airwaves to look forward to, so after a thorough creep of the arena – including a preliminary judgment of just how fast we’ll have to run to get from the main stage to the NME stage between Paramore and Foster The People – we head off to the main stage to wait for A&A. Getting a good spot is almost too easy. They’re really good, but I failed on learning all of the songs, and every few minutes I turn to Lauren in abject confusion and ask “Is this the song I know?” Nope. ‘The Song I Know’ is ‘Secret Crowds’ and it’s not on the setlist. Aww.

We disappear from the crowd during Crystal Castles’ set, and get back in for You Me At Six. But we have the foresight to recognize that the crowd will probably get a little bit crazy for them, so we stay out of the mosh pit area. And we’re not wrong, the band even encourage crowd surfing and general craziness. Then the crowd starts something which seems to be called the Circle Of Death – basically people running in a circle, kicking up as much dust as possible, and causing chaos. It’s pretty fun to watch from the back. By now we’ve got a pretty decent position against the middle barrier, so we decide to wait here for Paramore. Bombay Bicycle Club are on first, and although I’ve enjoyed their music, they positively freak me out. It’s two months later and I’m getting chills just thinking about it. Their frontman never wipes his face of a seriously eerie smile that’s part innocent and child-like, and part murderous. It’s like he knows something that we don’t. Or maybe he’s just high. I breathe a sigh of relief when they leave the stage and Paramore’s backdrop appears. Another thing that appears is Ryan, a fellow Vicitm. He’s looking for Sinead, and on the phone to Jess. Oh how I love bumping into Victims all over the country!

The sun has set by the time we hear music and the screens light up and Hayley Williams – tiny, fiery-haired and bouncing – appears on stage. But there’s something very wrong… if it weren’t for the fact that I’d listened to ‘Brick By Boring Brick’ at least 5 million times, I wouldn’t have even recognized it.  Hayley’s ‘ba da ba ba da ba ba da’s were far too soft and almost entirely eclipsed by the instruments. Somehow they got their act together by the second song, ‘Renegade’, and I was completely happy again by ‘For A Pessimist…’. But really, what was up with not playing ‘CrushCrushCrush’?! But I dealt with it. It almost didn’t feel real when they played ‘Decode’, because… because it was ‘Decode’! This was the song that made me like Paramore in the first place! Yes, I was a little slow on the uptake, yes it was the Twilight song, but really, so what? My photos of the set are horrendous because I was jumping up and down so much, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘The Only Exception’ was particularly beautiful, with the entire crowd singing along. ‘Misery Business’ ended the set, and we all lost our minds for a bit. I’m pretty sure this is when my brand new camera acquired that little paint chip on the side. Whoops. Festival scars FTW.

So Paramore get off the stage and we – breathlessly – dash to the NME tent for Foster The People. Once again, wisely keeping to the back of the tent in case the crowd goes nuts. There’s a guy who looks just like Bono standing off to my right, the first of several celeb lookalikes spotted during the weekend. Foster The People, though. I love them, I love their poppy vibe that disguises the fact that their lyrics are downright creepy. I love their uniqueness, and quirkiness, and I think they’re just great. What I’m not expecting is a performance to top everything I’ve seen during the day. ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ is a freaking stadium rock tune, nevermind some poppy radio hit about deranged teenagers shooting people. I positively bounce back to the tent, convinced that this will be the highlight of the entire weekend. This is clearly just because a certain Mr Grohl hasn’t shown his face yet. Oh, but bouncing is a really, really bad idea. My back feels broken, my feet are overrun with blisters bigger than my actual toes, and I can’t actually bend my knees. And so day one draws to a close with the shouts of my pre-teen neighbours acting as a lullaby.

Hard ground or no hard ground, I pass out and actually manage a few hours sleep. Not that I wake up with any less aches and pains, but at least I’m slightly less exhausted, and now that I’m into the swing of things, I won’t be as tired during the day. Oh, have I mentioned the bathroom situation yet? No? Ha. Bathrooms are for the weak, and the spoiled. Here we have rows of longdrops, and I have to hold my breathe whenever I walk past to avoid losing my supper. Ew. We take a walk to find some tea before hitting the breakfast bap line again, and man does tea taste good! Even though it’s cold by the time I get back to my tent, cold tea is better than no tea at all.

So the kids in Beatles shirts are out in full force again, and whilst observing them in the breakfast line, I’m hit by a missile around my waist. Except, it’s not really a missile, it’s Alice hugging me. Next Sinead’s hugging me too, and we’re all jumping up and down because once again, out of a crowd of 100 000 this time, we’ve managed to bump into each other. With Alice and Sinead is Emma, and we’re all chatting happily about the day’s lineup because The Vaccines are on today! They’re going to be amazing and Foster The People last night and Foo Fighters tomorrow and Kasabian today and did you hear the Green Day rumour and guys we saw The Killers and we rolled on the floor when we met Brandon Flowers and and and and this is definitely the most fun anyone’s had in the line for breakfast baps. Speaking of those baps, I tried the egg one and vowed to go back to the salty bacon the next day. Ew.

Uh, but hold on just one second, what’s this Green Day Rumour all about? During the week, there had been some speculation on Twitter that Green day would be performing a surprise set at Reading on Saturday. Buuut, there’s also weekly speculation on Twitter that Justin Bieber has died, and that there are lions roaming around Essex (I’ll get to that, it’s a great story), so I took it with a pinch of salt. Up until the Tuesday night, when dear old Zane Lowe form BBC Radio 1 (is it weird that I know DJs from other countries?) interviewed none other than Green Day themselves, and a giggling Billie Joe had a lot to say. “So,” said Zane, “there’s a rumour that your American Idiot musical might be turned into a movie…” Billie Joe cracked up and replied “There’s a rumour that American Idiot might be played at Reading!” They ended off the interview with a comment like “If you missed the Reading this, use your brain”, and this combined with Billie Joe’s ‘Hey England, what rhymes with SHREDDING?’ comment and a photo of a leaked tour t-shirt saying ‘Reading – England’, and I started to believe it.

But I didn’t really believe it! I mean, Green Day were always on my list of 20 bands I needed to see, and funnily enough we’d even looked up tickets to a festival they were playing in Paris, but we never would have made it there from Reading in time. If Green Day had announced a South African tour, I probably would have spent a good few minutes rolling on the floor crying before I composed myself enough to buy a ticket.

Anyway it’s just before 11am, and the rumour mill says Green Day are on at 12pm in the NME stage. Psssh, as if. Anyway, we head off to the arena just in case. There’s not way Green Day will actually play…

But I swear I can hear them playing even before I’m in the arena… someone’s obviously playing a CD – one stall has been playing The Killers everytime I’ve walked past. But. But. THAT’S BILLIE JOE’S FACE ON THE BIG SCREEN OUTSIDE THE NME TENT! He’s screaming, and throwing his hands in the air, and now there’s no time for rolling on the floor crying, but I’m pretty sure we won’t get into the tent, we’ll watch on the screens outside, but who cares?! We get to hear Green Day!  Oh, how wrong I am. Before I know what’s happening, I’m right at the front of the tent, clutching a barrier for dear life, as Billie Joe and his buddies go absolutely mad five meters from my face. I can’t. I can’t. This is not happening. But it is. And although they don’t play many of my favourite songs, ‘American Idiot’ now eclipses ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ as the highlight of my weekend. At one point Billie Joe starts shooting toilet paper into the audience. Ya know, as one does. I am utterly in awe of these three men, and heartbroken when they’re forced to leave the stage after an hour. But I still can’t believe it happened. I saw Green Day live, with no warning. It kind of just happened, and sometimes that’s the best way. 

London 2012 Part V: V Fest Chelmsford

Somehow it took 5 hours to get back to London from Leeds the next day - someone had told me a lie about Brits not having cars, but it was a lie, I tell you! Traffic was horrendous. I take my hat off to anyone who managed to make the Staffordshire V-Fest, because I could barely keep my eyes open in the car the next day. Sleep had been a rare commodity after the show because some drunk man outside my window had been shouting at his girlfriend who seemed to have kicked him out. Also, the police closed down the ‘club’ down the street around 4am due to noise. Add this to the fact that 1am saw texts from Jess and Amii saying they’d all just met the band, and my total sleep amounted to about 3 hours at the most.

So anyway, 5 hour drive back to London (I don’t actually remember packing up or leaving the Travelodge, but I do remember that they charged us about 25 Pounds for parking – that’s about R300 for 3 days). Back in Wimbledon I passed out in a bed for as long as I possibly could.

Sunday rolled around and I was about to attend my first ever major festival. I had no idea what to expect, but from what I'd seen of these festivals on TV, they looked like pure madness, and I figured I'd be somewhere near the back, on the outskirts of the crowd, but at least I'd get to watch the show on the big screens, and still be able to hear. Ha. What a joke. I ended up 4 rows back, just to the right of Mark. But I'll get to that.

Anyway, we arrived in Chelmsford around 9am after leaving London just after 7am - we were in no rush as gates only opened at 11am and we didn't really care about any of the acts besides Snow Patrol and TK, who were the last two bands. It was apparently one of the hottest days of the year - a whopping 29 degrees - and yes, I come from Africa, but I still took strain in that heat.

It turns out that absolutely nothing in Chelmsford is open on a Sunday, so after a 30 minute trek to town to look for food, we returned empty handed and were forced to wait for the food stalls to open. I think I had a bacon roll and a coke for breakfast – the Brits are big on bacon rolls.

In the shade of a tree, I recall making Lauren stop talking several times so that I could strain my ears … I could have sworn I heard Miss Atomic Bomb being soundchecked! Oh and then there was the worry of collecting tickets with an international credit card, but somehow it went off without a hitch.

We entered the arena around 11am, and the lines moved miraculously quickly! And now we had the entire day to creep around and wait for the last two bands! The arena areas was huge and we walked around for ages trying to find the main stage – plus the wi-fi didn’t work, fail – but when we finally did find it, there was almost no one there. It was great. We spent an hour or two in a spot of shade near the bar, watching The Stranglers, some other randoms, and Tulisa. Actually, by the time Tulisa came on stage, it had started raining, and Lauren and I were huddled under one thin plastic poncho, each with one eye stuck out to watch the performance. We weren’t missing much.

Somewhere along the line we ran off to the merch stand to buy Snow Patrol shirts, and I ran into Sinead, because out of 80 000 people, I would run into one of only two other people I knew there! That’s how we Victims roll.

But by the afternoon, it was boiling again, and we tried desperately to find some shade, where we remained until the beginning of Tinie Tempah's set, when we returned the main stage to try to obtain a good spot for the headliners. Tinie is not exactly my kind of music, and his fans made me want to rip my own head off. As they shouted about 'Drinkin' from the bo’ole (bottle), I cringed and hoped I wouldn't have to share my band with this lot. Eek. 

We got about 6 rows back for Snow Patrol, simply by pushing our way through the crowd of Tinie’s fans, who were moving in the opposite direction to go to the 4Music stage where LMFAO were playing. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that I was a little sad to miss LMFAO – I mean, everyone loves a little party rockin’, right? But Snow Patrol were obviously our priority – I’d been kicking myself for the past 4 years for not going to Coke Fest to see them! Gary Lightbody is highly entertaining on stage, he’s such a performer. They opened with ‘Hands Open’ and although the set was super short, we got to see ‘Shut Your Eyes’, ‘Crack The Shutters’, ‘Just Say Yes’ and ‘Chasing Cars’. OH, and, well, ‘Run’. I think the crowd’s reaction to ‘Run’ was far stronger that it was to ‘Chasing Cars’, even though the latter was a much bigger hit. I have no words for ‘Run’. Spectacular does not even begin to describe it. Emotions were running high, and The Killers hadn’t even started yet.

Sometime between sets, the screens at the side of the stage read something along the lines of 'scream if you want to hear [can't remember what song it was]' followed by 'now scream if you want to hear Mr Brightside' so all 80 000 of us screamed and Mr Brightside blasted across the field and we screamed some more. That got us nicely warmed up for the actual show! 

I gasped when I first caught sight of The Killers’ new backdrop - the mountains, the sky, it's the most stunning background ever. Everything about the stage set up just screams what pro's these guys are - lights, screens, the K, the bolt and who knows what else. My excitement had reached fever pitch by the time they finally came on. I thought they'd open with Runaways, but instead they exploded onto stage with Somebody Told Me! What! We were treated to This Is Your Life, and I got to do the famous arm-wave again (people think I'm nuts because I do it every single time I hear the song) and Miss Atomic Bomb was amazing. The guy next to me was totally judging me for knowing the words already, oh well. But the crowd's reaction to all the songs was amazing, everyone seemed to know the words! When Dustland came along, I'm not sure what anyone else thought, because once again, the world melted away, and it was just me and the song. The mountain backdrop had been taken down by now, and replaced by the big screen showing different scenes for each song. The Dustland background is the same as it was in Cape Town and somehow it just feels like everything's come full circle. 

If there had been a roof over our heads, Mr Brightside would have blown it off, it's got to be one of the best festival songs ever. It's irresistible. It had gotten to that point where I could start to predict the setlist - it was actually quite scary. When they left the stage, I wasn't worried at all because of course they'd be back for Jenny and WYWY. And I wasn't disappointed.

I'd never seen the band like that before. I can't actually believe that they can be just as at home in front of 80 000 as they were in front of 2000 two nights before. The never cease to amaze me. After the show, the crowds began to peal away, leaving a couple of us Victims to converge at the barrier and watch the equipment be carted off. We started shouting for Rob until he finally heard us and turned to fist-pump in our direction.

As we made out way over the detritus of empty cans and bo’oles back to the car, I was chattering away at breakneck speed about how perfect they were. Lauren even admitted that after seeing them she finally understood why I was so ridiculously mad about them – they were that good.

But wherever The Killers go, traffic follows (it’s only natural) and we sat in the parking lot for a good hour and a half, by which time we’d listened to all of our recordings, and fully creeped Gary’s Twitter (he was hoping see Foo Fighters at Reading) and we were hovering somewhere between asleep and awake when we finally pulled into the driveway in Wimbledon at 3am. I think I passed out wordlessly, and the next time I was conscious was around 11am. Ha, it was time to hit Oxford Street.