Once again this year I ventured to the fine county of Berkshire to be part of the Warwick Labour delegation to the Reading Festival. Despite what one might assume from the title, the festival is not a literary extravaganza but is instead named after the town of Reading, one of those larger towns that, like Bournemouth, feel like a city.
Coming from the middle of nowhere as I do, the train takes a leisurely (read: slow) two and a half hours to reach my destination just a hundred miles away. Then, it’s just a short taxi ride to Reading Town Football Club, a charming non-league outfit sponsored by the GMB union and conveniently located at the end of the festival campsite. One exec member (who shall remain unnamed, but let’s just say he’s the BAME Officer) had to be redirected as he made his way towards the Madejski Stadium, capacity 25,000 and home of the rather more illustrious Reading FC (and on the other side of town).
The deal was this: as part of the Workers’ Beer Company set up by the Battersea Trades Union Council, we would work three shifts behind the festival’s bars over the weekend, whilst being bussed from the football ground, where we would get two meals provided a day, and usable showers (for the women at least). You could even shave if you wanted to (although I doubt the boyish exec member who did really needed it). When we weren’t working or being looked after, we could watch the festival for free.
If this sounds like a good bargain, that’s because it is. It’s also a great way to get to see top bands for the price of a train fare and any booze or snacks you might want on top of the free drinks tokens (answer: still quite a bit). I’d been to Reading on such a basis last year and definitely not had a moment whilst watching Green Day, but this time I was in charge as the Godfather of our movement, Baris Yerli, could not attend. Gulp.
In effect, this meant I got to decide when our merry band’s breaks were, and not a huge amount else, but the important thing was we were making a hatful of money for the society. I should mention that is the point of the exercise: all the money we would have earned goes into the campaign coffers for next year’s General Election, which is really quite important.
Normally, the bars at Reading have some sort of theme, like being named after a particularly good year at the festival, but this year they were merely numbered, so off we went to ‘Bar 4’ sandwiched between the NME/Radio 1 and Dance Stages. The main difficulty of working at Reading is the incredibly young crowd, meaning you spend half your time asking people ‘Do you have any ID?’ which can get a bit wearing. The bar was very busy at times, but tended to calm down a bit when the big acts were playing – more of which later.
On Friday night we had an early finish, which allowed us to catch Vampire Weekend, who were good, Metronomy, who were excellent (and I’d like to take this opportunity to mention I liked them before they were cool) and Queens of the Stone Age, who I’d also seen before and put on a very exciting show. Their tune ‘Feelgood Hit of the Summer’ is lyrically just a list of several narcotics, and singing the hook practically acapella to a slightly confused blonde-haired exec member who was unaware of the order of such substances in the lyrics is for some reason one of my abiding memories of the weekend.
Returning to the campsite that night we found out the news that we were dreading: that we were indeed working during Arctic Monkeys’ headline set on Saturday. However, I had a hunch that people might not be buying pints when the biggest band in the country were playing, and I was proved right as our workstation was deserted. Realising this was probably a good time for a break, we all saw a decent part of the set in our breaks, and seeing the band close with a marvellous rendition of ‘RU Mine?’ was fantastic, even if I left my coat in the bar and so was bloody freezing throughout.
Sunday began with a trip to see some comedians, following on from Mark Watson the previous day, and our not-too busy shift in the evening allowed me to catch some of my 14-year-old heroes Klaxons on the Dance Stage. They were fantastic, actually being able to play their instruments these days compared to their late noughties heyday, and the new songs weren’t bad either. Given that they were playing second from the top in a tiny tent, it struck me how fickle the Reading bookings were – The 1975 got second billing on the NME/Radio Stage, for heaven’s sake. We then caught the end of headliners Blink-182, who I’d already seen twice and am not embarrassed about the fact, and returned back to the campsite for a massive party which may or may not have included my Scottish rap partner and I’s rendition of Coolio’s seminal ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’.
We also go to Glastonbury, Leeds and Latitude, so if you fancy those, stick in an application next year. It is exhausting, occasionally embarrassing (I refer you to mine and Clyde’s above-mentioned ‘performance’) but a huge amount of fun. And you get to raise money for Warwick Labour as well. What could be better?
Will Tucker is Warwick Labour’s Committee Member, but he prefers the terms ‘Minister without Portfolio’ or ‘Libero’ (like Franco Baresi)