Some would say that the perfect way to end the summer holidays is to discover that quiet corner of this much-trodden planet and wilfully pass away the days enjoying pristine nothingness.
To many more, it is mud-swamps, exploding gas cans and sheer filthiness that carries the greater appeal.
As the oldest, grandest and dirtiest of all British Festivals, Reading / Leeds has rarely been so eagerly anticipated.
With the absence of Glastonbury this year, even with increased capacities reaching 80,000 and 70,000 respectively, obtaining a ticket was simply a matter of click and hope.
For those lucky few (“few” being in relative terms) the class of 2006 covers the length and breadth of popular music, as festival partner Mean Fiddler’s push for diversity reaches yet another peak. With up to 5 acts performing at any one time, festivalgoers have but two dilemmas. With whom to share your tent, and how to spend the time most effectively.
Reading Friday 25th August / Leeds Saturday 26th August
As with all festivals, the early morning is time to discover something new. Inevitably some of today’s openers will not amount to much, but what is certain is that you will not see more effort going into a set than these who are desperate to win your affections. Who knows, a gem may be discovered, as in 1999 when Coldplay played an opening slot here. On the main stage are British punks Towers of London, whose brashly old-school rock may struggle to rouse what is notoriously a quiet main stage in the early hours. A more attractive option may be London’s King Blues in the newly named Lock Up Stage, a rare chance to see a band boasting both reggae and ska influence. Alternatively, Bexhill five-piece Mumm-Ra offer the perfect hangover cure, epic guitar anthems, on the Carling Stage.
On a largely radio-friendly day, hardcore metal fans will flock to the Lock Up Stage in the mid-afternoon for a brutal sequence of Bleeding Through, Boysetsfire and Rise Against, with punk-rockers Bouncing Souls and Hundred Reasons likely to keep the moshpit whirling long into the evening. An equally delightful line-up presents itself on the NME Stage where the wonderful Guillemots, gypsy-punkers Gogol Bordello and the sassy Peaches all perform. Then if all of that gets just too tiring, Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly offers the perfect chill out experience back on the Carling Stage.
The main stage, compered in Leeds by Colin Murray, presents the chance for Fightstar frontman Charlie Simpson to once again endear himself to the crowds who threw torrents of Busted-related abuse last year. The remainder of the day promises high-jinx and misdemeanour with Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy and Yeah Yeah Yeahs looking notable highlights.
It all gets confusing as we reach the headliners, with the hugely popular Dizzee Rascal‘s NME stage appearance clashing with the Brit Award-grabbing Kaiser Chiefs on the main stage. Perhaps this perplexing dilemma will drive you to New Jersey’s Thursday, who offer the hardcore option on the Lock Up Stage. Franz Ferdinand close the main stage, hoping to build on a storming appearance at Scotland’s T In The Park festival, but equally tempting prospects are a reinvigorated Primal Scream on the NME stage, the beautifully worldly sound of Bedouin Soundclash on the Carling Stage, or yet another appearance from hardcore outfit Sick Of It All on the Lock Up.
Reading Saturday 26th August / Leeds Sunday 27th August
The first enticing-looking morsel today is Wolfmother, who bring their wonderfully noisy rock stylings to the main stage. Following this The Futureheads, Dirty Pretty Things and Feeder make up what is probably the best main-stage line-up of the weekend. That said, an enormous crowd is destined to greet The Automatic, The Fall and Jet on the NME Stage, and the quirky The Spinto Band will surely have the Carling Stage rammed. A terrible decision awaits at around teatime, with an almighty clash brewing between The Streets, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and TV On the Radio. The only alternative to dashing between what will be three excellent performances, is to accept that on certain occasions life just isn’t fair
The Lock Up stage presents a heavily punk-based line-up today, and festival stalwarts Capdown, Alexisonfire, Flogging Molly, Millencolin and Anti-Flag sure to bring the party mood. The main bulk of the crowd, however, is likely to flock to the main stage to witness the first big festival performance from Arctic Monkeys. The colossal appeal of the Sheffield rockers is such that the brilliant post-punk outfits of Coheed and Cambria and The Fratellis may find themselves overshadowed.
3. Arctic Monkeys
4. Hot Chip
Despite performances from The Raconteurs, Reel Big Fish and French covers specialists Nouvelle Vague, there is only really one headliner this evening. Since their blinding performance in 2002, Muse have gone on to prove themselves as one of the world’s best live acts. They have also doubled their output of albums, so are able to provide setlist that is nothing short of mesmeric. Expect stunning lights, a gigantic guitar sound and a performance that will be talked about for years to come.
Reading Sunday 27th August / Leeds Friday 25th August
Today is all about just one band, for it is the return to UK Shores for legendary US-rockers Pearl Jam. Barring a ridiculously intimate performance at the London Astoria in April, this is the band’s first visit to the country in six years, and probably the last opportunity for their legions of fans to see them over here in something like their prime. The band’s recent self-titled LP shows a definite return to form, and with frontman Eddie Vedder you get a voice like no other. This is stadium rock at its absolute best, and is surely a must-see.
Before all that, the main stage presents a very metal-oriented line-up. Beginning with the brutal Mastodon, there follows a selection of the genre’s finest, most noticeably Killswitch Engage and the almighty Slayer. Taking Back Sunday and Bullet For My Valentine also feature, to showcase hard-rock’s bright young things.
On the NME Stage, emerging superstarsTapes ‘n Tapes provide the early dance-fuelled mayhem, before Goldie Lookin’ Chain bring the comedy Welsh-style. The Carling Stage offers a superb line-up, with the chaotic Humanzi, dance-punks You Say Party! We Say Die and techno maestros The Klaxons the probable showstoppers.
The evening’s entertainment is likely to be focused heavily on the NME Stage, where Boy Kill Boy and everybody’s favourite new band The Kooks are set to reap the benefits of their immense popularity. Following on as headliners are Maximo Park who, just as on the NME Awards tour, seem to be topping a bill of bigger bands than themselves. Consequently there is likely to be a flock towards Pearl Jam, but there may just be time to catch the Kraftwerk-esque Hot Chip on the Carling Stage beforehand. If this band entices you, then you may well have spent the day at the Dance Arena, which replaces the Lock Up Stage today and features live sets from 2 Many DJ’s, Vitalic, Coldcut, Lady Sovereign and many more.
In addition to this is stand up comedy throughout the day, the Topman Unsigned Bands Stage in Leeds, and much-needed improvements to the Reading campsite, such as a 23-hour caf and even a quiet zone. Continuing developments such as these will ensure that Reading and Leeds outlasts all the pretenders; this is the Premier alternative music festival and it has never been so vital. Just remember your wellies.