During the 1990’s I looked on in awe at the lineups that the Reading Festival had. It was just like all my favourite bands being in the one place at the one time. Only problem was I wasn’t there!

I never thought for a moment that I would ever get the chance to experience this type of festival. At the time cheap air travel didn’t exist and I recently found out that anybody from Ireland would have made the trip over and you would have done it by boat and coach journeys. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and there are times I wish I had been a wee bit forward planning on going to these gigs.

The closest I would get to experience the festival was catching the late night highlights on ITV for The Beat programme. You didn’t get full sets but you would have got maybe 20 or 30 minutes footage of some of the bands playing.

I also taped a few shows from Radio 1. Nirvana’s legendary 1992 set I still have on tape as well as owning the official release. Came across another tape of highlights of Rage Against The Machine in 1993. That was the year I got to see the band play Belfast before they headed over to Reading.

For a lot of us on this side of the Irish Sea we would have been relying on bands on tour to make a stop over to either Belfast or Dublin. An example of this was Reading 1995 which had both Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins playing. Both bands played Dublin beforehand. Unlucky not to get tickets for Smashing Pumpkins, I got to see Soundgarden instead.

By 1999 I lost my festival virginity at Glastonbury. That was the start and I wanted to go to another one and that came in the year 2000 when I went over to London to see my friends David and Mark who had moved over to work there. We got tents and hired a car and it was about an hour and a half drive down the M25.

We got there on the Thursday evening and set up tent. By Friday morning we would make our way to the site and there queues were huge. Not knowing what the set up was we ending up bunking the queue to the annoyance of others (understandably) but hey, we’re here for the first time and don’t know what the drill was.

First important thing to do for the weekend was to grab a festival t-shirt (always a sucker for these) and the all important programme so you can plan out on what bands you want to see and who you don’t want to see. The beauty of bands clashing gives you that option to move onto another stage.

For 2000, there were about five different stages – the Main Stage, Radio 1 Evening Session Stage which was a big tent along with three other smaller stages for dance, up and coming bands and the comedy stage.

We spent most of our time at the Main Stage and the Radio 1 stage. When we got into the main arena our first port of call was the main stage where we caught the end of Asian Dub Foundation’s set. Happy enough with the spot we got we stayed there pretty much for the rest of the day taking in Limp Bizkit who were awful. After that the line up was pretty decent so we got closer to the front for The Bluetones, Foo Fighters and Primal Scream. All three bands performed great sets.

Oasis were headlining and by this stage I had gone off them so it was going to be a case of splitting up and going to the tent. David and Mark decided to stay for Oasis. I stayed for one song and they bolted to the tent to see Muse. At this point the tent was completely rammed with punters trying to get in to see them. Reminded me of hearing about Foo Fighter’s Reading debut which was in a tent in 1995 and now they were on the main stage. No regrets about going to see Muse as they were brilliant.

For day two we more or less knew the layout of the land and of course after having some late breakfast we were heading back to the arena from our tents and we go straight to the Radio 1 stage to catch Dublin’s JJ72. Great to see an Irish band at a festival. After them was And You Will Know Us By Trail of Dead. David and Mark moved on to the beer tent and I caught up with them afterwards.

The booze was really flowing for those two and with me being teetotal I was more interested in going to see bands! I kept pestering them to get down to the front for Idlewild and then meet up for Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) in the tent. I saw Idlewild on my own, headed over to the tent for QOSTA and now I had lost both of them. The rest of the day I spent on my own down at the front and I can’t say I was disappointed as I caught some fantastic sets by Deftones, Elastica, Super Furry Animals, Gomez and Beck. I am trying to remember if I finished at the main stage for Pulp or made it over to the tent for Embrace. Totally can’t remember and I wasn’t even drinking! By the end of the night I trooped back to the tent to find David and Mark there. They fell into the river (not a nice experience considering what was going into it!) and had been back at the tent for a while. I guess they missed most of Saturday.

So those two got sobered up for day 3 and the final day. The plan was to take the tent down and take all our belongings to the car. We then spent the whole day at the main stage witnessing the hilarious performance of Daphne and Celeste coming on stage to a torrent of abuse and being pelted by bottles. Apparently that was a Reading tradiation.

Staying at the main stage all day Sunday we watched My Vitriol, Cay, Supersuckers and A. Biggest disappointment of the day was Blink 182. Some catchy songs but they were terrible and more interested in cracking smutty jokes. Nevermind! Rage Against the Machine were on next and I totally forgot all about Blink 182. Now how the organisers thought that Rage should be on before Slipknot was a real mystery. Rage were awesome. Great to see them again. Slipknot were a bit amusing. Couldn’t get over their fans all dressing up on a really warm day in jumpsuits and gas masks.

So it was then back down to the front to see Placebo and then main headliners Stereophonics who surprisingly enough more or less phoned their performance in. Tom Jones also made an appearance onstage for their duet of Mamma Told Me Not To Come. As the band were finishing their encore we beat a hastily retreat back to the car to avoid the crowds and hit the M25 back to London. My first Reading and I wanted to go back again.

Missed 2001 as I had been to quite few festivals that summer. Reading 2002 was a stag weekend of sorts as my friend Paddy was getting married and was coming back to Belfast. Instead of doing the 3 day weekend we settled for a two day pass for Friday and Saturday only.

A decent line up overall. I wish we stayed for Sunday but sure what can you do. So for Friday we started off at the main stage with The Soundtrack of our Lives, Mercury Rev, The Dandy Warhols and The White Stripes on the main stage.

We took a trip over to the Radio 1 tent to see the much hyped The Vines which was almost like a second coming of Nirvana. After that it was back to the main stage and we caught the tail end of Weezer’s set.

After that it rained! Rest of the guys bolted for cover for during the rain Jane’s Addiction were on and I wasn’t missing that. Result was I lost everybody and spent the rest of the night down at the front for Pulp and The Strokes. It was only after that when I met everybody again.

So Saturday was the last day which was spent switching between the main stage and the Radio 1 stage. In the tent we got to see Rival Schools and The Cooper Temple Clause. Over on the main stage we saw A and The Hives. Ash were quite high up the bill this year and I caused a mosh pit by charging into the crowd. One of my more madder moments resulting in me getting dragged into the moshpit I created! Mark end up crowd surfing! We chucked him over the crowd and he didn’t get down until reaching the stage. Glad it wasn’t me as I would have flattening everybody.

The final two acts of the evening were Muse and Foo Fighters. The Reading Festival can be compared to a football league table as you can see how bands move up and down of over the years. So for 2002 Foo Fighters headlined for the first time and Muse were on the main stage for the first time after headlining the Radio 1 tent in 2000.

My final Reading was 2004 and I think the weakest line up. Looking back at 2004 not much stands out. Of course some of my favourite bands would be there, Ash again on main stage not to be missed. They have played this festival ten times since 1996 and I have seen them twice. There wasn’t a great deal of organising what bands to go to see so for the Friday it was The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Modest Mouse and Super Furry Animals in the tent. Back to main stage for The Distillers, The Hives, The Offspring and The Darkness (the one band I wanted to avoid!)

Saturday we spent most of the day at the main stage for Thursday, Razorlight and New York Dolls. The only time we headed to the tent was to see 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster who were absolutely mental. Great performance! Back over to the main stage to conclude the evening with Franz Ferdinard, The Libertines, Morrrissey and The White Stripes.

Sunday was a disaster day as the main stage descended into chaos. I don’t think we got to see a lot of bands that day. The Rasmus was bottled off after two songs resulting in the stage times changing. We stayed at the main stage for Dropkick Murphys, The Streets, Lostprophets and Placebo. 50 Cent was on next and nobody was interested so it was off to the tent again catching British Sea Power and The Von Bondies.

What we didn’t know was 50 Cent withdrew from the main stage as he was pelted with bottles and that meant Green Day’s set came forward. But we never knew and stayed in the tent for Supergrass. When they finished their set, you could still hear Green Day from the distance but by then fatigue had set in and everybody just wanted to get back to London.

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