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The Libertines' Peter Doherty & Carl Barat at Reading Festival 2015

A Daunting Prospect: Alone at Reading Festival

Having heard who was on the Sunday bill at Reading Festival, Sam Bennett promptly booked a ticket. He reviews Sunday on Richfield Avenue: Kwabs, Years and Years and The Libertines
“That Pete Doherty? It’s shite, kid, are you sure you don’t want me to turn around and take you back? It’s just some smackhead who doesn’t know what he’s doing!”

My boss can quite easily go to a festival alone. She’s one of those people who can turn up without anyone else and just dance. I can’t do that: I’m too insecure and I care far too much what people think. So when I heard about the Reading Festival Sunday line-up a couple of weeks ago and booked my ticket soon after, I made sure I knew of at least one other person who was going, so that was fine. The plan was to meet up with them on arrival.

However, once I’d completed the rather picturesque walk from Reading Station along the river and then finally through the festival gate, I rang my friend only to be told they had packed up and gone home “because of the mud.” So there I was, alone at Reading Festival: a daunting prospect due to my already mentioned inhibitions. I wasn’t sure how to behave. Do I just calmly stroll around grinning before finding a little place to sit? Do I pretend to be high as a kite so people think I have friends who – in my inebriated state – I’ve drifted away from? Do I pretend to be a real journalist?

What I really did was remind myself of the main reason I had paid to be there, the music, and the beauty of music is you can love it on your own.

I had come across Kwabs earlier in the week when I’d read a review of his album in one of the nationals, and I’d given it a listen and loved it. I stumbled across his set on the NME stage on my travels and I thank the festival gods I did.

The best festival sets are the ones where you feel like you’ve dipped into the performer’s concert as oppose to them dipping into your festival. This was how I felt watching Kwabs. He and his band took to the stage wearing all black – it’s not about showy costumes, but the sound, and the sound is outstanding. Kwabs’ life story isn’t free of hardship and he channels that into a soulful vocal. He tilts his head back when hitting those falsetto notes, all the while ensuring his hat doesn’t topple off. His beautiful vocal is matched by beautiful eyes that alone can send warning looks to the whole audience just before they’re required to wave their arms from left to right in time with the music. On the topic of movement, Kwabs’ backing singers do so in a way that is well rehearsed without being nauseatingly musical theatre, another quality of the overall package.

Years and Years played the same tent as Kwabs, and they packed it. Some commenters have expressed doubt about Olly Alexander’s live vocals in the past but he was on point here. Maybe he relied from time to time on his backing singers to fill in while he took a few breaths but if that’s the case it’s not surprising given his enthusiastic and charmingly geeky dancing throughout the set. Accompanying the much loved ‘Desire’, ‘Shine’ and ‘King’ was my own personal highlight, ‘Eyes Shut’; Alexander delivers this honest song from behind his red piano. There are those who may complain about his fairly frequent adjusting of the microphone but they’re probably the same ultra-fussy people who moaned tirelessly about X-Factor’s Diana Vickers’ hand movements.

I came to Reading straight from Liverpool where I’d spent the rest of the weekend. As I rode by taxi to Liverpool Lime Street for the journey the driver struck up conversation about what I had planned for the day. My excitement for The Libertines headlining came up. “What?” he said. “That Pete Doherty? It’s shite, kid, are you sure you don’t want me to turn around and take you back? It’s just some smackhead who doesn’t know what he’s doing!” As far as I know, Peter Doherty is clean, and the shambolic aspect of The Libertines has always been their appeal.

They opened fittingly with the raucous ‘Horrorshow’ which invites everyone in musically and lyrically. The raucous (also enabled by the likes of ‘The Delaney’) was balanced with ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’, ‘You’re My Waterloo’ and ‘What Katie Did’ – the last of these sang by a guitar-less Carl Barat holding a cigarette and the crowd who stayed with him for the duration. Doherty and Barat made use of sharing one microphone; it’s something they did over a decade ago but it’s a vision more moving now given the pair’s history. Today the image is a representation of a relationship rekindled after fights and separation, achieving a further level of poignancy.

The Libertines also took the opportunity to play the title track of their upcoming album Anthem For Doomed Youth – not that the grinning youths clapping, jumping and waving blazing sticks during the set appeared doomed (mind you, we’re hardly youths anymore either). That’s the great thing about the Libertines: the following they earned that continues to jump for them. Noel Gallagher once said: “I like The Libertines a lot. They’re the only band that has managed to generate that devotion between band and audience since Oasis.” Gallagher was right to cite this dedication, and I’ve never known a lyric to be more fitting in a show than on Sunday night when the words “They twist and they shout for the boys in the band” rang out at Reading.

A good move on my part then, I feel, to jog my memory as to my reason for getting a 2015 Reading ticket in the first place, otherwise I might have disappeared early. Elements besides the music helped too, such as the hats and jewellery on sale and the comedy of Russell Kane that kept me in good spirits despite being in a long queue for the cashpoints at the time. I’m still not quite in my boss’ league insofar as being able to dance alone goes, and I can’t deny the festival might have been even better had I had someone to share it all with. But I’ve realised I’m not reliant on company to get a buzz from an event, but on the likes of Kwabs, Years and Years and The Libertines.

For the record, by the time The Libertines took to the stage I had made a new friend. We’ve not kept in touch.


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