I’m not going to a festival this year, which is sad. The sun finally putting in an appearance, and a particularly good playlist of all my favourite music through the years made me think back to my first ever festival experience. I laughed fondly at my younger self and wished briefly that I could go back to that summer when I was 17. 

It was 2001 and myself and my group of friends had recently discovered the delights of shouty music, moshing and giant skater trousers. We didn’t have a whole lot of experience of this big new world of ‘alternative music’ (as it was known as then – nowadays rock music is a lot more mainstream and widely accepted. Back then I was often laughed out of the school common room for wanting to put Linkin Park on the stereo) but we decided to embark on our first trip to Reading Festival nonetheless. Weekend tickets were all of £85 (blimey, it’s not like the old days is it folks?). My mum agreed to buy me one if I came up with my own spending money, my friends and I went out and bought a tent, the plans were in place. To be sure we were doing the whole festival thing right, we looked at chat forums on the Internet to get tips on what to take (wet wipes) and what to expect (someone will try to set fire to you at least once during the weekend), we dyed our hair crazy colours and the boys valiantly put the tent up and then down again in someone’s back garden to make sure it could actually be done. We were clueless in a world that knew more than us about virtually everything. But we knew we loved the music and we couldn’t wait. 


On festival day, we boarded the train to Reading laden down with more stuff than we could sensibly carry the ten thousand miles from the station to our field, all kitted out with new ‘so Rock it hurts’ clothes and chains for our wallets and black eyeliner. Back then it was as much about fitting into ‘the scene’ and looking cool as it was about listening to the music. Telling my younger self that that stuff doesn’t matter is something I wish I could travel back in time for sometimes, but then I don’t think it would really have been the same without the superficial teenage hang ups would it?

The whole weekend, as I remember, was about the superficial teenage hangups. Boy problems and are my skater trousers big enough? And ergh, where are the showers and why am I sweaty and more boy problems and oh woe, so and so went to see the band without me and now I’m stuck on my own in a field. But it’s the good memories of first times and mishaps and new musical discoveries that stand out amid all that typical young’un stuff. The first time, for example, that I heard a thousand people all screaming ‘bollocks!’ across a field at the same time will forever stick in my mind – we had heard about it and read about it but when it actually happened, I got goosebumps. I think we all did, because that was the moment we realised we were part of something new and different and big and shared by more people than just us. 

The lineup...
The lineup…

The mishaps were many and frequent. We were clueless teenagers after all. My best friend and I, on the first day of the festival, decided we must prove ourselves by wading into a mosh pit and holding our own. So we went forth and waded into the first one we could find. The band was Amen and we were wearing bikinis. It’s lucky we survived at all (Google the band if you’re unsure what I mean!). Far from learning our lesson, we repeated the experience that night when Greenday headlined the main stage. Ever since that day, the song Welcome to Paradise has been synonymous in my mind with fighting my way out of a sea of bouncing bodies, trying to save my own life, and my dignity. But I love the song all the more for it. 

Our friend Rob bettered us when, on the second day, during a stint in the particularly violent mosh pit for My Vitriol (a band we all loved at the time and went to see together as a big group – a band who to this day have not released a second album, but who are still amazing and I urge you to check them out), someone whacked him in the face and he ended up in the first aid tent having his eyebrow stitched back together. Fed up of mishaps and more than a little woeful, the rest of us decided to sack off the headliners that night – The Manic Street Preachers, who we deemed as ‘far too depressing given what’s just happened’ – to go to one of the side tents to see a band we didn’t know anything about except they were allegedly happy – Reel Big Fish. That decision was one of the best of my life. It’s 12 years on and Reel Big Fish are still one of my favourite bands. That gig was one of the best I’ve ever been to. We danced the night away to the trumpets and learned how to skank and had one massive party inside that tent. The band mean more to me after all this time than any number of big name main stage bands with sad, rip-your-own-arm-off guitar riffs, and I think that’s what your early musical experiences are all about. Finding what you like and putting the seeds in place for many great musical memories to come. 

We are The Reel Big Fish!
We are The Reel Big Fish!

There were more musical discoveries that weekend and more near misses, and yes indeed, we DID nearly get set fire to – but we all escaped and lived to see another Reading Festival (in fact, many – the became a yearly ritual as we grew up and into our twenties). Music-related memories were made, and when I think back over my past, these are the things that stand out the most. I do wish I could go back, but I wouldn’t change anything. Despite the silly teenage angst and mosh-related flesh wounds, I would just want to live the whole thing over again, exactly as it was. 

Me aged 17 on the last morning at Reading.
Me aged 17 on the last morning at Reading.

What are your early music memories and what do they mean to you?

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