Friday, 29 May 2009

READING BETWEEN TRAIN LINES


This bill brings back some timely memories. The nice thing about having homes in both London and Oxford – ah, those salad days of post-Thatcher prosperity (or, in my case, despite-Thatcher) – was that it made Reading the easiest of places to get to; you could come out on a train in either direction and despite the gloomy fifteen-minute trudge from Reading station to get to the festival site it was easily accessible and you could get the train home at a relatively civilised hour (I was and have never been one for the overnight ooer-missus-where’s-me-sleeping-bag festival “experience”; I’m afraid that given the choice of sleeping out in a muddy field, having my tent nicked and being urinated upon by passing creatures and sitting comfortably at home with a cup of cocoa and Bill Evans or SE Rogie on the stereo it was always a no-brainer).

Remarkable, really, how the three days divided up almost mechanically; Friday was clearly the Melody Maker day – and the only day we attended - but it’s also fair to say that most of the acts featured were somewhat past their aesthetic apex. To dispel some venerable apocrypha, New Order did not respond to numerous audience requests for “Atmosphere” by performing the similarly-titled Russ Abbot 1984-5 novelty hit, but only they seemed in tune with things to do with 1989 (and the only act on the bill capable of making us forget about the rain that was splattering down upon us at the time); the House of Love and Sugarcubes were strictly 1987 time (ah, the hilarious and never obstructive Einar, the reason why we all drew a breath of immense relief when Bj√∂rk finally did the decent thing and went solo, even though it’s his Stephan Micus slide-trumpet thingy – or Psychic TV/Coil Tibetan bone thingy? - that provides the punctum to “Birthday”). Tackhead were the Stones’ support act for their Steel Wheels tour at that time and acted like it; a far cry indeed from the get-back-to-the-back blackened fury of their ’85-7 peak (I’ve never quite worked out how the Tackhead people could simultaneously burn behind Mark Stewart and cheerily back up Jagger on his lamentable three-stage-wasting TOTP performance of the Tebbit-friendly 1987 flop “Let’s Work”). Spacemen 3 did their thing for people who liked that sort of thing. As for Gaye Bykers On Acid, I always resented them for having the talk and lacking the walk; every time I come across their 1987 Drill Your Own Hole album in MVE or in the charity shop I devoutly wish the record was as good as it looks.

Saturday was clearly Q/Hornby-friendly day (a few years later this whole bill could have been, and probably was, fully transposed to Finsbury Park for the Fleadh) while Sunday was Melody Maker as its readers would ideally like it day; the big crowd pleasers with MBV and WDE pasted on at the bottom for probable placatory purposes (together with the Butthole Surfers, then just passing their peak). Still, has anything dated as embarrassingly as up-to-the-minute ’86-9 music? Living Colour (the TV On The Radio of their day, and just as overrated), Jesus Jones (first album was moderately entertaining in a John Craven waking up on the M25 kind of way but nowhere near as good as PWEI’s second album), indie chart one hit wonders the Mighty Lemon Drops…The Mission if nothing else meant it (and “Tower Of Strength” is a great single whichever way you look at it) but the Wonder Stuff? I didn’t even think they were a good idea at the time but clearly too many other people did.

As for MBV live; true, Isn’t Anything was at the time still a fairly culty secret (it certainly didn’t have anything like the cred cache of the Roses or the Mondays) and it’s also true that their gigs at that time were definitely more miss than hit. But maybe my favourite MBV recorded document is the tape of the show they did at the venue formerly known as the Town and Country Club on Saturday 14 December 1991, just off the back of Loveless’ release. Somehow everything came together in that gig; the use of flute to carry the melodic top lines of the songs was inspired (and, unlike some of the other gigs on that tour, the sound system was good enough to pick the flute up rather than drowning it) and the bring-the-boys-home extended finale of “You Made Me Realise” was a blasting joy, AMM finally fused with Count Five (via the Cocteaus), a red current of endless climax, sternly driven but powered by a strange serenity. The music eventually fed back into the closing tape of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” (never did the latter sound more apt) and we bought the tape on our way out for a fiver. The guitars were still ringing in our ears when we went out for breakfast on Sunday morning, but in the sense of happily pealing church bells.