You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Reading Festival.

After my chat with Bethan Elfyn earlier this week, I began to get nostalgic for Reading, and as the ever derisory TV coverage disappoints again, I decided to share some of the most memorable moments from the five times I attended. I’ve seen many great performances there, not all are listed here, these are instead the biggest, funniest and craziest stories that stick out when I think back.
One of the great things about Reading is the mix of new and old bands, especially getting to see reformed bands there before anywhere else.
I was mainly waiting for Smashing Pumpkins, one of my favourite bands of all time, who, having reformed after a seven year hiatus, were closing the festival on the Main Stage in 2007, when I caught Nine Inch Nails immediately before them.
I’d heard a few songs but didn’t know too much of their music but was blown away during their hour set, which culminated in the band completely trashing the stage, including throwing a pretty large amp off the stage. Trent Reznor then reappeared alone amongst the carnage to play Hurt in one of the most poignant moments I’ve witnessed at the festival.
Smashing Pumpkins came out and played a great set, which just topped the evening off, but NIN’s set has always stuck in my mind.
Another great newly-reformed and UK exclusive set came from Rage against the Machine in 2008. They were the main draw of the festival for many and rumours abounded from when we arrived on Thursday about what crazy stunt they would pull. Surprisingly enough, one of the more far-fetched rumours turned out to be true, as the band were marched onto the stage to the sound of sirens, dressed in orange ‘Guantanamo Bay style’ jump suits , complete with black bags over their heads.
It was a great protest from the ever politically-charged band, and their impressive commitment saw them play the entire opener ‘Bombtrack’ still with the bags over their heads. An incendiary set peppered with anti-Bush and Blair statements followed, it was the stuff of legend.

The Foo Fighters headlining in 2005 was another great headline set, the highlight undoubtedly being Dave Grohl stepping back behind the kit 13 years after Nirvana played their iconic last UK gig.
The next great moment again involves a reformed band, but again they weren’t the stars of the show. Having missed the craze of the Libertines by a year or so, I was excited when they were announced to finally reform in 2010, with many doubting they would ever make it onto the stage together. They did however, pulling a huge crowd and playing a decent set just before unlikely headliners Arcade Fire.
Unfortunately, for the many that left after Pete and Carl had cleared off, Arcade Fire came out and in their own humble, quirky and infectiously passionate way, stole their thunder with the best performance of the weekend, mixing material from the epic The Suburbs with anthems from their debut Funeral.
Other great headliners came from the Pixies in 2005 and Metallica in 2008. Not all headline sets go so well, and my ill-feeling towards the Red Hot Chili Peppers was set in stone with a frightfully indulgent and boring set in 2007, they had no chance against the Smashing Pumpkins anyway, but they didn’t even try, instead playing a quiet set filled with long solos and breakdowns. People booed, it was dreadful. Other poor sets came from Franz Ferdinand in 2006 and Razorlight in 2007, both of who shouldn’t have been anywhere near a headline slot.  Rant over.
Some sets not going according to plan can however lead to them being more memorable. For instance, we weren’t paying any attention to Panic! At the Disco in 2006 until singer Brendan Urie was knocked unconscious by a bottle thrown from the crowd. He deserves respect for getting up and finishing the set.
Placebo’s set, also in 2006 was blighted by technical problems, and in the longest gap of no music in the middle of their set, the cameras instead panned around the crowd and twenty minutes of impromptu flashing occurred. Nowhere else but at Reading.
Crazy punks Be Your Own Pet had announced that their sets at Reading and Leeds in 2008 were to be their last, and they must have been in a celebratory mood before their penultimate set at Reading, playing a half an hour set completely smashed. Singer Jemina Pearl could barely speak let alone sing and their usual two minute songs ran at around 45 seconds each. Still it was pretty funny.
Playing a smaller stage at the same time as the biggest band of the moment can also be a problem, as Coheed & Cambria found when coming up against Arctic Monkeys in 2006. However, their small crowd, which made up maybe only a quarter of the tent, didn’t let it bother them and they obliged with one of the best gigs of the weekend.
And a million more.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bethan Elfyn.

A birds-eye view

It’s that time of year again, twilight for the festival season but the August Bank Holiday week means there is still time for the biggest blowout of all. I talk of course of Reading Festival, which is, in my uninformed opinion (having never been to any other), the best festival there is.

Having first experienced it as a naïve 16 year old in 2005, I was seduced by its madness and have attended five times in total, this year being only the second I’ve missed since. The fusion of every hype band of every genre of the moment and iconic sets from returning legends make it the only festival to rival Glastonbury for choice and exclusivity.

Add to this the chaos and adventure of thousands of other crazy, unhinged but fun-loving individuals camping on top of each other and you have somewhere unlike anywhere else on earth for one weekend a year.

My second interviewee, Bethan Elfyn of the BBC, knows all about the magic of Reading festival, having been a compere on the NME/Radio 1 stage for over 10 years now.

“It’s an electric atmosphere from the first band right the way through. The level of the music fans who come to Reading every year astound me. They'll know all the words to songs by bands that I've only just discovered,” she says, taking time out from a busy week in which she is filling in for Lauren Laverne on 6 Music each morning before heading to Reading on Friday.

Throughout the week on the radio she has alluded to her excitement for the weekend ahead, this year’s NME/R1 stage will see sets from Beady Eye, Jane’s Addiction and The Streets, so what’s like to be onstage and backstage at the festival?

“It’s ridiculously exciting, busy and hectic. There's loads of crew lugging heavy gear, bands looking nervous, a stage manager shouting at everyone, sulky sound guys, indifferent lighting guys, and a whole load of friends and liggers.

“I'm glad that I’m busy and occupied in amongst all the chaos. I get to see everything and anything; the crowd, the bands, the crews, it’s a bird-eye view. As you can tell I love it!” says Bethan, who also hosts a show a week on BBC Wales and Absolute Radio since leaving Radio 1 last year after over a decade at the station.

When Bethan first hosted the NME/R1 stage with Huw Stephens in 2000, she had never been to the festival before, over ten years later, how does she look back on her tenure?

“I’d been to Leeds the year before and I'd been to plenty of Glastonburys, as well as other smaller festivals, but Reading was a formidable idea to me, a proper Rock festival. I was a bag of nerves for at least the first 8 years of being at Reading,” she admits, as well as revealing that despite the massive growth in the popularity of the festival, not much has changed backstage.

“It hasn't changed much, it’s just a little more organised and I’m a little calmer about being there and doing my job. There's a great family vibe with the crew who work on the R1 stage, so it’s all about catching up with old friends. Some bands have played there loads too – it’s great when you see them grow and get bigger each year - like Two Door Cinema Club filling the tent last year and being on the main stage this year.”

I think audiences at Reading are a true indication of a band’s popularity, seeing a full tent for an early set – such as the aforementioned Two Door set last year – is evidence of a band on the up, and Bethan takes great pleasure in playing a part in that.

“I like seeing the smaller bands, the newer stuff, like Pulled Apart by Horses or Frankie and the Heartstrings, they are my sort of bands,” she says of this year’s acts. It isn’t only small bands that play on the NME/R1 stage though, so who sticks in the mind of Bethan out of the hundreds of bands to grace the stage since she has been hosting.

“John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme's Them Crooked Vultures show - Jones had a hefty array of instruments, while Grohl is the hardest, loudest drummer I've ever seen and heard up close - no competition! There are so many but some others are Beth Ditto getting the crowd to sing We Are the Champions, girls fainting for the Kooks and Mike Patton's pee bucket,” she says.

Finally, what is it that makes this the festival for Bethan? “The physical blast of noise from the cheers is incredible. It can be a crazed place, a young place, a vibrant festival, and yet the legends and the old stagers still have a place too, which is very important.”

Thanks to Bethan for taking time out of her hectic week to talk to me, and thanks to her for DJing the Silent Disco at 3am last year, what I remember of it was great. Having wrote this I’m now sad that I won’t be seeing her or the festival this year.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Laura Snapes.

Life in the ‘normal’ office

There are some similarities between my first interviewee, Laura Snapes and myself. We are both 22 years old, passionate about music and work in offices. Unfortunately for me, the office she works in is the NME office, which I can’t really compete with. C’est la vie.

Laura is currently Assistant Rev­iews Editor at what is still the first port of call for alternative British music journalism. It was always her dream to work at the NME, as it is still mine, and likewise many others' (hopefully) reading this. Alongside this she is also a regular contributor for The Guardian, Uncut and The Quietus. She is modest however at holding such a lofty, enviable position at such a young age.

“I suppose people have preconceptions about what the NME office is like, based on both prejudices and history, but it's a pretty normal place to be, honest,” she assures me. After spending time in the Kerrang! office on my own work experience, I’m inclined to agree.

Laura’s rise began at an early age; she decided a career in music journalism was for her at just 13.

“It started out as a legitimate way to meet bands that I liked without being a creepy stalker and in fact, still is. I got into writing for the local paper and doing fanzines,” she explains. I know the stalker feeling well.

By 17 she had secured work experience at the NME, no mean feat I can assure you from personal experience, and when she managed to turn this into an on-going working relationship, an even more difficult feat, her dream began to become reality.

“After my work experience, I got asked to start contributing. I wrote on and off over the years until my first year at university in Bristol, when I started writing for the magazine most weeks, as well as editing the music section of the student paper. A job came up at NME, I applied and got it, so I quit university and moved to London.”

Laura celebrated her first anniversary at NME just a few weeks ago. So, one year on, how has it stacked up against her dreams, apart from being a ‘normal place to be’?

“I knew the job I was applying for entailed a bit of data entry, so I wasn't under the illusion that it was going to be some riotous Almost Famous-type malarkey,” she says honestly. “Some days the job is like having any office job but a bit more fun, and then others, when you're working at festivals or the NME Awards, they're brilliant,” she gratefully adds.

So that is how she got to where she is now, but outside the office what does she think of her industry, an industry some have said is in decline (see an excellent defence here from the aforementioned The Quietus).

“I think people who love discussing music will always be into it,” she declares. “Because of the internet, it's harder to get your voice heard amongst the crowd when frankly, there's so much terrible writing online to sift through. For me, the problem is less being able to access music for free, but being able to access music writing for free, on the internet.

“I'm not saying that you should always have to pay to read music journalism, but the fact that so many very established, very good publications and websites don't pay their writers generates a culture where it's more expected that you'll write for free sometimes, and good writing is a talent that you deserve to be able to make a living from.”

I was told from day one of my degree that journalism wasn’t a well-paid career, but it comes as a shock when Laura reveals this. I can’t help but wonder how often the journalism I read has been written by someone who wasn’t paid anything for it.

After she highlights the somewhat suspect writing that litters the internet (see this blog for more), I ask about the importance of well-written features, something she regularly contributes alongside her reviews duties. She’s modest again when instead of selling something she, or even NME, has produced recently, she points me in the direction of a NY Times feature on The National (her favourite band) from last year and a 12-page cover story on ST Vincent from Under the Radar magazine.

“All forms of good writing about music are valid and enjoyable in their own form, but I do personally really get a kick out of reading a brilliant feature,” she says. She may not have volunteered one, but see an excellent feature of hers here.

One thing I can’t help but ask Laura about are the comment boxes that now appear beneath almost every article on the internet. A quick glance around NME.COM will reveal that not everyone agrees with what is published. While many are simply passionate about music they love, just as many are hostile and personal trolls being spiteful for seemingly no reason.

I first became aware of Laura on NME.COM last year when she waded into the comments sections on several of her own pieces (a rarity amongst journalists), defending herself against both types of people. I was impressed by her passion and conviction, as well as her obvious belief that it wasn’t just a one-way conversation.

“I used to be terrible for kicking off, but I do genuinely try not to do that now. I am quite obsessive about watching comments just so I'm aware of what's being said. Obviously it's nice if people enjoy what you've written, but those people don't tend to comment,” she notes.

“If a comment is negative then sometimes I can just ignore it, but other times especially if you realise they're right, which sometimes happens, they can be pretty upsetting,” she admits.

Unfortunately, with exposure comes criticism, however with a hugely successful first year under her belt, Laura has already learnt many lessons about life in a job that many people would stab their own best friend in the back to have, and many more will surely follow.

My thanks to Laura for helping me out with this first interview; her success would have gone to the head of many others I’m sure but she has been a pleasure to deal with.

To end the interview, a standard question at this time of year, what does Laura think about this year’s Mercury Prize nominations?

“My favourite British album of the year - Wild Beasts' Smother - wasn't nominated, which I was disappointed by, as it'd be wonderful for them to get the recognition. I think PJ Harvey will win, though my favourite from the list is Everything Everything's Man Alive. I think those chaps are modern pop geniuses.”

Friday, 12 August 2011


As you can see on the left, I'm also active on Twitter.

I mainly tweet about music and often tweet the music journalists I follow when they make an interesting point or ask a question.

I admit that I do get a thrill when I get a reply, and although this makes me sad, I will share my successes on this blog. Having already mentioned my tweets with the artist behind The Smiths comic book, here are a few more.

Luke Lewis (@lukelewis), Editor of NME.COM, replied to my enquiry about why he didn't like 'Climbing up the Walls', which just happens to be my current favourite track off OK Computer (my favourite album by my favourite band).

He replied simply saying 'It's just a dirge really, isn't it?' Whilst I don't agree, I enjoyed getting a response.

I was also asked by Tim Chester (@timchester), Deputy Editor of NME.COM, to reveal my guilty pleasures after mentioning a blog he had written on the subject. I did reveal one to him, but if you want to know you will have to find me on Twitter to see.

My most recent success came just this morning when Alexis Petridis (@alexispetridis) of The Guardian tweeted about the lack of new bands on the cover of NME this year. I asked why he thought that was. He replied to me saying 'I think they feel their remit's very narrow and there's not much happening in mainstream British indie-rock.'

An interesting point about the state of British music journalism when extinct bands that need no press are still taking covers away from new bands desperate for them.

I will share any other successes as and when they come.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


So thankfully the England riots seem to be quieting down. It’s been quite strange to watch as someone who is too young to remember anything on this scale happening before. And whilst I in no way condone rioting, there have been some pretty good songs written about or mentioning them in the past. So before the next wave of songs about rioting are surely written, let’s remember the riot songs of the past. Whilst some may have been inspired by actual riots, most just play with the imagery.

The Smiths – Panic – “Panic on the streets of London. Panic on the streets of Birmingham. I wonder to myself, could life ever be sane again?”

Rage Against The Machine – Calm Like A Bomb – “These vultures rob everything, leave nothing but chains. Pick a point on tha globe, yes tha pictures tha same…and tha riot be tha rhyme of tha unheard.”

The Libertines – Time for Heroes – “Did you see the stylish kids in the riot? Shoveled up like muck, set the night on fire.

Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK – “Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it. I wanna destroy the passer by.”

The Clash  White Riot – “All the power's in the hands of people rich enough to buy it. While we walk the street, too chicken to even try it.”

Dead 60s – Riot Radio – “Airwaves beam from the light on the tower. Get my kicks from your eleventh hour. Won't you gimme some more. Riot on the radio.”

Sleigh Bells – Riot Rhythm – “Dear heart, don’t stop fighting. We’re going to fight the lightning…you’ve gotta march.”

Listen to the songs on Spotify here Riot.

Any more suggestions? (If you want to suggest Kaiser Chiefs then maybe this blog isn’t for you)

Monday, 8 August 2011


There are a million blogs out there, and trying to separate this one from all others is the challenge and the key. There is no point writing a blog if you’re happy to just be part of the background.

So how will I go about filling this blog with worthwhile content?

My opinions don’t mean much to many. Therefore it’s all about getting original, interesting content either from, or about, people who do have an audience. Interviews are the way to do this.

I find the hardest part of trying to get interviews is the initial contact, or more importantly the details required to make contact. All the journalists I have previously contacted have been polite enough to reply and if not do the interview immediately, give a better time to contact again. It is not always easy to get their email addresses though, and it can require creativity.

I follow lots of music journalists on twitter, they often have links to interesting articles as well as sharing their opinions on music that they couldn’t do normally in an article.

I have not, as of yet, tried to contact any of them via twitter regarding interviews as I think it’s unlikely they will share their contact information on there. I have however tweeted several about bits they have written and had replies, so hopefully my name will ring a bell when I do make more formal contact.

It is, like all of life I’m discovering, all about who you know. One interview can lead to another and so on. So obviously the hardest one to get is the first.

I have begun to compile a database of interviewees and although the contact details column is a little bare, there is enough to go on.

Stay tuned for the first interview, hopefully within the next few weeks. In the mean time I will continue to try and say something original or interesting about whatever is in the music news.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Comic relief?

I spoke to Shawn Demumbrum (@SpazDog) on twitter yesterday, an American artist heading a project to release a comic featuring stories inspired by the songs of The Smiths.

Songs including ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ and ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ have been used as “an inspiration, a jumping-off point, a theme or a mood” for the stories included.

I found this idea so interesting that it got me thinking about what other songs either feature, or could inspire, great stories. Here are just a few that I came up with.

Arcade Fire – Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) – A melancholy tale of two teenage lovers who alone survive a blizzard that covers their neighbourhood. They let their hair grow long as they live out in the wilderness and struggle to remember life as it once was.

Radiohead – Climbing Up The Walls – A disturbing story of someone living in a mental hospital, locked in padded cell, attempting to escape the imaginary monsters they perceive but either way he turns, they’ll be there.

The Libertines  Up The Bracket – An edge-of-your-seat chase story about a hero pursued by two “shadowed men” who want details of said hero’s girl’s address. When cornered he politely declines with two crooked fingers.

Any thoughts? Any other suggestions? If someone wants to do the artwork I’d happily write the stories.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


When I was at university, doing a journalism degree, I wanted to be a music journalist.

For my dissertation, I created four editions of an eight-page music magazine. I enjoyed it a lot, interviewing several top bands and giving my two cents on gigs, releases and developments in the music industry.

My favourite element was a feature I dreamed up in which I interviewed successful music journalists - simultaneously learning more about the people who normally do the interviews and picking up tips for myself.

I got two editors of national music magazines, a critic from a national newspaper and a DJ from a national radio station - all of who were interesting, friendly, and helpful.

Since leaving university, I have put my dream career on hold due to, among other things, a realistic attitude and a dependence on money.

Two years on I thought it was about time to start writing again in my spare time, and this feature is what I will try to revive and nurture through this blog.