The Independent

The night I headlined Reading Festival - sort of

The Independent logo The Independent 17/05/2021 07:34:59 Mark Beaumont
a person holding a guitar © Provided by The Independent

Perhaps I angered the festival gods early on by doing my inaugural Glastonbury wrong. In this cornucopia of discovery and experience, I spent my entire first day sat resolutely in front of the Pyramid Stage, not leaving my spot even when Fishbone came on. Ever since, I've been cursed to remember little of the actual music from the dozen or so festivals I attend every year, instead plagued by shards of shame and misadventure firing at me like darts of pure cringe from the lost hours around dawn.

It started there, at Glastonbury 1992, when we hunted down the car at the end of the weekend only to find the designated driver had lost the keys. No problem, we thought, and started calling around the car park for someone to help us jump start the engine. These being the days of tunnels under the fence and shady types muttering "Esspeedcoke" on every bridge, a sheepish Liverpudlian chap soon wandered over and had us revved up in no time, at which point we realised the steering lock was still on. No problem, we thought, and started calling around the car park for someone to help us break a steering lock. Ten minutes later, a heavily tattooed man wearing only red underpants handed us the wheel, inadvertently shorn clean off the steering block, and wished us luck in getting the AA to pick us up from site.

Since then, the small hour self-reprimands have stacked up. Looking out of a tour bus window at the M4 and realising that Ash had kidnapped me with the bait of aftershow lagers and were taking me to Leeds against my will. Sitting outside Glastonbury's backstage bar at 5am asking everyone who passed by if they liked Weezer and, if they did, forcing them to join the impromptu Weezer choir I'd recruited. Blacking out in the bar of Reading's Renaissance hotel and reportedly refusing to move for the cleaners because "I'm watching Beck". Deciding, after one particularly heavy Glastonbury all-nighter and starved of opportunities for more booze, that it would be a fantastic idea to go to the staff gate at the Other Stage at 7am, claim to be members of the first band on that day, get shown to our portacabin and start drinking dry the rider. My deepest, deepest apologies, Dog.

But by far the most memorable was the night I headlined Reading. Sort of.

The Carling Weekend (as was), 2003. With Jack White recovering from a hand injury he'd sustained in a car crash, The White Stripes pulled out of their headline slot, to be replaced by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. But the site was still teeming with Stripeophiles desperate for their four-handed blues rock fix, so NME decided to cater to them. They arranged for a pair of competition winners to perform a karaoke rendition of "Seven Nation Army" on the NME stage after the main bill had wound up, but the winners failed to show up. The show unreasonably insisting on going on, the competition organisers burst into the NME portacabin on the hunt for the most drunk members of staff to take their place. As usual, I was far and away the drunkest.

Probably thinking I was agreeing to another Red Stripe, I suddenly found myself forced into a red T-shirt and untamed black wig and standing, a little confused, behind a curtain onstage in the NME tent with my most Meg-like colleague, holding an inflatable guitar. Peeping out, I saw that the tent was rammed - 5,000 hammered White Stripes fans expectantly awaiting the act that was going to justify their entire ticket price. There's something surreally fatalistic in stepping onto a stage before such a large and demanding audience, with zero warm-up or rehearsal, not even knowing the vague pitch you plan to sing in, but that's what I did, striding out like a platinum-plated rock hero. This was my moment! I'd smashed through the looking glass, drunk my way to superstardom, blagged The Dream. Albeit without punching anyone, for the next two and a half minutes I was Jack White. Although it would have been helpful at the time to know that "Seven Nation Army" is four minutes long.

The opening seconds of my performance brought many revelations. Ranks upon ranks of faces staring at you feels more like the world's biggest criminal jury than a horde of adoring fans. Even if your instrument is made entirely of plastic and air, it's advisable to have a guitar tech to make sure it's not swiftly deflating. And, primarily, Jack White sings high. Really high. From the first notes I was bashing like Greg Davies in a Wendy house against the very top of my vocal range. By the time I got to the "talking to myself at night" line I was squeaking and howling my way through it sounding less Detroit bluesman and more copulating fox, so there was only one thing for it: distract them with "moves". I threw rock shapes I never knew my body could muster, "smashed" my guitar and stormed triumphantly off stage to thunderous applause at the end of the second verse.

The trouble is, "Seven Nation Army" has three verses. In an extreme example of leaving them wanting more, I'd melted into the night before I'd even gone to Wichita. For all I know, my Meg is still out there, paradiddling away on her imaginary drum kit to a vocal-free backing tape.

lundi 17 mai 2021 10:34:59 Categories: The Independent

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