Disclaimer: I first wrote this blog post back in 2010 so some details may be incorrect/out-of-date especially as a lot of these bands are now touring again.
1992. This was the year Reading went BIG!!! I first went in 1988 and it was utter rubbish. We all went just to see The Wonder Stuff whom I loved back then, but the rest of the bill was terrible (Bonnie Tyler, Meat Loaf, Starship!). The following year they addressed the line-up issue and had New Order and the The House of Love play. Then in 1991 Nirvana played on a cold windy Friday afternoon (I dismissed them as Dinosaur Jr wannabes at the time) and within 6 months they were the biggest band on the planet and things started to change….
Nirvana’s 1992 headline slot is regulary quoted as “the greatest ever performance” at the festival, well it definitely wasn’t. I remember standing there bored and they weren’t even the best band that day, Kurt’s guitar sounded weak, he didn’t even play lots of stuff correctly and it all looked a mess, they just couldn’t match the hype. Many years on the dissapointment of just how weak they were is still etched in my memory, listening to the recent release of that same performance as a live album and it sounds so different, I wonder if it has been partly re-recorded or overdubbed, it certainly didn’t sound like that through the PA.
If we can ignore Nirvana and perhaps reflect on the rest of that weekend, thanks to YouTube here’s my little review of some of the acts from that year. There’s no videos of any of the second stage acts which is a shame as I watched so much stuff in the tent.
Confession time, I missed this set but thought it’d be rude not include a clip of Polly from this year. I had seen PJ Harvey play Glastonbury a few months earlier and I was still annoyed with her for pulling out of some gigs she was supposed to play supporting my old band, she was going to sign a record deal with Island records instead was her excuse. I mean, get your priorities right please.
PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED
I remember being a bit bored watching PiL. He seemed to be living in the shadows of his past glories. In reflection I regret not being more enthusiastic about this set, but youth was on my side and I wanted to listen to some floppy fringed indie rubbish instead. Saying that I saw PiL again just a few years ago and they still weren’t great, sorry PiL fans!
Now The Charlatans were a band I followed heavily after their first single, I saw them so many times in 1990 and after that they struggled for a couple of years to find direction.
I remember being so frustrated with them when they played Reading this year that I actually wished they’d just split up and put everyone out of their misery, I am pleased I was wrong. After this the band put out some great albums but this period of adjustment after their initial success was painful. Their set at Reading ’92 was dark and lacked any real passion. Tim Burgess came across as a Mick Jagger wannabe and compared to Ride’s performance or Primal Scream’s Glastonbury ’92 headlining slot this was weak.
THE WONDER STUFF
I remember being really hacked off with this lot by now. Having followed them since I first saw them supporting PWEI in 1987, they had gone from 2 minute pop songs to REM wannabes in 5 years and I was not happy.
Miles Hunt had become everything he hated. They were hanging round with celebrities, making bland records and it all seemed a bit fake. I met the fiddle player once and he was a really nice bloke, but musically they’d have been a lot better band without him. If only they’d split when the Bass Thing left in ’89.
Reading ’92 made me wanna puke if i’m honest, I walked away in such a huff (as if it’d make any difference!!!) and vowed never to see them again. I didn’t until they did their 20th Anniversary gigs in 2008 and they were still rubbish despite the fact they were playing their only decent album (update – went to them again in 2019 and loved it!).
This is as bad as any festival performance can get. The Farm were shockingly bad, they were a poor mans Happy Mondays. They were the kind of rubbish Simon Cowell would sign just because he’d know he could get a couple of hit singles out of them. They had paint thrown over them during this performance. Normally I’d criticise such behaviour but the person who booked this lot probarly booked the whole 1988 Reading festival. The people have spoken.. “Get ’em off!”
When I watched Billy Corgan and his band on a sunny Saturday afternoon this year I had never heard a note by them before. They were astounding, the guitars were so loud it was great. I turned to my friends after the last note was hit and said “they’ll be headlining in the next year or two” and I was right.
This was the best I ever saw them, maybe it was because I had no expectations. I also think they were were a band who’s album got progressively worse every release.
MANIC STREET PREACHERS
My wife loves this lot, they were the first band she ever saw live. They made me laugh a few times when they were a four piece, you just couldn’t take them seriously. Their appearance on The Word was hilaroius and now we were going to see just how bad they were on a stage.
I’m amazed they managed to keep going, they were always a poor mans Birdland to me. At this stage it seemed as though they were a 2 piece band with a couple of pantomine punks dancing either side of stage.
Another band who you wanted to hate but somehow they won everyone over, which is strange seeing as their only memorable song was their first hit. EMF were more interesting in interviews than they were as recording artists. Their set at Reading was actually pretty enjoyable, Ride and Public Enemy were still to play that evening so I was excited at what the evening was to hold and EMF were a good warm-up to that. Aren’t they still going?
My favourite band of that era. Ride were a frustrating band to love, they seemed to want to do the opposite of what their fans wanted to hear. Their initial EPs and debut album were amazing, I’d go so far as to say they were perfect, but after that the band seemed to chase success rather than let it just happen. As with all bands, this is when it all seems to go wrong.
Don’t get me wrong ‘Going Blank Again’ (the album they released in the spring of 1992) was good, but tracks such as Mouse Trap (as seen below) and Time of Her Time were weak. Saying that if the band carried on making tunes like this they’d have been huge during ‘Britpop’, instead they made Carnival of Light.
Despite my criticisms, this performance was the best time Ride ever played. Everything was perfect, it was also the last great show they played in my opinion. I saw Ride so many times in their short career and after this they were always a shadow of themselves.
I remember critics at the time saying no one watched Ride as they were all in the tent watching Suede, critics lie! Ride had possibly the second biggest crowd of the weekend behind Nirvana. After this performance the band were at a crossroads, they could have gone on and become the biggest band in the UK, instead they chose the other path.
So what made this performance so special. The lights were fantastic for starters, the band were so tight after a long US tour and the set was a perfect mix of new and old songs. In two short years Ride had become one of the headline acts and pulled it off perfectly.
I loved PE during this era, they were amazing and easily the best band of the weekend. They were so refreshing after a weekend of guitar music. Below you can watch them doing ‘Fight The Power’, unfortunately the atmosphere doesn’t come across at all. Whilst everyone was getting excited about Jay-Z at Glastonbury in 2009, I kept thinking that the Reading Festival had its first hip-hop headliner in 1992 and no one said a word. It was a really great performance.
I don’t mind Pavement, but there’s just always something else (or better) to listen to. I bought one of their albums but have still never listened to the whole thing. They were ok, can’t remember much about them. I always think of Pavement as the Oasis it’s ok to like, so many bands have ripped them off and you see all the kids walking round our city in their check shirts thinking they are so alternative (coz they like Pavement) and looking down their noses at kids who listen to mainstream indie. Pavement are mainstream indie.
There’s not a lot to say about Bjorn Again, they were invited by Kurt Cobain as he was a massive Abba fan. They were good fun at 3pm standing in the mud and they covered ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
THE BEASTIE BOYS
The one thing I remember about The Beastie Boys set was the mud slinging. In front of the stage were groups throwing mud around and it was a lot of fun to watch, a bit like the bottles in 1988. I also remember how experimental they were as a band and should of been much higher up the bill.
At the point of this performance the band were still very much ignored by the press, despite 1989’s ‘Paul’s Boutique’ album being critically acclaimed, the press had ignored them since their 1987 debut. Their latest album ‘Check Your Head’ paved the way for the huge success of the following album ‘Ill Communication’ which sent them back to the top of the charts. Within a few years the band were headlining the Reading Festival. Just like The Charlatans the band persevered and were richly rewarded.
Now watching this lot was funny for all the wrong reasons, still can’t tell you any of their tunes except for the hit. During this performance one of the band threw one of her used lady towels into the audience much to everyone’s disgust. A month or so later she dropped her knickers on live TV. Wonder what she’s doing now?
Ride could of learnt some valuable lessons from the Fannies, the “if it ain’t broke you can’t fix it” rule definitely applies. All these years later they are still making some of the best records around (update – Ride have reunited and clearly learnt!). This was their second Reading performance following the release of Bandwagonesque. They played on the same stage in 1991 but didn’t have the same back catalogue and had now moved into the spotlight since not only signing to Creation but also for being one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite bands. If my memory serves me well, Captain America (Eugene Kelly from The Vaselines latest band) were invited to play for a bit during the Fannies set as the second stage/tent was shut in the afternoon because of all the high winds and rain.
I remember this set very well, the excitement was really in the air by now as they played. “Were Nirvana going to turn up?” seemed to be question everyone was asking. I’d seen Mudhoney a few times before, but tonight on a muddy, rainy Sunday evening they seemed to be on fire.
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS
Poor Nick Cave, playing support to Nirvana must have been hard work for him. I’ll be honest I don’t remember much about this performance, he’d played Reading two years before on a lovely sunny Friday, but tonight it was cold and wet and everyone was waiting for Nirvana.
I have no other recollections of their performance, I’ve seen him so many times at various festivals and his music does nothing for me. A friend did say to a group of us at one festival that his music is to intelligent for us. I guess I’m too thick to work out why, it’s not like he’s singing in some highly intelligent language.
I’ve never been again, so Nirvana were the last band I ever saw at the festival… and here’s Everett True’s 5 minutes of fame. It was all downhill for the rest of Nirvana’s set.
Want to find out more about what it was like? This blog post gives an account from another teenagers point of view.