When: 7th September 2019
Where: Reading Abbey Ruins, Reading, Berkshire, England
Reading, so much to answer for. As nobody said, ever. The kind of place where they’ll knock down one of the most beautiful abbeys in England and build a prison instead. I spent my teenage years in Reading and at the time the abbey was largely forgotten about, just a moody and usually secluded backdrop for the local yoof to drink their cider and discuss the best places to procure German army shirts while we waited for the Festival to roll around again. The town itself, in spite of its obvious wealth, felt like somewhere you’d be apt to resentfully tolerate if all you wanted out of life was a job and some nice shops. It is, in other words, the place I waited years to leave.
So why go back? Well, would you just see the delicious line-up those thoughtful humans at Heavy Pop have assembled for the first-ever Down at the Abbey Festival. There’s the blood-drenched, gothic immensity of longing and drama that is Kathryn Joseph and the wide-eyed, dream-like clarity of Rozi Plain. There’s the welcome return of Rachael Dadd’s oceanic psych-folk, and the towering, polymathic edifice of gilt-edged indie-pop they call Darren Hayman. There’s impassioned rock and roll in the form of Bryde and down-beat folk in the form of Tom Williams. There’s also The Wave Pictures, in the form of The Wave Pictures, a band so good that adjectives fail me. It’s like Christmas came early.
Presiding over all these wonderful things is one of the best live acts around, BC Camplight, scourge of the Home Office, implacable enemy of Brexit, and easily our greatest living Englishman*. I’ve seen him several times now, and if ever a man was born to headline a festival in the dramatically ruined abbey next door to the gaol where the English state destroyed one of the greatest writers ever to let rip with a puckish epigram, it’s BC Camplight.
Add to the mix a bunch of local acts, including The Keep Cats, Saltwater Sun and the Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, plus pop-up street food and ale from the likes of Siren Craft Brew, and it looks like all the ingredients are in place for a tasty little all-dayer. Just point me at the Kombucha bar.
Finally, there’s the lure of the abbey itself. Until recently it had fallen into such disrepair it had been closed to the public – imagine that in any other city in Europe – but has since been renovated at a cost of about three million quid. That whole area of town always used to be a bit of a wasteland. The prison, the ruins, the dodgy park with the kak statue and the bandstand, the ring road. And it really is a rather beautiful spot. Reading was always a victim of its proximity to the superior lights of London and I’ll be glad to see my old town pull off an event like this and put itself on the musical map for more than that annual post-A-levels binge in Caversham.
*Don’t @ me.