Leeds festival (and its sister at Reading) is the most no-nonsense, and down to earth of the UK festival scene. Held every year in the spacious grounds of Bramham park on August bank holiday weekend, it hosts 3 days of acts, mostly falling into the ‘alt-rock’ genre, but managing to incorporate also punk, metal, rap, dance, dubstep, and folk. No tepees/yurts/glamping are to be found here – it’s all about the music and the mud. Some of my Oxford friends did sneer when I told them I would be attending – “only teenage emos go to Leeds”. Yet it offers a grown up and full festival experience that it can rightfully brag about. This was my experience of it this August:
Leeds/Reading offered an excellent and typically diverse line-up this year, possibly inferior only to Glastonbury (in my opinion). The headliners were Eminem, Green Day and Biffy Clyro – thus spanning rap, pop-punk and prog metal on the main stage.
All managed to put on a show that captivated the audience each night. Biffy Clyro put on a visually stimulating performance, complete with pyrotechnics and a gigantic tree. Green Day really managed to connect with the audience, and must be commended for playing a lengthy 2 1/2 hour show in the rain. Eminem’s very presence on the Sunday night sent the packed arena wild.
Aside from these headliners, I went to see the Lumineers, Fall out Boy, Kodaline, Bastille, The 1975, White Lies, Jonny Marr, Imagine Dragons and Chase and Status. All more or less delivered as expected. I was particularly impressed with the Lumineers- Cellist Neyla Pekarek displayed excellent vocal talent on the Friday. I looked forward to Bastille (having played St Hughs Ball in 2012). I wasn’t disappointed. They were able to dramatically brighten up my hangover on the rainy Saturday afternoon, delivering a stirring and emotional rendition of ‘Pompeii’. I was also exceptionally pleased to see Jonny Marr playing some old Smiths songs. (Bigmouth strikes again was particularly commendable). That said, I did feel that Imagine Dragons fell a little flat on the Sunday afternoon.
I won’t be drinking strongbow again. Prior to going down to Leeds I decided to buy 3 cases, seemingly a good idea at the time. By Saturday morning, nursing a terrible hangover, (and having shamefully performed the chunder dragon) I had thoroughly decided that it tasted at its best like stale vomit. The new ‘dark fruits’ version does not taste much better, resembling sickly Calpol.
That said the festival offered a very generous scheme whereby a plastic bag full of cans could be exchanged for a cup of Tuborg or Gaymers. “Workers Beer” appeared at the festival- a trade union initiative selling beer at an affordable price with funds used to campaign for workers rights. If alcohol by Saturday afternoon had begun to leave a stale taste in your mouth, there was a decent lemonade stand in the arena.
When pot-noodles, cereal bars, and cans of cider drunk at breakfast no longer cut it, we hit the various food-stalls. There was much to choose from- fajita vans, pizza vans, pasta, ice cream, carveries and even an organic buffalo meat stall. Last year festival organizers offered patrons a free bacon sandwich. Unfortunately this was not to be repeated. Burger vans were to be found everywhere, including on our campsite. Sadly it was exceptionally dear, at about £5 a pop. One night I opted for a fajita stand to find it shockingly overpriced at £7, with oversized and unpalatable onions unceremoniously thrown in.
We were however, camped next to a wonderful crepe stall, that offered all manner of gooey crepes, liberally dowsed in nutella, (at a reasonable price) which went down a treat either as a warmer following a rainy evening in the arena, or as a hangover cure.
Assessing a festival on its toilet facilities is like judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree. They weren’t pleasant. Most of us closed our eyes, gritted our teeth and got on with it. Some decided to bring their own toilet seats along with them (I’m not joking). Others decided it would be much better idea to defecate in a bin-bag and leave it on someone else’s tent or their own. The one positive is that I found “ A buller man would down that…” written above one toilet.
Not good at all. A Thunderstorm on the Thursday night, followed by torrential rain on the Saturday, which created torrential rivers of mud and took many tents with them, mostly the inferior pop-up tents (at about £30), which leaked in an instant. Moral of the story- invest in a good tent.
Leeds unlike some festivals allows its patrons to have small knee-high fires on campsite, and sells firewood and kindling on site. This is useful a) if you wish to warm yourself up on a night b) if your vision by nightime has become increasingly blurry due to alcohol consumption. A number of 5-a side football pitches were erected on site, which went down a treat. At night, following the last main acts, the silent disco and the outdoor ‘Piccadilly’ nightclub continued until 4AM, with DJs based in caravans in each campsite playing till about 6. Our campsite had a dubstep caravan which seemed to play the same song for hours and hours on end.
Fellow Festival goers
The great British public at a festival is something that all tourists in this country should see. It is a national institution. A typical example of how the British (particularly those from the North) behave at festivals was the gentleman who seeing that his tent had been flooded and defecated on overnight shrugged it off with:
“eh, what’s a fella to do ? I’ll go for a greggs and I’ll be fine.”
There were many amusing sights to be seen over the weekend. A group of young men playing football in dresses. A bloke wearing only boxer shorts, covered head to toe in mud, describing his two years working in a bakery to a group of admiring girls. The same man appearing at every gig holding up a massive sign which proudly read ‘I need a shit’. A couple having sex on the ferris wheel.
We bonded with strangers easily. We could wander into any campsite, sit down, open a can, and start a conversation. You could shout out ‘Alan!’ anywhere, and you could guarantee someone would shout ‘Steve!’ in response. No-one would mind any ridiculously immature antics. Even getting hideously rat-arsed, arranging tinned spaghetti to look like penises, knocking over a gazebo, falling onto a tent and then being sick everywhere.