For a good few years during the 00’s there is one place you could guarantee to find me, every August Bank Holiday weekend without fail.
Thirteen miles north of Leeds city centre, there’s 1735 acres of land surrounding a Grade 1 listed 18thcentury country house, every year a sizeable chunk of that land would be transformed into a sea of tents (sometimes literally), food stands, shops, fairgrounds, bars and stages. Welcome to Bramham Park, welcome to Leeds Festival!
It’s eight years since I was last losing my mind in the fields. In 2012 at the grand age of 27 and after a run of eight festivals, I’d decided my festival days were done.
That bank holiday Monday I looked, felt and smelt like I’d been dug up. I was past sleeping in a tent for four days, I was past not washing for four days, I was past paying £6:00 for a burger that had probably never seen a cow, I was past using long drops and port-a-loos and crucially, I was past spending the equivalent of a long haul flight on a weekend in a tent in Leeds. I’d had a good run, but I was done.
It hasn’t overly bothered me in the years since but this year – probably as a result of living half freedom, Covid limbo – I’m nostalgic for the fields I miss dancing in. I’m missing the feeling of seeing a band I love for the first time and being blown away. I long to have random conversations with strangers and I want to buy bizarre clothes from the Oxfam tent that we all know I’m never going to wear*.
You see, festivals give you a sense of freedom, they can be wild, anything can happen, there are no rules, you’ll see bands you adore and maybe, if you’re lucky, discover a new band to love and cherish.
I love live music, I take any opportunity I’m given to see live music, no matter who it is, no one’s ever been on their death bed saying: “I just watched too much live music”.
Some of favourite moments have been at Leeds festival, caked in mud and glow in the dark face paint, so seeing as it’s unlikely I’ll be dancing in a field any time soon, I’m reliving some of the best.
2005 – The Futureheads…..
I’m going to level with you here, I wasn’t in the Radio One tent to watch The Futureheads, I was waiting for the headliners Bloc Party and wanted half a chance of being able to see anything – festivals aren’t the best places short arses.
Anyway, spot secured, four Mackem lads strolled on to the stage, I can pinpoint the EXACT moment when I knew this was a band for me, it was the moment O, OH, OH started…soon to be followed by:
“When I was child, running in the night
I was afraid of what might be
Hiding in the dark and hiding on the streets
For and of what was following me
The hounds of love are calling
I’ve always been a coward
And I don’t know what’s good for me”.
Here was an indie band doing something quite incredible with a Kate Bush classic. That moment is still as clear as day to me, looking around seeing thousands of people singing back Oh, oh, ohs, hands aloft, smiling having a good time.
By the end of the set I was a convert. Fifteen years on I am still obsessed with their cover of Hounds of Love, it’s the only reason I’ve half forgiven them for breaking up two days before I was supposed to see them at Ramsbottom festival in 2013.
2005 – And queuing up to meet bands….
Looking back, I think I must have been rather confused in the 00s. I had a crush on any scruffy looking singer holding a guitar, or drumstick, or amp.
By far my biggest crush at this time was Johnny Borrell, the lead singer of Razorlight.
I followed Razorlight all over the country, I wore out their first album Up All Night through university. There wasn’t a bad song on that album; same can’t be said for the second I despised America and still think its drivel.
Back to my crush – I now don’t understand it, this was a man who wore skin-tight white jeans, looked like he was in need of a good wash, needed to brush his hair, who came across as very arrogant. He got kicked out of the Libertines, an achievement considering Pete Doherty is STILL in The Libertines and his rap sheet is as long as Al Capone’s.
I actually queued up to meet Johnny Borrell for quite a long time and yes, he was pretty arrogant. At that point I didn’t care, I was thrilled, I’ve since learnt to never queue for a man.
A few years later, Razorlight had a new line up – it seemed the other three original members couldn’t stand him and left the band. They were playing a day festival in Pontefract that I was covering for work, I was allowed to interview them. He left straight after the set and jumped into a waiting car. The new guys were lovely – though I’m sure my parents at some point probably warned me against drinking with bands.
2005 – Foo Fighters…. for the very first time
2005 was my second festival, I remember so much about that year, like camping on the side of hill and waking up concertinaed at the bottom of the tent of morning. The standout moment came on the Sunday night as Dave Grohl and co took to the stage to close the festival.
That afternoon had been superb, I’d seen Biffy Clyro, Razorlight and Kings of Leon but it was all about the Foo Fighters. I was expecting it to be special, they lived up to the hype and then over delivered. I was in awe watching a spectacle. I also lost my voice.
I could write forever about Foo Fighters gigs, I’d never be able to do it justice, they’re simply a band who pull out all the stops to make sure you have a good time and will always deliver a really special moment whether it is at festival or their own concert.
2009 – The Prodigy
In 1996, there was music video everywhere, it was in black and white and of a man with mad hair singing in some kind of tunnel – that video of course was for Firestarter, I was 11 at the time.
Flashforward to being 24 and that same man had taken to the main stage for one of the most exhilarating hours of my life. I had pink face paint all over me, a lime green raincoat, glow sticks all over me and I did not stop dancing. No one did.
It was an incredible moment, thousands of people raving to drum and base on a freezing cold August night in Leeds. It’s probably the most fun set I’ve ever seen, full of energy.
I was gutted in 2019 when it was announced that Keith Flint had died by suicide, I was shocked too. He brought so much joy to others through music, I felt free during that hour, I didn’t care what I looked like, I was dancing, I was loving the music, I was enjoying myself – that was all down to Keith and his bandmates and what they were doing on stage. I hope he knows that wherever he is now.
I should add, I woke up the next morning cursing, asking “where the bloody hell is that colour coming from?” – I still had a glow stick necklace I’d made on and pink face paint smeared everywhere.
2012 – The Cure
2012 was a different festival, I’d blagged a press ticket so didn’t have to pay and more importantly got to camp in much quieter and nicer area. There were proper toilets (kind of) there was really good food and they let me take my own beer into the main arena; for the past seven years I’d employed every trick in the book to smuggle alcohol into the arena – I wasn’t paying a fiver for Carling – Pablo Escobar would have been impressed by the tactics and imagination involved.
I’d had no plans to go that year, but the announcement of one band changed all that.
The Cure were playing the Saturday night. I had to be there. I had to see The Cure.
It was a bucket list moment. It’s still the longest set I’ve ever seen, it was phenomenal, singing along to Close to Me, Lovecats, Lullaby, Inbetween Days, Pictures of You and Boys Don’t Cry.
They played 33 songs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band play 33 songs in one set. Granted Robert Smith didn’t do much in the way of interaction saying at one point: “I thought yesterday maybe I should say things between songs. But it breaks a spell in my head. So just imagine I’m saying things to you.”
It didn’t matter, I was there to hear some of my favourite songs played live for the first time and every second was glorious!
There’s so many memories from my festival years, I was reported missing one year – I was at a campsite disco having a whale of a time. There was the moment we watched Arctic Monkeys and turned to the side to see original bassist Andy Nicholson watching his old mates. There was the time we stupidly sheltered under a tree as a huge thunderstorm rolled in, I was adamant we were going home that instant, I fell asleep instead. There was the very lengthy phone call to Ronan in America so he could hear Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Being horrifically disappointed with Radiohead. The moment a randomer rugby tackled me to the floor during Greenday and joining in with the mosh pit while Marilyn Manson played (I was curious).
I guess what I’m missing about the festival experience, is knowing that something is likely to surprise me, whether that be a band, the weather or randomer knocking me to the floor. Nothing compares to live music, discovering a new band or falling in love with your favourite songs all over again.
I’m still not sure if I’d sign up (and pay for) the full weekend tent experience again. I’d be more likely go in a caravan or stay at a nearby hotel.
Whether it’s for a day or a full weekend I no longer think my festival days are over.
I do know there will always be a part of me dancing in field somewhere without a care in the world.
*The dress I’m thinking about is a bright pink 50s style prom dress with black velvet skulls on it – it seemed like a good idea at the time, I sold it on eBay.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm