Good morning Reading and Leeds!

The tales and terrors of opening the main stage

Good morning Reading and Leeds!
Good morning Reading and Leeds!
Good morning Reading and Leeds!

By Ben Tipple

Aug 20, 2014 15:34

There's a twenty foot gap between the main stage and the crowd. It's close to midday in Reading and Leeds, and the chosen compere of the day has just stepped out into the void.

After the often recuperating, often inebriated crowd have been sufficiently warmed up, it’s time to step out – time to face the twenty foot void and the thousand faces starting expectantly at the stage.

“To be completely honest, I was too nervous to enjoy it,” Tom Ogden of Deaf Havana recalls. “I was so scared about playing, it all happened so fast.”

Reading and Leeds Festival have a history of supporting up-and-coming British bands by offering them an opening slot on the main stage. Alongside Deaf Havana, the accolade has been awarded to the likes of The Blackout, Pulled Apart By Horses, Mallory Knox, Young Guns, We Are The Ocean and many more of their ilk.

Often, the slot is the outcome of working through the ranks. Bands find themselves opening the main stage after having been well received on one or more of the other stages on the site. The majority are invited back, either further up the main stage or a more highly regarded slot on one of the smaller ones.

“Seeing your bands name on the famous yellow poster was surreal,” The Blackout recall. “Then when it came closer, the excitement turned into nerves.”

For many, the experience has been dominated by nerves. Be it because they are the first bands from Leeds to open the festival since it began (see Pulled Apart By Horses), or because it’s the biggest audience they have had to date by thousands (see Mallory Knox).

Good morning Reading and Leeds!
Good morning Reading and Leeds!

Having accepted the nerves, Pulled Apart By Horses quickly found they dissipated. “Once we eventually came out to play, I felt so emotional and the nerves kind of evolved into pure adrenaline and waves of excitement,” guitarist James Brown recounts. “I almost dropped to my knees when I saw the crowd when we walked out. In a single word, it was perfect.”

Some resort to uniquely interesting tactics. Having processed the nerves, The Blackout proceeded to spend their money on Storm Troopers. “God knows where the idea came from but James [Davies], our guitarist walked on dressed as Darth Vader flanked by four Storm Troopers while the Death March was blasted out the PA,” they reminisce. “Then he started playing guitar and the rest of us joined him while our galactic security detail stood at both sides of the stage.”

Not an easy feat

For The Blackout, their theatrics were not the most surreal part of their experience. Having walked out and stage and surveyed the surroundings, it still took a moment to sink in. “There’s this twenty foot gap between you and the crowd which just amplifies the feeling that someone has put together this ridiculously complicated rouse,” the band admit, “just to see our faces when they drop the big painting of a festival like a cartoon.”

It’s abundantly clear that opening the main stage at Reading and Leeds isn’t an easy feat. From confirmation to performance, it’s an emotional rollercoaster for the bands involved. Whether managing to conquer the nerves, or simply accepting their inevitable existence, every band agrees that ultimately it proves to be an unrivalled experience.

“Those thirty minutes on stage at Reading especially have been my favourite in this band so far,” Mallory Knox bassist Sam Douglas exudes. “The crowd we had was surreal, it was literally a sea of people and at the time the biggest headline show we had played was to 800 people. To walk out to thousands and thousands of people was ridiculous in my eyes.”

It’s also an experience that has helped propel the bands further than they had ever expected. From building character to garnering exposure, the Reading and Leeds stages are undoubtedly a mile stone.

“We had so many people tweet and message us saying they’d discovered our music because of that one show,” Deaf Havana’s Tom Ogden humbly claims. “Plus our album sales shot up, so it was a huge help to our band.”

As Pulled Apart By Horses are keen to point out, it’s not just a main stage appearance that can boost a band. “They have a few smaller stages which enable new, upcoming and unsigned acts to have a chance to play to a bigger crowd,” Brown observes. “This is the kind of stepping stone which can further acts onto playing headline shows and getting on the radio. It was a tremendously important part of our early career.”

As Mallory Knox prepare to return to Reading and Leeds this year, Sam Douglas is under no illusion over the importance of the experience. “You start playing in a band to one day be able to play a show like that, and for us once wasn’t enough,” he says. “We’d all be honoured to hopefully play that stage again one day.”

This year sees British rap-metal inspired Hacktivist open the main stage in Reading on Friday, and Leeds and Saturday, before Gnarwolves have the honour on the Saturday in Reading and Sunday in Leeds. As The Blackout reflect on their experience, there’s only one thing left to say to this year’s chosen few:

“It’s everything you expect and then some.”