Are You Listening? Festival, Reading
9th October 2021
Keith Goldhanger continues his month of visiting towns providing multi-venue all-day festivals. This week he reports on the annual Are You Listening? Festival held in Reading.
It’s only been a month or so since our last visit to Reading but the rescheduled Are you Listening? Festival is well worth the wait.
The moment the schedule was released and clashes looked minimal was the moment we realised this could be the big one, the day we could collapse on our beds at the end of it breathless, speechless and unable to move any further until we could navigate a decent night’s sleep.
We manage a dozen shows, we walk between five of the nine venues, sometimes more than once an hour and manage to see most of everything we’d planned to see plus more; exactly what any gig-goer would like to achieve at a multi-venue event such as this.
First disappointment of the day however (and there were a couple) is hearing the news that English Teacher will not be performing today. That leaves an early gap to wander around and check out the venues and one or two local bands unfamiliar to those of us from out of town. One or two of the bands we witness are the kind of acts people may assume we have to sit through ten times before catching a gem. The truth couldn’t be further away, but seeing bands that don’t cut the mustard with ourselves does keep our feet on the ground, and of course at least one of these bands will no doubt turn up in our speakers again one day and prove us wrong. It’s happened before and it’ll no doubt happen again.
The first name on our list we want to catch today is HAQ123 who first came to our attention four years ago when they played this event previously. Millie (aged 12), Zac (aged 13) and (Zac’s dad) Dave, (probably three times the children’s age and former member of Evil Blizzard) are at The Purple Turtle playing short death metal songs to a crowd the size of which would make any band feel that getting out of bed in the morning was worth it.
Deadpan introductions from Millie, explaining what the songs are about (finding a finger amongst some leaves in the woods, a football referee who ‘was a bit weird’) and introducing Rats as ‘the most classic of all our classic songs’ whilst repeatedly telling us what a wonderful audience we are, is a joy to witness. HAQ123 are great because they know their limits, they remind us of 1981 stars The Prats (although The Prats were more of a Punk Rock band than a doom metal band) and many of us would rather see stuff like this than another band with the Oasis back catalogue still at the front of their record collections. No songs seem to be more than a minute or two long, and no two songs sound the same. Noisy electronic crashes, a fuzzed-up bass from the adult in the band and a merch stall boasting what we believe are now five albums, make this a great start to the day.
Top of our list today of new acts we’ve been listening to a lot recently and expect to be seeing for the first but not last time are COURTING from Liverpool. They’re a fabulous band with a fabulous selection of songs currently available and may eventually get to be many people’s favourite band. They’re another act that are currently on the Nice Swan roster, always a great indication of a band worth taking notice of. Today’s performance leaves us disappointed though as the sound in Sub89 doesn’t do justice to the marvellous lyrics that jump out at the listener on first listen. They appear to have lost a bass player somewhere along their recent journey and unfortunately seem to be winging it a bit today.
That’s not to say we’ve written them off though. One listen to any of Courting’s online tunes will have you looking through the listings to witness this band before the year is out yourself, we imagine. They’re a band that one of us will compare to Yard Act, but with lyrics as obscure and off the wall as those of Dry Cleaning and with riffs akin to label mates Sports Team. We get two versions of their pre-Covid release Football, a song about tennis, a song titled Grand National, and some pointless audience participation with a cow bell. We leave with the will to revisit these again before the end of the year when they’ll no doubt be back to the level we imagine they are capable of. Not a great gig by any means but they are a great band and we’re pretty sure you’ll want to witness these yourselves before very long. We’re glad they came and we’re glad we’ve seen them and we still want to see them again sometime.
Having checked out the tiny intimate venue around the corner earlier called Milk and deciding that when we return we would be amongst a silent attentive crowd there to see AJIMAL, we do return later realising we read the room totally wrong. We see a performance that, although one of the best of the day, is ruined by 90% of the crowd inside this small room deciding that chatting all the way through it is more important than listening to what the man at the piano and pile of electronics is providing. Ajimal’s music requires silence throughout and one day we imagine Fran O’Hanlon will get it. Not here though – a real shame that hopefully anyone in the room during this half an hour will come to regret once they sit down and listen to the music this bloke has been making. For those of you at the bar or even at the front, chatting merrily away during this, we’ll stick this here to give you something you’ll hopefully regret not paying attention to.
From here on, the day just goes from strength to strength. KING NUN over at the Face Bar perform a set of grungy Emo tunes fronted by a man with glorious red hair and a powerful set of lungs. DITZ provide us with some powerful punk rock driven by guitars that scream different levels of fierceness and intensity, and TV PRIEST are even better than we realised when we saw them seven days ago in Ipswich, providing us with more angry crashing riffs and possessing a frontman who knows how to deliver his vocals without appearing to pause for breath.
Back over at SUB89 we catch FEET for the first time since bumping into them in Cardiff a couple of years ago, and this five-piece impress once again with their collection of rock & roll tunes that all seem to have choruses you want to hum along or sing along to. At times we feel as though we’re watching a hyperactive Robbie Williams fronting the Rolling Stones as their bluesy rock songs grab our attention with every twist and turn. Feet are very good at this rock & roll lark it seems, and will no doubt win many people over as the next few months crawl back to resemble the way they were a year or two ago.
We revisit one of the most powerful punk rock bands around at the moment, GRANDMAS HOUSE over at The Oakford Social Club and marvel at the strength of the voice that complements the guitar and the voice that complements the drums. Once the bass player also joins in with a bit of backing vocals, we’re tapping our feet furiously and recalling the days when a certain woman from the States called Courtney Love had us all quaking in our shoes by venting her anger in our direction. We’re not frightened of Grandmas House though. We smile as we punch the air and sing along to most of their songsm including current favourite Always Happy, and marvel at the glorious set of tunes these three women provide us with. Another fabulous gig from a fabulous band.
Back up the road at Face Bar we have in front of us the deliriously happy four-piece LIFE, who are taking turns in walking through the audience as they play their catchy energetic punk rock. Singer Mez stands stage-front eyeing up the audience one by one, tongue literally in cheek, and provides us with some silly but entertaining dance moves as he performs, and reminds those of us who have been keeping an eye on their movements over the past few years that they’re not ready to slow down or change too much just yet. The look on the faces of this band makes us wonder if they’ve been out much since gigs began again. Performance-wise, it’s still as exciting as ever but the joy they project as they play is like no other seen recently that could match. Life are happy, loud and thoroughly entertaining (just as life should be).
Once we find time to sit down for half an hour and pat ourselves on the back it’s time for Brighton duo AK/DK to do what they do best and do what they do brilliantly back at the Oakford Social Club, which is pretty full by the time the gig begins. Many of us remember their incredible performance over at The Purple Turtle one afternoon a few years ago at this event, and some people are probably here again tonight hoping to see an equally furious repeat just before the clock strikes twelve.
This is even better.
A brilliant sound that seems to have everyone in sight of the stage (and those at the sides and in the beer garden) dancing harder than they may have danced for months. The digital contraptions that they are fighting with their non-drum-playing hands become more entertaining to watch for those at the front as the duo fight their way back into the main body of a song seamlessly. A few counts of four, eight, thirty-two or sixty-four and a nod to each other is all that’s needed before the duo are back knocking seven shades of hell out of their respective drum kits, whist every now and then changing the electronic structures by the flick of a switch or a press of a key. This is an ideal band to put on in this small bar at this time of night. Electronic dance music with distorted vocals and furious dual drums – exactly what anyone could wish for late on a Saturday night. Putting AK/DK on at this time of the night was probably something planned by the promoters about five minutes after their last performance in town, and quite probably one of the finest moments we’ve witnessed since we’ve been attending this Are you Listening? one day event.
It’ll take some beating to match this 2021 event next time, especially as there may not be the same amount of time to arrange the next one (this event is usually held in April).
They probably will though – that’s why we keep returning every year to Are you Listening? and that’s why you should try this festival too, if wandering around a small town amongst Saturday shoppers and popping into various music venues is your thing.
The money made goes to Reading MENCAP too.
Join us next time.
As always we’ll give you plenty of warning.
Words by Keith Goldhanger. More writing by Keith on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can also find Keith on Facebook and Twitter (@HIDEOUSWHEELINV).