If there’s one expression that UK TV and radio types use a little too often, that I find quite annoying, it’s ‘Festival Season’. If you listen to Radio 1 for example you could be easily duped into the idea that ‘Festival Season’ starts with their Big Weekend event (which whenever I hear it mentioned my head starts speaking to me in the voice of Aidan Moffat…. “So that was the first big weekend of the summer. Starts Thursday as usual with a canteen quiz and again no-one wins the big cash prize….”) and ends with Reading / Leeds (remember when they rebranded it The Carling Weekend – that didn’t work did it?). The fact that somewhere in the country there is a music festival of some type taking place at least 48 weeks of the year seems to escape them.
Today Reading is the focus of Breaking More Waves attention, but not for the post GCSEs riot that happens in August. For this weekend Reading's more civilised festival takes place. It's called Are You Listening?
Are You Listening is one of my personal favourite one day festivals for a number of reasons (more of which in a moment) and one that I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from in helping run Dials Festival, a one day / one street / multi-venue new music festival that happens in my home city of Portsmouth, this year on October 5th. A quick plug - you can buy tickets for Dials by clicking here and we’ll be announcing the first handful of artists playing for the 2019 edition in just a few weeks time.
Most festival previews I read tend to focus on what bands the writer recommends you see. Whilst this can be useful I prefer festival previews that actually tell me a bit about the event. I can easily listen and decide about what artists to watch using streaming services. Any festival worth its salt will have its own playlist. (Find Are You Listening’s by clicking here). What I want to know is what’s it really like to attend? What are the queues like? What are the punters like? What’s the location like? On that basis, here’s my run down of Are You Listening? 2019.
WHERE: Reading town centre. It’s one of the largest towns in the UK without city status and is easily accessible by public transport from London and the South. If you get bored you can always do some shopping in The Oracle Centre and there are plenty of places to eat to suit every budget. (Note: You won’t get bored).
THE VENUES: 8 in total. Milk, Oakford Social Club, Purple Turtle, Rising Sun Arts Centre, Sub 89, South Street Arts Centre (2 venues – Theatre and Studio), St Laurence Church.
All venues are accessible with a single wristband (subject to capacity) which started at the bargain price of £10 for super early birds and are now £25. Some of the venues like Milk (a trendy cocktail bar on a side street) are very small – it can’t hold (at a guess) more than 100 people, whilst others such as Sub 89 (a regular nightclub) holds around 600 and the church (standing not seated) is also a sizeable space. If you go to see any acts at South Street the 2 venue spaces are right next to each other so you can just skip between them with ease.
The only venue I’m not so keen on is Oakford Social Club. Despite the name it’s a modern pub, but the area where the bands play is relatively small and enclosed meaning that viewing can be difficult if not impossible unless you get there early, as the capacity of the pub is way bigger than the space to watch the artists.
THE ARTISTS: A mix of national touring bands often of the new music / indie / alternative / rock / singer songwriter variety and the best of more local rising talent. If you listen to BBC 6 music and Radio 1 you will be well catered for. This year some of the highlights include Flamingods, Bad Sounds and Breaking More Waves favourites Another Sky. Also this year St Laurence Church is being opened by Reading's very own Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, so if the rock ‘n’ roll thrills are too much for you there’s a very different choice! Find the full list of acts and timetable on the festival's website here.
QUEUES AND CAPACITY: Clearly any multi-venue festival is limited by the capacity of its spaces but in the 4 years I’ve been to Are You Listening so far I’ve never struggled to get in to see who I wanted to see. The only time I witnessed a big queue was last year for Idles at Sub 89, but the band were rapidly rising at the time so this was easily predictable and anyone with any sense would have arrived early. This year I suspect there isn’t a similar buzz band on the bill and so my guess is venue hopping should be relatively straightforward. I could of course be proven wrong! As always with these events, if there’s someone you desperately want to see arrive early!
TIMETABLING: The festival generally sticks to the approach of putting the biggest names last, with a smaller number of venues open at the start of the day when less people are present. Sub 89 closers earlier than other venues, which is good as it is possible to see the headliner there and then go on elsewhere to catch another.
PUNTERS: The number of twats / idiots in the audience is very low. Punters tend to be a mix of hardcore gig goers and people just enjoying a good day out – buy my experience has been that audiences are generally well behaved and respectful of the artists. As some of the venues are 18+ punters tend to be a little older than the other Reading festival in August!
THE BEST THING ABOUT ARE YOU LISTENING? BESIDES THE MUSIC: It’s in aid of charity (Reading Mencap). This is an element of the event I love – just by buying your ticket you’ve helped support a great cause and the work they do. It’s an idea we’ve 100% stolen for Dials Festival in Portsmouth (where we support Solent Mind).
THE SECOND BEST THING ABOUT ARE YOU LISTENING? BESIDES THE MUSIC: Honest Burgers have produced a special edition AYL? Burger on sale at the Reading Restaurant on festival day only (£1 from every burger goes to Reading Mencap)
THE THIRD BEST THING ABOUT ARE YOU LISTENING? BESIDES THE MUSIC: West Berkshire Brewery have brewed an AYL? Festiv-Ale which is available at local pubs this week and at venues on 27th (a percentage from every pint goes to Reading Mencap).
THE FOURTH BEST THING ABOUT ARE YOU LISTENING? BESIDES THE MUSIC: It’s just before my birthday, so the festival acts as a party of sorts for me.
THE FUNNIEST THING ABOUT ARE YOU LISTENING 2019: One of the band’s playing early on (Diving Station – who I featured on the blog back in 2017 here) have a song called You’re Not Listening. I hope they play that – for obvious reasons.
Are You Listening? Is this Saturday, April 27th 2019. Tickets whilst available can be purchased by clicking here.
Last year's festival was a sell out event and boasted performances from Idles, Field Music, The Lovely Eggs, Her's (RIP) and raised over £13,000 for Reading Mencap