Keith Goldhanger went to have a look at Readings’ newest festival Down At The Abbey.

There are one or two basic elements that have to come together in order for a festival to survive. The finances need to add up at the end of the day and therefore this means that people have to turn up, buy some beer and food and feel the need to return another day. In order for this to be achieved a decent venue, decent weather, food, beer and of course the bands need to be of everybody’s liking. Down At The Abbey 2019, a one-day event set amongst the ruins of Reading Abbey (a ten minute stroll from the main train station), manages to tick every box.

We learn on arrival that the oldest piece of recorded music in English that exists was recorded here and that today’s event, organised by the same lovely folk that put together the town’s Are You Listening charity event every April, is the first to take place. The hope is that the second and third may occur over one weekend in a year’s time.

Attendees may not have been able to hear every song being sung today, but that is only because one or two acts may have overrun by five minutes or there is a queue at the bar conveniently located between the two stages providing the music non-stop for ten and a half hours, beginning at noon.

The day turns out to be quite a breathtaking marathon once we get into our stride. In typical fashion we miss a couple of hours at the start and don’t realise it’s actually possible to watch nearly all of every band without stopping once we really get going. What we witness is a line up of acts divided between the Acoustic Stage and the Main Stage – nothing too fierce or rowdy but some acts unknown (to us) that are so fabulous that after a couple of hours one simply doesn’t want to miss out on anything happening around the next corner.

PETE HEFFERAN makes another rare appearance in his hometown (singing songs as opposed to selling sandwiches) and has us asking why the rest of the country doesn’t get to witness him live as often as everyone deserves to, whilst over on the Acoustic Stage is THE AMAZING TIGER BAND shows why this solo act is called this: one man making verbal drum rhythms looping it over some looped bass lines that he swaps with a guitar (more than once in some songs) and entertaining mid afternoon attendees as much as any trio or quartet could possibly achieve. He’s playing in front of an attentive audience that are happy switching between stages by now and respecting the occasion a little more than those sitting on the lawn over at the Main Stage, quite happily chatting away and keeping an eye on any children who are entertaining themselves by wrestling each other to the ground or watching curiously as grown ups on the stage are hitting bass drums repeatedly as they sound check the next act to appear. Whilst the chatter may be irritating those at the back or in the middle of the lawn, it isn’t disruptive for those standing at the front soaking in the sounds from the very good sound system being used (the sound quality on both stages is faultless). ROZI PLAIN as usual are as charming and elegant as ever whilst they plod away making the kind of music made to be performed between crumbling walls of abbey ruins on a warm summer’s day. The same can be said of BRYDE back on the acoustic stage playing us some beautiful songs, and TOM WILLIAMS with his heartwarming tunes will have us pulling out those old Triffids albums in the morning and is a huge favourite of the day.

Husband and wife duo THE AUGUST LIST seem to have a batch of songs we’ve already been investigating back home, and THE WAVE PICTURES are still as great as last time we saw them – yet again this trio is playing a set of songs we’ve not heard before. This is a band we need to see more of, and more often than every three or four years as some of us only seem to manage.

DARREN HAYMAN’s audience grows from about 10 people to 100 by the time he finishes his fantastic set of songs that are as good as the bits in between the tunes – even watching the man struggle to keep talking whilst tuning up is worth resting our aching bones after six hours of foot tapping, ale drinking and a very decent lentil curry. He teaches us what a “Thankful Village” is, sings a song about one and then plays us a song from his album full of tracks named after the twelve men who have walked on the moon (above). We learn a lot, laugh a lot and love it.

There’s more……
BC Camplight are headlining ….we’ll get around to this band eventually it’s felt, but the half an hour trip on a fast train back to central London suddenly feels like a good idea.

The organisers of this debut event in the ruins seem to have got it spot on in terms of the line up in these surroundings. Other factors worth mentioning are the weather, which at this time of year we imagine would have have kept them awake at night for a few weeks leading up to this: a rain-sodden day wouldn’t be too nice we feel. It was also noticeable how clean the Festival was throughout the day; punters drinking from the festival branded glasses (now a common theme at many festivals), smokers being banished to the outside walls and litter pickers wandering around casually helping keep the arenas free of litter all day. Bales of hay to sit on is a nice touch, it isn’t overcrowded and the security and bar staff seem to be as happy as the paying attendees throughout the day.

Down at the Abbey episode one is a huge success for the punters: a nice venue with nice bands playing to nice people.

Reading has another Festival.
We’ll be back.

Words and top photo 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).

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