Down At The Abbey Festival, Reading
11th Sep 2021
Keith Goldhanger ventures out west of the capital to report on Reading’s Down At The Abbey Festival
Reading’s Down At The Abbey Festival may not be the largest one day outside event there is to attend during the year, but after this second event (following the 2019 debut reviewed here) one or two of us have learnt that it’s probably one of the most compact and gruelling days those of us happy to spend eleven hours outside could experience on a festival site as small as this. Locals will step in here and remind us that the event this year began the night before with local musicians making up the evenings ‘warm up’ event, but we’re just here on a cheap day return train ticket, hoping for dry weather and good company as well as decent entertainment that’s usually on show whenever we come to the Berkshire capital.
Eighteen acts fit perfectly into the day, thanks to the two stages separated by a bar between a couple of thick walls worn down since they were originally built. Convenient stage times mean that as soon as one act ends, the next one around the corner begins. There’s not a lot of time for doing much else except watch the bands and keep introductions short.
It’s a sunny Saturday outside London, we’re stretching our legs amongst the ruins of a nine hundred year old abbey, watching great bands we’ve not heard a lot of previously. Life feels comfortable again. We also get the familiar, brilliant, loud, foot-tapping (and best band of the day) MUSH, the electronic disco sounds of LONELADY (now a trio), the hectic electronic, clinking, clanking dance beats of FLAMINGODS, the groove of SNAPPED ANKLES, a number of acoustic folk acts, a chap that only sings songs taken from children’s TV programmes, and an astonishing GEWNIFER RAYMOND, who not only loses herself in her finger-picking assault on her acoustic guitar for more than half an hour but takes us along on the ride with her. We witness a band (THE UTOPIA STRONG) featuring someone who won the World Snooker championship more than once, and many others that we’re already digging into in order to try to catch up with their activities we’ve not been aware of since the people in question began entertaining those of us who are always available to lend an ear.
SINEAD O’BRIEN practically talks her way through half an hour of authentic original guitar music that fits in with the duo behind her and with the Dry Cleaning/Sonic Youth (Tunic) comparisons that one of us has ben referring to recently, and one concludes that this sits nicely with our current collection at home. Another highlight and another act we’ll no doubt see again.
DO NOTHING disappoint after a couple of songs that sound as though they’re screaming out for a few James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) remixes. They play another couple of songs that sound like The Strokes, as well as three or four tunes we can’t really work out. Once we agree the singer is OK we then have to be looking at the guitarist, then the drummer (all bass players are cool so he stays). At times they sound great, but we’re left frustrated that the four-piece didn’t give us more the longer they play. A band we’ll certainly come back to.
Local band ADAM & ELVIS are worth a mention. Their smooth, catchy songs benefit from a near-perfect sound that every band today are fortunate enough to get from the sound engineers, who must be more fried than we were after eleven hours of non-stop performances.
Every act on the bill has enough in their tanks to keep everyone here entertained. Queues for the bar, toilets and (very decent) food stalls aren’t too bad, the surroundings are stunning and, as with the previous event here, we benefit from decent weather and decent people in attendance.
When Down At The Abbey began, it was expected to repeat itself annually. Now we’ve got 2020 out of the way, it’s hoped this will become a regular fixture in our diary to sit aside the towns Are You Listening? Festival that takes place next month, arranged by the same folk that arranged this event.
Reading’s ability to collate eclectic line-ups and include man local acts has been worth applauding for many years now. There are many bands we may not get to cross paths with again, however also many we probably will, and events such as this are always great starting or continuation points for those of us willing to listen, and even venture out, for repeat performances at a future date. There’s not one bad gig all day, but a current reminder that some of us need to get a bit more in shape after sitting on the sofa for the past year.
Stay tuned though, as we imagine there’s a few more of these events to get through before it starts snowing again, and before you know it we may even be back here again in twelve months’ time.