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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bethan Elfyn.

A birds-eye view

It’s that time of year again, twilight for the festival season but the August Bank Holiday week means there is still time for the biggest blowout of all. I talk of course of Reading Festival, which is, in my uninformed opinion (having never been to any other), the best festival there is.

Having first experienced it as a naïve 16 year old in 2005, I was seduced by its madness and have attended five times in total, this year being only the second I’ve missed since. The fusion of every hype band of every genre of the moment and iconic sets from returning legends make it the only festival to rival Glastonbury for choice and exclusivity.

Add to this the chaos and adventure of thousands of other crazy, unhinged but fun-loving individuals camping on top of each other and you have somewhere unlike anywhere else on earth for one weekend a year.

My second interviewee, Bethan Elfyn of the BBC, knows all about the magic of Reading festival, having been a compere on the NME/Radio 1 stage for over 10 years now.

“It’s an electric atmosphere from the first band right the way through. The level of the music fans who come to Reading every year astound me. They'll know all the words to songs by bands that I've only just discovered,” she says, taking time out from a busy week in which she is filling in for Lauren Laverne on 6 Music each morning before heading to Reading on Friday.

Throughout the week on the radio she has alluded to her excitement for the weekend ahead, this year’s NME/R1 stage will see sets from Beady Eye, Jane’s Addiction and The Streets, so what’s like to be onstage and backstage at the festival?

“It’s ridiculously exciting, busy and hectic. There's loads of crew lugging heavy gear, bands looking nervous, a stage manager shouting at everyone, sulky sound guys, indifferent lighting guys, and a whole load of friends and liggers.

“I'm glad that I’m busy and occupied in amongst all the chaos. I get to see everything and anything; the crowd, the bands, the crews, it’s a bird-eye view. As you can tell I love it!” says Bethan, who also hosts a show a week on BBC Wales and Absolute Radio since leaving Radio 1 last year after over a decade at the station.

When Bethan first hosted the NME/R1 stage with Huw Stephens in 2000, she had never been to the festival before, over ten years later, how does she look back on her tenure?

“I’d been to Leeds the year before and I'd been to plenty of Glastonburys, as well as other smaller festivals, but Reading was a formidable idea to me, a proper Rock festival. I was a bag of nerves for at least the first 8 years of being at Reading,” she admits, as well as revealing that despite the massive growth in the popularity of the festival, not much has changed backstage.

“It hasn't changed much, it’s just a little more organised and I’m a little calmer about being there and doing my job. There's a great family vibe with the crew who work on the R1 stage, so it’s all about catching up with old friends. Some bands have played there loads too – it’s great when you see them grow and get bigger each year - like Two Door Cinema Club filling the tent last year and being on the main stage this year.”

I think audiences at Reading are a true indication of a band’s popularity, seeing a full tent for an early set – such as the aforementioned Two Door set last year – is evidence of a band on the up, and Bethan takes great pleasure in playing a part in that.

“I like seeing the smaller bands, the newer stuff, like Pulled Apart by Horses or Frankie and the Heartstrings, they are my sort of bands,” she says of this year’s acts. It isn’t only small bands that play on the NME/R1 stage though, so who sticks in the mind of Bethan out of the hundreds of bands to grace the stage since she has been hosting.

“John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme's Them Crooked Vultures show - Jones had a hefty array of instruments, while Grohl is the hardest, loudest drummer I've ever seen and heard up close - no competition! There are so many but some others are Beth Ditto getting the crowd to sing We Are the Champions, girls fainting for the Kooks and Mike Patton's pee bucket,” she says.

Finally, what is it that makes this the festival for Bethan? “The physical blast of noise from the cheers is incredible. It can be a crazed place, a young place, a vibrant festival, and yet the legends and the old stagers still have a place too, which is very important.”

Thanks to Bethan for taking time out of her hectic week to talk to me, and thanks to her for DJing the Silent Disco at 3am last year, what I remember of it was great. Having wrote this I’m now sad that I won’t be seeing her or the festival this year.

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