Live at the Reading Festival 27/8/83
The Reading festival, held at the Thameside Arena outside the town, was the principal rock open air event in the UK in the '80s. It was organised by Harold Pendleton, owner of the Marquee club and was originally called the National Jazz Festival when it was first held in 1961. The "NJF" title was still used despite the obvious lack of Jazz talent on the bill for a number of years.
As residents in the Marquee club in '82 we had been invited to play on the bill that year and played our set early in the afternoon. That had been a significant day as we announced on stage that we were signing to EMI records. It was only our second festival having played the Theakston's Festival in Wakefield supporting "Jethro Tull" only the day before.
By August 1983 we were a far more experienced outfit and more changes had been rung within the band. Immediately after the last gig on the "Script" UK tour at the Hammersmith Odeon in April founder member and drummer Mick Pointer was fired.
He was replaced by former "Camel" drummer Andy Ward who we met at Nomis studios off Shepherds Bush, our rehearsal rooms of choice. He would play his first gig at the Marquee Club with the band under the moniker of "Skyline Drifters".
We played our first shows in mainland Europe that Summer including a number of festivals before heading for our first North American tour.
Andy was fired in New York as it was obvious he wasn't dealing well with the strains and stresses of touring. We returned to the UK in somewhat disarray and with a gig diary already full with commitments.
We only had a couple of weeks to find a replacement and rehearse the set before our next show, the Reading Festival in front of over 35,000 people.
Auditions were called at Nomis studios once again and we placed our faith in John Martyr, an experienced session drummer who had worked with Mr Big and Voyager. He was a more straight forward rock drummer and he learned very quickly. A warm up gig at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool and we were in.
After all the relatively easy success of ,82, 1983 was proving a difficult learning curve. At times it felt everything was collapsing round our ears. The writing sessions for the "difficult second album" were strained and forced. A hideaway in Wales had provided a holiday and not a pilgrimage to meet the muse. We had one new song, "Assassing", which we had already played at the Glastonbury festival in June. For the first time we really felt under pressure.
There was a lot of expectation. This time we were a lot higher up the bill and closing the second stage before the headliners "Black Sabbath" with new singer Ian Gillan took to the first stage on our immediate left.
Everyone was nervous. John Martyr was lost in a walkman listening to the set. He had done well at Liverpool. The day dragged.
Shortly before we went on we noticed smoke billowing across the stages. I thought it was the Sabs testing light effects but when I saw the flames I knew something was wrong. They had a new stage set which consisted of massive paper mache monoliths that resembled Stonehenge. (Yes, that's where the Spinal Tap idea came from!)
They had somehow accidentally been set alight and were threatening to burn down the entire stage. The sound of extinguishers filled the air as crew ran around close to panic attempting to get it under control.
We had to wait until the Sabbath crew had cleared the danger and to be honest I felt for Ian Gillan who watched on with the rest of the band as their expensive stage set was partially dismantled.
And then it was us. The young whipper snappers who only a year ago had been headlining the Marquee and were now second on the bill at the Reading Festival.
We walked onto the stage to be confronted by our diehard fans crammed at the front of a crowd that disappeared into the horizon.
I was still wearing make up but it had become more "sophisticated". I wore a long hand painted silk cloak. We all looked the part.
We'd decided to go for a curve ball to open our account and launched into the opening bars of "Grendel". Steve Rothery picked out the phrases with supreme assurance. The crowd went wild. This was totally unexpected.
The applause started to spread to the back as the set progressed and our confidence visibly grew. The set was charged as we ran through the numbers that by now thanks to the album had reached a far wider audience and were known outside our dedicated fans that'd travelled with us over the previous year.
The drums of "Assassing" thundered out the PA. The "new" song was accepted with a sea of raised hands. We had the crowd in ours.
It was a coming of age and that day we proved to a lot of people that we were worth our crown.
We tore the place apart and with the encore of "Market Square" the field was ours.
We were all on such a high as we left the stage. Against all the odds we had pulled it off.
The crowd were still roaring as we passed a disconsolate looking Tony Iomi who knew he had a tough gig ahead. Everyone including ourselves was totally surprised at the reaction we received. It was exactly what we needed at that point in time, to prove we weren't just a flash in the pan and that we had the capability of taking the big stages and winning crowds over.
Another landmark gig on our journey. Another laminate on the wall.
Fish, September 2008
© Derek Dick 2008
Early Stages sleeve notes 3