When you think of Slough, you might think of David Brent or John Betjeman and his bombs. But when I think of Slough, I remember a wonderful day out in July 1991. Slough once had its very own music festival, so in tune to my tastes at the time I could have claimed to have curated.
Me and my then girlfriend took the trip that sunny day, getting the bus from nearby Amersham. I’m not sure why – I was both a car driver and owner, but for whatever reason we took public transport, a long, arduous ride winding round the Chilterns. It would have been quicker to go to a festival in London. We were the only passengers, apart from a tramp who took a shine to us and chatted about drinking. We half-feared it was all a ruse and we’d be dropped off at an empty field.
But upon arrival there were plenty of like-minded souls, and we had a great time. I bought three t-shirts and we heard some wonderful music. I thought Slowdive were terrific, as were Curve. Headliners Ride though were magnificent, playing as the sun went down to clear skies. Its sounds like a cliché but when they played Vapour Trail, a plane did soar overheard, leaving its mark as guitars churned and throbbed around us.
Also, it marked the moment where the people on stage were mostly my age. That tipping point where pop stars are either the same as you or younger. It’s a curious shift in the paradigm. People bang on about policeman looking younger but there’s nothing like a young musician to make you feel old and a waste of brain and skin.
I find it hard to think about the Slough Festival without a sense of underlying sadness, which is a shame as it should have been one of the greatest days out of my life. The two most significant bands in my life at the time were playing, and the rest of the line-up looked fantastic as well. But the relationship with my girlfriend was destined to fail, and despite our best attempts to make the best of things we both knew, even though I desperately didn’t want it to be the case.
During Slowdive’s set, with the most beautiful music spiralling around my head, I looked over and saw another couple, so similar to us, the boy standing as she knelt back on him, his arms resting gently round her stomach. She leaned into his neck and they looked so romantic, yet still so indie. I wanted to hold my girlfriend like that, but knew that she wouldn’t let me, that she would squirm away, that any attempts would be awkward. I knew in that moment that after three years, it would all be over in a few weeks, which made me so sad I could have cried. Video exists of Slowdive’s set, so watch knowing that at some point during this, at the age of 21, my heart was broken for the first time.
The biggest revelation of the day were homeboys Thousand Yard Stare, who quickly became a firm favourite of mine. They sounded great, chippy and upbeat, with some great songs. So I duly set about buying as much of their merchandise as possible, both t-shirts and records.
I saw them live on numerous occasions, the best of which was on the 5th October 1991 at the Reaction club. This was an indie night they used to have at The Well Head Inn, a pub in Wendover. Proof of my ‘never throw anything away’ policy can be found in me still having my membership card (member 2204 if you’re interested). This was an incredible night, beer soaked and sweaty, one of the best live performances I think I’ve ever seen. They were playing to a home crowd and were superb.
At the start they released records on their own label Stifled Aardvark but were soon signed to Polydor, the home of the Wonder Stuff. They were a band with an over abundance of material and released a brace of EP’s, mostly on 10″ vinyl in a variety of different colours. I seem to have bought almost all of them, as evidenced below. My favourite of these was the Keepsake EP, on yellow vinyl. Title track Buttermouth is a burbling treat of guitars whilst its companion track Twicetimes is about as twiddly indie as its possible to get.
Really good b-sides poured out of them, in particular Happenstance?, from the Spindrift EP. It has a pace to it, crashing in with the vocal, with a middle interlude of snappy drums and frenetic guitar work. As this was the last single from the first album, it gave great promise for album number two. Sadly, those hopes were short-lived.
It was almost as if there was a switch inside my head which someone had flicked off. My interest in the band fizzled out as soon as the second album Mappamundi was released. I bought it, on tape, but I remember switching it off after track two and never listened to any of it ever again. I still listen to the first album from time to time, even now, but never their swansong.
They were dropped by Polydor, and that was it. Or rather, was, because like most bands they’ve reformed and are played some gigs in 2016. I’ve often wondered though what it is about that second album, why I put so little effort into listening to it. Part of me wonders if it was a reaction to events at the time. The girl I was seeing at the Slough Festival had finished with me, despite an curious on and off relationship that tiptoed into 1992, and part of me thinks Thousand Yard Stare died with that relationship. So today I tried again. I got the cassette out of a box in the garage, put fresh batteries in my walkman and had another go.
And I can see why I gave up after track 2. God’s P45 is terrible. The whole album could be immeasurably improved if they ditched that track and went from lead single Version of Me into Tragedy No. 6, which is actually really good. But nothing on this album comes close to their debut. They sound like a band who have forgotten what they want to be, rather like Neds Atomic Dustbin on their second album. They try too hard to sound polished and come across as a facsimile of a band.
But in 1991 and 1992 they were amazing and I was a huge fan. And paid the price. I spent a good £40 on concert tickets, £20 on shirts and, judging by all these records, about £80 on tapes, vinyl and one CD. Which is all fine. If I hadn’t spent it on them I’d have only wasted it on some other band. I’m sure they enjoyed their brief moment as rock stars and hope they have fun doing it again.
So here I am, nearly 30 years on from the Slough Festival, in a relationship with my beautiful wife for the past 25 years, married for 20 of those. So if I won the lottery, I would put a sizeable chunk of the winnings into recreating the Slough Festival. I reckon I could get the same bands, as far as I know they exist in one way or another. I may struggle to get Ratcat, but I reckon I’d get there in the end. So I’d repeat the festival, same bands, same line-up, and during Slowdive I’ll hold my wife and have a better memory to carry me forward. Who wants a ticket?