June 28 2018
The above is a detail taken from a photograph of a bottle fight that took place at the Reading Festival in 1989. Although I didn't see it at the time (I was too busy trying to duck the bottles), the guy in the front has the words "violence is their answer not ours" painted on the back of his jacket. In my opinion what makes it an interesting photograph is the contrast between what the guy is doing (or appears to be doing) and the person he wants to present himself as.
This dichotomy might be ruined slightly if I were to tell you that the bottles were all plastic and the fight was mostly youthful exuberance, rather than anything approaching violence. Of course, if it were not for this blog, I wouldn't.
People did get occasionally hurt though.
In 1991 when Meatloaf appeared at the Reading Festival his first couple of numbers were met with a barrage of bottles, many of them full up. Fairly understandably, Meatloaf was not prepared to put up with this and eventually he stormed off stage. After about five minutes he came back and, looking really mad, grabbed the mike, pointed to the place where most of the bottles were coming from and said "If there's any more..." At which point another bottle hit him squarely on the nose and he had to be taken to hospital.
Great comic timing but not very funny.
And if you'd been a Meatloaf fan that had waited at the front of that crowd all day to see your hero, you'd have rightly been irked.
But not everyone who forces their way through a crowd of 50,000 people will happily tolerate acts they haven't come specifically to see. And if they've been drinking all day too, it may not always strike them as convenient to force their way back out again just to go to the bathroom. There’s an obvious solution to both problems.
So the bottling of the bands became something of an disagreeable tradition at British Festivals in the '80s. I never really understood exactly why but some of the most popular bands got bottled as much as the less popular ones. In 1983 when Madness headlined a CND benefit at Brockwell Park, they were relentlessly bottled by a group of their own skinhead fans, right at the front. Luckily for the rest of us, they ducked and swerved around and managed to endure it.
When Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction played Reading in 1987, I saw their drummer Slam Thunderhide catch a bottle right in front of his face and skilfully chuck it back without missing a beat. It was very impressive.
And the bottle chucking had another downside. Heavy drinking doesn't necessarily improve one's aim. Often a bottle would come zooming out of the sky, burst against the stage or speakers and shower anyone standing in pit (either photographers or security) with something warm and not very fragrant. It happened to me more than I care to remember. Okay, it wasn't exactly like being in 'Nam with Larry Burrows but it was unpleasant all the same.
The problem was cured overnight when some genius had the idea of banning the sale of drink in bottles at rock festivals.
I don’t know who it was but give that man a medal.