If you were asked to name a band or musician from Reading, there’s a good chance you couldn’t do it. And that’s pretty ironic considering Reading is home to one of the biggest music festivals in the world.
If you go anywhere and say you’re from Reading, you’ll likely get someone telling you about the time they threw up in their sleeping bag at Reading Festival, and how it was awesome.
But just because Reading’s homegrown music isn’t as famous as its globally renowned, long-running festival – a festival that sees some of the world’s biggest music acts brought to its Berkshire-based Little John’s Farm site – it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
DOUBLEDOTBASH! is a two-day event based at the town’s South Street Arts Centre. Taking place in September after the dust of the world-famous Richfield Avenue-set festival has settled, this all-together more intimate affair celebrates local music and beyond.
Rapidly gaining momentum, it was set up by doubledotdash!?, an organisation established by a group of friends and friends of friends keen to put out music and develop and champion the underground music scene that thrives in the town.
This year’s event includes a handful of Reading artists and provides a platform for the likes of London-based cellist Laura Moody and multi-instrumentalist and composer Quinta, as well as exciting Nottingham two-piece Rattle.
It’s true – tucked away in the corners of slightly run down pubs, and trendy new wine bars, there is a little world of talent.
But you don’t have to wait until September for a chance to see some of these musicians demonstrating their prowess. As early as next month, they’re brought into the spotlight via the Reading Fringe Festival.
Set up in 2013, the Reading Fringe Festival is an annual vehicle for extraordinary talent, both from Reading and further afield. Each July, theatre groups, musicians, comedians and artists take over the town, performing in various venues across five days. It’s like a snow globe version of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and it’s brilliant.
With an organising committee which is predominantly made up of women, and a female founder, the Reading Fringe Festival is also acutely aware of the challenges presented to women in music and the arts, and is eager to support female performers.
Founder Zsuzsi Lindsay says, “We are especially keen on supporting women in the arts, given that over the past few years, it has become clear that there are so many hurdles for women getting into the arts and succeeding in their chosen profession. Over the past two years we have seen an increase in the number of applications from women, which is great news!”
This year’s programme offers more music than ever and there are some incredible ladies in the line-up.
Here are five of the best to catch at next month’s Reading Fringe Festival:
Reading’s All Steel Percussion Orchestra, or RASPO for short, is one of the town’s real musical gems. Led by charismatic performer Mary Genis, RASPO is pretty much guaranteed to get you shaking your hips and throwing out the occasional shoulder shimmy. The band formed back in 1997 and really put their pin on the national map when they performed at the London 2012 Festival, a celebration for the London Olympics. Five minutes of RASPO and you’ll think you’re on an island in the Caribbean sipping a Piña Colada.
Inspired by the mysticism and stories in ancient Finnish folk music, Kallaton offer a dreamy, magical sound. Described as a ‘Finnish-Hungarian Folk Fusion’, the band usually features two female singers, but at the Fringe, Finnish singer Laura Ryhänen will sing solo, supported by violinist Mikko Kuisma and German actor Raúl Semmler. Raúl will read out an English translation of Finnish national epic Kalevala. The story, which has its 180th anniversary this year, is thought to have inspired J.R.R Tolkien.
Playing a mixture of covers and original songs, The Oubliettes are the ideal band to create a festival atmosphere. They’ve got an upbeat party vibe and it’s easy to see why they’re a favourite in plenty of Reading’s bars already. The Oubliettes are fronted by singer and guitarist Eleanor Hawley who founded the band with James Kell in 2013. They’ll be playing as part of the Olympia Revival, a Friday night party showcasing the best of Reading’s music.
They might sound similar to The Oubliettes in name, but Moulettes couldn’t be more different in sound. It’s pretty much impossible to pin their music down as they blend all sorts of genres (think folk rock and prog rock to start) to create something totally individual. The band has a strong female presence including founder members Hannah Miller and Ruth Skipper. The Guardian called them ‘frontrunners of the British acoustic scene’ and you can gauge their popularity by looking at their summer festival roster which is absolutely jam-packed and includes a slot at Glastonbury.
Reading singer/songwriter Rachel Redman has been gigging professionally around the area for a few years and has recently released her album Now on Spotify and iTunes. She describes her music as soft rock, but there’s a hint of Taylor Swift-esque country pop in there too. A good one to listen to over a glass of Pinot for a chilled-out evening.
And it’s not just the musicians to look out for. Burlesque troupe The Reinettes will be showing how sassy and spectacular they are in their Freakshow Vaudeville, a show which promises to be ‘dark, twisted and enchanting’, while comedy duo Flip and Maggie will be finding hilarity in their older years with their show Women of an Uncertain Age.Like any good fringe, there’s a whole medley of arts and music going on and with the Fringe Festival and DOUBLEDOTBASH! collectively providing an arena for the town’s unique talents, it might be that Reading is soon known for more than just one festival.
The Reading Fringe Festival runs from 15-19 July.
DOUBLEDOTBASH! runs from 11-12 September.
Caroline Cook is a journalist who runs arts and lifestyle website broadsheetboutique.com