It’s a big year for the Reading and Leeds Festivals. Not only is it 50 years this summer since Harold Pendleton, founder of the Marquee Club in London, launched the events’ precursor, the National Jazz Festival, but it’s also the 40th anniversary of the Reading site’s initiation. To celebrate four decades of revelry at Richfield Avenue we’ve taken a look back at some of the defining moments of this most beloved of festivals.
National Jazz Festival, Richmond Athletic Ground
Inspired by similar events in the United States, Harold Pendleton hosted the National Jazz Festival at Richmond Athletic Ground. The festival moved around over the next decade, trying a range of different sites. In 1971, it arrived at Reading and a summertime tradition was born.
Reading goes punk
After establishing itself as the UK’s premier rock and blues festival during the early 1970s, Reading embraced punk in 1978 with sets from The Jam, Sham 69, Penetration and, a year later, the Ramones. Though punks and rockers frequently clashed, today’s festival includes acts from an array of musical background – and a punk element remains, buoyed up by the Lock Up Stage’s eclectic line up.
Council ban, 1984
In 1984 and 1985, the local Conservative council reclaimed the festival site for “development” and refused to grant licences allowing the event to relocate. Effectively, the Reading had been banned. When the Labour party regained control of the council in 1986, it resumed with a line-up put together in just a few months. Miraculously, the following year became one of record attendance, with high-profile headliners including Alice Cooper and Status Quo.
1991 Grunge gains ground
In 1991, Nirvana played the first of two appearances at Reading, midway down the bill. A year later, in what became their final UK concert, front man Kurt Cobain took part in one of the festival’s most famous on-stage moments. Parodying rumours of his own mental health, he arrived on stage in a wheelchair pushed by music journalist Everett True. The band’s subsequent performance was immortalised in the 2009 DVD Live at Reading.
1996 The Stone Roses implode
Guitarist John Squire and drummer Reni had already left the Stone Roses but, replaced by session musicians, the rest of the band went on to perform a final historic gig at Reading. Front man Ian Brown’s vocal performance was hailed as one of the worst of all time; shortly after, the band dissolved.
1999 Leeds is born
Having absorbed the Phoenix Festival in 1998 – and played host to the infamous on-stage spat between Beastie Boys and The Prodigy over the song "Smack My Bitch Up" – Reading expanded, launching a “second leg” at Temple Newsam in Leeds. Now bands play at both festivals, on different days of the August bank holiday weekend.
2010 Libertines reunion
When the Libertines reunited for a special appearance at last year’s festivals, the occasion was hailed by the NME as a “triumphant victory.” Despite sound problems meaning the band were interrupted mid-way through their Reading-leg rendition of “Time For Heroes,” fans left elated at the energy and emotion of the event.