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Template:Infobox music festival

The Reading and Leeds Festivals are a pair of annual rock music festivals that take place in Reading and Leeds in England. The events take place simultaneously on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend, sharing the same bill. The Reading Festival is held at Little John's Farm on Richfield Avenue in central Reading, near the Caversham Bridge. The Leeds event is held in Bramham Park, near Wetherby, the grounds of an historic house. Campsites are available at both sites and weekend tickets include camping. Day tickets are also sold.

The Reading Festival, the original and senior of the two, is the world's oldest popular music festival still in existence and has hosted many of the UK's most famous acts over the years, including The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Who, Cream, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Genesis, Iron Maiden, The Jam, The Police, Status Quo, The Pogues, Blur, Pulp, Muse, Radiohead and Oasis plus top overseas names such as Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns n' Roses, Eminem, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers. It has had various musical phases over the years, as detailed below. In the twin-site era, rock, alternative, indie, punk and metal have tended to dominate.

The festivals are run by Festival Republic, which was divested from Mean Fiddler Music Group.[1] For promotional purposes during 1998–2007 they were known as the Carling Weekend: Reading and the Carling Weekend: Leeds. These titles were seldom used when not required, although NME were contractually obliged to do so as part of their involvement. In November 2007, the organisers welcomed "Reading Festival reclaiming its prestigious name" when the sponsored title was abolished after 9 years.[2] In 2011, the capacity of the Reading site was 87,000[3] and the Leeds site was 75,000.[4] This was an increase of several thousand on previous years.[5]


The festival typically has the following stages:[6]

  • Main stage – major rock, indie, metal and alternative acts.
  • NME/Radio 1 stage – less well-known acts, building up to an alternative headline act.
  • Dance tent – dance music acts, previously sharing a day with the Lock Up stage, now a stand-alone 3-day stage.
  • Lock Up Stage – underground punk and hardcore acts.[7] Due to demand, from 2006 this stage took up two days rather than previous years where it was only one day.
  • Festival Republic stage (formerly known as the Carling stage) – acts with less popular appeal and breakthrough acts.
  • 1Xtra Stage – new stage for 2013 that stages Hip-Hop, RnB and Rap artists.
  • Alternative tent – comedy and cabaret acts plus DJs.[8]
  • BBC Introducing Stage – Typically unsigned/not well known acts. (Formerly known as the Topman Unsigned Stage at the Leeds site).
A panorama of the Reading Festival 2007 arena


Main article: National Jazz and Blues Festival

The Reading Festival officially began life as the National Jazz Festival, which was conceived by Harold Pendleton (founder of the Marquee Club in London in 1958) and was first held at Richmond Athletic Ground in 1961. However, the festival's roots can be traced further back to the Beaulieu Jazz Festivals of the 1950s held on the estate of Lord Montague at Beaulieu in the New Forest, Hampshire. When alcochol-fuelled violence at the start of the 1960s led to the cancellation of the Beaulieu Jazz Festival its mantle was inherited by the new National Jazz Festival. Throughout the 1960s the festival moved between several London and Home Counties sites, being held at Windsor Racecourse, Kempton Park, Sunbury and Plumpton, before reaching its permanent home at Reading in 1971.[9] Since 1964, when the Festival added a Friday evening session to the original Saturday and Sunday format, it has been staged over three days with the sole exception of 1970 when a fourth day was added, running from Thursday 6 to Sunday 9 August.


In the mid and late 1950s Beaulieu was the surprising location for one of Britain's first experiments in pop festival culture, with the annual Beaulieu Jazz Festival, which quickly expanded to become a significant event in the burgeoning jazz and youth pop music scene of the period.

Camping overnight, a rural invasion, eccentric dress, wild music and sometimes wilder behaviour — these now familiar features of pop festival happened at Beaulieu each summer, culminating in the so-called 'Battle of Beaulieu' at the 1960 festival, when rival gangs of modern and traditional jazz fans indulged in a spot of what sociologists went on to call 'subcultural contestation'.[1]


The National Jazz Federation (NJF) Festival - as it was originally known - began at the height of the Trad Jazz boom as a successor to the Beaulieu Jazz Festival, initially as a two-day event held at Richmond Athletic Ground. The line-up for the first two years was made up exclusively of jazz performers, but in 1963 several rhythm & blues acts were added to the bill, including the Rolling Stones, Georgie Fame and Long John Baldry and by 1965 were in the majority, with jazz sessions reduced to Saturday and Sunday afternoons only. This format continued until 1967 when jazz was relegated to just the Saturday afternoon session and by 1969 had disappeared entirely.

1964 saw a Friday evening session added to the existing weekend format, then in 1966 the NJF Festival moved from its early home to the larger Windsor Racecourse. The following year a second stage (the Marquee Stage) was added, but this innovation was not to last and by the time the Festival was relocated to Sunbury in 1968 the single-stage format returned. Plumpton Racecourse then hosted the Festival for a two-year stint from 1969.


File:Reading Festival 1975 (6).jpg

Reading Festival 1975

After the move to Reading the line-up settled into a pattern of progressive rock, blues and hard rock during the early and mid 1970s[10] then became the first music festival to embrace punk rock and new wave in the late 1970s, when The Jam, Sham 69 and The Stranglers were among the headline acts.[11] The festival's attempts to cater for both traditional rock acts and punk and new wave bands occasionally led to clashes between the two sets of fans at the end of the 1970s', though the festival gradually became known for focusing on heavy metal and rock acts.[12]


During this decade, the festival followed a similar format to that established in the late 1970s, with large crowds flocking to see the era's leading rock and heavy metal acts perform on the last two days, with a more varied line-up including punk and new wave bands on the opening day.

Council ban[]

In 1984 and 1985, the Conservative Party-led local council effectively banned the festival by reclaiming the festival site for 'development' and refusing to grant licences for any alternative sites in the Reading area.

In 1984, many acts were already booked to appear, tickets were on sale with Marillion (2nd on the bill on Saturday night the previous year) due to be one of this year's headliners. The promoters tried in vain to find a new site but a proposed move to Lilford Hall in Northamptonshire failed (the proposed bill was published in Soundcheck free music paper issue 12 as: Friday 24 August – Hawkwind, Boomtown Rats, Snowy White, The Playn Jayn, Dumpy's Rusty Nuts, Wildfire, Chelsea Eloy, Tracy Lamb, New Torpedoes (sic); Saturday 25th – Jethro Tull, Hanoi Rocks, Steve Hackett, Club Karlsson, Nazareth, Twelfth Night, Thor, Silent Running, New Model Army, IQ, The Roaring Boys, She; Sunday 26th – Marillion, Grand Slam, The Bluebells, Helix, Clannad, The Opposition, The Enid, Young Blood, Scorched Earth, Terraplane).

A significant side-result of the Conservative Party's Reading Festival ban was filling of the resulting gap in the British festival calendar by the rise of Glastonbury Festival from its previously unheralded status as an infrequently-held CND fundraiser in the 1970s and early '80s to the massive corporate behemoth it has since become.

After Labour regained control of the council in 1986, permission was given for fields adjacent to the original festival site to be used, with a line-up put together at just three months' notice.[13]

The following year saw a record attendance at what was considered by some to be the last of the "classic" rock years of the festival, with headlining acts such as The Mission, Alice Cooper and Status Quo.

Late 80s / early 90s slump[]

1988 saw a disastrous attempt to take the festival in a mainstream commercial pop direction,[14] dominated by the likes of Starship, Squeeze, Hothouse Flowers, Bonnie Tyler and Meat Loaf (the latter was "bottled" off stage),[15] and the ensuing recriminations eventually saw the ousting of original festival promoter Harold Pendleton by the Mean Fiddler Music Group organisation.[16]

Pendleton initially tried to continue at a new site near Newbury using the name "Redding Festival" but threats of legal action by the new promoters of the "official" festival coupled with a reluctance by Newbury District Council to grant the necessary licence for the proposed Newbury Showground venue eventually scuppered Pendleton's plans. Meanwhile, the official Reading Festival, now under Mean Fiddler guidance, continued at the Thames-side site in Reading, pursuing an almost completely goth and indie music policy that alienated much of the traditional fan base and saw attendances plummet.

Attendances continued to fall between 1989 and 1991 until the future of the festival looked to be in doubt. However, things began to improve from 1992 onward when new organisers moved in to replace the moribund Mean Fiddler group who broadened the Festival's musical policy and were rewarded with an increase in attendances.


In 1991, Nirvana made the first of their two appearances at Reading, midway down the bill. This is also the year the first Britpop bands such as Suede and Blur started to show themselves on the festival circuit.

Cobain's wheelchair[]

Nirvana played what was to become their last UK concert, and one of their most famous.[citation needed] Their 1992 live performance was later released as a live album/DVD Live at Reading in November 2009. The band's frontman, Kurt Cobain took to the stage in a wheelchair pushed by music journalist Everett True, parodying speculations about his mental health. He was also wearing a medical gown. He then went on to join the rest of the band, playing an assortment of old and new material.[17]

Festival expansion[]

By the mid-1990s the festival had begun to regain its former status as the popularity of UK outdoor festivals increased. Britpop and indie began to dominate along with traditional rock and metal acts. Notably, rap acts such as Ice Cube began to appear regularly on the main stage to mixed receptions. Public Enemy headlined the second day of the 1992 Festival. Beastie Boys were about halfway down the bill for day three.

In 1996, the remnants of The Stone Roses played their disastrous final gig at the festival.[18]

In 1998, it absorbed the failed Phoenix Festival. This resulted in a now infamous on-stage spat between Beastie Boys and The Prodigy over the song "Smack My Bitch Up".[10]

In 1999,[19] the festival gained a second leg at Temple Newsam in Leeds, where the V Festival had been held in 1997 and 1998, when it was clear that the Reading site had become too small to deal with the increasing demand.[20] The first year saw all bands play the Leeds site the following day to the day they played Reading, with the Reading leg running from Friday to Sunday and the Leeds leg running from Saturday to Monday. However in 2001 the current system where the line-up of Reading play Leeds the following day, with the bands from Leeds' opening day playing the final day in Reading, was introduced (with the exceptions of 2009 and 2010 when the bands playing Leeds would play Reading the following day, and the bands on the opening day of Reading would close Leeds).


File:Reading Festival 2000.jpg

The main stage of the 2000 Reading Festival

After a successful first year in Leeds, a continued resurgence in the popularity of outdoor music festivals led to the Reading festival selling out more and more quickly every year. The Leeds leg, however, was plagued by riots and violence which led to problems in retaining its licence.[21] The worst of these was in 2002, after which a decision was taken to move the festival to Bramham Park, near Bramham north-east of Leeds in 2003.[22] Since then, security at both sites has increased and problems have been reduced. (Although the Bramham Park site presents more challenges to the stage builders, it is far better suited to the needs of festival goers).[23]

The early 2000s saw a varied but predominantly rock line-up, though as the decade has progressed the Main Stage and Radio 1 Stage line-up has featured mostly Indie artists.

Despite being predominantly a rock festival certain hip-hop artists have played over the years, particularly when hip-hop was very popular in the early 2000s, including Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, Beastie Boys, Eminem, Xzibit, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Dizzee Riscal and The Streets.

In 2005, the main stages at both Reading and Leeds were made larger, featuring unique cantilevered video screens.

Fringe Festival at Reading[]

In 2005, the Festival spawned the Reading Fringe Festival in the town. Much like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, this sees venues in the town hosting fringe acts hoping to draw crowds and industry figures from the larger festival. The Reading Fringe has run annually since then.

Banning of flags and banners[]

Flags were banned from both festival sites for the first time in 2009 on "health and safety" grounds.[24] Flags and banners had been a traditional part of the Reading Festival scene since the early 1970s, originally used to enable motorcycle groups and others to identify themselves and find each other inside the main arena.


The Reading Festival continued to expand through the early 2010s with a new record capacity of 90,000 recorded in 2016.

Bottled off[]

Bottling acts offstage (being forced off stage by a barrage of audience-thrown bottles and cans) is a long-standing tradition at the festival.[25] While the mass-participation can and bottle fights of the 1970s and 1980s have long since ended, unpopular bands have continued to be bottled offstage throughout the festival's history since the first recorded large-scale "cannings" of 1973 and 1974.[26] Examples include:

  • Old punks The Hellions (featuring ex-Damned guitarist Brian James) were foolishly placed on an otherwise 100% heavy metal line-up on the Friday of the 1980 Festival and ignominously retreated from the stage in under a minute to the accompaniment of a hail of cans, bottles and pork pies. "I Canned The Hellions at Reading" T-shirts were on sale at souvenir stands within the hour.
  • The 1983 reggae act Steel Pulse suffered possibly the most vicious bottling-off ever seen at the Festival, disappearing within moments of appearing on stage under an avalanche of missiles launched by the temporarily united ranks of punks and rockers waiting to see The Stranglers.
  • John Waite and the No Brakes Band quit the stage on the Saturday of the 1986 festival when their drummer was hit in the head by a free promo 12" vinyl disc.
  • In 1988 Bonnie Tyler completed her set despite being pelted with bottles and turf. Unfortunately, the day's headliner Meat Loaf was not so brave, retreating 20 minutes into his set after taking a full 2-litre cider bottle in the face.
  • In 2000, Daphne and Celeste were scheduled on the main stage after bullying their manager to get on the bill,[27] and were bottled off after two songs.[28]
  • In 2003, Good Charlotte stopped their set 20 minutes short and encouraged the crowd to throw bottles all at the same time after a count of three after being pelted by bottles throughout their set.[29]
  • In 2004, 50 Cent was pelted with bottles, mud and an inflatable paddling pool during his set.[30] 50 Cent lasted less than 20 minutes before finally throwing his microphone into the crowd in anger. The Rasmus were also bottled off following one song.[31]
  • In 2006 at Reading, Panic! at the Disco lead singer Brendon Urie was struck by a plastic bottle and fell over, forcing the rest of the band to stop mid-song as he lay on the floor. Urie received "medical treatment" from his road crew for several minutes, before the band eventually continued from the point at which the song was interrupted.[32] The same year, My Chemical Romance were heckled by a 'small group' of angry festival-goers. Lead singer Gerard Way encouraged the crowd to throw bottles at them instead, and the band were pelted with golf balls and bottles of urine, among other items. Undeterred, the band finished their set and later referred to the incident as being 'like a victory'.[33]
  • In 2008, a crowd of approximately 3,000 people attended the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading to see unsigned band 'The FF'ers' following rumours that it would actually be a secret Foo Fighters gig and were subjected to a large amount of abuse from the audience, including several bottles launched at the band.[34]
  • In 2016 Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots was attacked and robbed as he attempted to crowd-surf in a packed Radio One Tent, with hostile festival-goers throwing him to the ground, ripping off various items of his clothing and stealing his ski-mask as he screamed to band mate Josh Dun, "Josh, help me!" . Security guards eventually rescued Joseph, carrying him to an elevated platform where he continued and finished his set.

List of headliners[]

See also[]

  • List of historic rock festivals
  • Reading and Leeds Festivals line-ups
  • List of music festivals in the United Kingdom
  • Workers Beer Company, Workers Beer Company
  • Reading Festival trash heap left behind


  1. "Live Nation About Page".
  2. "Festivals part company with Carling".
  3. "Reading Festival 2011".
  4. "Leeds Festival capacity to rise to 90,000 music fans".
  5. "An extra 5,000 tickets are granted for the Leeds Festival". Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  6. "Carling festival main page". Archived from the original on 6 May 2008.
  7. "New Stages Announced". Retrieved 14 January 2008.[dead link]
  8. "The Alternative stage". Retrieved 14 January 2008.[dead link]
  9. "Make Christmas Villages easily with My Village".
  10. 10.0 10.1 "In praise of ... the Reading festival". The Guardian. London. 25 August 2006. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  11. "Reading Rock Festival.Reading 1978".
  12. "Reading Rock Festival.Reading 1979".
  13. "Tours, Tickets & Things to do from Tour Operators Worldwide by Viator". Archived from the original on 16 June 2008.
  14. Explore the Collections – Reading Festival
  15. "Worst Festival Sets: Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler". Virgin Media. Retrieved 21 August 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  16. Prain, Susannah (1 February 2001). "How I Got Here: Fiddling all over the world". The Independent. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  17. BBC. "BBC - Seven Ages of Rock - Events - Nirvana headline Reading Festival".
  18. Ltd, Not Panicking. "h2g2 - The Stone Roses - 'The Stone Roses' - Edited Entry".
  19. Reading 1999 – FC Luzern In English. Retrieved on 17 July 2013.
  20. Festival and Events Management – Google Boeken. Retrieved on 17 July 2013.
  21. "Festival marred by violence". BBC News. 26 August 2002. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  22. "READING Little Johns Farm LEEDS Branham Park, Wetherby 22–24 August". BBC News. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  23. "Happy campers". BBC Leeds Entertainment.
  24. Youngs, Ian (25 August 2009). "Festival fans receive a flag ban". BBC News. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  25. "Bands Bottled at Reading Festival".
  26. "25 Things You Never Knew About Reading & Leeds – Photos – NME.COM (3)". NME. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  27. "25 Things You Never Knew About Reading & Leeds – Photos – NME.COM (14)". NME. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  28. duncy21 (5 May 2008). "Daphne And Celeste Getting Bottled At Reading 2000" – via YouTube.
  29. Handbag, Project. (24 August 2003) Good Charlotte: This Year's Daphne & Celeste / Music News // Drowned In Sound. Retrieved on 17 July 2013.
  30. Phoemail (25 August 2007). "50 Cent at Reading 2004" – via YouTube.
  31. "Hitting rock bottom". Tim Jonze. London: The Guardian. 25 August 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  32. NME.COM. "Panic! At The Disco speak after bottling - NME.COM".
  33. "My Chemical Romance: A 10 Year Celebration, Kerrang! August 13, 2011".
  34. "FF'ers @ Leeds Festival 2008". Retrieved 29 November 2009.

Further reading[]

  • Carroll, Ian (2007). The Reading Festival: Music, Mud and Mayhem – The Official History. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 978-1-905287-43-7.

External links[]

Template:Rock festival Template:Historic rock festival Template:Major British Music Festivals