Reading and Leeds Festivals

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Reading and Leeds Festivals
Reading and Leeds 06 and 07.jpg
Reading Main Stage in 2007 (Top) Leeds Main Stage in 2006 (Bottom)
GenreRock, Alternative, Metal, Hip-Hop, Dance
DatesAugust bank holiday
Location(s) Reading and Leeds, England
  • Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1955–1961)
  • Various as National Jazz Festival (1961–1970)
  • Reading (since 1971)
  • Also at Leeds (since 1999)
Years active1955–present

The Reading and Leeds Festivals are a pair of annual 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 ( 51°27′52″N0°59′30″W / 51.46444°N 0.99167°W / 51.46444; -0.99167 ). The Leeds event is held in Bramham Park, near Wetherby, the grounds of a historic house ( 53°52′04″N1°23′17″W / 53.86778°N 1.38806°W / 53.86778; -1.38806 ). Campsites are available at both sites and weekend tickets include camping. Day tickets are also sold.

Music festival festival oriented towards music

A music festival is a community event oriented towards live performances of singing and instrument playing that is often presented with a theme such as musical genre, nationality, or locality of musicians, or holiday.

Reading, Berkshire Place in England

Reading is a large, historic university and minster town in Berkshire, England, of which it is now the county town. It is in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. Reading is 70 miles (110 km) east of Bristol, 24 miles (39 km) south of Oxford, 40 miles (64 km) west of London, 14 miles (23 km) north of Basingstoke, 12 miles (19 km) south-west of Maidenhead and 15 miles (24 km) east of Newbury as the crow flies.

Leeds City in England

Leeds is a city in West Yorkshire, England. Leeds has one of the most diverse economies of all the UK's main employment centres and has seen the fastest rate of private-sector jobs growth of any UK city. It also has the highest ratio of private to public sector jobs of all the UK's Core Cities, with 77% of its workforce working in the private sector. Leeds has the third-largest jobs total by local authority area, with 480,000 in employment and self-employment at the beginning of 2015. Leeds is ranked as a gamma world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. Leeds is the cultural, financial and commercial heart of the West Yorkshire Urban Area. Leeds is served by four universities, and has the fourth largest student population in the country and the country's fourth largest urban economy.


The Reading Festival, the older of the two festivals, is the world's oldest popular music festival still in existence. Many of the UK's most successful rock and pop bands have played at the festival, 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, The Cure, Radiohead, The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, Biffy Clyro and Oasis. The festival has also hosted prominent international acts such as Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Metallica, Mika, Slipknot, Guns n' Roses, Eminem, Nirvana, Hole, Foo Fighters, blink-182, The Strokes, Green Day, Faith No More, Twenty One Pilots, My Chemical Romance and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The festival has had various musical phases over the years, but since the current two-site format was adopted in 1999, rock, alternative, indie, punk and metal have been the main genres featured in the line-up.

The Rolling Stones English rock band

The Rolling Stones are an English rock band formed in London in 1962. The first stable line-up consisted of bandleader Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums), and Ian Stewart (piano). Stewart was removed from the official line-up in 1963 but continued to work with the band as a contracted musician until his death in 1985. The band's primary songwriters, Jagger and Richards, assumed leadership after Andrew Loog Oldham became the group's manager. Jones left the band less than a month before his death in 1969, having already been replaced by Mick Taylor, who remained until 1974. After Taylor left the band, Ronnie Wood took his place in 1975 and continues on guitar in tandem with Richards. Since Wyman's departure in 1993, Darryl Jones has served as touring bassist. The Stones have not had an official keyboardist since 1963, but have employed several musicians in that role, including Jack Nitzsche (1965–1971), Nicky Hopkins (1967–1982), Billy Preston (1971–1981), Ian McLagan (1978–1981), and Chuck Leavell (1982–present).

Fleetwood Mac British-American rock band

Fleetwood Mac are a British-American rock band, formed in London in 1967. They have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the world's best-selling bands. In 1998, select members of Fleetwood Mac were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

The Kinks English rock band

The Kinks are an English rock band formed in Muswell Hill, North London, in 1964 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies. They are regarded as one of the most influential rock bands of the 1960s. The band emerged during the height of British rhythm and blues and Merseybeat, and were briefly part of the British Invasion of the United States until their touring ban in 1965. Their third single, the Ray Davies-penned "You Really Got Me", became an international hit, topping the charts in the United Kingdom and reaching the Top 10 in the United States. Their music was influenced by a wide range of genres, including rhythm and blues, British music hall, folk and country. They gained a reputation for reflecting English culture and lifestyle, fuelled by Ray Davies' observational writing style, and are considered one of the most influential groups of the period.

The festivals are run by Festival Republic, which was divested from Mean Fiddler Music Group. [1] From 1998–2007 the festivals were known as the Carling Weekend: Reading and the Carling Weekend: Leeds for promotional purposes. In November 2007 the sponsored title was abolished after nine years and the Reading Festival reclaimed its original name. [2] In 2011, the capacity of the Reading site was 87,000, [3] and the Leeds site was 75,000, [4] an increase of several thousand on previous years. [5]

Festival Republic is a UK music promoter. It was founded as Mean Fiddler Group in 1982 by Irish-born chairman John Vincent Power, as a venue-management and music-promotion group. After the group was taken over by Hamsard Ltd in 2005, the focus became more concentrated on festivals, and in 2007 the venues along with the Mean Fiddler name were sold on, with the remaining company being renamed Festival Republic. Melvin Benn is the current managing director.


The Reading Festival was originally known as the National Jazz Festival, which was conceived by Harold Pendleton (founder of the Marquee Club in London in 1958) and first held at Richmond Athletic Ground in 1961. 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. [6] 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.

Harold Pendleton was a British music business executive and former club owner, who established the Marquee Club in London and the National Jazz Festival, the precursor of the Reading Rock Festival.

Marquee Club Former music club in London, England

The Marquee Club was a music venue first located at 165 Oxford Street, London, England when it opened in 1958 with a range of jazz and skiffle acts. Its most famous period was from 1964 to 1988 at 90 Wardour Street in Soho, and it finally closed when at 105 Charing Cross Road in 1996, though the name has been revived unsuccessfully three times in the 21st century. It was always a small and relatively cheap club, located in the heart of the music industry in London's West End, and used to launch the careers of generations of rock acts.

Windsor Racecourse, also known as Royal Windsor Racecourse, is a thoroughbred horse racing venue located in Windsor, Berkshire, England. It is one of only two figure-of-eight courses in the United Kingdom, the other being at Fontwell Park.


The National Jazz Federation (NJF) Festival was established 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 such acts were in the majority, with jazz sessions reduced to Saturday and Sunday afternoons only. This format continued until 1967 when jazz was limited to just the Saturday afternoon session. By 1969 jazz had disappeared entirely from the line-up.

Athletic Ground, Richmond sporting facility in Richmond, London, England

Built in 1886, and located in Richmond upon Thames, London, the Athletic Ground is a rugby ground, managed by Richmond Athletic Association, home to Green King IPA Championship sides Richmond and London Scottish. The first team pitch has a stand capable of seating around 1,000 people, though in the past temporary stands have been erected in the considerable space around the pitch to boost the seated capacity. Lower league side, Old Tonbridgians RFC, also play home games at the Athletic Ground.

Georgie Fame English rhythm and blues and jazz singer and keyboard player

Georgie Fame is an English rhythm and blues and jazz singer and keyboard player. Fame, who had a string of 1960s hits, is still a popular performer, often working with contemporaries such as Van Morrison and Bill Wyman. Fame is the only British pop star to have achieved three number one hits with his only Top 10 chart entries: "Yeh, Yeh" in 1964, "Get Away", in 1966 and "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967.

Long John Baldry English-Canadian singer and voice actor

John William "Long John" Baldry was an English-Canadian blues singer and voice actor. In the 1960s, he was one of the first British vocalists to sing the blues in clubs and shared the stage with many British musicians including the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Both Rod Stewart and Elton John appeared, before their stardom, in bands led by Baldry. He enjoyed pop success in 1967 when Let the Heartaches Begin reached No. 1 in the UK, and in Australia where his duet with Kathi McDonald You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' reached No. 2 in 1980.

In 1964 a Friday evening session was added to the existing weekend format. In 1966 the NJF Festival moved to the larger Windsor Racecourse. The following year a second stage (the Marquee Stage) was added, but when the festival was moved to Sunbury in 1968 it reverted to a single-stage format. The festival was held at Plumpton Racecourse in 1969 and 1970.


Reading Festival 1975 Reading Festival 1975 (6).jpg
Reading Festival 1975

After moving to Reading the festival's line-up became primarily composed of progressive rock, blues and hard rock during the early and mid 1970s, [7] and then became the first music festival to incorporate punk rock and new wave in the late 1970s, when The Jam, Sham 69 and The Stranglers were among the headline acts. [8] 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. [9]


During the 1980s, the festival followed a similar format to that established in the late 1970s, with leading rock and heavy metal acts performing on the last two days, and a more varied line-up including punk and new wave bands on the opening day.

Council ban

In 1984 and 1985, the Conservative-run local council effectively banned the festival by designating 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 and tickets were on sale, with Marillion due to headline. The promoters tried in vain to find a new site but a proposed move to Lilford Hall in Northamptonshire failed. The proposed line-up 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; 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).

After Labour regained control of the council in 1986, permission was given for fields adjacent to the original festival site to be used, and a line-up was put together at three months' notice. [10]

The following year saw a record attendance, headlined by The Mission, Alice Cooper and Status Quo.

Late 80s / early 90s slump

1988 saw an attempt to take the festival in a mainstream commercial pop direction, [11] featuring acts including Starship, Squeeze, Hothouse Flowers, Bonnie Tyler and Meat Loaf (who was bottled off stage), [12] and the subsequent disputes led to the ousting of original festival promoter Harold Pendleton by the Mean Fiddler Music Group organisation. [13]

Pendleton attempted to relocate the festival to a new site near Newbury using the name "Redding Festival", but threats of legal action by the new promoters of the original festival, as well as a reluctance by Newbury District Council to issue a licence for the proposed Newbury Showground venue blocked Pendleton's plans. Meanwhile, the official Reading Festival, now managed by Mean Fiddler, continued at the Thames-side site in Reading, with a predominantly 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, but began to recover from 1992, when new organisers took over from the Mean Fiddler group, broadening the festival's musical policy.


In 1991, Nirvana made the first of their two appearances at Reading, midway down the bill. The following year they played what would be their last UK concert, which was released as a live album/DVD Live at Reading in November 2009. The band's singer Kurt Cobain came onstage in a wheelchair pushed by music journalist Everett True and wearing a medical gown, parodying speculations about his mental health. [14]

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 appear on the bill alongside the traditional rock and metal acts, and 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. [15]

In 1998, the Reading Festival absorbed the failed Phoenix Festival, resulting in an on-stage dispute between Beastie Boys and The Prodigy over the song "Smack My Bitch Up". [7]

In 1999 the festival added a second venue at Temple Newsam in Leeds, [16] the site of V Festival in 1997 and 1998, due to increasing demand. [17] In the first year all bands performed at the Leeds site the day after they played Reading, with the Reading Festival running from Friday to Sunday and the Leeds Festival running from Saturday to Monday. However, in 2001 the festival moved to the current format, wherein the Reading line-up plays at Leeds the following day, with the opening day line-up from Leeds playing the final day in Reading (with the exceptions of 2009 and 2010 when the bands playing Leeds played Reading the following day, and the bands on the opening day of Reading closed Leeds).


The main stage of the 2000 Reading Festival Reading Festival 2000.jpg
The main stage of the 2000 Reading Festival

After a successful first year in Leeds, the increasing popularity of outdoor music festivals led to the Reading Festival selling out quicker every year. However, the Leeds Festival was plagued by riots and violence, which led to problems in retaining its licence. [18] The worst incidents occurred in 2002, following which the festival was moved to Bramham Park north-east of Leeds. [19] Since then, security at both sites has increased and problems have been reduced. [20]

The early 2000s saw a varied but predominantly rock line-up, though as the decade progressed the Main Stage and Radio 1 Stage featured many indie bands.

Despite being predominantly a rock festival, several hip-hop artists have appeared at the festival over the years, including Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, Beastie Boys, Eminem, Xzibit, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Dizzee Rascal and The Streets.

In 2005, the main stages at both Reading and Leeds were made larger, featuring cantilevered video screens.The same year the Reading Fringe Festival was established in Reading, with venues in the town hosting 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 in 2009, with the organisers citing health and safety concerns. [21] Flags and banners had been a traditional part of the Reading Festival since the early 1970s, originally used to enable motorcycle groups and others to identify themselves and find each other inside the main arena.


Campsite Aftermath, 2016 Reading Festival Aftermath, 2016.png
Campsite Aftermath, 2016

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


The festival typically has the following stages: [22]

Reading Festival 2007 Panorama 2.jpg
A panorama of the Reading Festival 2007 arena

List of headliners

Bottling incidents

Bottling acts offstage (being forced off stage by a barrage of audience-thrown bottles and cans) is a frequent occurrence at the festival. [39] During the 1970s and 1980s there were often mass-participation can and bottle fights, and unpopular bands have been bottled offstage throughout the festival's history since the first large-scale "cannings" of 1973 and 1974. [40] Examples include:

See also

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Further reading