The good, the bad and the bottlings of Reading and Leeds festival
Ben Lawrence

09:34 2nd August 2013

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Reading and Leeds festival is just around the corner, but the double-header hasn't always been the no-holds barred weekend we know and love now, oh no...

Reading Festival actually began life as‘The National Jazz Festival’ in 1961, changing it's name to 'The National Blues & Jazz Festival' in 1962. The festival is known today for showcasing a large variety of rock bands, but it wasn't to start adding heavier sounds until later in its life. This year marks the 41st time the festival has been held at Reading, through its different evolutions.

So, as we gear up for Reading & Leeds 2013, check out the evolution of one of the UK's biggest music festivals, 1971 to now...

1971  The festival moved from Plumpton to Reading. The focus of music was still primarily blues and jazz and weekend tickets cost just £2.00, with Friday night breaking the bank at 50p and Saturday and Sunday at £1.50 each. 100 people were busted for drug possession.

1972 Helicopters circled overhead and 130 people were arrested over the weekend, an injustice for the crowd of the day who were still very much weed smoking hippies. The festival was renamed ‘The national Jazz, Blues and Rock Festival’ which signified the move towards a heavier sound.

1973 Genesis, who had played both previous years, moved to a headliner act on the Sunday Evening. Saturday saw special guest stars in the form of Status Quo and Lindisfarne. Rod ‘the mod’ Stewart reportedly came on stage with The Faces, attempting to get the crowd going by kicking some footballs into the crowd. 

1974 This marked the first of many can throwing incidents at the festival, another notable event was a fish and chips stall being trashed by punters angered by the high prices. 150 toilets were available on site.

1975 Notable acts this year were Thin Lizzy and Soft Machine with Lou Reed being famously booked - but not showing up. Drawing what was claimed to be one of the largest crowds of the mid 70s, the year saw the can fights escalating with ‘a rain of cans and bottles after every act’.

1976 Can fights raged on and the festival was labelled ‘Can Alley’ by many. The line-up featured some reggae acts but the year marked the move towards the festival being known as a ‘rock festival'. Heavy metal pioneers AC/DC were among the acts playing.

1977 The festival officially became ‘Reading Rock ‘77’ this year and an almighty downpour turned the event into a sea of mud. 1977 also saw the first appearance of punk at the festival in the form of The Electric chairs, who were pelted with mud and bottles.

1978 The year that punk took over the festival, with appearances from The Jam, Sham 69 and Penetration. The Jam’s Paul Weller was allegedly none too pleased with the sound system, so repaid the organisers in kind by trashing some equipment.

1979 Friday was now the ‘New Wave night’ featuring acts such as The Police and The Cure. The rest of the festival showcased mainly prog rock, metal and blues rock acts including veterans Whitesnake. 

1980 This year saw the first appearances of Iron Maiden and Def Leppard at the Festival, cementing Reading’s place as one of the main heavy rock festivals of the 80’s.

1981 This year back peddled from metal and heavy rock with more ‘old school’ bands on show such as The Kinks and Wishbone Ash.

1982 This year saw return to the heavier sound of 1980’s line up, Iron Maiden played with Bruce Dickinson of Samson for the first time at Reading.

1983 This year's line up was strong with Thin Lizzy’s last ever UK festival performance and Black Sabbath. Reggae act Steel Pulse suffered one of the worst bottling-offs in the history of the festival, leaving after ten minutes.

1984 – 85 The festival was banned by the local Conservative council of the time for two years. Line-ups had been formed but the council reclaimed the festival site for property development and did not grant the organisers with a licence for an alternative site.

1986 The festival returned to the Ritchfield avenue site, with the Labour council honouring their manifesto policy to bring the event back. Lemmy from Motörhead joined Hawkwind on stage for a rendition of Silverlight, the festival made use of a local farmer's adjoining fields.

1987 Spoof metal band ‘Bad News’ featuring cast members of the Young Ones and Brian May on guitar provided some silliness at this year’s festival, as well as a theatrical performance from Alice Cooper. There was an increase in ‘goth’ bands, and Weekend tickets now cost £25.

1988 This year saw the festival make a foray into more mainstream music, with the likes of Meat Loaf, Squeeze and Bonnie Tyler playing. Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler reportedly were brutally bottled by displeased audience members, the former retreating 20 minutes into his set when greeted with a 2 litre cider bottle to the face. 

1989 The year that Mean Fiddler took over the festival, changing the direction of the festival to be more akin to Glastonbury.

1990 By this point, the festival was in the midst of reinvention, but still a relatively minor event compared to Glastonbury. Reportedly 40,000 people showed up. 

1991 Nirvana play for the first time at Reading, and Reading’s first hip hop act is De La Soul. This year was the first year the festival featured a comedy tent, featuring Jerry Sadowitz and Sean Hughes.

1992 When Manic Street Preachers star Nicky Wire smashed a guitar on stage, fragments of which hit a security guard who as a result needed 16 stitches. The band reportedly left immediately after their show without even getting paid. Kurt Cobain was wheeled on stage in a wheelchair and blonde wig as a response to media criticism, it was Nirvana’s last UK performance.

1993 Blur played ‘Parklife’ for the first time live, Radiohead pulled out because Thom Yorke had a sore throat.

1994 Following Kurt Cobain’s suicide in April, Courtney Love’s Hole played a tribute to the Nirvana front man and late Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff during their show. The Manics play without Richey Edwards, who disappeared in February.

1995 Britpop takes the festival by storm. Foo Fighters (who formed the same year) played at the festival for the first time, marking Dave Grohl’s first appearance at the festival since Kurt Cobain's suicide. The band recently released a recording of the performance on-line which can be listened to for free here.

1996 The Stone Roses play for the first time without guitarist John Squire, the results are not good. The concert is often featured on lists of ‘Worst Gigs of all time’.  The festival also experienced big problems with forged tickets.

1997 Price sky rockets to £70 this year, compared to £60 in 96. Brit pop act Suede managed to secure a headliner slot, their show featured a guest appearance from Elastica's Justine Frischmann.

1998 This year is remembered primarily for the spat between The Prodigy and The Beastie Boys. The American rappers felt that ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ was offensive and asked the UK dance group not to play it, they went ahead and performed it anyway with vocalist Maxim announcing ‘I do what the fuck I want’.

1999 Dexy’s Midnight Runners front man Kevin Rowland made a spectacle of himself this year, showcasing his solo project whilst wearing a white mini skirt and stockings. He sang Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’ and was bottled and booed off stage. He admits in an interview with The Guardian in 2003 ‘I was nuts’. The festival expanded and ‘Leeds Festival’ started.

2000 Ticket price increased to £80, Rage Against The Machine played their last UK festival shows at Reading and Leeds before their break up in October.

2001 Queen of The Stone Age’s Nick Oliveri appeared on stage naked, and Gary Numan wore a wig. Yes folks, a wig.

2002 Leeds Festival featured large amounts of rioting that caused the Festival to be re-located the following year.

2003 Good Charlotte encouraged the crowd to throw bottles at them after twenty minutes of their set, even giving the audience a countdown.

2004 50 Cent lasted 20 minutes into his set before leaving, receiving a severe bottling to which he responded to by throwing the microphone into the crowd. The Rasmus were bottled off after one song. The cost of a weekend ticket rose to £105.00.

2005 The price of a weekend ticket rose to £125.00, the largest rise so far.

2006 Reading Festival sold out in 2 hours. Mean Fiddler takes advantage of the Government’s late licensing laws to allow there to be events later into the night.

2007 Kaiser Chiefs play a secret show at Leeds Festival, billed under ‘Hooks for Hands’. Mean Fiddler was sold and Festival Republic split off from the company to become the organisers of Reading and Leeds.


2008 Rage Against The Machine return to the festival for the first time since 2000 and appear on stage with bags on their head and in prison garb. This was a direct criticism of Guantanamo Bay. Seasick Steve proves you can make music with a block of wood and piece of string.

2009 Flags and banners, which had been used to help motorbike gangs find one another in the past, were banned from the festival for the first time.

2010 Immense rainfall makes it a muddy, mucky weekend with campers pitching in swamp like conditions. Axl Rose made everyone hate him a little bit more when he arrived an hour late, calling his band ‘The Guns and Roses’. When they were cut off by the technicians, Rose attempted a protest addressing the audience via a megaphone inciting some to chant 'Fuck You Reading'.

2011 The festival fails to sell out quickly, breaking a rapid sale trend. Weekend tickets sold out two days before the start of the festival.

2012 Green Day performed a surprise set on the NME stage at Reading, where they played ‘Dookie’ in its entirety.




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