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Reading Festival - The History In The Mud

Wuhooooooooooooooooooooooo it's festival time again.

I love Reading at this time of year. People walking around in odd clothes, covered in mud and revelling in the atmosphere of their favourite bands and like minded people. Excited teens on their first weekend festival and scared parents worrying about what they'll get up to... I'd just try not to think about it if I were you mum *awkward face*.

Most kids that come to the festival now a days have no idea of just how much history the mud they are knee deep in has. The amount of greats that have played on the stages that they will be stood in front of (albeit not quite the same ones of course). The amount of history that has passed by that river and camped in those fields. So I thought I'd write a post on what has gone before, Reading Festival throughout the ages.

Where it started...

The Reading Festival originates from the Harold Pendleton's National Jazz Festival,  (founder of the Marquee Club in London) and was first held in 1961 at Richmond Athletic Ground, Greater London.

Reading Festival was inspired by the original and legendary festivals of America and is the world's oldest popular music festival still in existence.

Throughout its first 10 years the festival had a bit of a personality wobble and changed music types and venues several times moving down the road to Windsor Racecourse, Kempton Park and Plumpton, before reaching its permanent home at Reading in 1971.



In the early 70's, when my dad was a local and regular festival goer, at just £2.00 for a weekend ticket, Reading Festival settled into a more Blues, Progressive Rock and Hard Rock feel and stayed that way until it became the first festival to embrace the Punk Rock movement later that decade. This embrace, whilst celebrated across that genre of fans, wasn't very happily embraced by the other Rock genres and caused several clashes and fights with 100's arrested for violence and drug offences....

None of which my Dad remembers, when asked I was told

'I don't know, there were always fights at these things. Everyone was too drunk to care who they were fighting with and often forgot mid fight what they were fighting about and often that they were even fighting'. He never fails to amuse me.

The rain of can's tradition began in 1975 and saw every fan throwing their can's in the air after every performance. The can fights escalated throughout the 70's and the stage area was known as 'Can Alley'. 1977 was the year Reading became 'Reading Rock' and the first year the festival became a mud bath after heavy down pours turned paths into muddy rivers.

The stories my dad has about the festivals throughout the early years are eye opening but I thought I'd share with you my favourite...

'My local pub was across the river from the site so me and the regulars used to just swim across the river after one (or 6) too many and sneak in through the fence, security was weak back then. One year one of my mates got out of the river and decided to have a pee against what turned out to be an Electric Generater *chuckles* he was electrocuted through his todger.... he was ok though, the next year he leant on a shop window and fell straight through it, he was a well known drunk' 

We all have at least one mate like that 'ey?! He also said he has no memory of the bands because he's too old and was too pissed... brilliant, it's a good job he didn't pay to get in then ey?!


In the 1980's the Punk movement was in full swing at Reading Festival but they scheduled it so that the Friday lineup was predominantly Punk and the remaining two days the original Rock genres. In 1984/85 the Tory led local council banned the festival when they reclaimed the site for 'development' and refusing to grant licenses for the whole Reading area. It wasn't until 1986 until we saw a Labour takeover of the area and licences re-granted for fields adjacent to the original ones. During this lull, we saw the likes of the small hippy festival Glastonbury, take hold of the reigns and fill the hole... and we all know where that led to hey?!

In the butt end of the 80's decade, came the horrendous decision to make the festival a little more mainstream pop, resulting in Meat Loaf being pelted with Meat Loaf... You can't say Rock Fan's aren't original.... This led to Mr Reading Festival, Harold Pendleton, being mean fiddled out of the situation by the Mean Fiddler group who caused even more rocky roads ahead for the festival with the decision to focus mainly on Goth and Indie music, alienating and angering their more loyal, veteran festival goers. In 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. Weekend tickets were at a huge high of £25, which was seen as extortionate It took a couple of years to get back to the full swing of things but we got there eventually and didn't they do well after that...

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The 1990's, saw the festival host some of the most amazing bands to date despite a shady start of just 40,000 people attending in 1990. It was the start of the Brit Pop culture and in 1991 they hosted the likes of Blur and Suede, to name but a few. Of course this was alongside one of the rock gods of our era, Kurt Kobain. Kurt and the rest of his Nirvana gods donned the stage in both 1991 and 1992, shortly before Kurt's tragic demise and passing and making it one of the best and most memorable years for rock lovers to date. In 2009 the live set from the 1992 Nirvana set, Live At Reading, was released and is sat pride of place in my CD collection. In 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. As well as this heart warming tribute, The Manic Street Preachers played without Richey Edwards, who disappeared in the February, it was a strange and sad year in music.

The 90's also saw huge price hikes (reaching £70 in '97) but also brought to you The Leeds Festival, after demand for Reading got so high the Mean Fiddler group sought a second site for their eager beaver rock fans. The two sites see the same bands on the line ups on alternative days. It was widely welcomed by those up north and grows every year... sadly in the early 00's it was hit by riots and violence and the licencing was under jeopardy, since then the security has been stepped up and peace is as peace like as it can be in a field of angsty drunken teens. :)


The early 2000's, despite the riots of Leeds, were very successful. The change to the trend in hip hop and rap saw a lot of American acts of that genre causing a stir with the old school festival rockers again but the line ups saw an array of different genre's catering to everybody's tastes. Ticket prices for 2005's festival rose to £125.00 growing steadily each year since but didn't put the masses off buying tickets as in 2006/07/08 and 09 the festival sold out within 2 hours or less each year, breaking all festival records to date. They did release some on the Wednesday before each year though and so I always managed to get mine. The demand came with it's own issues though...

Mean Fiddler messed up big time in their organisation of the ticket expansion and in 2008. We saw a large number of fake websites and people being scammed out of money. This in turn created a mass brawl (not quite a brawl) on the Wednesday before the festival began. I and, as it turns out, thousands of other festival goers, formed the usual orderly queue at 4.30am. At about 6/7am the crowds descended into chaos and I became what felt like an oat in a bowl of hot and sweaty porridge. Thousands of people of all ages were crushed together in a large moshpit. A girl next to me fainted and was still stood up because there was no room to fall to the floor. There were no emergency bottles of water, no security to be seen, no rules or regulations and it was genuinely HELL. I finally got home, minus 4 ribs, after a full day with no water, food, sitting down or any way of going to the toilet, at 8pm.... yep that is 4am - 8pm, 20 hours, stood up breathing in other people's armpit air and having touched far more strangers body parts than I have ever wished to do so... but I got my ticket. I vowed from that moment to never leave my ticket until the day before again... I have stuck to that.

Anyway enough of the stupidness of that year, they fixed all that and it never happened again and the 2000's had some amazing bands to make up for the hike in prices and the increase of bodies. They did however ban flags in 2009. A controversial move in which had a big uproar with the veterans of the festival. The Flags had been a symbol of the festival scene at Reading since the 70's and originated from the old Biker groups to find their gangs. I still find life harder now at the festival as you have no landmarks to spot your friends from but I have to admit, trying to find them can lead to some very strange but hilarious encounters.

2006 saw Kyd make his first festival appearance (aged 4) to see his first ever live band, The Fratellis. These were (and still are) a huge favourite of his and it is a year I'm sure he'll never forget. He has been each year since, staying a little longer each time and now going full weekends, but I don't think anything will ever beat 2012, where he saw GreenDay play a secret gig in one of the tents, Foo Fighters, Kasabian, The Cure, Feeder & the Kaiser Chiefs, to name only a few... and what a few they are!


The 2010's are in their 4th year now and with a rollercoaster of line up success and failure so far, it seems all we can do is pray to the Festival Gods each year for bands worth the growing price hikes. Reading Festival is nothing without a bit of controversy and the 2010's started with just that. My favourite band of all time were to don the main stage as a headliner, Guns 'n' Roses. Granted not the original line up of the band, the idea of seeing a band most were too young to go and see growing up, was enough to create a hype about the fact they were going to be playing. When Axl and his new band members decided to keep fans waiting over an hour before they came on the stage, despite being told by organisers that licences only allowed the set to last until a specific time, it left both fans and organisers angry. Many left, many stayed and embraced their idols and the hissy fits that followed. After being allowed to run over by 30 minutes the band's power was cut, the law is the law and all that, leaving the band staging a sit in out of protest.

*confession* Don't laugh, I left the set crying. They had ruined my childhood and everything they had built up in my mind over the years had been squashed... mixed with several alcoholic beverages, I broke down and declared them a disgrace. I wasn't alone in my feelings.

Following on from that headlining hiccup, 2011 saw the first year in which tickets did not sell out within the first few months, let alone a few days, like previous years. The line up was deemed unsuccessful and inadequate even though the highlights and headliners were amazing acts like Pulp and Muse. It took right up until 2 days before the festival to sell out of the weekend tickets.

2012 was a little bit more of a success, with the likes of Kasabian, The Cure and Foo Fighters the tickets flew off the (virtual) shelves. This year also saw the excitement of a secret gig in the tent, which was not so secret after Billy Joe announced the fact they were playing on Radio 1 a few days before. Greenday and Foo Fighters are Kyd's all time favourite bands and so this year was a whopper for him. We were one of the lucky few to get into the tent (and up on the disabled platform) before the doors were opened to the masses, the gig was so popular that security had to put a high fence up stopping people entering a short time later. It was OK though, they'd set up speakers and a giant TV behind the fence for the rest of the festival goers to enjoy the performance. It was awesome #justsaying.

2013 actually saw Greenday return to headline the main stage, so twice in 2 years, Kyd was in heaven watching his idol Billy Joel. Along with Eminiem and Biffy Clyro this years line up was reported as being a mere blip in the shadow of 2012 and although tickets did sell out the teeth of those old school rockers again, meaning there were several unhappy campers as Hip Hop artist Eminem graced us with his presence for the second time.

2014... which is obviously this year. Tickets sold out much quicker this year which was probably a huge relief for the organisers. I'm shocked to see that despite the age of the audience getting ever younger, I have noticed a huge rise in attendance throughout my ever aging social media following this year (no offence to the oldies) which for me is a sign of a good weekend. This years headliners come to you in a form of Punk Rock old school favourites Blink 182, Indie northerners Arctic Monkeys and the first ever 'Split-Headliners' Queens of the Stone Age and Paramore... quite why they have done this is beyond me, I don't mind though, we love them both so it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Writing this has made the excitement for this weekend grow even larger and I can not wait to see the ridiculous outfits, amazing front men/women and drunken mess, I honestly can't explain the feeling bubbling inside. Bring it on!

Reading Festival Facts...

Bottled off bands...

  • The 1983 reggae act Steel Pulse suffered possibly the most vicious bottling-off ever seen at the Festival, before or since, 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.
  • 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, and were bottled off after two songs.
  • 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.
  • In 2004, 50 Cent was pelted with bottles, mud and an inflatable paddling pool during his set.[40] 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.
  • In 2006 at Reading, Panic! at the Disco lead singer Brendon Urie was struck by a plastic bottle, forcing the band to stop mid-song as he lay on the floor. Urie received 'treatment' from his road crew for several minutes, before the band continued from the point at which their song was interrupted.
  • 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.

Random Facts....

  • Where: Little John's Farm, Caversham, Reading
  • When: August Bank Holiday Weekend
  • 2014 Capacity: 90000 daily
  • Stages: Main Stage, NME/Radio 1 Stage, Lock Up Stage, The Pit, Festival Republic Stage, BBC Radio 1XTRA Stage, BBC Introducing Stage, Alternative Stage.
  • There are 8 campsites in total
  • 200 ‘green messengers’ promoting recycling
  • 4,000 recycling bags distributed
  • 6 tons of cardboard cups and containers for recycling
  • 150 tons of rubbish estimated to be left behind
  • 101 reported crimes and 51 arrests
  • 1 million pints of lager consumed
  • 500 to 1,000 items handed to lost & found each year
  • 650 (female only) portable toilets; 100 male.

List of Headliners...