Reading and Leeds Festivals
Reading Main Stage in 2007 (Top) Leeds Main Stage in 2006 (Bottom)
|Date(s)||August bank holiday|
|Genre||Rock, indie rock, alternative rock, heavy metal, punk rock|
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. 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 leg of the two, is the world's oldest popular music festival still in existence. 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. For promotional purposes during 1998-2007 they were known as the Carling Weekend: Reading and the Carling Weekend: Leeds. Unsurprisingly, these titles were seldom used when not required, although NME did so as part of its involvement. In November 2007, the organisers welcomed "Reading Festival reclaiming its prestigious name" when the sponsored title was abolished after 9 years. In 2011, the capacity of the Reading site was 87,000 and the Leeds site was 75,000. This was an increase of several thousand on previous years.
The festival typically has the following stages:
- Main stage – major rock, indie, metal and alternative acts.
- NME/Radio 1 stage – less well-known acts, building up to an alternative headline act
- Festival Republic stage (formerly known as the Carling stage) – acts with less popular appeal and breakthrough acts
- Lock Up Stage – underground punk and hardcore acts. Due to demand, from 2006 this stage took up two days rather than previous years where it was only one day.
- Dance tent – dance music acts, previously sharing a day with the Lock Up stage, now a stand-alone 3 day stage.
- Alternative tent – comedy and cabaret acts plus DJs.
- BBC Introducing Stage – Typically unsigned/not well known acts. (Formerly known as the Topman Unsigned Stage at the Leeds site).
The Reading Festival originates from the National Jazz Festival, which was conceived by Harold Pendleton (founder of the Marquee Club in London) and was first held at Richmond Athletic Ground in 1961. This festival, in turn, took inspiration from events held in America. Throughout its first decade the festival changed names and moved around sites several times, being held at Windsor Racecourse, Kempton Park and Plumpton, before reaching its permanent home at Reading in 1971.
The line-up settled into a pattern of progressive rock, blues and heavy metal during the 1970s. It did dabble with punk rock in 1978 when The Jam, Sham 69 and Penetration played. The festival attempted to provide both traditional rock acts and new punk bands, leading to clashes between the two sets of fans. Although The Ramones played the following year, the festival gradually became known for focusing on heavy metal and rock acts.
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 lineup 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 salvage what they could 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). The resulting gap in the British festival calendar kick-started the rise of the minor CND benefit event at Glastonbury from obscure beginnings as a "hippie" festival in the 1970s.
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 slump 
1988 saw a disastrous attempt to take the festival in a mainstream commercial pop direction, dominated by the likes of Starship, Squeeze, Bonnie Tyler and Meat Loaf (who was "bottled" off stage), and the ensuing recriminations eventually saw the ousting of original festival promoter Harold Pendleton by the Mean Fiddler Music Group organisation.
Pendleton initially tried to continue at a new site near Newbury using the name "Redding Festival" but this failed to take off. 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 continue to fall.
The future of the festival looked in doubt at this point. However, things were to improve from 1992 onwards as the festival broadened its musical policy and attendances gradually increased.
In 1991, Nirvana played 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.
Kurt Cobain's wheelchair 
Nirvana played what was to become their last UK concert, and one of their most famous. 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.
Festival expansion 
Over the next few years the festival continued to grow as the popularity of outdoor festivals increased. Britpop and indie continued to dominate along with rock. 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 1999, 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. 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).
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. The worst of these was in 2002, after which Mean Fiddler moved the festival to Bramham Park, near Bramham north-east of Leeds in 2003. 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).
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 (94/10), Ice Cube (94), Beastie Boys (98), Eminem (00/01), Xzibit (01), Jay-Z (03), 50 Cent (04), Dizzee Riscal (04/06/08/10), The Streets (04/06/11).
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.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2006
The announcement of the line-up and ticket release for the 2006 festival saw weekend tickets for Reading sell out in just under two hours, breaking all records so far, and emphasising the growing desire for live music because of the "rock revival" of the past few years, and the fact that the Glastonbury Festival was not taking place. Further Weekend tickets went on sale again soon after and sold out in 26 minutes.
Also in 2006, Mean Fiddler announced that they were using the Government's new licensing laws to keep the festival going later into the night (an attempt to quell some of the unrest of earlier years). The organisers kept attendees happy with the Aftershock tent, an Oxfam tent and the Silent Disco.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2007
The 2007 festival ran from 24 to 27 August. However, concerns were raised at the Reading site due to the torrential weather conditions in the UK. The River Thames burst its banks causing floods at the festival site and the introduction of contingency plans to move campsites and car parks if the floods persisted.
In 2007, Kaiser Chiefs played a 'secret' set in the Carling Tent at the Leeds site only (Leeds being their home city) under the name Hooks For Hands.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2008
The Reading and Leeds Festivals took place on the weekend of the 22 to 24 August. Tickets had been released on 31 March at 6:45pm and sold out in less than 2 hours. Tickets sold through HMV also sold out in just one hour.
This was the first year "BBC Introducing..." had a stage at the festival. This replaced the Top Man Unsigned stage at the Leeds leg and was a new addition to the Reading site.
The 2008 Reading Festival saw a large number of site changes, including relocation of the wristband exchange to the external gates, the Reading Festival Bridge over the River Thames in order to connect the white campsite to the main area, and numerous security improvements.
A combination of administrative changes resulting in disorderly queues of as many as 50 people wide at places, and higher demand than previous years due to some festival-goers having purchased tickets from fake websites, meant that people queued for 15 hours or more in some cases.
The Leeds Festival site saw extremely heavy rainfall and was completely waterlogged from the Thursday onwards, causing massive problems travelling between campsite and arena. The bad weather plus many thousands of people resulted in campsites up to a foot deep in mud.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2009
The pre-sale for 2009 tickets officially sold out in two days. A further release took place on 30 March at 7:00 pm. Weekend tickets were sold out in a matter of hours for the Reading Festival.
Flags were banned from both festival sites for the first time in 2009. Flags and banners have been a traditional part of the Reading Festival scene ever since the early 1970s, originally used to enable motorbike groups and others to identify themselves and find each other inside the main arena.
A new sound system was used in 2009 at both the Reading and Leeds sites, and the consensus was that the sound quality in the field was markedly improved.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2010
The initial line-up announcement was made on 29 March 2010, shortly after tickets went on sale. On 16 August 2010, it was confirmed that Guns N' Roses, Arcade Fire and Blink-182 would headline the main stage, with Lostprophets, Queens of the Stone Age, The Libertines, Paramore, LCD Soundsystem, Billy Talent, Biffy Clyro, Pendulum, Weezer, Klaxons, Modest Mouse and Frank Turner also playing over the weekend.
Controversy arose after Guns N' Roses turned up 60 minutes late for their headlining slot, despite being warned by festival organisers beforehand that they would be pulled from the bill if they failed to comply with the time regulations. After running over by 30 minutes, the band's sound was cut and after a rendition of "Paradise City" the members staged a sit down protest. Many fans however had already left and were disappointed in the band's failure to apologise for the incident.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2011
The initial line-up announcement was made on 21 March 2011, after tickets went on sale. My Chemical Romance, Pulp, The Strokes and Muse were confirmed as headliners at the three-day festival. Breaking the pattern of selling out, tickets to both sites failed to sell out within the first months, let alone the first few hours as previous years had achieved. On 26 July 2011, Festival Republic announced that all weekend tickets to Reading Festival had sold out - 127 days after going on sale. However, many fans have pointed out that weekend tickets were still available from authorised ticket seller Stargreen right up until the day before the event opened, despite the event's official website claiming the event to be sold out. Day tickets for Leeds Festival tickets were also still available the day before the festival opened, however Weekend Tickets had sold out 2 days prior to the start of the festival.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2012
The 2012 festival took place over the weekend of 24–26 August. The pre-sale tickets were available in early December 2011, with general sale starting on 12 March, alongside the release of the full line up. A ticket instalment plan was also reintroduced this year, and the capacity at Leeds was increased to 80,000, as part of a long term plan to increase its capacity to 90,000 by 2014. At the Reading site only, Green Day played a "surprise" slot which had in fact been confirmed by the band on Radio 1 prior to the festival.
- For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2013
The 2013 festival will take place over the weekend of 23–25 August. Pre-sale tickets went on sale on 30 November 2012. Two new stages will be introduced, the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage and the BBC Radio 1Xtra Stage.
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. While the mass-participation can and bottle fights of the 1970s and 1980s have long since ended, unpopular bands have been bottled offstage throughout the festival's history. Examples include:
- 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, it was the turn of rapper 50 Cent, who was pelted with bottles. 50 Cent lasted nearly 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, including several bottles launched at the band.
List of headliners 
- 2013: Green Day, Eminem, Biffy Clyro
- 2012: The Cure, Kasabian, Foo Fighters
- 2011: My Chemical Romance, The Strokes, Pulp, Muse
- 2010: Guns N' Roses, Arcade Fire, Blink-182
- 2009: Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead
- 2008: Rage Against The Machine, The Killers, Metallica
- 2007: Razorlight, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins
- 2006: Franz Ferdinand, Muse, Pearl Jam
- 2005: Pixies, Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden
- 2004: The Darkness, The White Stripes, Green Day
- 2003: Linkin Park, Blur, Metallica
- 2002: The Strokes, Foo Fighters, Guns N' Roses (Leeds), The Prodigy
- 2001: Travis, Manic Street Preachers, Eminem
- 2000: Oasis, Pulp, Stereophonics
- 1999: The Charlatans, Blur, Red Hot Chili Peppers
- 1998: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Beastie Boys, Garbage
- 1997: Suede, Manic Street Preachers, Metallica
- 1996: The Prodigy, Black Grape, The Stone Roses
- 1995: Smashing Pumpkins, Björk, Neil Young
- 1994: Cypress Hill, Primal Scream, Red Hot Chili Peppers
- 1993: Porno For Pyros, The The, New Order
- 1992: Nirvana, The Wonder Stuff, Public Enemy
- 1991: Iggy Pop, James, The Sisters of Mercy
- 1990: The Cramps, Inspiral Carpets, Pixies
- 1989: New Order, The Pogues, The Mission
- 1988: Ramones, Starship, Squeeze
- 1987: The Mission, Status Quo, Alice Cooper
- 1986: Killing Joke, Hawkwind, Saxon
- 1984 and 1985: No festival these years
- 1983: The Stranglers, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy
- 1982: Budgie, Iron Maiden, The Michael Schenker Group
- 1981: Girlschool, Gillan, The Kinks
- 1980: Rory Gallagher, UFO, Whitesnake
- 1979: The Police, The Scorpions, Peter Gabriel
- 1978: The Jam, Status Quo, Patti Smith
- 1977: Golden Earring, Thin Lizzy, Alex Harvey
- 1976: Gong, Rory Gallagher, Osibisa
- 1975: Hawkwind, Yes, Wishbone Ash
- 1974: Alex Harvey, 10cc, Traffic
- 1973: Rory Gallagher, The Faces, Genesis
- 1972: Curved Air, The Faces, Ten Years After
- 1971: Arthur Brown, East of Eden, Colosseum
- 1970: The Groundhogs, Cat Stevens, Deep Purple
- 1969: Pink Floyd, The Who, The Nice
- 1968: T. Rex, Jethro Tull, The Nice
- 1967: The Small Faces, Paul Jones, Cream
- 1966: The Who, The Yardbirds, Cream
- 1965: The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, The Animals
- 1964: The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, The Rolling Stones
- 1963: The Rolling Stones, Long John Baldry, Muddy Waters
- 1962: Humphrey Lyttelton, Kenny Ball
- 1961: Roger Damen, John Frodsham, Dick Charlesworth, Charlie Barnes, Tubby Hayes, Ken Colyer, Clyde Valley Stompers
Historical line-up posters can be seen on the individual official festival websites:
- Official Reading Festival website - dates from 1972, but some years missing
- Official Leeds Festival website - dates from 1999
See also 
- Reading and Leeds Festivals line-ups
- List of music festivals in the United Kingdom
- Workers Beer Company, Workers Beer Company
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Further reading 
- Carroll, Ian (2007). The Reading Festival: Music, Mud and Mayhem - The Official History. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 978-1-905287-43-7.
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