Initially called The National Jazz Festival, it was a showcase for British and US Jazz and was held at Richmond Athletic Ground in the sedate London suburb of Richmond. In 1964 the festival changed its name to "The National Jazz and Blues Festival", which reflected the change in musical tastes occurring in Britain in the early 1960s. Gradually the jazz component of the festival was whittled away and by 1967, the festival was featuring the likes of Cream, Fleetwood Mac and Jeff Beck, whilst the jazz groups were relegated to an afternoon session.
The 9th National Jazz & Blues Festival held at Plumpton in 1969
One of the constants of the festival during the 1960s was its constant search for a permanent home: festival noise and crowds alienated locals and the festival moved from Richmond to Windsor in Berkshire (1966–67), to Sunbury in Surrey (1968) and then to Plumpton (1969–70). By this time the jazz content was almost non-existent and the festival was featuring a mix of progressive rock, folk and blues and drawing crowds of around 30,000. Sunbury's event was tragic - large sections of the audience climbed onto the roof of a walkway for a better view. Stamping on the corrugated roof in time to the music it collapsed. Many were injured.
In 1971, the festival finally found a permanent home when Pendleton moved base to Reading. This move also signified the beginning of the end of the more eclectic mix of music that had been the hallmark of the festival. By 1971 the festival had become "The National Jazz, Blues and Rock Festival" and had begun to mutate into a hard rock festival. Although George Melly and John McLaughlin did participate in these years, it was bands such as Hawkwind, Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher who drew the crowds.
By 1975, the festival attendance had swollen to 70,000 and there were nasty scenes where can fights became the norm and some reggae artists were received with hostility. In 1976 the festival changed its name to "Reading Rock" and the transformation was complete. Hard rock and heavy metal were the staple of the festival until well into the 1980s.