Words by Lois Plummer, Print Entertainment Editor for The Spark.
From New Order to Eminem, Reading & Leeds Festival have hosted some of the most iconic and influential musical talents of our time.
Before the festival gained its prolific status, it had sprouted from the humble grounds of Richmond, Surrey, as a jazz festival in the Summer of 1961. The National Jazz Festival, as it was affectionately coined, featured up and coming British jazz artists of the time, in a small marquee on an athletic ground.
Incorporating the Blues influence of the period, the festival soon hosted an array of early rock and folk from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Donovan and Cream. The National Jazz & Blues Festival then certainly aided acts in terms of gaining publicity: The Rolling Stones were paid £30 for their first appearance which increased to an impressive £1,000 by the mid 60s.
By 1970, the festival revelled as an almost exclusively rock-fuelled event, featuring the likes of Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. When it finally moved to Richfield Avenue where it resides today, weekend tickets cost £2 – enough to break the hearts of modern diehard music fans.
Loud and explosive shades of punk began to colour the 70s, as the Reading Rock Festival hosted The Jam, with lead singer Paul Weller infamously smashing stage equipment in true angst and punk fashion.
Flash forward to the early 90s – Nirvana play their last ever UK concert. Kurt Cobain famously entered the stage in a wheelchair, dressed in a medical gown, to ridicule the media questioning his mental health. Further iconic acts to grace the stage included Red Hot Chilli Peppers in ’94, Foo Fighters in ’95 as well as Metallica in ’97.
The arrival of the millennium and the growth of 90s hip hop encouraged a freshness of musical diversity. The noughties saw the likes of rap artists featuring Dizzee Rascal and Jay Z, with the usual rock and indie influencers such as Oasis and Pulp.
2006 sees the first Reading Festival to be televised by the BBC, so fans at home could watch Brandon Urie of Panic! at the Disco struck by a plastic bottle in real time – ah, the noughties.
Patrick Smith, The Telegraph’s critic, said in 2014: “Think of Reading Festival these days and one tends to picture large swarms of lager-throwing teenagers running amok in a field, celebrating their exam results to loud and primal alternative music.” It’s certainly not hard to imagine given the festival’s current status. With Green Day, Arctic Monkeys and Blink 182, such incredible and invigorating live performances construct the memorable montages of their summers, golden soundtracks that illuminate the teenage experience.
For now, our whistle-stop history tour on VHS now fades to static, at least until the August bank holiday of 2019 is upon us. Much “mud, music and mayhem” is anticipated on this musical holy ground, where iconic stars of our past illustrate a rich historical constellation.
Fans, disciples, will flock to Little John’s Farm for their yearly musical pilgrimage; an unforgettable hallmark to countless teenage summers.
Don’t forget your Polaroids.
Cover image credit: Andy Sheppard