Reading and Leeds Festivals

Reading and Leeds Festivals

infobox music festival
music_festival_name = Reading and Leeds Festivals
location = United Kingdom
*Various as National Jazz Festival (1961–1970)
*Reading (since 1971)
*Leeds (since 1999)
years_active= 1961–present
dates = August bank holiday
genre = Rock, alternative rock, heavy metal, punk rock, indie rock, dance
website = []
The Reading and Leeds Festivals are a pair of annual music festivals that take place in Reading and Leeds in the United Kingdom and are run by Festival Republic. The events take place simultaneously on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend, sharing the same bill save one or two exceptions. Between 1998 and 2007 the dual festivals were known officially as the "Carling Weekend", until parting ways with their sponsor Carling in November 2007.

The Reading Festival, the world's oldest popular music festival still in existence, has had various musical phases, as detailed below. In the twin-site era, rock, alternative, indie, punk and metal have tended to dominate. The festival typically has the following stages: [cite web|url=|title=Carling festival main page|accessdate=2008-01-14]
*Main stage – major rock, indie 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
*Radio 1 Lock Up Stage – underground punk and hardcore acts. [cite web|url=|title=New Stages Announced|accessdate=2008-01-14] 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, on the day that the above stage does not run
*Alternative tent – comedy and cabaret acts plus DJs. [cite web|url=|title=The Alternative stage|accessdate=2008-01-14]
*BBC Introducing Stage – Typically unsigned/not well known acts. (Formerly known as the Topman Unsigned Stage at the Leeds site).

The festivals are run by Festival Republic, which was divested from Mean Fiddler Music Group. [cite web|url=|title=Festival Republic About Page] 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 of sponsorship. [cite web|url=|title=Festivals part company with Carling]

In 2007, the capacity of the Reading site was 80,000 [cite web|url=|title=NME News] and the Leeds site was 70,000. [cite web|url=|title=Increased Leeds Festival] This was an increase of several thousand on previous years. [cite web
url =
title = An extra 5,000 tickets are granted for the Leeds Festival
accessdate = 2006-11-04
] 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, the grounds of a historic house. Campsites are available at both sites and weekend tickets include free camping. Day tickets are also sold.


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. [ [ Carling Weekend | Reading festival | 2006 | By Tom Knight ] ]


played the following year, the festival gradually became known for focusing on heavy metal and rock acts. [ [ Reading Rock Festival.Reading 1979 ] ]


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 one evening the previous year) due to be one of this year's headliners. The promoters tried in vain to salvage what they could and a proposed move to Lilford in Northamptonshire failed. 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 to its present enlarged status.

After Labour regained control of the council in 1986, permission was given for fields adjacent to the original festival site to be used, with a line-up put together at just three months' notice. [ [ Viator | Tours, Tickets & Things to do from Tour Operators Worldwide by Viator ] ]

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, [ [ Explore the Collections - Reading Festival ] ] 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 organization. [ [ How I Got Here: Fiddling all over the world - MBAs Guide, Postgraduate - ] ]

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

1992 was one of the most famous in the festival's history. Nirvana played what was to become their last UK concert, and one of their most famous. 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. Then he got up and joined the rest of the band, playing an assortment of old and new material. [ [ BBC - Seven Ages of Rock - Events - Nirvana headline Reading Festival ] ] At one point in the show before singing "All Apologies", Cobain revealed to the crowd the recent birth of his daughter Frances Bean and succeeded in having the crowd chant "Courtney, we love you!" in unison. [ [ All Music Spot:: Nirvana Biography ] ]

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.

In 1996, The Stone Roses played their final gig at the festival. [ [ BBC - h2g2 - The Stone Roses - 'The Stone Roses' ] ]

In 1998 it absorbed the failed Phoenix Festival. This resulted in a now infamous on-stage spat between The Beastie Boys and The Prodigy over the song "Smack My Bitch Up".

In 1999, the festival gained another leg at Temple Newsam in Leeds, where V Festival had been held in 1997 and 1998, when it was clear that the Reading site was far too small to deal with the demand. [ [] ] The first year of the Leeds leg 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 the following year 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.

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. [ [ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Music | Festival marred by violence ] ] The worst of these was in 2002, after which Mean Fiddler moved the festival to Bramham Park, near Wetherby to the east of Leeds in 2003. [ [ BBC NEWS | 2003 Festivals ] ] Since then, security at both sites has increased and problems appear to have been quelled. [ [ BBC - Leeds - Entertainment - Happy campers ] ] However, this has also lead to an increase in demand.

The first few years of the 2000s saw a varied but predominantly rock line-up, however as the decade has progressed the Main Stage and Radio 1 Stage line-up has followed music trends and featured more and more indie artists, that have become very popular in the British music mainstream. However, one day (Sunday in the case of Reading) is traditionally set aside for hard rock and metal. This was most pronounced at the 2006 festival, which saw little hard rock on the first two days, but featured bands such as Mastodon, Slayer and Pearl Jam on the Sunday. However, this can be arguably laid down to the growing popularity of the Download festival in June providing a solely metal, hard rock and punk outlet.

The Evening Session tent has also had its share of infamous sets, like Feeder's set in 2002 which saw the tent heavily overcrowded, with many people watching from outside as a result. The band decided to play the second stage to keep the show low-key, as it was their first official appearance after the death of their drummer Jon Lee. The BBC Radio 1 broadcast of the set was repeated in late 2002, due to the bands frontman Grant Nicholas unable to attend a Steve Lamacq acoustic session after doctors' advice, and later in early 2006 on 6 Music.

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.

In 2005, the Festival spawned the Reading Fringe Festival in the town. Much like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 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.

A second Fringe followed in 2006 and a third in 2007.

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 revellers happy with the Aftershock tent, an Oxfam tent and the Silent Disco.

Tickets for the 2007 festival were released on 19 March and sold out within hours. However, over 3,000 fans found that their tickets were cancelled due to computer errors which caused a confirmation e-mail to be released even though the payment was denied. [cite news | first=Paul | last=MacInnes | title=Computer error frustrates Reading and Leeds fans | date=2007-03-22 | publisher= | url =,,2040136,00.html | work =The Guardian | accessdate = 2007-08-06]

The 2007 festivals ran from 24 to 27 August. However, concerns were raised at the Reading site due to the torrential weather conditions in the UK. [cite web | title = 2007 United Kingdom Floods | url = | accessdate =2007-08-06] The floods caused the River Thames to burst its bank causing floods at the festival site. Melvin Benn, the festival organiser said "I'd guess about 25% of the campsite is under water at the moment and before long someone will be saying that the festival is in danger, so I just wanted to state that the festival will definitely take place". ["This is the Carling Weekend: Reading Festival site", NME, 4 August, 2007] Plans were put in place to move campsites and car parks if the floods persisted. These plans were laid down by Melvin Benn in an e-mail sent to those signed up to the Reading Festival newsletter and on the [ official Reading Festival website] .

In 2007, Kaiser Chiefs played the Leeds site (Leeds being their home city) under the name Hooks For Hands in the Carling tent, a 'secret' gig.


The Reading and Leeds Festivals took place on the weekend of the 22 to 24 August. Tickets had been released on March 31st at 6:45pm [ [ Reading & Leeds tickets go on sale] ] and sold out in less than 2 hours. [ [ Reading & Leeds Tickets Sell Out] ] Tickets sold through HMV also sold out in just one hour.

This was the first year "BBC Introducing..." had a stage at the festival.

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 the box office changes resulting in disorderly queues of as many as 50 people or more wide at places and higher demand than previous years due to several festival-goers having purchased tickets from fake websites, meant that people queued for 15 hours or more in some cases.

Slipknot pulled out due to drummer Joey Jordison breaking his ankle. Avenged Sevenfold also pulled out of Reading on the Sunday but appeared for the signing, by way of apologies to their fans, although the band did play a short 20 minute set at Leeds which included a female fan singing with the band.


The pre-sale for 2009 tickets officially sold out in two days. A further release is scheduled to take place in early 2009.

According to, this year's Reading Festival has experienced some difficulty dealing with a significantly increased demand for tickets sold on the door at the festival site. Therefore there will be no tickets sold on the door in 2009. This was confirmed by a press release by Reading council.

The official site will be re-vamped for the 2009 festival. As of 25 September 2008, the site shows links to the 2007 and 2008 sites

Bottled off

While the mass-participation can and bottle fights of the 1970s and 1980s have long since ended, the Reading Festival 'tradition' of unpopular bands being bottled off (being forced off stage by a barrage of audience-thrown plastic bottles and cans) has continued throughout its history. [cite web |url= |title=25 Things You Never Knew About Reading & Leeds - Photos - NME.COM (3) |accessdate=2008-08-25 |work=NME | ]

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 bravely completed her set despite an unending barrage of bottles, turf and litter. Unfortunately, the day's headliner Meat Loaf was not so brave, retreating ingloriously only 20 minutes into his set after taking a 2-litre cider bottle full in the face. [cite web |url= |title=25 Things You Never Knew About Reading & Leeds - Photos - NME.COM (19) |accessdate=2008-08-25 |work=NME | ]

In 2000, Daphne and Celeste were inexplicably scheduled between Slipknot and Rage Against The Machine after bullying their manager to get on the bill, [cite web |url= |title=25 Things You Never Knew About Reading & Leeds - Photos - NME.COM (14) |accessdate=2008-08-25 |work=NME | ] and were bottled off after 2 songs. [ [ YouTube - Daphne And Celeste Getting Bottled At Reading 2000] ]

Good Charlotte experienced it in 2003, but remained on-stage and encouraged the crowd to throw more.cite web |url= |title=Hitting rock bottom |accessdate=2008-08-25 |work=Tim Jonze |publisher=The Guardian | date=2007-08-25]

In 2004, it was the turn of rapper 50 Cent, who was pelted with bottles. [ [ YouTube - 50 Cent at Reading 2004 ] ] 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 in the face with a plastic bottle, knocking him unconscious and forcing the band to stop mid-song. Urie received treatment from his road crew for several minutes, then the band continued from the point at which their song was interrupted. [ [ Panic! At The Disco speak after bottling | News | NME.COM ] ]

In 2008, a crowd of approximately 2,000 people attended the BBC Introducing Stage to see the FF'ers, after rumours that it would actually be a secret Foo Fighters gig were spread around the festival. The FF'ers were subsequently bottled off when members of the audience realised that the rumour was false. Deathcore band Bring Me The Horizon were also heavily bottled after playing in place of Slipknot (Reading only), but remained on stage for their entire set.

List of headliners

Historical line-up posters can be seen on the individual official festival websites:
* [ Official Reading Festival website] - dates to 1972
* [ Official Leeds Festival website] - dates to 1999

ee also

* Reading and Leeds Festivals line-ups
* List of music festivals in the United Kingdom
* Workers Beer Company, Workers Beer Company


Further reading


External links

* [ Reading Festival official website]
* [ Leeds Festival official website]
* [ Reading & Leeds BBC coverage - performance videos, photos and interviews]
* [ Reading Festival 2009]
* [ Reading Festival Online website]
* [ Recollections and photographs from over 20 years of the Reading Festival]
* [ View from the Leeds Festival's local paper (Wetherby News)]
* [ Review and footage from Reading 2007]
* [ /Extensive History of Reading 1971-81]
* [ / History of the Festival on the Reading Museum website]
* [ Myspace dedicated to providing the latest news and info on the festival]
* [ Reading Festy]

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