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Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 18:56 UK
Reading Festival: A history as 2010 line up announced
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Reading Festival goers
Festival goers have been enjoying Reading since 1971

With Reading Festival set to go on sale BBC Radio Berkshire takes a look behind the history of the event.

"I think my favourite musical memory is probably when Nirvana played the Reading Festival in 1992," Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl told Linda Serck.

"We were just flying by the seat of our pants.

"There was a part of us that was scared but then there was a part that felt that this was an important moment.

Reading Festival goers
Reading Festival tickets go on sale Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"Like we had to prove it to ourselves as much as to everyone else.

The festival started in 1971 as a National Jazz and Blues Festival at various locations.

Reading Council granted permission to then promoter Harold Pembleton to hold the festival by the Thames as part of the town's festival of the arts.

The headliners were Arthur Brown, East of Eden and Coliseum and weekend tickets cost £2.

The current organiser Melvin Benn from Festival Republic was there from the beginning.

"I came in 1972 for the first time to see a band called The Faces and various other people," he said.

"I hitch hiked down from Hull in Yorkshire where I grew up. It took an age to get down and an age to get back.

"My abiding memories were total lack of organisation and the fact that it rained. I remember seeing Yes close the festival one Sunday evening and it absolutely sheeting down with rain."

Health and safety wasn't really the issue it is today and Melvin used to rough it slightly.

"I never arrived here in a tent," he said. "In those days there was a stall selling sheets of plastic which were about five foot long.

"They used to measure it out and cut it and you used to buy a roll of plastic and sleep in, that's what you did.

Another of Melvin's memories was when rain almost caused havoc with one band's set.

"I remember Ryan Ackerman from a band called Focus. Again it was raining and the roof over the stage wasn't done properly and the water was getting in.

Primal Scream's rider included a life size figure of the comedian Les Dennis in their dressing room.
It takes 150 crew members, 3.5 weeks to prepare the site
It takes 10 days to take it down again
More than 100 trucks with thousands of tons of equipment are used
2 million pints of lager drunk during the weekend

"It got into his electric guitar and electrocuted him. It didn't kill him but it knocked him back completely and everyone was like, 'whoa crikey', you know people thought it might be some kind of special effect - he was electrocuted. Anyway he got up and continued to play eventually, I think everyone ran on with towels to dry the guitar."

And Danny Fraifeld from the Purple Turtle was another gig regular.

"I was only 12 years old so I was very young at the time and used to bunk off school.

"I actually remember seeing Thin Lizzy, I managed to get a back stage pass and I remember Phil Lynott coming down off stage in this white outfit, all leather thing.

It got into his electric guitar and electrocuted him. It didn't kill him but it knocked him back completely and everyone was like, 'whoa crikey'.
Melvin Benn, Reading Festival organiser

"I didn't touch it to find out but they were really glammed up, really cool. There were a lot of bikers hanging around them at the time, I think they had a big biker following."

In the 1970s the festival attracted the likes of Genisis who played in 1972 - at the 11th National Jazz, Blues and Rock festival.

Genesis were paid £175 for their performance, however The Faces were paid £4,000 which also included payment for caravan damage.

As well as the music, fashion was a big talking point at the festival

"I know it sounds bizarre," says Melvin Benn. "But everyone used to walk around with their clothes off, I didn't, but I certainly used to enjoy watching the girls walk around with no clothes on."

The festival was one of the first to have multi-stage platforms to host bands, but they were not like we might see today.

"Two stages were literally next to each other and one band would play on one stage while the next band coming on would be getting ready on the stage next to it, and then visa versa" says Melvin.

"So the audience would shuffle along from one stage to the next, they didn't make the stages very big and they couldn't do a turn around between one act and another that didn't take a long time.

"Nowadays we would do turnarounds between acts of 20 minutes, but in them days they used to take an hour or an hour and a half, which was terrible really.


In the 1980s heavy rock dominated the line-up for the festival.

There was a turbulent period where it was banned in 1984 and 1985 by the council, who refused the organisers permission to use the site.

The festival returned in 1986 with Killing Joke, Saxon, and Hawkwind headlining.

Festival goers
Reading Festival takes three and a half weeks to prepare

A "bottling" during Meatloaf and Bonny Tyler's set in 1988 reflected fans disapproval at the Saturday line-up which also featured Starship,

Attendance dwindled that year and the festival went bankrupt but was re-launched the following year with new organisers Mean Fiddler who embraced the new wave of indie music.

Headliners New Order, The Pogues, and The Mission were on stage in 1989 when weekend tickets cost £32.50.

At that point Melvin Benn was there at the helm

"New Order were one of our first headliners and that was a bit risky, a bit chancy," he said. "But it really worked for us."

They also introduced a second tented stage, which Melvin says changed the face of festivals from then on.

"Putting the second stage at Reading Festival I think was the very first thing which started changing the landscape of festivals becoming multi-stage and not single stage.

"Now almost every festival is a multi stage festival."


In the 1990s, indie and grunge took over.

The Cramps, Inspiral Carpets and Pixies headlined in 1990 and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds played 6th on the main stage bill, before the penultimate headliners Faith No More.

The Red Hot Chilli Peppers headlined both in 1994 and 99 and Neil Young, backed by Pearl Jam in 1995 defined the crossover between the legendary and cutting edge bands.

In 1999 Blur headlined but it was their 1993 performance which bassist Alex James admits was their best.

"I think Reading was the festival which really did it for Blur," he said. "We were playing in a tent in 1993 and up until that point, everybody hated us and I think it all changed that night. That was the start of everything going good.


Into the 21st century Oasis took centre stage in 2000 and weekend tickets were now £80.

James Taylor from Reading managed to get in for free and hooked up with some stars.

"Myself and a couple of friends, without really knowing how, managed to get back stage," he said.

"Manny from Primal Scream was wondering around and so we got talking to him and he was really friendly.

"He started having a few drinks with us and Oasis turned up on their tour bus. Manny insisted on taking us over and introducing us to all the guys from Oasis and Liam was absolutely magic and started pulling beers off their bus and handing them out to us.

"We spent the whole day back stage. During the day we were with Oasis, then Prodigy and the Foo Fighters and we actually ended up standing on the stage watching Primal Scream and Oasis.

"Right up to the point where we decided we really wanted to be in the crowd. "We climbed off the stage and into the mosh pit."

Reading Festival 2010 Official Line Up Announcement

Reading (Friday)/ Leeds (Sunday)

The Main Stage:

Guns N' Roses
Queens Of The Stone Age
Biffy Clyro
Gogol Bordello
Billy Talent

Radio One/NME Stage

LCD Soundsystem
Mumford & Sons
The Big Pink
Two Door Cinema Club

Reading (Saturday)/ Leeds (Friday)

Main Stage:

Arcade Fire
The Libertines
Dizzee Rascal
The Cribs
The Maccabees
Modest Mouse
Gaslight Anthem

Radio One/NME Stage:

Enter Shikari
Crystal Castles
Frank Turner

Reading (Sunday)/ Leeds (Saturday

Main Stage:

Blink 182
Cyprus Hill
Limp Bizkit
You Me At Six
All Time Low

Radio One/NME Stage:

We Are Scientists
Band of Horses
Kele Okereke
The Drums

More bands to be announced nearer the time

For more information go to Hall or Nothing, Reading Festival, or Leeds Festival

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03 Mar 10 |  BBC Introducing
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24 Jul 09 |  Berkshire
In pictures: Reading Festival
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03 Sep 09 |  BBC Introducing
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