The Reading and Leeds Festivals are a pair of annual rock 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 of the two, is the world's oldest popular music festival still in existence and has hosted many of the UK's most famous acts over the years, including The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Who, Cream, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Iron Maiden, The Jam, The Police, Status Quo, The Pogues, Blur and Oasis plus top overseas names such as Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns n' Roses, Eminem, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers. 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. These titles were seldom used when not required, although NME were contractually obliged to do so as part of their 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.
Dance tent – dance music acts, previously sharing a day with the Lock Up stage, now a stand-alone 3-day stage.
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.
Festival Republic stage (formerly known as the Carling stage) – acts with less popular appeal and breakthrough acts.
1Xtra Stage – new stage for 2013 that stages Hip-Hop, RnB and Rap artists.
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 officially began life as 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. However, the festival's roots can be traced further back to the Beaulieu Jazz Festivals of the 1950s held on the estate of Lord Montague at Beaulieu in the New Forest, Hampshire. When alcochol-fuelled violence at the start of the 1960s led to the cancellation of the Beaulieu Jazz Festival its mantle was inherited by the new National Jazz Festival. Throughout the 1960s the festival moved between several London and Home Counties sites, being held at Windsor Racecourse, Kempton Park, Sunbury and Plumpton, before reaching its permanent home at Reading in 1971. Since 1964, when the Festival added a Friday evening session to the original Saturday and Sunday format, it has been staged over three days with the sole exception of 1970 when a fourth day was added, running from Thursday 6 to Sunday 9 August.
In the mid and late 1950s Beaulieu was the surprising location for one of Britain's first experiments in pop festival culture, with the annual Beaulieu Jazz Festival, which quickly expanded to become a significant event in the burgeoning jazz and youth pop music scene of the period.
Camping overnight, a rural invasion, eccentric dress, wild music and sometimes wilder behaviour — these now familiar features of pop festival happened at Beaulieu each summer, culminating in the so-called 'Battle of Beaulieu' at the 1960 festival, when rival gangs of modern and traditional jazz fans indulged in a spot of what sociologists went on to call 'subcultural contestation'.
The National Jazz Federation (NJF) Festival (as it was originally known) began at the height of the Trad Jazz boom as a successor to the Beaulieu Jazz Festival, initially as a two-day event held at Richmond Athletic Ground. The line-up for the first two years was made up exclusively of jazz performers, but in 1963 several rhythm & blues acts were added to the bill, including the Rolling Stones, Georgie Fame and Long John Baldry and by 1965 were in the majority, with jazz sessions reduced to Saturday and Sunday afternoons only. This format continued until 1967 when jazz was relegated to just the Saturday afternoon session and by 1969 had disappeared entirely.
1964 saw a Friday evening session added to the existing weekend format. then in 1966 the NJF Festival moved from its early home to the larger Windsor Racecourse. The following year a second stage (the Marquee Stage) was added, but this innovation was not to last and by the time the Festival was relocated to Sunbury in 1968 the single-stage format returned. Plumpton Racecourse then hosted the Festival for a two-year stint from 1969.
The line-up settled into a pattern of progressive rock, blues and hard rock during the early and mid 1970s then became the first music festival to embrace punk rock and new wave in the late 1970s, when The Jam, Sham 69, The Stranglers and Penetration were among the headline acts. The festival attempted to provide both traditional rock acts and new punk and new wave bands in the late 1970s and early 1980s, occasionally leading to clashes between the two sets of fans, though 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 line-up including punk and new wave bands on the opening day.
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 find a new site 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 CND benefit event at Glastonbury from obscure beginnings as a "hippie" festival in the 1970s.
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.
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 / early 90s slump
1988 saw a disastrous attempt to take the festival in a mainstream commercial pop direction, dominated by the likes of Starship, Squeeze, Hothouse Flowers, Bonnie Tyler and Meat Loaf (the latter 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 threats of legal action by the new promoters of the "official" festival coupled with a reluctance by Newbury District Council to grant the necessary licence for the proposed Newbury Showground venue eventually scuppered Pendleton's plans. 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 plummet.
Attendances continued to fall between 1989 and 1991 until the future of the festival looked to be in doubt. However, things began to improve from 1992 onward when new organisers moved in to replace the moribund Mean Fiddler group who broadened the Festival's musical policy and were rewarded with an increase in attendances.
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.
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.
Over the next few years the festival continued to grow as the popularity of outdoor festivals increased. Britpop and indie began to dominate along with traditional rock and metal acts. 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 1996, the remnants of The Stone Roses played their disastrous final gig at the festival.
In 1998, it absorbed the failed Phoenix Festival. This resulted in a now infamous on-stage spat between Beastie Boys and The Prodigy over the song "Smack My Bitch Up".
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, Ice Cube, Beastie Boys, Eminem, Xzibit, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Dizzee Riscal and The Streets.
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, possibly the result of growing significance of live music 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 6:45 pm 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 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.
For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2012
The 2012 festival took place over the weekend of 24–26 August and was headlined by The Cure, Kasabian and Foo Fighters. 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 took place over the weekend of 23–25 August. Pre-sale tickets went on sale on 30 November 2012. Two new stages were introduced, the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage and the BBC Radio 1Xtra Stage. Biffy Clyro, Green Day and Eminem headlined the festival, whilst Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down and Chase & Status sub-headlined. Other major acts who played the festival include Skrillex, Disclosure, ASAP Rocky, Fall Out Boy, Foals , Knife Party and Bring Me The Horizon. The Reading site was completely sold out over the weekend however only the Friday sold out at the Leeds site.
For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2014
The 2014 festival took place over the weekend of 22–24 August. The first headline act announced on 3 December was Blink-182. with the Arctic Monkeys confirmed as the second headliner on 3 February 2014. Other acts to play at the festival include You Me at Six, The 1975, Jake Bugg and Of Mice & Men.
The final headliner was announced on 10 March 2014, and was a co-headline slot from Paramore and Queens of the Stone Age, with several other acts also announced including Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vampire Weekend, Enter Shikari, Imagine Dragons and Jimmy Eat World.
For Line-up see: Reading and Leeds Festivals line-up for 2015
The 2015 festival took place over the weekend of 28–30 August. The first headline act announced on 25 November was Metallica. Mumford & Sons were confirmed as the second headliner on 2 February 2015. with the final headliner announced on 24 February 2015, being the reformed Libertines. Other acts also announced including Kendrick Lamar, Knife Party, All Time Low, grime collective Boy Better Know and Tyler, The Creator, who would eventually pull out after being refused entry to the United Kingdom. The whole weekend at Reading Festival had completely sold out on the 21st August.
The 2016 festival is due to take place over the weekend of 26-28 August. The first headline act announced was the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the 4th of December 2015 along with other acts, such as The 1975, The Courteeners, Twenty One Pilots and grime collective Boy Better Know. Along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, two co-headline slots were announced with both Foals and Disclosure making their first headline performances at both Reading and Leeds Festivals. Also Biffy Clyro were announced to make their return with co-headliner Fall Out Boy. Other notable acts over the weekend include Two Door Cinema Club, The Vaccines, A$AP Rocky, Imagine Dragons and The Wombats.
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 continued to be bottled offstage throughout the festival's history since the first recorded large-scale "cannings" in 1973 and 1974. Examples include:
Old punks The Hellions (featuring ex-Damned guitarist Brian James) were foolishly placed on an otherwise 100% Heavy Metal line-up on the Friday of the 1980 Festival and ignominously retreated from the stage in under a minute to the accompaniment of a hail of cans, bottles and pork pies. "I canned The Hellions at Reading" T-shirts were on sale at souvenir stands within the hour.
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.
John Waite and the No Brakes Band quit the stage on the Saturday of the 1986 festival when their drummer was hit in the head by a free promo 12" vinyl disc.
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, 50 Cent was pelted with bottles, mud and an inflatable paddling pool during his set. 50 Cent lasted less than 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 on the shoulder by a plastic bottle and 'passed out', forcing the rest of the band to stop mid-song as he lay on the floor. Urie received 'medical treatment' from his road crew for several minutes, before the band simply 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
2016: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foals/Disclosure (Co-headline), Biffy Clyro/Fall Out Boy(Co-headline)
2015: Metallica, Mumford & Sons, The Libertines
2014: Blink-182, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age/Paramore (Co-headline)
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, Saxon, Hawkwind
1985: No festival held
1984 (cancelled): Hawkwind, Jethro Tull, Marillion
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, 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: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Traffic, Focus
1973: Rory Gallagher, The Faces, Genesis
1972: Curved Air, The Faces, Quintessence
1971: Arthur Brown, East of Eden, Colosseum
1970: Jellybread, Family, Taste, Deep Purple
1969: Pink Floyd, The Who, The Nice
1968: The Herd, The Nice, Traffic
1967: Small Faces, The Nice, Cream
1966: Small Faces, The Who, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames
1965: The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, The Animals
1964: The Rolling Stones, Chris Barber Band, Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen
1963: Chris Barber's Jazz Band, Acker Bilk's Paramount Jazz Band
1962: Chris Barber's Jazz Band, Kenny Ball's Jazzmen
1961: Chris Barber's Jazz Band, Ken Colyer's Jazzmen
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
List of historic rock festivals
Reading and Leeds Festivals line-ups
List of music festivals in the United Kingdom
Workers Beer Company, Workers Beer Company
Reading Festival trash heap left behind
Carroll, Ian (2007). The Reading Festival: Music, Mud and Mayhem – The Official History. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 978-1-905287-43-7.
Reading Festival official website
Leeds Festival official website
Reading & Leeds at the BBC