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Festival History

Programme from 1976

Programme from 1976

The Reading Festival originates from an annual Jazz and Blues festival organised by the National Jazz Federation and London's Marquee Club. The inspiration came from the Newport Jazz Festival of 1950s America. The first National Jazz Festival took place at Richmond Athletic Ground in August 1961 when the main attractions included traditional Jazz musicians such as the Tubby Hayes, Johnny Dankworth and Tony Russell.

By 1965 the popularity of traditional Jazz had waned, overtaken by Rhythm and Blues performers such as the Who, the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart. Subsequently the festival became known as the National Jazz and Blues Festival. Noise complaints forced the 1966 festival to move to Windsor Racecourse, then in 1968 to Kempton Park and then, in 1969, to Plumpton. The festival finally reached Reading in 1971. Reading Council granted permission to the promoter, Harold Pendleton, to hold the festival by the Thames as part of the town's Festival of Arts.

Between 1971 and the mid 1980s the festival built a reputation for booking the biggest names in the business, as well as showcasing the talents of new bands from around the globe. The late 80s and early 90s were to see changes in the contemporary music scene with indie sounds and dance cross-over acts coming to the fore. In 1988 the Mean Fiddler, who had championed such acts in venues across London, were given the task of booking the festival bands. The following year they were asked to organise the whole event and, after the legendary festivals of the early 90s, the future of the festival was assured. It is now organised by Festival Republic. 

Did you know?

  • It takes 4 weeks to prepare the Reading site and 3 weeks to take it down again
  • Over 8 miles of fencing is used
  • More than 110 portakabins become temporary offices, dressing rooms and stores
  • It takes 150 crew to build and take down the site
  • Over 2000 people work during the three days of the festival
  • More than 100 trucks with thousands of tons of equipment are used
  • A staggering two million pints of lager are drunk during the weekend
  • Over 2300 toilets are used at the site
  • The festival website received over 11 million hits in the six months before and just after the festival
  • In 2000, two couples were married on stage
  • Over 230 artists will perform over the weekend
  • Primal Scream asked for a life-size cardboard figure of the comedian Les Dennis in their dressing room
  • Incubus wanted two fully tuned air guitars, with new strings, which had to be signed by Jimmy Page
  • 25 golf buggies hired for site transport for people including artist liaison, security and licensing.
  • Around 50,000 burgers are bought by festival goers onsite across the weekend
  • In 2009 the University of Reading study found that the festival is worth £16million to Reading's economy.
  • 90,000 fans attend the Reading Festival in 2013.




 

Date updated: 15 Feb 2014


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