Uncut Editor's Diary

Reading. . .in the beginning

Allan Jones

On Monday night, I went to the launch of the 2007 Reading Festival – or the Carling Weekend: Reading And Leeds Festivals, as the dual event is now called – which, as you’ll probably know is headlined this year by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins and Razorlight, with Arcade Fire, Kings Of Leon and Nine Inch Nails featuring prominently among the supporting line-up.

I’ve lost count of the number of August Bank Holidays I’ve spent at Reading, most of them memorable, some of them not. But on Monday – it may have been the free drink – I was moved to ponder somewhat on the origins of the event as the National Jazz And Blues Festival, which I went to in 1968, the year it was held at Kempton Park Racecourse in Sunbury-on-Thames.

The festival then was a rather more sedate affair than it would become and was split on Saturday and Sunday into afternoon and evening sessions, with the Saturday afternoon devoted to the best of British jazz and the Sunday afternoon to folk. There was one evening session on the Friday, headlined by The Herd, who were bottled, I seem to remember, by a bunch of rockers who’d come to see Jerry Lee Lewis tearing the house down in spectacular fashion.

This year, tickets are a probably reasonable £145 for the weekend. In 1968, the afternoon sessions were 10 shillings each – 50 pence, in today’s coinage – and 15 shillings for the evening shows. Weekend tickets (for the Saturday and Sunday) were 35 shillings, and a season ticket for all three days cost £2 and five shillings.

The line-up, over the weekend? Saturday evening featured Deep Purple, Joe Cocker, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Nice, Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart (mercilessly heckled, as I recall, by some rowdy discontents), Ten Years After and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Arthur’s big hit was, of course, “Fire”, during which the self-styled “god of hell-fire” would take to dancing around the stage wearing a helmet of fire, which was at the time some spectacle.

Sunday night’s bill included Jethro Tull, who pretty much stole the show, Chicken Shack, John Mayall, Spencer Davis and Traffic.

I have especially fond memories of the Sunday afternoon ‘folk’ session, hosted by Al Stewart, highlights of which were the young Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band, who I remember playing a glorious version of “Log Cabin Home In The Sky” – yeah, I know – as the sun set behind them. There was a particularly loud cheer when they introduced Leaf, their dog – a crowd favourite I see several times more on stage with them, notably at Birmingham Town Hall, when he curled up at Robin Williamson’s feet and went to sleep during the admittedly longwinded but wholly beguiling “A Very Cellular Song”.


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