Reading Festival 1971

Reading Festival 1971
Authored By John Nicholson

Reading Festival became the major yearly gathering of the UK's hairy hoards all the way through the 1970s and into the mid-80s. It’s tradition of throwing cans of piss at the stage was one of the less savoury things about it, and the weather was often wet and muddy. But we lived tougher lives in the 1970s and such deprivations troubled us far less. 

Held across the August Bank Holiday 3-day weekend, the festival's origins date to the Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1956–1961) which became the National Jazz Festival in 1961 (The National Jazz and Blues Festival in 1963) and settled in Reading in 1971 after a lot of complaints about noise and general freaky deakyness as groovers descended onto the area to get their buzz on. Cream played one of their first gigs in 1966 (the Small Faces and The Who headlined the other two days) at the festival and by the time it moved to its permanent home at Little John's Farm on the south bank of the River Thames in Reading it was well established as a place for the great and the good of British rock with a smattering of top overseas performers.

This first Reading show had Arthur Brown headlining on the Friday night with an obscure folky bill as back up including the excellent Bell & Arc and the horribly named Warm Dust, who were one of Paul Carrick’s first bands before joining Ace and having a big hit with ‘How Long.’

Saturday was an eclectic mix with East of Eden headlining, they’d just had a surprise hit with the violin-boogie of Jig-a-Jig which was a top 10 in 1970. Incidentally, the fiddle on that was played by Dave Arbus who also played the violin on The Who's Baba O’Riley. 

Other acts that day were Sha Na Na, Lindisfarne, Ralph McTell, Hardin & York, Wishbone Ash, Terry Reid, Stud, Renaissance, Audience, Genesis, Gillian McPherson, Universe. 

Funny to see Genesis so low down the bill and Wishbone Ash too - both bands would soon be headlining.  

The Sunday show began with obscure acts Demick & Armstrong which does sound like a company that makes toilets, Clark Hutchinson, Storyteller, Country Jug, Colonel Bagshot and Steel Mill. While Bruce Springsteen had a band called Steel Mill from 69-71 I doubt this was them opening the show.

The day was completed with Stray (great band), Osibisa, Van Der Graaf Generator, Medicine Head, Iain Matthews, Al Kooper (one of the few non-Brits there), Rory Gallagher and ended with Colosseum who were towards the end of their career before being revived as Colosseum II later in the 70s. 

Great to see Al Kooper on the bill. I’d have loved to see him around this time. The thing that strikes me now is how eclectic it is and how many different sorts of jazz, folk, rock and blues bands there were. This would become typical of Reading. All sorts of bands played over the years and looking back now, it’s hard to believe the depth and breadth of the quality of the bands you got for a few pounds.

If you see photos of this era, everything is really basic, to say the least.The stage is just some planks of wood resting on scaffolding.

But these were the glory day of UK rock festivals, long before they turned into sponsored corporate big business.   


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