Reading Festival 1973

Reading Festival 1973
Authored By Johnny Blogger

The Reading And Leeds Festivals of today are the UK's longest-running events of their type, and were begat of the National Jazz And Blues Festival, which was born all the way back in 1961. Not much jazz on the bill these days and, in truth, by the early 1970s it was on the out- although there was a brief outbreak of syncopation in 1973 with the cultish booking of George Melly, in a doubtlessly very garish jacket.

But the 1973 event at Reading was a significant event in the history of UK rock for several reasons. It saw Rory Gallagher at the top of his game, Rod and The Faces playing the outro of their career together. It also had Genesis hitting their Selling England By Pound stride, the tremendous country rocker, Commander Cody and, of course, The mighty Quo.

Reading 73 StageReading 73 Stage

The event, as the National Jazz And Blues Festival, was organised by Harold Pendleton, the manager of The Marquee Club, where the Stones played their first gig and which would go on to have such significance in the Punk movement. This was the third year at the Reading site and organisation was pretty solid now.

The late August three-dayer was a broad mixture. Poor Tim Hardin, bloated and sick, played his 'If I Were A Carpenter' but found not all of the crowd as benign as his legendary performance of the same song at Woodstock. Then again Reading was never going to be Woodstocky in any way whatsoever. The endlessly inventive John Martyn, whose brilliant, career-defining 'Solid Air' had been released a few months previously, also put on a strong show.

George Melly, that great English eccentric was also booked and proved a hit, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, his blend of trad jazz and bonkers-ness going over well with a rock crowd not necessarily predisposed to outsized, camp jazz singers. No cans full of waste matter were hurled.

Friday night was Rory night. The Cork man was on peak form, full of energy and drive - and unheard material from his forthcoming Tattoo album. He was without doubt the Friday highlight, and maybe the weekend as a whole. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen gave great value with their rockabilly, especially on that excellent monument to low times in the highlife, 'Down To Seeds And Stems Again'. We've all been there.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, still a new band, played the following day to massive acclaim.

Alex Harvey and Zal Cleminson on stage at Reading 73
Alex Harvey and Zal Cleminson on stage at Reading 73

Cometh the Saturday night, cometh The Quo.

Rick and Francis at Reading
Rick and Francis at Reading

In the special guest role, they opened for Rod and company. Rossi and Parfitt were well on their way by then - 'Piledriver' had set the formula for their hard boogie sound that would propel them into the strata of the rock super-rich. In fact, it was the album released just a few weeks after Reading, September's 'Hello!' that would give them their first UK album number one. A monument to 70s rock, in hindsight, it seems they were always destined for greatness. Also performing were Lindisfarne who were hugely popular after three top five albums,

The Faces 1973
The Faces 1973

Saturday night's headliners were Rod and The Faces, the biggest draw of the weekend - and the magnet for a huge group of football scarf-wearing fans. Clad in Tartan scarf, Rod The Mod opened up by kicking footballs into the crowd, as he often did and no doubt, still does. The Faces were a fine band, but this maybe was not one of their best gigs. They had been together a long time by then, and superstardom was beckoning for their blonde leader, whose solo career had already seen him achieve massive success with 'Maggie May' - was eclipsing that of the band. Nevertheless, it was a decent show - and, in terms of the fans, their vibe and the attitude - a good example of how the rock and roll aesthetic would later mould into punk.

Very much not punk at all were Sunday night's headliners, Genesis. An immensely elaborate stage set took over two hours to put up, but eventually Peter Gabriel appeared in that mad 'pyramid-with-eyes' thing that heralded their magnificent Arthur C Clarke-inspired 'Watcher Of The Skies'. Here were serious musicians putting on a fine, layered musical feast. What strikes you at this distance is that these were very analogue days and musical equipment had to battle with terrible PA systems, generators that blew up and bad weather. Synthesizers looked like a telephone exchange and yet, despite this, a band like Genesis managed to produce music of eclectic beauty which embodied both power and complexity but with simple melody. And all without a sequencer, a drum machine or a box of tricks to keep your guitar in tune. Remarkable.

Genesis live in 1973 at Shepperton
Genesis live in 1973 at Shepperton

As the festival program of the day declared of Gabriel, �there's got to be something spiritual, perhaps evil, about a man who has got seven cats.� And indeed there probably is, or perhaps not.

Melody Maker called their show �startling�. They played 'The Musical Box', 'The Return of the Giant Hogweed' and 'Supper's Ready', which came in at a punchy 23 minutes. �A flower?”

Unusually, after the event, a live album was released. You see it all the time in the cheap bins which is a shame because it's a very good sampler of the three days. Rory stand out, of course but you also get a taste of the Quo's power and it's the only live Greenslade track released, so you have to get it just to hear that. Well worth picking up a copy.

Newspaper ad for Reading festival album 1973Newspaper ad for Reading festival album 1973


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