Reading & Leeds Festivals: Ten Classic Moments

Reading and Leeds festivals, two of the standout events in the UK festival calendar, and arguably in the global rock calendar too, have made the August bank holiday weekend their own since Reading's first edition back in 1961.

Long since associated with rock gods, the focus, more than at any other UK festival, is firmly on the music. But that's something the weekender revels in.

In anticipation of this year's festivals, which will see headline sets from Fall Out Boy, Kendrick Lamar and Kings of Leon, we look back over the past decades to remind ourselves of some truly unforgettable performances, and not all for the right reasons. 

Nirvana – 1992

Top of most people's list is Nirvana's 1992 Reading performance, captured in the iconic image of Kurt Cobain being wheeled on stage draped in a surgical gown and wig, allegedly as a protest against media coverage of his drug antics. And despite the worries beforehand, Cobain did actually make it on stage, and went on to deliver one of the band's, and the festival's, most legendary sets. Cue a collection of bootlegs and a Live at Reading DVD.

Stone Roses – 1996

They'd already lost drummer Reni and influential guitarist/songwriter John Squire, but their 1996 Sunday headline slot at Reading was the final nail in the coffin of the band's original career. As soon as frontman Ian Brown opened his mouth on set opener I Wanna Be Adored, it was painfully obvious he couldn't hit a note, and struggle on as he so did, it did nothing but twist that nail deeper. It was the band's last official gig. 

Underworld – 1996

And while The Stone Roses were imploding on the Main Stage, Underworld were slaying the dance tent. Why? A little known film called Trainspotting had almost overnight turned their single Born Slippy into one of the decade's most iconic party anthems. 

Arctic Monkeys – 2005

Never has buzz been so fitting a term than to describe the Arctic Monkeys back in 2005. Even without an album, and with only a shoddily recorded bootleg to their name, the Sheffield rockers managed to pack out the Carling Tent in the mid-afternoon, crowd spilling out of all sides, and yet every single person there that day knew every word. You know how the rest of the story goes.

Guns 'n' Roses – 2002 & 2010

If you thought turning up late with no original band members and a guy with a KFC bucket on his head in 2002 was bad enough, then 2010 was surely laughable. Late again, Axl Rose and his backing band bumbled through a performance until they duly had the power cut due to the stage's curfew. Undeterred, the band excruciatingly attempted to perform Paradise City unplugged with a megaphone. They needn't have bothered. 

The Libertines – 2010

Indeed there was much apprehension when The Libertines announced their reunion – will Pete Doherty turn up? Will he be too off his face? Luckily, the fractured band defied expectations and delivered a set full of ferocious, chaotic and incendiary energy that wowed adoring fans, whether reliving past glories or those first timers too young to have caught them in a London boozer. Some say grown men were crying down the front.

Daphne and Celeste – 2000

You've got to feel for female pop duo Daphne and Celeste, who were sandwiched on a bill with Slipknot and Rage Against The Machine on the festival's infamous Rock Day. Did whoever put them there do it for a laugh? We may never know, but what we do know is that pop isn't the most liked genre by metal heads.

Cue a barrage of urine and all sorts being hurtled towards the stage. But fair play to the girls, they actually stuck it out and almost revelled in the mess, literally, even if somewhat unwittingly, becoming the most talked about artist that weekend. Now, what do they say about all publicity...


The Strokes – 2002

Only a year before, the New Yorkers had been scheduled in to play one of the festival's minor stages, but after much lobbying from NME, were promoted up to the Main Stage. So much was the excitement behind the rock 'n' roll saviours, that fast forward exactly a year, and they'd be topping the bill with only a sole album in their catalogue.

That didn't deter though, and with a set that featured a certain Jack White on New York City Cops, the night felt like a seminal moment not just for the band, but for the genre itself. 

50 Cent – 2004

We all remember Jay Z's performance at Glastonbury as the moment hip-hop hit the mainstream festival circuit. It could have happened earlier, but unfortunately for rapper 50 Cent, it just wasn't to be.

Arriving on stage 20 minutes earlier than expected, his set also lasted a mere 20 minutes, which was apparently 20 minutes too long for those in the crowd judging by the bottles that torrented down on the stage. 50 Cent may be tough, but we doubt even him and his entourage would dare take on a baying Reading crowd. 

The Prodigy – 1998

As demonstrated in our recent interview with Liam Howlett, The Prodigy are a band that do things their way, and their way only. So just imagine their reaction when the Beastie Boys called them up to as if they'd mind not playing Smack My Bitch Up in fear of it causing offence.

No chance. Maxim Reality duly told the crowd: "Last night we received a call from one of the Beastie Boys. They didn't want us to play this fucking tune. And the way things go, I do what the fuck I want, you understand?"

Reading and Leeds Festivals will take place from 24-26 August 2018. Find out more on our Reading and Leeds guides, and book your tickets and packages to each festival here: Reading / Leeds

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