Reading has many highs and lows since 1994, and while there have been far more brilliant moments than fluffed lines, it’s still worth reflecting on both the good and the bad as we wave goodbye to Neil Pengelly. So with that in mind, we’ve asked a selection of writers on our Strictly Team to pick out their high and low lights from the Pengelly Era.
Genius Move: Arcade Fire
Looking at it now, it doesn’t seem quite right that Arcade Fire were once considered a ‘risky’ headliner, but in 2010, that was exactly what they were. Despite two critically acclaimed albums in Funeral and Neon Bible and a well-received sub headline appearance in 2007, the Montreal band were still somewhat unknowns to the general public when they were announced as headliners. The reaction was anything but warm, as Facebook pages were one way of showing many’s disapproval. Their name was even booed when mentioned over the tannoy, which was bordering on ridiculous. However those who had witnessed Arcade Fire before, knew to expect something special, most likely transcendental, and that’s what they were. Powerful anthems like “No Cars Go”, “Power Out” and “Rebellion (Lies)” were made to play to big crowds, whilst the magnificent “Wake Up” sent chills down the spine, ensuring that their set would by talked about for years to come. They even managed to upstage the highly popular Libertines reunion and those who questioned their booking were rightly eating their words.
Bad Booking: Razorlight
Yes predictable, but probably not the most surprising choice. 2007 was the time where landfill indie ruled the roost, and bands such as Razorlight and Franz Ferdinand, who headlined the year before, were popular by default. The main problem with Razorlight’s headline show was that they were significantly less popular than their subs, Kings of Leon. Of course this was the time before “Sex on Fire” et al, but the Kings were still a big deal at the time, with many wanting them to headline over Razorlight and the walkout that followed the former’s performance proved it. Kings of Leon then went to become one of the biggest bands in the world, whilst Razorlight were last seen at a couple of small independent festivals this summer.
Genius Move: Rage Against The Machine (2008)
2008 is my all time favourite Reading Festival. 2003 wasn’t too shabby but 2008 just pipped it. One of the principle reasons for 2008 being so magnificent was the return of Rage Against the Machine. The anticipation was immense. Rumours had been going around since the band’s reformation for 2007 Coachella Festival that a Reading return was on the cards but just having it come to fruition was too much to believe. Since then RATM have played their own freebie show in Finsbury Park and Download Festival but back in 2008 it could have been one time only and for that reason it was the greatest booking of them all.
Bad Booking: 50 Cent sub-headlining 2004
To say hip-hop has no place at the Reading Weekend is just wrong. Run DMC, Jurassic 5, Cypress Hill & Reading favourite Dizzee Rascal have all shown that when selected well some hip-hop can go down a storm, so why oh why was Fiddy invited in 2004 and why did his G-Unit bomb so badly?
Going on between Placebo and Green Day certainly didn’t help but the boastful and brazen 50 Cent was just never gonna fly, period. Once Placebo finished the hunt for bottles began and by the time the rapper and his crew took to the stage the real “massacre” began as a barrage of bottles hit the stage. The man who survived being shot multiple times survived about 20 minutes in front of the Reading crowd before a paddling pool was the final straw and he upped and left. If Reading fans can accomplish anything it’s showing organisers when they’re not entirely satisfied… with bottles.
Genius Move: The Pixies/Kasabian in 2005
This was just a perfect example of how to balance a festival, putting great acts on both stages and ensuring everyone in attendance was catered for. New vs. Old, Alt vs. Indie, it didn’t matter it was all about pleasing the most people possible. Pengelly would repeat the trick in 2010, but this was the prime example of classy curator at work. As I said in my top ten:
“Rather than leaving The Pixies with a crowd of disinterested fans, FR had placed Kasabian on the NME Stage. The indie fans drifted off to have a great crowd-pleasing evening in a packed tent, and the Pixies got a loving crowd who Frank and Kim could joke around with. There was lovely calm atmosphere, everyone was having fun – it’s wasn’t indie vs. alt, fans of both sounds enjoyed music together with plenty of crossover. The Pixies delivered one of the great Reading sets, and Kasabain enjoyed a star making jump start.”
Bad Booking: Guns ‘N Roses
This was a tough call as Melvin turned out to be the real spoiler on this occasion, and I did really enjoy the band’s set for what it was. However, as a booker you have a responsibility to ensure that your fans are not let down and that they aren’t left waiting in the cold missing acts (LCD Soundsystem, Alkaline Trio, Marina And The Diamonds) that they might have otherwise enjoyed. If you say a band’s going to be onstage at a certain time make sure they are, give updates, do everything you can to keep the fans informed. It’s one thing to say “you know what your getting with Guns and Roses” but not everyone does. People take a promoter at their word and thousands of people turned up on time in good. Worse still, if your going to book a flakey band, and let them be flakey, let them finish the set. You can’t have it both ways, if the fans were supposed to know what they were getting, then so were you. Let them overrun or don’t book them at all.
Genius Move: Having Arcade Fire Follow The Libertines
Thank you Neil for allowing Arcade Fire to headline, most other bookers would have welcomed back The Libertines by ensuring that the band headlined. I personally believe allowing The Libertines to sub allowed for one of the greatest sets of Reading history to happen. By the time The Libertines had finished showing other indie bands what they are lacking (chemistry FYI) the crowd massively disappeared, with many walking away with fumbling words of ‘who are they? Like many folks were after Arcade Fire had won Brit Awards and Grammys. Who are Arcade Fire? The band that many bookers would never have booked to headline such big festival. Ask anyone in that crowd, Arcade Fire were the IT, they made history that I can’t put it into words, magical, unreal, breathing almost.
Bad Booking: Daphne And Celeste
As much as I like many others enjoyed the hilarious yet somewhat disturbing video footage of the ‘100% manufactured’ pop duo gracing the main stage, I do find myself wondering how the pits end did these two social retards (excuse my language) managed to be booked at Reading and Leeds back in 2000? With bumble – vomit pop songs of ‘Ooh Stick You!’ and ‘U.G.L.Y’ the girls managed to still barrage a smile while being hammered with anything and everything. After interviews with the duo confirmed they were indeed crazy saying that they loved it and would come back, but only if Eminem was playing (he cancelled that year, the duo tried to also, byt failed, Go Neil) Eminem did, but they girls did not.
Thank you Neil, year in, year out people will always hate your choice of bands, but at the end of the day, who else was going to book Daphne & Celeste? Not even V Festival did that.
Genius Move: Risking It With Arcade Fire
I hate to think that a band I love so much were seen as a risk, but that is exactly what they were when Arcade Fire were announced to headline in 2010. Their name was met almost simultaneously with a ‘who?’ from the choruses of the uninitiated, but that didn’t stop Arcade Fire putting on not just the best show of the day, nor the weekend, but by quite a stretch, the best performance I’ve ever seen. It was a risk that paid off, and although the crowd was fairly small, the intimacy made it that much better; the whole crowd holding onto every moment, whilst the neon paint and glow sticks made their way to Pendulum. Speaking of which, the other bands on that day are a testament to the genius booking. From Pendulum opposite on the NME, to the undercard including the likes of The Libertines’ comeback and left-field indie choice Modest Mouse, the whole day felt perfect.
One of my favourite bookings ever is also my worst, and that is the undercard for The Cure this year. With such a critically acclaimed band, there was a whole host of acts that would suit playing beneath them, including New Order, who were doing the rounds; Smashing Pumpkins, who’d just released a new album; and Pixies, another hugely acclaimed band with Reading history. Right there are three bands that would suit a sub-headlining slot a whole lot more than Paramore. I don’t really know what was going on when booking the undercard, maybe they thought The Cure influenced band’s meant thinking of any other acts that might wear eyeliner. It was a huge opportunity to get some new and exciting bands, as well as old legends, but was instead wasted on exactly what you’d expect from a My Chemical Romance or Blink-182 undercard.