This week’s Top 10 is dedicated to Neil Pengelly Reading head honcho and star maker since 1994. Today we celebrate ten brilliant moments (among many) where Neil and Reading got it 100% right. I’m sure Melvin Benn and others will have had a part to play, but Neil has been the man with the plan for biggest expansion in the festival’s history – and we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
10. Strokesmania arrives at Reading (2002)
In 2002 Reading took a huge risk. The Strokes took off in 2001, rejuvenating the indie scene, and in a prescient move that reflected the slowly changing nature of the festival The Strokes were shot right to the top of the line up. The message was loud and clear: Reading is a festival of the moment, it will never live in the past, and if your hot right now then Reading will take the risks other festivals won’t.
Julian had an injured leg and The Strokes weren’t at their best, but they were perfect for the moment. Pulp subheadlined magnificently ensuring everyone had a good time, as the keys to the indie theifdom were handed over to a new generation. In 2011 The Strokes and Pulp would recreate their epic double header taking turns to headline Reading (The Strokes) and Leeds (Pulp) – recalling one of Reading’s great risks that really paid off.
9. The On Coming Storm: Radiohead, Pulp & The Manic Street Preachers (1994)
Neil Pengelly’s first Reading was a tricky one, and he took risks. Cyprus Hill headlined capturing the stoner-rap cross over moment, but the real fireworks were lower down the line up as three bands on the cusp of greatness played back-to-back-to-back.
Pulp were on the brink, His And Hers was a huge success but they hadn’t made it yet, Different Class was a year away, but that didn’t phase the organizers. Pulp stood smack in the middle of the line up, they might have seemed like a decent indie band with a fair few hits, but they were ready for the big time. Radiohead on the otherhand were being ridiculed. One hit wonders, alternative scenester, you know the story – thankfully FR knew what they were doing, giving the band a bigger break than “Creep” alone warranted. Finally there was the Manics, positioned below Ice Cube. What a three-band run. The Manics had early success with Generation Terrorists but their commercial potential remained untapped. Instead, Reading recognized their artistic brilliance, rewarding the band who were set to release the uncompromisingly macabre The Holy Bible. All three bands went on to headline Reading, and hundreds of other festivals.
8. Capturing The Moment: Eminem + Marilyn Manson (2001)
Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and take a risk. In 2001 Neil Pengelly brought the two most controversial names in rock to Reading Festival. Marilyn Manson was more than welcome at Reading, but bringing in Eminem to Reading was a stroke of genius. The rapper ensured huge media attention (and scrutiny) and helped the festival show that it would go after the biggest headlines be they rock or rap. Whether Eminem was actually any good is almost besides the point, he was the man of the moment and together with Marilyn Manson they’d become America’s public enemy no.1. As such they helped Reading reassert its bad boy persona after Brit Pop had dampened Reading’s edge, and god knows the festival needed some bite – Travis headlined the Friday!
7. The Super Subs: Reading 2007
It all went pear shaped at Reading 2007. The headliners bombed, for varying reasons. Razorlight were destined to flop. No one wanted them to headline and the crowd were happy to let them know it, chanting vociferously throughout the day. The Chillis had no problem drawing a crowd, they just slowly lost them with a set that started with a mishap (Antony kicking out Flea’s lead) and never gained any moment – it was a really one step forward one step back affair. The Smashing Pumpkins weren’t bad by any means, but the crowd knew little of their old material and the band struggled with awkward new tracks (“United States”).
Thankfully, Neil had lined up a stunning array of subs. Kings Of Leon were riding high. They still rocked hard, and they battered Razorlight with big ballads, mosh friend anthems, and a humbled stage presence devoid of pretention. Arcade Fire were just brilliant. We all know how good they are live, and 2007 came as a genuine shock to most in attendance. It took a while for them to win over the audience, but by the time “Wake Up” and “Power Out” rolled around they had crowd enraptured. Finally, Nine Inch Nails were simply terrifyingly beautiful. The night was cool, the crowd was small, but the atmosphere was incredible. Every track, whether it was screaming rage or silent torture sounded haunting. Then the lights went down, an electronic rain fell, and Trent sung “Hurt”. C’est Magnifique.
6. Securing The Foo Fighters (1995)
No big backstory to this one. Reading wanted them, and Reading got them. Back in 1995 everyone wanted to know what Dave Grohl’s first Nirvana record would sound like, and everyone and their mother wanted to see them live. Reading delivered, they headlined a dangerously packed NME tent, and by all reports they smashed it. To some it might seem like an obvious booking, but having them headline (a wise move in hindsight considering demand) and actually getting the deal done is testament to a good festival. A great line up doesn’t leave gaping holes, you shouldn’t miss hot bands that are obviously excluded, and in 1995 Reading gave the people what they wanted.