Reading + Leeds: the 12 most startling moments in the history of the festival

Reading + Leeds is a festival with a complicated history, far longer and rowdier than that of Glastonbury. It's always been known as the fans' festival, a place where the bands are all that really matter and musical affiliation is taken very seriously.

In fact, the various incarnations of the festival have been the site of pitched battles between fans of rival genres; performers have had to take their pride, future careers and personal safety into their hands before mounting the stage. At the same time, it's a festival where lives have been entirely altered thanks to the transformative powers of music. Here are just a dozen remarkable examples of Reading + Leeds uproar...

1. The Battle of Beaulieu, 1960

[LISTEN] Brian Matthew and Acker Bilk on Saturday Club

Listening to Acker Bilk chatting to Brian Matthew here, it's hard to imagine him inciting a riot, but that's what happened in one of Reading's earliest incarnations: the 1960 Beaulieu Jazz Festival. Fans climbed the lighting gantry causing the scaffolding to collapse, and scuffles broke out between rival gangs - one side supporting the purity of Bilk's traditional New Orleans jazz, the other preferring the brash insurrections of bebop. A BBC broadcast had to be abandoned (the reporter telling viewers that "things are getting quite out of hand") and a building was set on fire. In total, 39 people were injured, three requiring hospital assistance.

2. Daphne and Celeste get bottled, 2000

Reading 2000 will always be remembered as the year brash pop munchkins Daphne and Celeste shared a stage with Rage Against the Machine and Slipknot. Their appearance was notable chiefly for the sheer amount of bottles, cans, soil and food that festival goers threw onstage during their two-song set - and the fact that the duo kept smiling defiantly through it.

Daphne and Celeste are certainly not the only act to feel the wrath of the Reading crowd. Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco collapsed onstage after being hit by a plastic bottle in 2006, and other acts who have been bottled off the stage include Steel Pulse in 1983, Meat Loaf in 1988, Good Charlotte in 2003, 50 Cent (and The Rasmus) in 2004. And it's not all one-way traffic either. Donita Sparks of L7 threw her used tampon into the audience at the 1992 festival.

3. Kevin Rowland wears a dress, 1999

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 6 Music - Kevin Rowland talks to Tom Robinson

In 1999, Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners (now Dexys) made his first public appearances in nearly a decade. His album My Beauty was a set of considered cover versions that addressed a period of mental illness in his life. This was almost entirely overshadowed by the sleeve, which portrayed him in a black dress, with the hem lifted to reveal his knickers. He followed this with a similarly pant-revealing performance in a white dress and pearls at that year's Reading. This did not go down well with the audience, and bottles were thrown. Looking back on the performance recently with Tom Robinson, Rowland said: "On the third song, I actually stopped and said 'look I'm singing to the best of my ability here. If anyone next to you is throwing a bottle, please stop them." And half the audience applauded... Then we went off and it felt like a triumph!"

4. Kurt Cobain's wheelchair stunt, 1992

[Guidance: contains flashing images]

No band has exploited the gulf between an audience's expectations and reality quite like Nirvana in 1992. They had become the biggest band in the world in less than a year, but Kurt Cobain was clearly struggling to reconcile this with his punk rock roots. There were rumours that he might not even show up to his Reading headline slot. But show up he did. Being a playful sort, he took to the stage in a long blond wig, a hospital gown and a wheelchair, as if the pressure had finally got to him. Then he leapt up to blast through one of the band's best-loved sets, including an affectionate nod to Boston's More Than a Feeling just before Smells Like Teen Spirit.

5. The Stone Roses fall flat, 1996

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 6 Music - 1995 Stone Roses interview

On the other hand, too much self-confidence can be a dangerous thing. To listen to this 1995 interview with The Stone Roses, giddy on the release of their comeback album The Second Coming, you'd think they were capable of anything. And yet within a year Reni had quit, followed some months later by John Squire. This left Ian Brown and Mani to fulfil the band's live commitments, including a headline slot at the 1996 Reading Festival. It was not a good night for the band: Brown's voice struggled to remain in tune, the band seemed to be playing by rote, and fans were left disappointed at their lacklustre performance. They split up shortly afterwards.

6. The Prodigy vs. The Beastie Boys, 1998

[LISTEN] A snippet from Steve Lamacq's interview with The Prodigy's Liam Howlett

"We just feel it's our job to always write the rebel soundtrack," says The Prodigy's Liam Howlett in this recent interview with Steve Lamacq for 6 Music, so you can imagine the response within the group when Beastie Boys approached them in 1998 to ask if they'd mind not playing Smack My Bitch Up, due to its potential to cause offence. Spotting a chance to prove Liam's point, Maxim Reality told the crowd: "Last night we received a call from one of the Beastie Boys. They didn't want us to play this f***ing tune. And the way things go, I do what the f*** I want, you understand?" before launching into the song.

7. Arctic Monkeys blow up, 2005

[WATCH] The rise of the Arctic Monkeys

The most exciting time for any band is when the word has just got out that they are brilliant, and everyone rushes to see what all the fuss is about. That's exactly what happened to Arctic Monkeys at Leeds in 2005. At the time they had only released one limited edition single, but eager listeners were already word-perfect with all their best songs thanks to their superb Beneath The Boardwalk bootleg that was being passed around on MySpace. Consequently when they took to the New Bands stage, a crowd of Nirvana-sized proportions gathered to see if they were really as good as those recordings suggested. Most of them duly came away convinced they'd seen the future.

8. Guns N' Roses leave it late, 2010

Guns N' Roses are renowned for rocking hard and loud, but they also have a reputation for tardiness. At Reading 2010 they were an hour late for the headline slot, and this meant they ran over their allotted time by 30 minutes, forcing the promoters to pull the plug while the band were still on stage. They then refused to leave until the power came back on, which it didn't. Festival boss Melvin Benn summed up the situation rather well, telling NME: "It is certainly an option for them to go on late... There isn't an option for them to carry on late, though."

9. Biffy Clyro are pretty in pink, 2010

Sometimes it's all about being in the right place, at the right time, in the right pair of pink trousers. Biffy Clyro's 2010 Reading + Leeds set was their step up to the big leagues and a celebration for the fans who'd carried them there. Simon Neil elected to celebrate the moment by dying his hair and beard blond and popping on those vibrant strides, looking like an alt-rock Santa as he led the crowd in an emotional mass singalong to Many of Horror. No bottles were thrown his way, which is strange because he'd have made a really easy target.

10. Royal Blood take the throne, 2014

After years being subjected to the tired ‘is guitar music dead?’ debate, a few days in August 2014 made the discussion futile. Whether they knew it or not, Brighton duo Royal Blood’s debut album was about to become the fastest-selling rock debut in three years. The day before their chart heroics became crystal-clear, they performed one of those NME/Radio 1 Stage sets, the kind where if you don’t turn up one hour in advance, you’ll be stood a hundred feet from the stage. It was testament to Reading’s uncanny ability to capture a moment, a snapshot of a band on the brink of blowing up.

11. Paramore see off every challenge, 2014

Topping the bill at Reading + Leeds doesn’t come easy. Not least when you have to share headline rights, and when the sound cuts off for a sizable chunk of your set. These challenges were posed to Paramore, emo heroes who had to wait years to get their first stab at the top, finally getting their moment as co-headliners with Queens of the Stone Age in 2014. After an opening section where everything went swimmingly, the band’s PA abruptly cut out. Sound issues continued, to the point where festival boss Melvin Benn joined the band on stage to show his support. Somehow, frontwoman Hayley Williams couldn’t have looked less phased. With nothing plugged in and every piece of tech seemingly failing them, they perched on the front of the stage with an acoustic guitar and performed The Only Exception a capella. Midway through, speakers kicked back into gear, and the group surged ahead with the rest of the set. Reading isn’t for the thin-skinned, and it often likes to test out a band’s character. On this occasion, Paramore passed with flying colours.

12. Boy Better Know help grime explode, 2016

In 2015, Boy Better Know delivered a sign of things to come. While the mangled-together, newly-reformed headliners The Libertines performed to a thinning Main Stage crowd, this grime crew commanded a Radio 1 Dance Stage spilling out from all sides. If Festival Republic bosses were watching, this was all the evidence needed that grime deserved a big-time slot. One year on, JME and Skepta played to one of the Main Stage’s biggest, sun-soaked crowds, the former performing the feat while munching on a bunch of grapes. Talk about multitasking. Flares, blinding visuals and a guest appearance from Lethal Bizzle made this one of grime’s crowning moments, just weeks before Skepta picked up the Mercury Prize.

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