As fans arrive to pitch-up at the Thames side site to enjoy a weekend of one of the last major rock festivals of the summer, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on my own personal odyssey with the National Jazz, Blues and Rock Festival held at Richfield Avenue which was then organised by the Marquee Club management team.
It all started when I commenced college in the autumn of 1974 and found a kinship with a Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Small Faces obsessive Dean. The talk throughout the year was about the next Reading festival and a group of us made a pact to go. Of course only Dean and myself made it for the August Bank Holiday event of 1975 and hooking up with an older group from Newport who we had frequented with at gigs and parties throughout the year was a good move as they had an excellent supply line to recreational drugs. My elder sister, Alison was there – already a veteran of some of the more notorious festivals of the early seventies including Bath, Bickershaw and Lincoln. It was very much an ‘Almost Famous’ moment with Alison passing on the family festival baton to her younger sibling. I’m also proud to report that it is now generational as I waved off my seventeen year old daughter as she journeyed to the Green Man Festival last week.
So back to 1975. The site was completely different then with just two stages – alternating between the billed acts to enhance quick turnarounds. Facing the crowd the stages were adjacent to each other and fans had to get in the right half to ensure they got a good view of the band they wanted to see. The format remained like this for the four consecutive years I went. The first Friday afternoon was spent mostly in the inaptly named ‘Moderation’ public house and the bands were pretty uneventful until the headlining sets of Hawkind (complete with the naked dancer Stacia and bassist Lemmy) and the magnificent Dr Feelgood. I’d never seen anything like it with Wilco scootering around stage like a man possessed and the foot stomping harp blowing Lee Brilleaux blasting through the superb ‘Down by the Jetty’ and ‘Coming Back Home’ with a sinister menace.
Overall though it was a pretty strong line up with Thin Lizzy in a Saturday mid-afternoon slot alongside more innovative bands like the Kursaal Flyers and Gary Holton’s Heavy Metal Kids who weren’t heavy metal at all. Saturday’s headliners of Yes and Supertramp were a great antidote to the fire and brimstone of the previous evening. Lou Reed didn’t turn up but Soft Machine and Alberto Y Lost Paranois brightened up Sunday with the dual guitars of Wishbone Ash closing the Festival. As you can imagine for a first timer the whole weekend set my pulse racing and great memories of denim, Watney’s Party Sevens and Stacia’s tits. Let it roll!
The long hot summer of ’76 came to an abrupt end on the Saturday of the Reading festival as rain poured down on the sets of headliners Rory Gallagher and Camel. The Marquee club bought the battle between AC/DC and Eddie & the Hot Rods to the riverside as each band through out the summer had consistently smashed the Wardour Street club attendance record – but the mid afternoon sets hardly did them justice. Friday’s line-up was handed over to Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin label with reggae acts the Mighty Diamonds and U-Roy unfortunately receiving a mixed reaction with lots of beer cans raining on them. It was a disrespectful and shitty response to two of Jamaica’s legends. Gong were the unlikely headliners and their inaccessible hippie drone was a pretty strange note to end the first day proceedings. Apart from the reliable Gallagher the supporting acts on Saturday were disappointing and only an excellent set by A Band Called ‘O’ livened up the Sunday afternoon before Ted Nugent and Black Oak Arkansas blew the cobwebs away with ear splitting velocity.
The summer of punk was hardly reflected in the 1977 line-up, with the organisers paying lip service to the new phenomenon. Eddie and the Hot Rods were sandwiched between the appalling Uriah Heep and Holland’s one-hit wonder Golden Earring on the Friday and the Rods were almost as good as the Feelgood’s were a couple of years previously. Ultravox! played on the Saturday afternoon and Wayne County and the Electric Chairs were canned off on the Sunday. Saturday headliners Thin Lizzy were at the top of their game with Graham Parker and the Rumour proving admirable support. The rain was incessant throughout and the mud horrendous. Plus the fact my normally reliable mini-van packed up about twenty miles from the site, we ended up leaving it there for the weekend. Meanwhile I lost the keys in the mud and had to rely on a tow to Stratford on the way home before having to beg my Dad to take me back on the final stretch to Telford. By then I had sent my colleague Mick home. It was a miserable weekend and I vowed never to return.
But how could I resist? Squeezed into the back of Nigel Parker’s four seater MG five of us from the Plough Inn were soon speeding down the A40 in 1978. It was all about the Friday line-up where the new wave sons had made their mark properly. Arriving in the arena it was clear there was a tense atmosphere with plenty of nasty looking skins floating around and making their presence felt by intimidating fans of power pop punksters Radio Stars. Penetration were next up with Pauline Murray dedicating a venomous ‘Don’t Dictate’ at the agitators. So onto Sham 69. Smoke bombs, sporadic fighting and ultimately a stage invasion dominated their forty minute set. In between Jimmy Pursey’s tears some music actually broke out. By the time the headliners the Jam came on some semblance of order had been restored and lucky me found the sanctuary of pretty young modette to spend the rest of the evening with. Oh, and the Jam were brilliant!
We skipped Saturday totally never really getting out of the pub but Sunday finished well with Tom Robinson and the brilliant Patti Smith closing the event with the perfect ‘Because the Night’ resonating through the black sky. It was a positive note to end on. I never did go back. Really.
Sham 69 ‘Borstal Breakout’ Live at Reading has been added to our ever expanding video page here