This Is What It Takes To Organise The Reading Festival

Reading Festival is ready to rock for another year. We speak to Neil Pengelly who books all the bands and run through five of the weirdest moments of the festival...
Publish date:
Updated on


Neil Pengelly interviewed

How does the band booking process work - are certain bands cheaper when they want promotion and is there any conflict with labels not wanting to be on the bill with others?

Start at the top with the headliners and work down the bill. Occasionally some bands won’t want to be on the same bill as others but that’s very rare and usually for good reasons.

When does the hard work for you start and end? Do you dream about bands calling you up at the last minute and pulling out?

It’s a constant process so we’re already talking to headliners for 2013. Work for this year started back in July last year and will finish with a few beers at the Silent Disco on Sunday night

Which 5 bands should people see at the festival in 2012?

Aside from the obvious ones like The Cure, The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, there’s five from the other stages that I’m really looking forward to…Grimes on the Dance stage, Savages and Fidlar on the Festival Republic stage. Mongol Horde and The Skints on the Lock Up stage flying the flag for UK Punk, Ska and Hardcore…but you know, there’s always something that you stumble across that surprises you so just see as much as you can.

It’s a constant process so we’re already talking to headliners for 2013

A double site festival always seems like a logistical nightmare - is it?

It’s essentially two festivals and the bands get pretty used to going between the two now. We asked for an Olympic-Lane style lane on the M1 so bands could race between sites unimpeded…but they said no.

If Coachella is glamour, what single word describes Reading/Leeds?


What can't you live without when the site opens?

Marlboro Reds, 3 lighters and a running order

There's been quite a few key moments in the history of Reading/Leeds - what's your favourite memory and why?

Probably the Foo Fighters infamous second stage tent set…the intensity of the crowd, the way the band stormed through the set, the whole thing…I was really happy when it was over though. And Radiohead a couple of years ago was very special.

Do Twitter and Spotify make it easier to spot which bands are going to work?

I suppose Spotify makes it easier for people to listen to newer bands in advance so hopefully they look at line ups and check out things they might not have done otherwise and then go and see them.

The 5 Weirdest Moments In Reading Festival History 

1. Kurt Cobain arrives in a wheelchair, 1992

The drug rumours and general obsession with Kurt as an alternative music poster boy for a bored America had reached fever pitch in 1992. Wearing a wig, surgical gown and entering the stage in a wheelchair, he launched into Bleed with a friend dancing across the stage like an electric Bez. The gig was later released on DVD and remains the most famous of all UK Nirvana performances. Two years later, Neil Young tried to meet Kurt just days before his death - “I tried to connect with him. It’s just too bad I didn’t get a shot, I had an impulse to connect” Young told the Guardian.

2. The Beastie Boys take aim at The Prodigy, 1998

“They didn’t want us to play this fuckin’ tune” says Maxim of The Prodigy in reaction to comments made by Ad Rock who said “from where I’m from, it ain’t cool”. The song? Smack My Bitch Up. “I do what the fuck I want, understand?” finished Maxim before launching into the song. Weirdly, the whole incident has a lot in common with Ben Folds Five voicing similar concerns with the Dr Dre song Bitches Ain’t Shit and choosing to cover it years later. We’re now waiting for Keane to take on Kano.

3. 50 Cent exits stage after 15 minutes, 2004

The hordes of festival stall merchandise pitching Curtis Jackson and G Unit as gangster cowboys on a mission to party, drink and (pretend to) shoot people didn’t go down well with the Reading crowd. Jay Z and Eminem had proved that hip-hop went down a storm at the festival in previous years, but the image that appeared on stage didn’t fly with attendees who hurled bottles of piss, beer and even a camping chair at ‘Fiddy’ from the start. The projectile assault didn’t cease (it was worse than similar attacks on Good Charlotte, Angels and Airways and Panic! At The Disco) and the whole show stopped after members of the group dropped the gangster facade and, embarrassingly, begged to be friends. 50 Cent went on to sell his own brand of bottled mineral water and, recently, promoted his new headphone range in Birmingham to a silent crowd.

Attendees hurled bottles of piss, beer and even a camping chair at ‘Fiddy’ from the start

4. Daphne and Celeste get bottled, ride it out, 2000

Wearing a ‘Who The Fuck is Eminem’ tee while laughing and pointing at the bottles and bog roll flying in their direction, you have to question the logic behind their appearance. It’s as confusing as putting One Direction on the bill at Download but as a joke it works and, amazingly, both members remained on stage.

5. Jack Osbourne brings a giant trailer backstage, 2003

In the year that saw Good Charlotte and Sum 41 arrive with Paris Hilton in tow, Jack Osbourne sat in a giant guarded trailer while Paris Hilton walked around backstage in a bikini and asked me how long it would take to reach her next shoot in Japan, departing from Reading, believing the journey to be around four hours.

If you like this, you should check these out...

Snoop Lion Gig Review: You Can Teach An Old Dogg New Tricks

Joe Strummer At 60: 10 Of The Best From The Voice Of A Generation

Bloc Party-Four Review: Experimentation Without Alienation

Click here for more articles about Music in Sabotage Times

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook