The Reading Festival 23rd – 25th August 1974

The Reading Festival 23rd – 25th August 1974
readingprog74This was my third visit to the Reading Festival; I felt I was a seasoned festival goer 🙂 . By now a large crew of local people were going to the festival, so there were lots of mates there, and we spent much of the weekend in the pubs in town, and down near the Caversham Bridge; particularly The Griffin. We would nip back to the festival site to catch the bands we wanted to see. The line-up in 1974 wasn’t particularly strong in comparison to the previous couple of years, and quite a few bands who had been advertised didn’t show (notably Eric Burdon, Ronnie Lane and Blodwyn Pig, all of whom I was looking forward to seeing). The Friday line-up was : Nutz, Johnny Mars, Hustler, Beckett, Camel, 10c, Fumble, Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
The first night of the festival saw the triumphant headlining return of the Alex Harvey band, who lived up to their name and were truly sensational. SAHB had appeared low down on the bill the previous year; there will have been many in the crowd who saw that performance, and knew how good they were. Johnny Mars and his Sunflower Blues Band gigged a lot in the early 70s; they played traditional blues; I remember seeing them at Sunderland Poly a few times; pretty good too. Fumble were a rock’roll revival band who also gigged a lot. Beckett were local North East heroes, featuring singer Terry Slesser. The SAHB setlist was something like this: Faith Healer; Midnight Moses; Can’t Get Enough; Give My Regards To Sergeant Fury; The Return of Vambo; The Man in the Jar; Money Honey; The Impossible Dream; Schools Out; Framed.
readingtrafficSaturday line-up: Jack the Lad, G T Moore and the Reggae Guitars, Trapeze, Sutherland Brothers, JSD Band, Procol Harum, Thin Lizzy, Long John Baldry, Heavy Metal Kids, Greenslade, Georgie Fame, Traffic.
Two bands stick in my mind from Saturday: Thin Lizzy who were excellent, and about to break through a year or so later, and Traffic. This was the classic Lizzy line-up featuring front-man Phil Lynott, the twin guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, and Brian Downey on drums; at the time of the Nightlife album; they were at the top of their game. Traffic were excellent. They had just released their album When the Eagle Flies, and their set at Reading featured a few songs from that album, plus some old classics. The line-up at the time was Steve Winwood (guitar, vocals, keyboards); Chris Wood (flute, sax); Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals); Rosko Gee (bass); Rebop (percussion). Stand-outs were Steve singing John Barleycorn, simple and beautiful with acoustic guitar, and Rebop’s congas and percussion throughout. I found a published setlist for Traffic, which shows they played: Empty Pages; Graveyard People; Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring; John Barleycorn; 40,000 Headmen; Love; When the Eagle Flies; Walking in the Wind; Dream Gerrard. I also have it in my mind that they performed Feelin’ Alright, but maybe that’s my memory playing tricks again. Also worthy of mention are Procol Harum (great version of Whiter Shade of Pale and a big success during the late afternoon), the late great Long John Baldry (excellent voice and a hero of mine), Heavy Metal Kids (the late Gary Holton as crazy and manic as ever), and Georgie Fame who seemed a bit out of place as part of the Saturday night line-up, but carried on the jazz and R’n’B tradition of the festival and went down pretty well.
readingtixSunday Line-up: Gary Farr, Chilli Willi and the Red Hod Peppers, Esparanto, Strider, Barclay James Harvest, Chapman & Whitney Streetwalkers, Kevin Coyne, George Melly, Winkies, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Harvey Andrews, Focus.
My main memories of the final day are of Steve Harley. Cockney Rebel had split a few months before the festival, and this one of Steve’s first appearances with his new band. They stole the show; appearing just as it was getting dark; the audience was with Steve from the start, and the performance was a triumph. Tumbling Down closed the set with a mass crowd singalong of “Oh dear, look what they’ve done to the blues, blues, blues”. It was clear that Steve was back, as cocky as ever; 1975 would bring him massive success with Make Me Smile.
I also remember watching Kevin Coyne (Marjory Razorblade), George Melly (a return after his success the previous year) and Focus who closed the show, and were also great, but seemed a little of anti-climax after Steve Harley’s performance.
DJs for the weekend were John Peel and Jerry Floyd. Oh and there were lots of cheers of “Wally”, “John Peels a c**t” (not sure how that one started), and a revolt at the prices of food in the arena, which resulted in a fish and chip van being trashed. Crazy, happy days.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dawn on February 18, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    What a great line up.


  2. Posted by Tommy stead on April 23, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Anyone got any pics of Johnny Mars? Thank you…


  3. Posted by Nigel tanner on May 15, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    Strange how we all see things differently. I was at the concert and thought Cockney Rebel were average at best. I remember others around me being disappointed by their performance.


  4. Posted by Steve on November 19, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    I too was there, remember really feeling for Harvey Andrews a great talent, but folk were restless waiting for Focus and did’nt give him a very good reception.


  5. Posted by Steven smith on December 6, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    Sahb brilliant saw them before on their breakthrough tour at Cromer Links Pavillion.if i e
    Remember right there wae a pipe band on stage as well.still a fan he is much missed by me and my brother


  6. Posted by Bob tozer on February 22, 2021 at 10:00 am

    My first festival drank way to much but loads of memories,Alex Harvey , 10cc and cockney rebel blew me away ,now a Glastonbury boy saw Jonny mars set 2 year ago


  7. Posted by Tony shortland on July 12, 2021 at 10:54 am

    I was there in 74 the only concert I ever went to remember sensational Alex Harvey on Friday night, was starving and thirsty the whole w/e had no money, camped out, with a rat mate, we went down from RAF Brize norton. I felt very odd with my short haircut among the hippys but I couldn’t understand what George Nellie was doing there, he seemed at odds with the rest of the lineup. I was 18 then now 65 but still remember Reading with fond memories. Should have taken some food at


    • Posted by vintagerock on July 12, 2021 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Tony many thanks for your memories. George Melly represented the jazz part of festival, still remaining from its original roots as a jazz and blues Festival. I actually thought he was quite cool and fun! Alex Harvey was, as always, amazing! Happy days Peter


      • Posted by Steve Clark on July 12, 2021 at 3:42 pm

        Trying to remember, was that the year that Harvey Andrews came on as the act before Focus, ? He got booed a bit I remember as everyone was fired up for Focus..felt sorry for him as he is a lovely folk singer. I went several times and it might have been the year before though.

      • Posted by vintagerock on July 12, 2021 at 4:50 pm

        Hi Steve I am afraid I don’t recall but I do remember Harvey Andrews. I saw him quite a few times and he was really good. I seem to recall that Focus were a massive success at one of the festivals, either 1972 or 1973? Happy days Peter

    • Posted by Steve Clark on July 12, 2021 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Tony, I was there then, 20 years old and one of them longhaired hippies, fantastic weekend, I too had little money but got fed in the Hari Khrishna tent I remember!


      • Posted by vintagerock on July 12, 2021 at 4:53 pm

        Hi Steve and Tony happy days. It takes me back. I too would go to the Hare Krishna tent and get some food. I seem to remember some awful brown rice. When did the time go? Peter

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