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Melvin Benn: 'I was right to ban flags at Reading And Leeds Festivals'

Festival chief gives NME.COM his verdict on this year's event

Aeiral View of Reading 2009 Pic: Andy Willsher
Reading And Leeds Festivals boss Melvin Benn has told NME.COM that he was right to ban flags at this year's event.

The festival chief caused some controversy stopping banners from being brought on site, but Benn has said fans have backed his decision.

"The trouble with flags is gone are the days where it was a little Welsh contingent or a Scottish contingent coming with their national flag," he explained. "What I find now is it's corporate sponsors stood outside with huge flags with their brand on it and they're giving them away. People are coming in with them and they're blocking a lot of people's views and frankly I was sick of it.

"All these corporate brands are coming in and spoiling this festival and I'm not going to have it any more. The feedback I've had from the fans has been very positive, they've really appreciated it."

Meanwhile, Benn hailed this year's festival, believing changes to the Reading site – including moving the NME/Radio 1 Stage – and the music performances at both venues were a success.

"My verdict is that it feels like a massive success. A lot of the things that we've changed appear to be working positively – the new position of the NME/Radio 1 Stage at the bottom end of the site has been phenomenal," he declared. "We've had some amazing performances down there, not least Them Crooked Vultures. Dave Grohl, how does he do it? He completely defines how a drummer should be.

"The Prodigy were insane, Radiohead were mesmerising, it blew me away. They put on a performance that reminds everyone why they are the best around. Arctic Monkeys were unbelievable, and Florence And The Machine in the tent? Gee, that was amazing. Overall, I'm delighted. There's been a lot of positive feedback."

Benn admitted he had had complaints that the sound on the Reading Main Stage was too quiet, and explained that adverse weather conditions were to blame.

"To be fair, the sound has been massively better. Last year we were having to run so low that it wasn't possible, that hasn't been the case this year. Generally, we've been running between 101 and 103 decibels, sometimes 107, amazing," he explained. "The only issue has been there have been massive gusts of winds which can pick up the sound and throw it away. That's not a sound issue per se. Some people will have noticed on Friday we had to drop the screens on the Main Stage because of the wind. The sound has been pretty remarkable, the gusts of winds have been difficult. It’s generally a British summer issue."

Looking ahead to next year, Benn explained that plans to increase the capacity of the southern site were advancing well.

"I just met with the council this morning (August 30) and they're talking very enthusiastically about the increase again next year. Plans are very much underway," he said. "You won't notice a difference on site. The changes this year are the permanent changes. The big change at Leeds has been the traffic and that's been a massive success. No real changes at all to make."

Get next week's issue of NME, out Wednesday (September 2), featuring the ultimate Reading And Leeds Festivals review, to find out what Benn had to say on next year's headliners.

NME.COM will be coming live from both the Reading And Leeds Festivals sites this weekend (August 28-30). Stay tuned to NME.COM/festivals for news reports, blogs, video interviews and photos from the event.

Plus have your say on this summer - fill in the annual NME Festival survey now to cast your verdict on 2009, and tell festival chiefs who you want to see next year.

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