This year’s Reading And Leeds Festivals are almost here, with Metallica, Mumford & Sons and The Libertines all preparing to headline at Richfield Avenue and Bramham Park across the bank holiday weekend (August 28-30). Will Metallica top the fiery theatrics of their Glastonbury performance last year? Is Mumfords’ headline booking the most controversial of the summer? And is the festival really set for travel chaos, as some fear? We spoke to festival organiser Melvin Benn – who also dropped a big hint about a massive UK band set to play a secret set…
How much are you looking forward to this year’s festival? What are you most excited about?
“It feels good. Right now, the production team are insanely scratching their heads and trying to work out what will be the biggest turnover and biggest turn around and biggest festival production we have ever seen between Mumford & Sons and Metallica on the Friday and Saturday at Reading and the Saturday and Sunday at Leeds. It is insane. Absolutely insane. Metallica are an incredible example of one of those bands who always get onstage and always deliver. They’ve never, in terms of what they’re putting together for Reading and Leeds this year, done something like this. I would say it’s got to be one of their biggest festival productions. Just incredible.”
Did you see Metallica’s Glastonbury headline set in 2014? How will it be different to that performance?
“I did and of course that was almost a completely different style of performance in a way, an entirely different approach. It will differ because they will know that they are planning to perform to Metallica fans. When Metallica were announced at Glastonbury, all the tickets were already sold out. I guess the difference is what they’re doing this time is that they’re playing to their audience because they know that it is their fans that have brought the tickets. They will be delivering a performance that their audience will expect and desire, which will be immense.”
Some people were surprised by Mumford & Sons’ booking. Were you at all worried there might be a backlash, like Kanye West’s Glastonbury booking?
“Oh gosh, no. Not even remotely. I actually think that Mumford will go down incredibly well as you know we do a mix of day tickets and weekend tickets. The Mumford day tickets have been incredibly strong, the feedback on social media and the forums and everything else has been really appreciative of Mumford actually and I think that they will go down a storm. I think they will absolutely will win over the audience. There’s gonna be a strong amount of their audience who will be there, of course, but I’m not perceiving any negativity to it at all.”
Does the fact that the line-up this year boasts polar opposites like Metallica and Mumford & Sons show that the perception of Reading And Leeds being ‘rock’ festivals is false these days?
“There’s no question. Obviously during the ’70s and ’80s it was very much a rock feel – that’s how it developed its name as ‘Reading Rock’. But it’s a long time since it has been called ‘Reading Rock’. Three years ago I introduced the 1Xtra stage, I made the Dance Stage a full weekend stage, and at the same time I brought in a specialist rock stage in The Pit, as well as what was the punk stage. Reading has become broader than ever.”
Kendrick Lamar has been one of the most celebrated figures in hip-hop this year. How excited are you to bring him to Reading And Leeds?
“We worked incredibly hard to get Kendrick. We were absolutely committed to it – for me, it was a perfect booking and the audience’s response has been insane. Our Reading And Leeds audience are as excited for Kendrick as they are Mumford and Metallica. That’s in itself is an incredible statement isn’t it?”
The Libertines are headlining again this year following their 2010 comeback performance at the festival, which some were underwhelmed by at the time. How do you predict they’ll fare this time? Have you spoken to the band about their set?
“I have spoken to them about where they are [mentally] at the moment. The last time they played, they got together to do the shows. This time round they are playing as a result of getting back together at Reading And Leeds the last time. They have since made music, they have got an album coming out, they are playing live as a band in ways that they haven’t for 10 years. That to me is the difference – they are incredibly excited. Pete and Carl in particular. When Pete and Carl are back together you’re in for a treat.”
There’s been fears of a train strike affecting the Reading leg of the festival. Do you think this will go ahead as planned? Is there a contingency plan in place in case it does?
“It’s evens whether it will go ahead or not. It isn’t the first year where we have had the threat of a train strike. Usually they get called off a couple days beforehand. It doesn’t affect the weekend tickets particularly – people come on the Wednesday and Thursday, so that’s not going to be affected. It will affect some of the day tickets, but it will only affect them from London Paddington, for example. People coming from London are perfectly capable getting the train to Reading from Waterloo – that’s an entirely different train company, and they have no train strikes. Everybody can get there from London Waterloo and get back to Waterloo. We’re also talking with the National Express bus company about putting extra buses on.”
Last year saw Jamie T play a surprise secret set, can you give us any clues to what act might be playing this year?
“Wild horses wouldn’t let me be able to tell you who the secret guests are. You can take from that whatever you want.”
Have you booked next year’s headliners already? Any hints for those?
“The planning is going well and we have booked one of the headliners. Unfortunately I am not going to tell you who they are. But what’s incredible now is that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Reading festival headliners would be getting booked at Easter of the same year. Now we’re booking in March, April, May June the year before the festival – 12, 15 months before. I think it’s becoming massively harder, but is there anything more exciting than talking to bands at what they’re going to be doing 18 months in advance? The most exciting thing for me is that the bands wanna talk to us about what they are doing in a year or 18 months in advance. They absolutely want to talk to us about that time period. That for me is just a statement of how massive the festivals have become.”