Reading & Leeds Festival secret sets – the best hidden shows in recent years

From Green Day to Foals

Words: Jack Menzies

They’re music’s worst kept secret – the Reading & Leeds Festival secret sets. The festival loves a last-minute shock announcement, where they reveal a massive act gracing a small stage at Little John’s Farm in Reading and Bramham Park in Leeds. Liam Gallagher, Bring Me the Horizon and Frank Carter are all rumoured for this year, so keep your eyes peeled. First, though, let’s look back on some legendary secret set performances from yesteryear.

Green Day (2012):Reading Festival

Rumours of the American punk rock band playing a secret set at Reading Festival were only confirmed 45 minutes before their set started on the NME/Radio 1 Stage. The time: 11am. Demand was so high that security had to seal off access to the stage. The unfortunate fans who were turned away were directed to Main Stage, where the organisers had been forced to show the set live on the big screens.

Jamie T (2014): Reading Festival

Rumours of Jamie’s secret set on the Festival Republic stage were confirmed after he posting an image of his festival pass to social media. The caption read: “7:30pm” A set-list featuring his classics, mixed with new material, lit up the packed tent.

Jake Bugg (2014): Reading Festival

The singer-songwriter delivered an early afternoon acoustic performance from Jake Bugg before he co-headlined the Main Stage before Arctic Monkeys. Jake belted out a short set that consisted of singles from his self-titled first and album its follow-up Shangri-La. The crowd was sparse to being with – this was a very kept secret, after all – but soon the tent packed with fans wooded by his distinctive voice.

Foals (2015): Reading & Leeds Festival

The Oxford-born band produced an intense, jam-packed, early afternoon show on the NME Stage. Lead singer Yannis Philippakis said of his secret set: “We kind of slinked in and the crowd were amazing – overwhelming response to the new tracks.” Following on from their jaw-dropping performance, they went onto headline the festival in 2016.

Peace (2015): Reading Festival

The Brum group delivered an early surprise set on the BBC Introducing Stage before their afternoon NME stage stint. Frontman Harry Koisser proclaimed, “There’s absolutely no place I’d rather be,” opening with ‘Money’ from then-newly released LP ‘Happy People’.

Slaves (2016) Reading Festival

Having played earlier in the day on Main Stage, Slaves surprised fans with an atypical set that included a thrilling cover of Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’. The London duo will return to the festivals this year, co-headlining the BBC Radio 1 Stage.

Wolf Alice (2017) Reading & Leeds

Kicking off the Saturday at Reading Festival, Wolf Alice performed tracks from their then soon-to-come second album, ‘Visions of a Life’, from which they’d released only released two singles. Their surprise set was confirmed the day before in an email from Wolf Alice to their subscribed fans. The subject line: “Going to Reading Fest?”

Queens of the Stone Age (2017): Reading & Leeds Festival

The desert rock dude released their seventh studio album ‘Villains’ on the same day they played their secret set at Leeds on Main Stage. Planes circled both of the twinned festivals, trailing a banner promoting the new QOTSA LP. Vocalist Josh Homme was clearly very excited to be playing the surprise set, imploring fans: “don’t wait for anything. Do everything you fucking can this weekend – and we hope we gave you a night you’ll never remember.”