As we pine for the return of festivals we thought we’d dig around in the Far Out vaults and bring you one of our all-time favourite Reading Festival performances. It’s from one of the event’s more contentious editions and sees Paul Weller’s The Jam take on a volatile audience and delivery a fiery performance of ‘In The City’.
The oldest popular music festival still in existence, Reading Festival started out life as The National Jazz Festival before later being known for its heavy rock persuasions. However, in 1978, punk arrived—and they weren’t quiet about it.
Though many purists would consider the punk movement to have been dead in the water by the time the swathe of acts descended on the British town of Reading, the bands—and their fans—arrived with as much noise and aggravation as possible. They were here to take over.
Punk had become the buzzword of the moment, a contributing factor to the early notion of the ethos’ passing. It meant that when the latest edition of Reading Festival was being scouted out, the organisers included flecks of the genre’s brightest lights including Sham 69, Penetration, the Pirates and The Jam, who were taking the headline slot.
Most of the acts were pushed to the Friday’s entertainment, a preventative measure to try and curtail the expected scuffles between rival fans. Unlike today, in ’78 chances are if you were a punk or a rocker, you only hung around with punks and rockers respectively. It meant crossing paths with another group felt like a gang on gang crime.
Organisers likely felt vindicated for the slight degradation when allegedly fans of Sham 69 began launching bottles at the other acts performing that day, building to a furious atmosphere by the time the headliners The Jam arrived on stage. Most people remember their set for one thing and one thing only; Paul Weller complaining about the sound.
Aside from that issue, something Weller would later claim was constructed on purpose, suggesting they had been stitched up, the band did deliver one especially poignant moment for the pogo-ing crowd.
Before performing one of the band’s most beloved songs, Weller took the opportunity to peer into the tense crowd and offer a unifying message: “I don’t care how long ya hair is, how short it is, this is music, this is what you gotta dance to, enjoy yourselves. This is ‘In The City’”
With that, the band launch into a gunpowder performance of the track. The band’s first single, ‘In The City’ is The Jam at their most cutting. Scything through the turd, Weller’s lyrics are gilded and gritty at the same time providing the perfect flourish to the band’s thrashing punk sound.
Punk would infiltrate the festival on a more regular and casual basis from then on and while we wouldn’t necessarily credit Weller with cooling the tensions between punks and the rockers of old, it certainly seems like on that evening he stopped a lot of people dead in their tracks.