Rhino Historic Tours: National Jazz & Blues Fest
This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most enduring music festivals in the UK, and although it’s gone through a couple of different names over the years, it’s never failed to provide an impressive roster of talent for those who’ve attended.
So why is it that the name isn’t ringing a bell for you? Well, that’s probably it went from being called the National Jazz & Blues Fest to being called the Richmond Festival, and then the Windsor Festival, and then the Sunbury Festival, and then the Plumpton Festival, before finally settling on what you kids call it today: the Reading Festival.
Ah, yes, now we see the glimmer of recognition in your eyes…
The first National Jazz and Blues Festival took place on the Richmond Athletic Grounds in Surrey, England on August 26 and 27, 1961. The folks who performed that year were not necessarily what you’d call iconic names in terms of the long haul, but we’ve no doubt that they were top-shelf in their day.
Here’s the full list of performers:
BACK OF TOWN SYNCOPATERS CHRIS BARBER GERRY BROWNS JAZZMEN DICK CHARLESWORTH & HIS CITY GENTS CLYDE VALLEY STOMPERS KEN COYLERS JAZZMEN MIKE COTTON JAZZMEN JOHNNY DANKWORTH ALAN ELSDON FAIR WEATHER BROWN ALLSTARS JOE HARRIOT QUINTET TUBBY HAYES QUINTET JAZZ NEWS ALL STARS TERRY LIGHTFOOT JACKIE LYNN BAND MERSESIPPI JAZZ BAND ORIGINAL DOWNTOWN SYNCOPATERS FREDDY RANDLE BAND DON RENDELL QUINTET RONNIE ROSE QUINTET ALVIN ROYS SARATOGA JAZZ BAND TONY RUSSEL STUDENT ORCHESTRA KEN SIMS VINTAGE JAZZ BAND SUTTON CHICAGO JAZZ GROUP BRUCE TURNER JUMP BAND BOB WALLIS & HIS STORYVILLE JAZZ ALEX WELSH & HIS BAND
It wasn’t long before bigger names began to appear within the lineup, however: by 1963, Acker Bilk and Cyril Davies were in the mix, and the tide really began to turn in 1964, which brought Mose Allison, the Graham Bond Organisation, Georgie Fame, Long John Baldry, Manfred Mann, Memphis Slim, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds.
You might also note that ’64 was also the first year where a major shift in the music kicked in: the jazz and blues started to be supplanted by rock ‘n’ roll, and it would only continue. There are worse fates that it could’ve suffered, of course – they could’ve ended the festival altogether – but to try and remember it in its earlier days, we’ve compiled a playlist featuring four of the artists we cited above.