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Des Henly's blog

Des Henly Des Henly on the road with Fumble
in the 1960s and 1970s


The Reading Festival evolved from the National Jazz & Blues Festival that started in 1961 at the Richmond Athletic Ground, and passed through several other venues, until it found its permanent home in Reading in 1971. Over the years it has featured top artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, T. Rex, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Jerry Lee Lewis and numerous jazz bands. In the 1970s it was the ultimate musical accolade for any band to appear at the Reading Festival (and this is still arguably the case today). Such was the status of the Festival that you couldn’t ask to play there; you had to be invited, so when Fumble were invited to appear in 1973, we knew we had “arrived”. Our invitation to appear again the following year cemented that.

The following article appeared in the book of the festival’s official history “The Reading Festival”, published in 2007.


We had played a few small festivals before, and earlier that year had played the massive Long Beach Arena in Los Angeles, as part of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust tour of the States, but this was Reading, and that sense of being part of one of the world's most famous music events really started to kick in. As we arrived at the artistes' entrance to the site and passed through to the backstage area, the excitement and anticipation grew. A mini village had been created for all the artistes, sound and lighting crews, record companies, invited guests, journalists etc.

As we acclimatized to this surreal new world, I wandered around with my wife and son to see what was going on. It has to be said that the hospitality tent was a world within a world. All the drinks were free and the journalists, record-company guests, agents, managers and general hangers-on were making the most of it!

I bumped into John Peel (who was drinking coke) and he wished us luck for the day. Quietly spoken and articulate, he shared his own feeling of awe at the "Reading experience" which calmed my own emotions a little. Our roadie Tubs found me and said it was time to get ready for our performance, we were on stage in half an hour! Here we go then, this is almost it. We got changed and went over last minute reminders regarding the set. Jack Barrie, Marquee club boss and co-organizer of the festival, had popped in to tell us that this gig was gonna make us and best of luck.

We mounted the stairs to the festival stage and with every step the excitement and nervousness grew. I can't remember who it was that introduced us, but it seemed to take forever. "Ladies and gentlemen, hippies, boys and girls, READING, please welcome on stage Fumble." We strolled on waving (as you do) and started to play, in my opinion, one of the best gigs of our life. The adrenalin had boosted us but not completely taken over and we rocked till we dropped. By the time Sean hit the first notes of "Nut Rocker" we had nigh on 20,000 people on their feet and leaping in the air. To stand in front of a sea of humanity, all clapping and bouncing and dancing and smiling, was a memory that will stay with me forever. I cannot possibly put this feeling into words, indeed I would have to be a poet to get close. But by the time we finished our set I floated back to our trailer on a cloud. Hugs all round, and a very impressed six-year-old son, if not a little confused by it all. Does Dad really go out and do this ALL THE TIME?

Relaxing with a few drinks after our set, I was joined by Georgie Fame and Francis Rossi of Status Quo, who said they liked Fumble’s set, which I took as high praise.

We took an age to wind down from our incredible high, and when we did we wandered again around the backstage village. We played Frisbee with Lindisfarne in the hot sun for quite a time, I remember that. My son approached the legendary Keith Moon from the Who (who was only there as a guest, and unfortunately not performing) and told him he was barking mad! Keith asked who had given this young innocent the message and he pointed to his dad. With a wink and a raise of his glass, it was the only time we were ever "introduced"!

Whilst I was chatting to our pianist Sean in one of the backstage hospitality tents, we heard the opening few bars of "The Twelfth Of Never" by Donny Osmond! What !!!! Nothing against the chap, but Donny and Reading, especially with this track, did not go together at all. It was John Peel at the turntable - how could this be? A peculiar sound - 20,000 confused revelers scratching their heads and grunting and wondering why the mood had changed from more appropriate music festival fayre - it really was tangible.

The last few words of the song dripped like syrup from Donny’s lips “and that’s a long long…”. A couple of seconds passed then the opening notes to “Layla” SCREAMED through the Reading sky. The place went ballistic ! We had popped our heads out front to soak up some of the atmosphere and witnessed just about the whole of the festival responding to Mr. Peel’s artistry. He had taken them all to a place of calm and safety and numbness, then with Eric Clapton’s classic track had unleashed a whirlwind upon them ! The crowd punched the air, kissed each other, levitated, screamed, dropped to their knees, kissed each other again, and demonstrated all instincts of ecstasy.

By the time that Rod Stewart and the Faces finished the evening I was in a tired, but gloriously satisfied mood. It had been a long long day, filled with excitement, and nervous energies, filled with hope and expectation. And we had been rewarded a hundredfold with the experience.


Even in our massively elevated status as the penultimate act on the Friday, it was not the same as '73. Whilst we still had huge nerves and a fabulous response, it didn't have the innocence for me of that blistering day the year before. We had arrived late afternoon in '74, as we were not on till late in the evening, and there were lots of people "looking after" us. Playing in the evening has a far more dramatic effect than in the day, visually speaking. The lighting rigs come into their own, as the banks of lights can be seen for the first time through the darkened sky. And a different atmosphere is created. You can't see the huge crowd, because of the thousands of watts of lights that are shining in your eyes, just 20,000 halos around a sea of silhouetted heads. Remarkable though it was all the same!

A memory of this year was 10cc not being there, as the time for their appearance grew nearer. Their manager was suggesting to festival organizer Jack Barrie that if they didn’t turn up in time, Fumble could take over their spot and they could play after. “If they are not here in time” he said, “they do not perform at all !! The Reading Festival is bigger than the sum of it’s parts and will not be manipulated”. Nice one Jack!!