1978 was the year that punk invaded the Reading Festival. The first day of the event, Friday, August 25, featured the likes of The Jam, Sham 69, Penetration, as well as The Pirates and Ultravox, and the day was scintillating enough that two different VHS videos were produced of it, The Kids Are United and Kids Like Me + You. (These seem to be the same movie; both were directed by Peter MacDonald, anyway.) The videos are only available in VHS format, but wonder of wonders, the entirety of the Kids Like Me + You video has been uploaded to YouTube, and it’s a treat. In addition to lots of galvanizing live footage (which looks pretty darn good in the transfer, considering it’s from a VHS tape), there’s also a bunch of interview footage with Paul Weller from The Jam, Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69, and so forth.
The Jam are excellent as always (although Paul Weller was unhappy with the sound and was aloof towards his punker fans), but the revelations in this footage are Penetration with Pauline Murray and Sham 69 with Jimmy Pursey. The Sham 69 rendition of “The Kids Are United” is so intense that you could practically put it in a time capsule to represent punk. Whereas in the nocturnal Ultravox and Jam footage there’s some distance between audience and performer, when Sham 69 plays it’s still daylight and everyone’s on top of each other, the stage is jammed with people and the intense, pogoing audience is right there.
Of course, nothing is as simple as that. The intensity of the performance and the audience reaction led to some scuffles and then some between the “punkers” and the “longhairs,” and Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 became incredibly frustrated at the violence—see more on that below.
This page has incredibly exhaustive information about Reading 1978, including audience testimonials, pictures, and information about the VHS releases. Here’s some audience reaction, with emphasis on the out-of-control Sham 69 set:
Pursey was totally hacked off with the aggro and it must have been overwhelming performing in front of around 15,000 people on the Friday.
It was my first proper gig, me and a mate camping, aged fifteen, miles away from parental control. It was magical, I had already fallen in love with Sham 69 and found it amazing that Jimmy Pursey would spend most of the day hanging around with us idiots. He was, and remains, a really genuine bloke, always accessible.
The Jam didn’t get a fair deal on the sound front but they just drove straight past their supporters into the back-stage enclosure, no talking, no autographs, good socialism comrade Paul. They were always better suited to small halls anyway, that type of band.
The Pirates were brilliant, Penetration were superb (Pauline was gorgeous) but the Friday belonged to Sham. One Reading newspaper described it as a “Punk Invasion”. I will try to scan the damned thing and get it to you when I can afford a scanner.
That day it seemed like punk rock was going to change the world. Is every generation so stupid?
We flogged out tickets on the third day cos we’d run out of money, fags and booze but, after the first day and Sham dominating proceedings, everything was going to be anticlimactic anyway.
Reading ‘78 was one of the best experiences in my life, mainly because of the great performance of Sham 69 a brilliant live band who always gave 100%
Just to answer a point on your website Jimmy Pursey broke down in tears during his performance out of sheer frustration at certain sections of the crowd. He brought Steve Hillage on during the Kids are United to try and unify the Punk/Old Guard audiences. (this was the first time reading had embraced punk)
There was a group of skins who didn’t take much to this and were attacking any long-hairs down at the front. I know , as I was one of them – the longhair not the skin! It deeply upset Jimmy to have to watch this going on and be helpless to stop it.
I was at Reading 78 as a 15 year old.
My recollections of the Sham escapade:
The mood was ugly before Sham arrived. There was much discontent from the biker and metal fraternity regarding the “New Wave” acts.
Sham 69 were on stage and were useless - out of tune, out of time and out of their depth playing such a large venue.
Various objects were thrown at the band, who in fairness were determined to play on regardless.
Eventually, a well-aimed can hit the bass player on the head and he stopped playing, bringing the rest of the band to a halt.
Jimmy Pursey had already made several comments, but finally shouted “If you don’t like it you can **** off home”, to which the crowd responded with a barrage of beer-cans and other objects. The stage invasion then happened as documented by other reports.
I left the arena at that point.
The violence between the punkers and the longhairs made the news: On that exhaustive Reading 1978 page there is a news clipping with the headline “Punks in pop fight.”
Sham 69, “Borstal Breakout”
Penetration, “Life’s a Gamble”
Ultravox, “Quiet Man”
The Jam, “In the City”
The Pirates, “Johnny B. Goode’s Good”
Sham 69, “Angels with Dirty Faces”
The Jam, “Mr. Clean”
The Jam, “‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street”
Penetration, “Lovers of Outrage”
Ultravox, “Slow Motion”
The Pirates, “Shakin’ All Over”
Sham 69, “The Kids Are United”
Thank you Gordon Reichert!