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An urban swim beneath the streets of Reading

Over Water, Under Ground

Fahad Sperinck goes for an urban swim beneath the streets of Reading

It’s cold in the Holy Brook. Water crowfoot and pondweed wave under the surface like a siren’s tresses, and seem flecked with gold in the sun. I began my swim near Brook Street West, the stream’s last gasp of freedom before Reading proper. The wildlife is surprisingly varied here – there are moorhens screeching, herons hunting, cormorants diving out of sight.  There is also wildlife of other sorts: as I was floating under the footbridge, I was assured in the strongest terms that there were rats in the brook, “right where you are now”.

The water wasn’t deep, and what began as a swim quickly turned into a wade. By the time I hit the A33, it was up to my shins. The tunnel under the main road seemed lifeless at first – none of those pesky rats – then I suddenly noticed rows of pigeons tucked into their roosts left and right, like quiet sentinels judging my ill-advised expedition.


I had decided to swim the Holy Brook under town after reading Adam Sowan’s fascinating history, The Holy Brook or The Granator’s Tale. The brook’s elusive past stretches back to antiquity. Parts near the town centre were extended by Reading Abbey monks for the use of their mill; it is mostly natural further upstream. It was open to the sky in the town centre in 1610, according to John Speed’s map; by 1835, it was culverted.

Wedged between two famous rivers, the Holy Brook has a modest beauty, and several long walks from its source to the romantic crumbling walls of the Abbey had left me enchanted. For six miles, the stream accompanies you through lush green meadows, but then – sadly, unexpectedly – disappears into a gloomy hole, and a pleasurable waterside walk becomes a frantic search for your missing companion. There are only hints of its once proud flow: the glimmer of running water under a grate, the pleasant stretch under the north Oracle entrance, and a glint in King’s Walk beneath a frosted glass window.

These glimpses inspired two canoers, Pip Hall and Jonathan Coleclough, to row the brook upstream from the Abbey ruins, right under the town centre; they told their tale in Catalyst, September 1991. Their article was the nearest thing I had to a field guide. Much has changed in thirty years – the Oracle didn’t exist at that time, and the Ship Hotel still did – but the brook has largely wandered along the same centuries-old path.

I wanted to see those last few enigmatic tunnels for myself. Swimming was an easy choice – I’d had a traumatic episode with a kayak, so canoeing was out of the question. I had toyed with the idea of a skin swim, but there are harsh materials and sharp angles in urban waters, so I prepared a wetsuit, dry bag, and head torch. On the tenth of August, I set out.


Coming to the Salvation Army hostel, my leg sank up to the thigh in a sludgy riverbed that latched on with otherworldly strength. It didn’t take long to conjure up all sorts of scenarios from quicksand to demonic mud creatures, all ending in my certain death. I felt strangely thrilled. Fear and fascination often go together.

The detritus gets more treacherous the nearer you get to town. There were shopping trolleys, wheelie bins, bicycle frames, and apparently endless tents in the water. Through a filter of adrenaline, everything seemed animated with life. A tent draped over a large branch came into view like a ghoulish swamp creature dancing in the current.

An ominous cave loomed ahead here, and the current became frothy. I turned my head torch on full whack. I still couldn’t see anything, so held out a hand at arm’s length – there it was, spotlit in white; beyond it, utter darkness, a stygian murk that would have put off a vampire.

It was here I began to doubt my own sanity and the whole stupid enterprise. Aside from the lack of visibility, the water was eighteen inches deep, the bed rocky and slippery, the arching culvert roof only two and half feet above the water. There was no sign of the end. I later drew a map of this culvert to lodge the journey in memory, and pencilled ‘Mordor’ in the margins.

It was too shallow to swim, so I developed a kind of upside-down crab motion with my feet floating in front of me, dry bag bobbing and weaving at my side like an anxious familiar, my hands pushing at nameless horrors in the depths. All I could feel was texture: slime, rock, and slippery moss. Looking up made matters worse; I was keen to see the Abbey stonework that the intrepid canoers spotted on their adventure, but first came the ‘huge black-bodied spiders’. The arched roof is one vast web, a translucent film suffocating the bricks above. This is a real-life Cirith Ungol.

Eventually, some light appeared ahead. There was a laddered shaft, and six feet above it a grate.  It was the shaft by Reading Civic Offices, one of my first checkpoints on the route – hard to believe that the tunnel behind had been barely two hundred yards. Limestone began to replace brick. The 12th and 13th century Abbey stonework was all in this section: it wasn’t far to Reading Minster, which reused Abbey stone after the dissolution in 1539. Flat limestone blocks were decorated with spirals and chevrons. One had a broken protruding centre, possibly a carved head. There was a long section of attractive arches, vaulted and ribbed.

There were once seven waterways here, forgotten now except by those wise in Reading-lore. They gave Bridge Street its old name, Seven Bridges; five of them are shown on Speed’s map. The Holy Brook survived the longest and was used for washing and laundry, and as a source of clean water to ‘brew, bake and dress meat’, until mains water arrived in 1820. Our brook then suffered a similar fate to the underground rivers of London – it was slowly culverted over decades. The River Tyburn flows in conduits for its entire length, notably under Buckingham Palace. Indeed it seems the lot of all British rivers deemed unnecessary for transport to be sacrificed at the altar of progress, and concreted over without reverence.

Looking up, it appeared odd that arches were used for part of the roof, and flat keystones for the rest. The stone is not quite the same colour, so perhaps the arches were exposed to air and grime for a while before the culvert was built. Could it be one of the extinct Seven Bridges? Alas, ancient maps being what they are, it is difficult to know for certain. A 1985 survey states that the whole was likely a 16th-century construction, the ribs used to support a road.

After the arches, another obstacle: shopping trolley, branch, and estate agents’ placard – Winkworths. Here Mordor ended at last, and blinking in full sun I found myself behind Zero Degrees. I saw the footbridge in the Purple Turtle garden, and heard voices. It was nigh-on impossible to wade here. There were pint glasses, beer bottles and all manner of drinking vessels underfoot, and it was not only slippery but fragile – a cracked glass in my foot now and the fun would have ended pretty sharpish. I pulled out a beer bottle, hoping to find something older than the Turtle, some sleeping relic of the nearby Simonds brewery.

Gordon Spring, an engineer for the council, used to inspect these lengths. He found he could identify where he was by the litter: bottles below Simonds, crockery under the Ship Hotel, tools under the ironmongers. We too are living through history. The Purple Turtle is leaving its mark on the land (or water, anyway).

Under the Oracle walkway, I got a few sideways glances. Two staff members outside Buenasado called as I entered the next tunnel: they wanted me to see if a customer’s phone and wallet were still down there. They weren’t, but I didn’t stop to investigate for long.

The next tunnel began low but soon opened out very tall, like an underground cathedral. The entire ecosystem seems built on pigeons and spiders. Soon the brick turned into a huge circular corrugated steel pipe – I could feel the ridges underfoot. The change must have happened under the old Telephone Exchange. The hum from the Oracle came at me from all sides, like Dolby surround – it was pleasant to hear the hubbub of human activity in such a lonesome, forbidding place. It was only later I realised the noise was made by a tinkling water pipe, and the corrugated ribs made it sound like laughter, giving it a long-tailed reverb. It was a sonic version of pareidolia, the tendency to see faces in inanimate objects. When I realised the noise wasn’t made by people, it became menacing, somehow.

There followed a long darkness with lots more spiders. A bleary light appeared, and I looked up to see the King’s Walk hole, partially covered by the proprietors of Ding Tea. Before I could get too excited, several pigeons flapped at my face and flew away. I looked up to see a huge mound of pigeon poo like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake: black and white and decrepit. They had made a home under the glow of the porthole. That would explain why the glass is frosted now.

Behind the old Ship Hotel, I found a plate in the riverbed: “Grindley Hotel Ware, England, Vitrified.” I later found that this trademark was in use in the early 1950s. If the first thing I picked up was seventy years old, what could be found a few inches down? Many holes in the culvert roof were boarded up; some establishments must have had access to the water at one point. The canoeing duo looked through a window in the roof here into what was once the Army Recruitment centre: “fire alarm on the wall, tasteful dried-flower arrangement perched on top of the glass.” This is now Madras Kitchen – there is no window any more.

On the right, “Ken McDonald 25/3/66” was painted in whitewash. A birthdate or the date of a significant journey? In any case, the culvert engineers who worked here in the summer clearly decided to leave it be. I was under the library by now. I saw the Abbey Mill arch ahead, a vestige of the last water mill powered by the Holy Brook, Soundy’s Mill, operating as late as the 1950s. It was demolished in 1964, with the arch left standing defiantly in the midst of modern office buildings.

A final swim out to the Kennet, and the journey was over. I got out at Blake’s Lock and walked home, feeling every inch Sowan’s “wetter sort of troglodyte”. Trudging home in the late afternoon sun, I fell into daydream: I wondered whether Reading could ever be traversed like Venice, on subterranean gondolas, like a town-sized Willy Wonka factory. We’d first have to get over the need for instant travel, and settle for a slower pace of life. Water is too slow, too ponderous – it took an hour to get from the Holy Brook Nook to the library.

Two star-crossed lovers, a monk at the Abbey and a nun, also coloured my thoughts. The story goes that he saw her body floating in the brook one day, and drowned himself in a fit of passion. The story is fictional, but that doesn’t diminish it: it just gives a sense of the deep wells of rumour that surround the brook. Having seen it up close, I’m inclined to believe anything.


Fahad Sperinck is a maths tutor living in Reading. When not earning his crust, he writes or makes art or music, or just as often, goes on long walks near water. Most days he can be found idling in bed with a good book.

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The Shady Side of Town Walnut

Since The Shady Side of Town was published five years ago, it’s a sad fact that several of the trees depicted in it have been lost. The Betchworth Oak was felled, as was the Caversham court Bhutan pine, and one of the Lime trees there. The Coley meadows willow pollard got burnt. The George St Lombardy poplars were hit by storms and worst of all the mighty Black Poplar in the Coley meadows snapped during Storm Ciara in February 2020. With Ash die back and building development around town hundreds of other trees have gone or may go soon. We need to pay attention and do what we can to keep Reading green!

The author of Shady Side, Adrian Lawson, and illustrator Geoff Sawers are both strong advocates for the protection and enhancement of our urban green spaces and royalties from the book have been given to the Ethical Reading Trees for Reading scheme, which works with local businesses to fund the planting of new trees in town. We were delighted to learn that this money has now been used to plant a Walnut tree at County Lock. It’s a magnificent specimen already and work to put a stone plaque marking it is underway.

If you are involved with a local business, please do consider getting your company to contribute to the Trees for Reading scheme. And if you are interested in volunteering, maybe you could help with the work of the Reading Tree Wardens which is another fantastic local group.


Ethical Reading Trees for Reading Scheme

Reading Tree Wardens

The Shady Side of Town

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Gas Holder Four – a guest post from Zoë Andrews

We are on the edge, aren’t we? It’ll be gone soon. Slowly dismantled, one piece of Victorian iron and steel at a time. The peregrine falcons helped for a bit: as they nestled in for a while, it felt like they were silently protesting themselves. Those birds granted us one last summer.

Many won’t care, won’t mind. Some will think it an eyesore that’s ready to go. Some would say that progress is progress, that in a town like Reading we need housing and the only way to build is up. This might all be true, in its way, but I’ll miss the Victorian beacon of Newtown.

In the summer I was out and about with my partner taking photographs. We ventured around the old cemetery at the junction and then down onto Cumberland Road, where the sun was beating down onto the street and the light was lovely. We both snapped pictures of the gas holder and one passing resident said “make the most of that, it’ll be gone soon.” Whether you like it or not, Reading’s last gas holder is a piece of history. A piece of Newtown.

Gas holder four, as seen from Newtown’s Cumberland Road, summer 2021
Gas holder four, as seen from Newtown’s Cumberland Road, summer 2021

Nostalgia can be a lovely thing. It carries a silent currency, it makes us feel things. Never has that been more prevalent and powerful in society than it is right now. But nostalgia can also forever tether you to the past. It tethers you to a forgotten place that, in your minds eye, was better. But if you relived those days today, would you feel the same way?

What is it about looking back that makes us smile and makes us sad? Is it that we see our past selves as people with opportunities and pathways not yet closed off? That we look back and see friendships that thrived, not knowing that they would fall away? Or, at its most fragile, is it that we are reminded of the people we loved and who are no longer here, and that we miss them?

It’s powerful, nostalgia. It should come with a polite warning: be careful not to let this reminiscing   ruin your day, or how you feel about the present.

Gas holder four was the backdrop to many a summer bike ride with my dad and my sisters, bike rides that also gave my mum some well-earned peace and quiet. Sometimes my dad would do wheelies along the stretch of grass by Thames Valley Park. Sometimes my little sister would come flying off the back seat. And sometimes we’d ride with a boy called Darren whose garden backed onto ours, because he loved his bike and he didn’t have a dad.

We’d ride into Reading along the cycle path from Woodley, and to spot gas holder four was to know that we weren’t far from a pit stop at the Fisherman’s Cottage for a packet of Brannigan’s crisps and a bottle of Coke. Nostalgia, you see: it’s powerful stuff.

Reading had several gas holders, and gas holder four is the last one standing. It fuelled Newtown, kept the lights on and the space alive. Gas holder four is our last remaining relic of that particular piece of Victoriana. I’ve posted many photos of it over the years on Instagram. A recent comment on one of them called it “Reading’s majestic crown”. I love that.

Christopher Costelloe, previously director of the Victorian Society, has campaigned to preserve the gasometers. He said this, which I think sums it up wonderfully: “Gasometers, by their very size and structure, cannot help but become landmarks. [They] are singularly dramatic structures for all their emptiness.”

As I grew up, I zipped in and out of Woodley on the bus or by foot. I seldom used the canal as a walking route, until I got together with a boyfriend who happened to live on Coventry Road, in the heart of Newtown. That was the summer of 2006, and I spent a lot of it in his company. I remember sleeping so well, after a year where I’d barely slept at all.

I’d hear the hum of the railway tracks and it never bothered me, just as I doubt it bothers anybody in Newtown. I’d walk the canal into town and once again I’d see gas holder four as I slipped past New Town Primary School. I remember wondering why it didn’t move much anymore: I remembered its rusty hues as a child, but I hadn’t realised that it was decommissioned now.

Nostalgia has its limits. I’m definitely not here to say that things shouldn’t change and develop and move on: I understand that you can’t save everything. But wouldn’t it have been nice to have seen some vision, seen something that brings the past and the future together? Couldn’t we have tried harder: couldn’t a developer have made something brilliant out of it? Something that celebrated the now while holding on to our Victorian heritage: sustainable housing, for example, powered by green energy. The framework of the old holding up something made with the technology of the present.

I imagine it would cost too much, and no developer in this country would want to do it. But wouldn’t that have been nice.

It was beautiful and sunny this afternoon. I’m all too aware that the evenings are drawing in quickly, that it’s a matter of weeks before those clocks go back. I felt a real need to rush home from work, drop my bag off and rush straight back out to do a loop of Palmer Park, to catch the remaining warmth of the sun.

As I walked parallel to St Bartholomew’s Road I turned out of the park and decided that I’d take a route to the canal instead. I knew the time had come for gas holder four, and I half expected to see it missing a piece of its frame but to my surprise, it wasn’t. It was still intact, there for another sunset. I took one last photo.

Gas holder four, as seen from Kennet Side, October 2021
Gas holder four, as seen from Kennet Side, October 2021

It will be so strange to walk down Cumberland Road in the future and not have it there, staring back at me. I wonder if it will be like a phantom limb, that I’ll turn the corner of Cholmeley Road, down to the canal and still see it in my mind’s eye.

And I know what I’m like, and what I’ll do. I’ll tell others that it was there. I’ll walk with my niece one day in the heat of the summer sunshine and I’ll say “there used to be this massive gas holder over there, near where your mum used to live.” I’ll show her a picture, and she’ll probably ask me innocently what a gas holder is. And I’ll realise that I can’t even really explain that myself, not in any meaningful detail. But it won’t matter, because we’ll have nearly reached the Fisherman’s Cottage, where we’ll take a breather for a packet of crisps and a bottle of coke.


Zoë Andrews writes about music, popular culture, history & life in Reading. This post originally appeared on her blog Zoeonpop.

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Be a Reading Detective!

There are fun and informative walking tours around our town in this little book for children of all ages.

Author Kerry Renshaw writes:

One of the silver linings of lockdown is that it has got families exercising together. Currently, families who live together can exercise together, and grandparents can join in if they are part of a support bubble. Even if not, a grandparent can exercise with one grandchild.  Town walks are a great alternative to country hikes, especially at muddy times. The great thing about a guided walk around town is that children (and adults!) can be connected to Reading’s intriguing local history. There are so many clues in our statues, plaques and buildings that give us glimpses into Reading’s past. The book asks children to spot the history they will find on Reading’s streets and answer questions. There’s a real sense of achievement in tracking down things that others miss.

What happened to Queen Victoria’s finger? Is she turning her back on the town? Why are there cartwheeling German boys in Reading? Why did loads of steamrollers crowd onto Reading Bridge? What battles were fought in Reading – yes, even in Broad Street! Which of our churches was regularly visited by Good Queen Bess?  Which Norman knights fought a duel by the Thames? Who was the unlucky young man was killed by a whirlwind? These and many other questions are waiting to be solved.

The book has loads of excellent photographs of Reading past and present. And there are longer pieces on the Abbey, the “three B’s”, the bridges, and many other shorter, fascinating tales.


Reading Detectives is by Kerry Renshaw and Electra Colios. You can buy a copy here, or via local or online booksellers.

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A playlist of local artists featured in When Reading Really Rocked

When Reading Really Rocked is a hugely well informed and entertaining account of live music in Reading between 1966 and 1976, from the emergence of psychedelia to the dawn of punk. Author Mike Warth has put together a fantastic playlist of some of the local bands and artists that feature in the book, which will be a trip down memory lane for many, or a great introduction to some of the music from the local area that you might not previously have heard.

You can find the playlist on YouTube, and the commentary below from Mike provides some background information about the artists and tracks. I hope you enjoy listening!

ALMA COGAN. Although born in London Alma Cogan moved to Reading with her family where her father set up a tailor’s shop in Kings Road. She was educated at St Joseph’s Convent and prompted by her mother began her singing career with a performance at The Palace Theatre in Cheapside (demolished in 1961). Her first record was released in 1952 and was the first of many. ‘Dreamboat‘ featured here was released in 1955 and became her only record to reach number 1 in the charts. Sadly she died of ovarian cancer in 1966 aged only 34.

THE GANGBUSTERS were fronted by Cal Vincent who in the week delivered bread and rolls and at the weekend delivered rock and roll. ‘The Memory Of Your Face‘ was their only record release. They were actually from Wallingford but played the Reading clubs and halls on a regular basis.

THE MOQUETTES. Formed in 1962 The Moquettes had become Reading’s top band by 1964 when they were snapped up by famed producer Mickie Most. ‘Right String But Wrong Yo-Yo‘ their sole record soon appeared and received plenty of tv and radio airplay but sadly sales were not enough to crack the charts and following a tour of Germany the band split up.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL moved to Milman Road, Reading in 1952 with her mother after her parents’ divorce and like Alma Cogan before her she attended St Joseph’s Convent School. Having made the acquaintance of The Rolling Stones she recorded ‘As Tears Go By‘ a Mick Jagger-Keith Richards song. It propelled her to number 9 in the charts and many records followed. Her mother apparently ran a cafe in Reading’s Harris Arcade adjacent to and incorporating part of what is now the wonderful Sound Machine record store.

PLATFORM SIX. This band was formed out of The Jellys, themselves a popular attraction in the town’s clubs and halls who had been formed by members of the REME staff band from nearby Arborfield. Dodgy management sadly led to the demise of Platform Six but not before they recorded the fine ‘Money Will Not Mean A Thing‘ and also another backing singer Billie Davis. Some members of the band then moved on to join The Amboy Dukes.

ARTHUR BROWN. A student at Reading University where he studied Philosophy and Law, Arthur Brown realised his passion was actually in music and could be heard singing in a number of the town’s pubs and halls with various bands, among them Dave Morgan’s Jazzband and The Dominoes. With the latter he recorded ‘You Don’t Know‘ for the 1965 Reading University Rag. It appeared on flexidisc and is now a sought after collector’s item. By 1967 he had formed his own band The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and in 1968 took the charts by storm with the brilliant ‘Fire’. He has been recording ever since.

MIKE COOPER AND DEREK HALL were mainstays of Reading’s folk clubs in the mid sixties especially that in the Shades Coffee Bar, Gun Street. In 1965 they produced the 4-track EP suitably titled Out Of The Shades from which the song ‘Livin’ With The Blues‘ is taken. Released in a tiny number it was the first record either had played on. Mike was a champion of the live music scene in the town and continued his career with a string of interesting and varied albums.

THE AMBOY DUKES. Formed in 1965 The Amboy Dukes were Reading’s finest appearing all over the town and before long all over the country after they were picked up by the prestigious Rik Gunnell Agency. A record deal with Polydor was secured and this delightfully titled single was the third of their six releases. Sadly, neither ‘High Life In Whitley Wood‘ a great piece of fun ska music, and a popular part of their live repertoire, nor any of their other releases cracked the charts and in 1970 this fine band called it a day.

THE SALLYANGIE. Brother and sister Mike and Sally Oldfield formed The Sallyangie in 1967 and secured a recording contract with the assistance of John Renbourn who played in Reading on numerous occasions. Their 1968 album ‘Children Of The Sun’ was followed by the single ‘Two Ships‘ featured here, in ’69. Sally was the elder by some six years and with her parents moved to Reading where Mike was born in 1953. Sally had been a scholar at St Josephs Convent (or Holy Joe’ s as it was affectionately known) where she struck up a friendship with Marianne Faithfull. Mike attended St Edward’s Primary School and Presentation College which was just over the road from their home in Monk’s Way (off Southcote Lane). They also lived at some point in Western Elms Avenue. Sally’s musical career took a backseat for a while after this LP but Mike pursued his with the extraordinary Tubular Bells appearing in 1973.

OEDIPUS COMPLEX. This Reading band could be found honing their skills around the town in 1968 and put out a couple of records on the Philips label in a pop/rock style. Unfortunately a hoped for album did not materialize and they disappeared. Included here is ‘Empty Highway‘ which was actually the B side of their second release.

MIKE COOPER. Your Lovely Ways‘ appeared in 1970 at a time when his record label Dawn were releasing ‘maxi-singles’, basically 4-track EPs played at the same speed as an LP rather than the usual 45rpm. It didn’t catch on but allowed Mike to stretch out with two good songs followed by a couple of jazzy arrangements displaying more than a hint of the avant-garde.

HERON. Take Me Back Home‘ was included on their second album Twice As Nice And Half The Price as well as being released as a single. This local band had strong association with Reading Technical College where they played countless times as well as other venues across the town. Their gentle folk/rock sound is a delight with both albums having been recorded outside in the country rather than a pukka studio, the first at a cottage the band lived and rehearsed in at Appleford, the second in Devon. Lead singer Gerald T. Moore had previously been a member of Reading band The Memphis Gents and would soon be fronting his own band G.T. Moore and The Reggae Guitars. He’s still at it to this day.

THE BOATMEN. Local folk singers Eric Blackburn and John Grace teamed up with a few others to produce an album’s worth of traditional songs relating to inland waterways entitled Straight From The Tunnel’s Mouth. ‘Waterways Lament‘ is from that album released in 1975. Eric could be found regularly around the town’s pubs at this time singing in The Tudor Tavern, Ye Boar’s Head and The Three Tuns amongst others. In fact he formed his own folk club in the latter called The Brick ‘n’ Fret.

TUDOR LODGE. Here’s another outfit with connections to The Tudor Tavern although they were perhaps more often seen (heard) in The White Horse, Caversham Road, spiritual home to Reading’s folk scene for a good few years in the 70’s. They released a delightful album of acoustic folk songs on the renowned Vertigo label which has become a major collectable and ‘The Lady’s Changing Home‘ is from that album. Founder member John Stannard continued playing with various blues and folk bands he put together until recently but sadly died earlier this year.

SHILLINGFORD MILL. Two Bulmershe College students Steve Hall and Chas Seward were the creators of this little known outfit. They released ‘Frightened‘ and one other single as Shillingford Mill and then changed name to Richmond (they had their own studio on Richmond Hill). ‘Frightened’ is a fine song which they re-recorded and included on their sole album. They even went as far as using it for the album’s title. Falling into the folk/pop category and being perfectly listenable it remains a total obscurity.

MIKE COOPER’S MACHINE GUN COMPANY. Not one to sit still and become typecast in any one genre Mike Cooper put together a band of local musicians and released two albums of tracks with a touch of blues, folk, jazz and country. ‘Song For Abigail‘ kicks off the second album simply entitled The Machine Gun Company with Mike Cooper. On both of these can be found Les Calvert (bass)  who played in The Memphis Gents in the mid sixties.

GRAPHITE. Reading University was where this band were formed around 1969 and they continued gigging until 1973. If you headed off to see a known band at the Uni between those years there was a strong possibility Graphite would have been the support band. They managed just one single at the time but recent retrospective releases give a better idea of their laid back progressive rock sound – as exemplified by this track ‘Starflight Over The Skies‘.

G.T.MOORE AND THE REGGAE GUITARS. Following spells in the r’n’b styled Reading band The Memphis Gents and the nationally admired folk/rock outfit Heron, G.T.Moore veered off in a different direction yet again forming a white reggae band. Such a line-up was virtually unique in the UK but their ability to play with such authenticity brought them considerable respect both from the music press and music fans. Two albums resulted with ‘I’m Still Waiting‘ appearing on their eponymous first as well as on a 45. After they split in ’77 G.T.Moore pursued a successful solo career with a number of albums to his name.

THE DAVE MORGAN JAZZ BAND. Whilst Reading was something of a hot bed for trad jazz through the 60’s and 70s with the nation’s top musicians regularly appearing at The Upper Deck, the town had its own legend in the genre with Dave Morgan and his band. Trombonist Dave Morgan was inspired as a 16 year old having seen the great Chris Barber and put together his own outfit which played virtually every venue in the town for many years way beyond the period covered in When Reading Really Rocked. In the 70’s the band produced an album entitled Jazz Merchants which offers a real taste of the band’s sound.

AFT (AUTOMATIC FINE TUNING). Edgy progressive rock is on offer on this seasoned Reading band’s sole LP from 1976. ‘Queen Of The Night‘ which closes the album is more of a straightforward rock sound with vocals, largely absent elsewhere on the album. Some members had previously played in another local outfit, Glyder and were often to be seen at the (in)famous Target pub in town.

CLAYSON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Former Bulmershe College student Alan Clayson put together this wonderfully named band in 1976 and caught the eye of the music press resulting in plenty of publicity. A record deal with Virgin followed with ‘The Taster‘ their debut single. Alan has in more recent years become a respected rock biographer whilst continuing to gig with the band up to this day.

THE SHAMBLES. Patrick Wass and Brian Jefferson landed in Reading in 1970 after their time at Exeter University. They soon could be found playing the local folk circuit including being resident at The Red Cow, Southampton Street amongst others. This version of the traditional ‘John Barleycorn‘ appeared on a privately pressed EP released in small numbers and gives a clear indication of the duo’s talents. Patrick is still writing and performing to this day.

Buy the book