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a city by city guide to the best indie clubs, bars, record shops and local bands

Reading, UK

By Dan Morton and Dan Richards

If it wasn’t for the Reading Rock festival’s new bands tent/NME stage, the chances are that Reading would be little more than minor blip on the average indie fan’s radar. Reading is also sometimes accused (not totally without reason) of being a bland "every town". If you look a little deeper, however, there is a vein of musical activity locally which can be tapped. As a very large town, Reading is not a satellite/dormitory town for London as such, but there is no doubt that the major transport links to the capital have a draining impact upon the areas capacity for attracting and retaining talent and entrepreneurs. It does, however, have an excellent university whose students keep the town buzzing. There are a good number of bars and clubs where you can enjoy indie music and lifestyle in this aspiring city (it applies for this status at every opportunity), and as home to the Reading Festival and WOMAD world music festival, the town is assured a place in the musical history books.


The (Legendary) After Dark
112 London Street, times and prices vary
The After Dark is Reading’s longest running club, hence the self-appointed "Legendary" status. A dive club to the truest form, the AD serves up beer in cans, and the bar prices are some of the cheapest in the town. The crowd is a strange mix of office worker to fashionable student. Despite the aging interior, this is the type of place that will, every so often, provide a memorable night. The main area of the After Dark, is a large unremarkable dance floor area with a couple of raised stages, but there is a nice relaxing back bar, where there are tables and chairs to sit and chat at ease.

Indie club nights at the After Dark:
Sesame Street
The After Dark Club, 112 London Street, every second and forth Friday of the month, £3 members, £5 non members, 10pm-2am
Billed as "one of the most popular and innovative alternative clubs in the south", this is the staple indie club night for the young and old alternative music enthusiast, as there is little else locally. I spent my "rite of passage" teenage years here (it is the first club I ever visited), and it does have a generally friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The clientele is mixed: there is a fair share of pissed up students and suits who can’t get in anywhere else, who appear at 12pm once the pubs kick out. The DJs play a decent selection of brand new indie (usually whatever’s big with the NME) as well as mainstream indie "classics" (The Pixies, The Smiths).

Fools Gold
The After Dark Club, London Street, dates vary, £3 members, £5 non members, 10pm-2am
Fools Gold is a tribute to underground pop of the eighties, in particular the Manchester scene of the late eighties. Expect The Stone Roses, and The Happy Mondays to be on heavy rotation. You can also expect other early 90s mainstream British indie, including tunes from Ned's, PWEI etc. Fools Gold is usually held on the Sunday preceding a bank holiday.

Po Na Na
19 Duke Street, Reading, RG1 4SA, Mon, Weds-Fri 9pm-2am, Sat 8.30pm-2am
Po Na Na is another of the Barvest chain of establishments (see also The Fez Club). Zed’s Basement is on each Thursday. A wide range of indie, alternative and punk can be heard. This night attracts a young student crowd.



The Fez Club
5 -6 Gun Street, Reading RG1 2JR, prices and times vary
A reasonable local venue, which is part of the Barvest chain. It holds a selection of club nights throughout the week which are of little interest, but it does hold relatively frequent gigs. So far this year The Tears, Brendan Benson, and Nine Black Alps have played. The sound is generally good, although drinks are pricey. The décor is similar to the rest of the Fez chain, but the main downside to the venue is that there are a couple of supporting pillars in the club which could obscure your view of the act.

Rising Sun Arts Centre
30 Silver Street, Reading, RG1 2ST, prices and times vary
The Rising Sun Arts Centre is a charming building with character and an intimate venue. It plays host to events from Organic Food Sales to Life Drawing, and is also a venue for live bands. The Rising Sun is lucky to have had a few pro-active organisers in recent years. The recent trend for band nights was started by the Happy Robots night, and has been continued by the Bandorama night. Local bands often share the bill with smaller national and international acts on tour. It’s mission statement is "To maintain a welcoming, accepting and flexible environment for the community to present and pursue a diversity of creative opportunities where people can learn and develop new skills through participation or volunteering."

21 South Street Arts Centre, prices and times vary
South Street, 21 South Street, Reading, RG1 4QU.
Drama, Comedy, Jazz but above all the odd worthy indie gig at this character rich and out-of-the-way venue. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are due to be playing here at the time of writing, for instance.


The Purple Turtle
9 Gun Street, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 2JR
The Turtle is still a good alternative venue playing mainstream indie tunes although don't attempt to use the jukebox late at night! (I guess our songs came on during the next Tuesday). The Turtle is one of the few late license establishments in town, and it's great not having to worry about putting on your shiny shoes to get in. It has a great selection of bottled beers and it also hosts the occasional gig. It usually has a pleasant atmosphere and a healthy mix of different subcultures. It does suffer from its popularity late at night, when it fills with hammered people pouring in from the pubs - the times I have been and got stuck in the middle of the packed bar to be continually pushed past is not something I care to recall. The downstairs bar often has a DJ, and the type of music played is dependant on the day of the week. It has a concreted beer garden, with gas heaters for those freezing winter months. Turtle-tastic!

The Iguana Bar/The Global Cafe
St Mary's Butts, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 2LN / 35-39 London Street, Reading, RG1 4PS, 12pm-11pm Mon-Thurs, 12pm-1am Fri, 11am-1am Sat
OK, neither of these are indie establishments as such, but it is in their independent spirit from the other bars in Reading that they are worthy of inclusion. In the Iguana Bar, dub is the main music with a sound system and live MC at the weekends (when it gets packed), but it is more relaxed during the week. The Iguana is a small bar above a vegetarian cafe/restaurant in the St. Mary’s Butts area of the town centre. There are no draft beers but a decent selection of world bottled beers.
The Global Café is tucked away just across the road from the nasty Oracle shopping mall development. This is a fair trade café/bar which has a selection of bottled lagers and organic ales. There is latin music on Tuesdays and world music on Thursdays. You have to pay to get in if you leave it late on weekend evenings. It truly has its own atmosphere and it is an escape from the rest of the town’s night spots.

Record Shops

Sound Machine
Harris Arcade, Station Road, Reading /Broad Street Mall, Broad Street, Reading
One of the last remaining independent record shops in Reading (on two sites), and the only one worth its salt. The website suggests "Collectors who visit will find hundreds of promo items, rare and collectable LPs and singles on CD and vinyl from the 50s to present; picture discs and limited editions, and hundreds of vinyl LPs at £1." In reality it at least offers variation from HMV, Virgin and FOPP who all have a presence in the town.

Oxfam Music Shop
9 Duke Street, Reading, RG1 4SA
The website suggests Oxfam’s music shops ‘offer a fantastic range of good quality vinyl, CDs, sheet music and music books’. I have picked up some cheap vinyl here and I recently bought a copy of ‘Architecture & Morality’ by OMD for my friend. Hmm.

Local Bands




Reading Rock Festival
Richfield Avenue, Reading – every August Bank Holiday
The festival first arrived in Reading in 1971 when it moved from Plumpton in Sussex. Reading was already hosting its very own Festival of Arts and this provided the promoter, Harold Pendleton, with an ideal festival site on the banks of the Thames. It is still on the same site over 30 years later, now organised by the Mean Fiddler. The years between ’71 to the present day leave the festival with a rich and interesting history. Usually there are 80,000 music fans descending on the town every August Bank Holiday. I’ve been a hundred times (at least it feels like it), and received mixed experiences from the best Grandaddy gig ever, to sleeping in a puddle. It might be a standard festival, but at least it has a decent new bands tent. It’s nice having a festival on your doorstep!

WOMAD Festival
Rivermead Centre, Richfield Avenue, Caversham, Reading - every July
The British leg of the World of Music, Arts and Dance organisation’s festival is held at Rivermead centre near the site for the main Reading Rock Festival. Its aim is to bring together and to celebrate many forms of music, arts and dance drawn from countries and cultures all over the world. A fantastic event, which I’m proud resides in Reading. The website says, "As an organisation, WOMAD now works in many different ways, but our aims are always the same - at festivals, performance events, through recorded releases and through educational projects, we aim to excite, to inform, and to create awareness of the worth and potential of a multicultural society."

Reading International Solidarity Centre
35-39 London Street, Reading, RG1 4PS
Demands inclusion due to its link to Reading’s political and creative leftfield. RISC works with schools and community organisations to raise the profile of international issues and promote action for sustainable development, equality and social justice.

If you'd like to recommend a club, bar, record shop, band or any indie delight for inclusion in the Indie Travel Guide, please email us. If we've included a link to your band/shop etc, it would be lovely if you could link back to us. Thank you!

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