Glastonbury Festival is probably the greatest music festival on Earth. Famous the world round for bringing the elite in music to a farm somewhere in the West country of England, Glastonbury is as known for its music as it is for the sloppy mudslides! Every year, anticipation gets feverish with the announcement of who is going to headline the Pyramid Stage. Is it going to be Zeppelin this time? What about Fleetwood Mac? Or will it be Coldplay again…? Probably the latter!
Regardless of who it is, the headline acts that descend on Worthy Farm every year are prone to some sort of scrutiny by the press or music lovers for not being “suitable.” Remember Kanye-gate? Remember Jay-Z-gate? Remember the gate? Well, fence. People even groaned at the thought of Adele headlining this year because she was thought to be too boring! Love or loath Glastonbury, there will always be controversies with every year that passes, no matter how big or small the act may be. Whatever your music taste, there is always something to tickle your fancy. And if you don’t like music? Well, you can lie down in the mud!
Who’d have thought that a west country farmer could turn his hand to the biggest festival in the world? That is one skilled farmer! But going back over the forty-odd years of music at the festival, there have been some good headliners, great headliners, and some downright amazing ones! So which ones are worthy of Worthy Farm gold status?
Glasto has a habit of turning a little known indie band into the next big thing. Jarvis Cocker’s smartpop outfit were a last-minute replacement for The Stone Roses who pulled out due to injury. This was the first example of Glastonbury turning an indie band to a fully blown pop mega-act. Way before Jarv wiggled his posterior in front of Michael Jackson at the now legendary 1996 Brit Awards, Pulp were treating the crowd to a headline set that demanded as much attention as any bottom-wiggler would! Future classics Disco 2000 and Sorted For E’s and Whizz were making their live debut four months before Mercury Prize winning album Different Class destroyed any assumptions about them being just another “Britpop” act. Finishing off their set with a frenzied Common People, Pulp had slyly brought social commentary to the main stage. They headlined the main stage a few years after, but this was the gig where you could begin to chart their trajectory!
This was a controversial headliner in 2014, not just because METAL* (*throw the horns) had never been to the festival before, but also vocalist James Hetfield’s pro hunting agendas cast a shadow over their set. This was seen to be going against the peace and harmony** (**throw the peace symbol) ethos of the festival. The stage was set, and while Metallica must have felt that they were facing an uphill struggle (they even had a huge collection of their fans sat across the back of the stage for what looked like protection), the crowd definitely warmed to them. While metal has always been a divisive genre, Metallica made sure they put on the most inclusive show they could for the naysayers. They even included their cover of Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey In The Jar for the uninitiated. Will we see them at Glasto again? Hmm… The jury’s out on that one.
13 Manic Street Preachers
The highlight of the recently reformed Blur’s mini tour in 2009 was a triumphant Sunday night slot on the Pyramid Stage. With no new material to perform, it was a swift greatest hits set with no filler and all killer! Frontman Damon Albarn’s musical forays from the early 21st century included the cartoon band Gorillaz and a musical based on the 70’s show “Monkey” (yes, seriously). So, when it was announced that Blur were going to get back together, a collective rejoicing was heard as, maybe it was thought that Damon was going back to what we loved the most. From their most famous tune, Parklife, to their wonderfully emotional ballad Tender, it was clearly a special moment for Albarn, who had tears in his eyes as the night drew to a close. After a few years indulging his experimental sweet tooth, it was the classics belted out that night that made us warm to him in the first place, and they were received with open arms. Their reunion was short-lived, but this still remains one of the highlights of the post-breakup Blur.
Bringing a personal touch to the Pyramid Stage in 2016. Adele cackled, selfied and chatted her way through a set of songs that soundtracked the lovelorn and lovelost that night, although those people were probably in the silent disco on their own at that point! Hot off the tail from her much anticipated album 25, her debut performance as a headliner tugged on the heartstrings of everyone in the area. Even though based on her between-song banter, you might be forgiven for thinking that it sounded like someone’s aunty had one too many G&T’s! In-between regaling the crowd with what she had for tea ("Oh my God, I just burped! I had a dirty burger before I came on, that's why”) and telling the crowd how “f***ing” amazing it was for her, her heartfelt and soulful vocals showed everyone why she is one of the best singers out there, period.
8 Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band
7 Jay Z
5 Arctic Monkeys
3 The Rolling Stones
A major coup for Glasto. Getting (Sir) Mick, Keef and co to headline Worthy Farm before they are old(er) brought fans young and old together to revel in a killer set. While the combined age of the whole band is probably about the same amount as the people at Glastonbury (give or take a few thousand), they sure showed the younger upstarts how to put on a great show. You Got Me Rocking, Sympathy For The Devil and a rousing You Can’t Always Get What You Want (complete with choir) were highlights of the setlist designed to get the crowd rocking. And that they did.
2 David Bowie
A gig that has often gone down in Glastonbury folklore, their 1997 performance was fraught with technical troubles. Singer Thom Yorke had problems hearing his vocals, and after the overwhelming acclaim that met their recently released classic OK Computer, the stress of the performance took them two months to recover from. Yet it is hailed as not just one of the greatest Glastonbury performances, it’s one of the greatest performances of all time, by any band. At this point, while Oasis were a bloated rock star corpse in the corner of the musical landscape, Radiohead were in the centre, becoming one of the greatest bands of all time. Radiohead are often cited as an easy target, either for being “too miserable”, or being “that band with that song” (I do believe they are referring to Creep), but with this time period for the band, and this set list, it created a seismic shift in the musical landscape. If it wasn’t for Radiohead, you wouldn’t have had bands like Coldplay following the emotionally-tinged anthem route. And Coldplay have headlined Glastonbury four times! With rumours that Radiohead are headlining Glastonbury 2017, a twentieth anniversary of the greatest Glasto gig will be a wonderful thing to behold.
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