Radiohead rescue Glastonbury with a game-changing headline set in 1997
With Radiohead announcing their new Public Library earlier this week, we thought we’d take a look back at our favourite Radiohead performance of all time.
In the late ’90s, Glastonbury was not yet the sanitised, commercialised and Instagram-filter-ready event it is today. In fact, in 1997 the festival looked like it may soon come to an end, with an overall shitty Glastonbury year only being rescued by one performance: Radiohead on the Pyramid Stage.
There’s a lot to be said about festival headliners. On one hand, they always clash with another equally great artist, the crowds are gigantic, which ensures dodgy sound and the odd glimpse of a speck that may or may not be Liam Gallagher, and usually, the hype isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The same cannot be said for Radiohead when they arrived on Saturday night to rescue Glastonbury.
While during this time Oasis and Blur were destined to battle out a bitter feud over mountains of cocaine, Radiohead quietly went about their business following up their critically acclaimed previous record The Bends with another smash. Radiohead released their seminal album OK, Computer and marked themselves out as the thinking man’s alt-rock champions.
The difference between the two albums, however, was that while The Bends had opened the music world’s eyes and ears to one of the greats of British rock and roll, OK, Computer managed to walk the tight rope between credibility and commerciality. It would propel them to the top of the bill for Glastonbury 1997 and see Thom Yorke and Co. arrive at the Pyramid Stage on Saturday with a belly full of fire and a back catalogue as bursting with tunes and deliver one of the festival’s standout performances of a glittering 50-year stint.
In 1997, Glastonbury Festival frankly needed it. The weeks before the event had seen record rainfall (even for England) fall around Somerset, leaving the festival grounds resembling a wallowing mud bath. We’re not talking getting a little bit muddy here, we’re talking about 6ft deep baths of mud. The kind of mud you could lose an ’80s action movie hero in. Still known as one of the muddiest years ever, the festival suffered on stage too.
Neil Young, who had been scheduled to play, dropped out of the festival leaving forgotten Britpop posers Kula Shaker to take his spot. What’s more, when Steve Winwood also dropped out (we’re assuming not because it was muddy), British rock act Ash stepped up to take his slot on the main stage.
Meanwhile, over at the Other Stage, the stage structure had begun to sink into the mud. It meant the music started late on Friday and by Sunday the structure was in a more than precarious position. Mansun cancelled their set and The Bluteones were left to finish off one of the wettest festivals ever.
Before that moment would come, Glasto ’97 was given one shining moment of glory. One moment to remember why we go to festivals, a moment to remember why certain acts are worth wading across a field of mud to see, and a moment to remember the unifying power of a good headliner.
Radiohead arrived on stage on Saturday with a sense of purpose. They were going to give the fans what they wanted and, more notably what they needed. What ensued was a set chock full of classic tunes from one of the most exciting bands on the planet. While technical faults throughout the show threatened to end the set, the band pushed through and delivered on their promise.
Forget Oasis, Blur or any other Britpop act you want to soundtrack your nights in the pub. Radiohead was not only the intelligent saviours of rock we were looking for, but they could also wow a crowd of 100,000. Radiohead was the real McCoy.