With what would’ve been Glastonbury’s 50th anniversary this year sadly being cancelled, we thought we’d take a look back at some of our favourite performances from the festival’s illustrious past. First up is Radiohead’s beautiful and festival-rescuing performance on the Pyramid stage.
By ’97, Radiohead had finally shaken off the college-dorm-room tag which had hung around their neck since the release of ‘Creep’. The track had turned the band into MTV darlings but four years down the line from their Beach House bonanza, Thom Yorke and co. arrived in Somerset meaning business.
In the late ’90s, Glastonbury Festival hadn’t yet become the overly-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.
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 of your favourite band. However, it’s sometimes not all it’s cracked up to be. The same cannot be said for Radiohead when they arrived on Saturday night to rescue Glastonbury.
It’s true that during this time Oasis and Blur were the top dogs in Britain, destined to battle out a bitter feud over mountains of cocaine and rivers of cheap lager. Meanwhile, Radiohead quietly went about their business following up their critically acclaimed previous record The Bends with another smash hit. 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 a generation’s eyes and ears to one of the greats of British rock and roll, OK, Computer managed to remain not only credible but commercial too. It would propel them to the top of the bill for Glastonbury 1997 and see Thom Yorke and the band arrive at the Pyramid Stage on Saturday with a belly full of fire and a back catalogue strong as anybody.
Glastonbury Festival, quite frankly, needed it. The weeks before the event had seen record rainfall (even for England) around Somerset, leaving the festival grounds resembling a wallowing mud bath more than a utopia of musical creation. We’re not talking getting a little bit muddy here, we’re talking 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 on the famous Pyramid Stage. 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 frame was in a more than precarious position leaving revellers and bands scared to set foot on the lopping stage. Mansun cancelled their set and The Bluteones were left to finish off one of the wettest festivals ever.
Through all the mud, the rain and the cancelled performances there was one shining light. A glimmer of hope that reminded everyone in attendance why they go to festivals, Radiohead took to the Pyramid stage and delivered a game-changing performance.
The band arrived on stage 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, and left Radiohead themselves looking back at the show disparagingly (they’re perfectionists after all), the band pushed through and delivered on their promise.
Arguably the stand out track from the evening’s entertainment was the band performance of ‘Paranoid Android’. It begins with the largest roar of the entire festival when Yorke asks the technician to “turn on the light because we wanna see the people. We haven’t seen them yet.” The lights come on and the gravity of performing for so many thousands of people must’ve truly sunk in.
Yet rather nonchalantly the band begin the OK Computer and deliver quite possibly the best moment of the entire festival. While we could go on about the note-perfect and heartfelt rendition we think it’s best if you just sit back and drink it all in.
Watch Radiohead’s stunning performance of ‘Paranoid Android’ from their headline show at Glastonbury Festival in 1997: