At a festival already overburdened with delights – unbroken sunshine, peerless line-up, a near-total absence of blokes on stilts – here was another: an unannounced gig on the Park Stage by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, which provided that rare thing: a Glastonbury rumour that actually turned out to be true.
This almost never happens. Many’s the time I’ve undertaken an exhausting trudge to Worthy Farm’s outer limits based on lame Chinese whispers – The Stone Roses have reformed! Macca’s doing an acoustic set! Prince Charles is backstage! (yeah right) – but this was the real deal, a performance on one of Glastonbury’s minor stages by one of the most totemic bands in the festival’s history.
Predictably, those lucky enough to have received the tip-off – the crowd was about 5,000 strong by the end – went duly loopy. I shared my precarious vantage point, a rickety wooden platform, the only place that granted a hope of seeing the stage, with a couple of teenage girls who spent the entire gig sobbing and fanning their faces with the excitement of it all. In fairness, I did the same thing when Rolf Harris played the Pyramid.
To begin with, the sound coming from the stage didn’t quite match the rippling sense of occasion in the audience. Initially Thom Yorke, who seemed to have arrived straight from tennis practice (nice headband!), performed alone, working through four flinty solo tracks. Of the obsessive Radiohead fans who had sprinted up the hill to catch the set, it’s safe to say not many of them thought to themselves as they were running, ‘I hope they play Black Swan!’
Once Jonny Greenwood joined in, though, things picked up. ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ and ‘Pyramid Song’ are never less than mesmerising, but it was ‘Karma Police’ that truly ratcheted things up, sparking a raw-throated singalong (“For a minute there I lost myself”) that continued long after the band quit the stage. And if you can sit through ‘Street Spirit’ as the sun goes down at Glastonbury without tears pricking at your eyes, you are not human.
“See you guys later”, Yorke said at the end, giving the impression the singer was planning to stick around to enjoy the festival’s after-hours activities. Who knows, perhaps we’ll spot him bogling to Belinda Carlisle in the Applesmugglaz bar at 4am, though it seems unlikely.
In truth, this was not an epochal Glastonbury set in the vein of Radiohead’s 1997 performance, which we are duty bound to reference by music journalism law. People will not be banging on about it for years to come. It was too spasmodic, and – for the first 15 minutes or so – bordered on the tedious.
But it served as a reminder that, in its fortieth year, this festival still has the goodwill of the world’s biggest bands, and has not lost the capacity to surprise and delight its audience.