In June 1997, Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood told NME: “You know, when we play Glastonbury this year, I think it’s going to be amazing.”
He wasn’t wrong. That year, everyone’s favourite festival was held just two weeks after the release of the band’s epochal, experimental third album ‘OK Computer‘ and the set included the likes of ‘Karma Police’, ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘No Surprises’. The gig has gone down in history: in 2006, Q readers voted Radiohead at Glastonbury as the greatest gig of all time.
No wonder, then, that everyone’s so excited that Thom Yorke and co. have been announced as headliners on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2017. The news was announced by a Worthy Farm crop circle of a bear drawn by Stanley Donwood, a longtime collaborator with the band; the image has been associated with Radiohead since it was used on their ‘Kid A’ promotional material in 2000.
The legacy of the 1997 show will undoubtedly be felt heavily on the main stage show next year. Those who were there speak of that ‘OK Computer’ set in tremulous, near-religious tones. In an article entitled ‘The Greatest Gig I Ever Saw’, Sabotage Times contributor Craig Campbell wrote of the band’s performance of ‘Karma Police’: “In almost complete darkness, Thom Yorke bowed his head into his microphone and wrung it out, vein by vein, drop by drop.” It was a bloody awful year for mud – possibly only surpassed by 2016’s glorious shit-show – but Radiohead transcended the weather.
The BBC waxed lyrical, too, describing the gig “as arguably one of the greatest sets at the Glastonbury Festival in its entire 40 years. Festival boss Michael Eavis agreed, and once claimed it was his favourite ever Glastonbury show – high praise indeed.
Radiohead have, though, repeated the trick once before. They headlined the Pyramid Stage for a second time in 2003, the year that ‘Hail To The Thief’ was released. The band was in a playful mood (there are countless positive things you can about Radiohead with regularity, but that’s not necessarily one of them). Thom demonstrated this when he leaned into the microphone and repeated a mantra favoured by low-key drug dealers at the festival: “Hash for cash!” The words were then looped over and over to provide the backing for ‘Everything In It Right Place’.
At the time, The Guardian wrote that the upbeat atmosphere meant, “’Lucky’’s chorus of “It’s gonna be a glorious day” has its sarcasm undercut… The audience throw back their heads and gleefully sing along.”
NME was there, too, of course. We reckoned: “’Fake plastic trees is the peak of a gig that not only surpasses Radiohead’s seminal 1997 performance, but goes way out in front of it with arms stretched aloft, eyes closed and smiling face closed to the stars”. Strong words: let’s hope we can get similarly over-excited in 2017.
The band’s relationship with the festival runs deep. They played a secret set on the Park Stage in 2011, and the reaction was so intense that officials were forced to cordon off the area as it reached its capacity. The band introduced a second drummer, Clive Deamer, for powerful renditions of songs from the newly released ‘The King Of Limbs’: ‘Morning Mr Magpie’, ‘Little By Little’ and ‘Lotus Flower’, which they opened with.
Radiohead members were once Glastonbury punters, too. In that 1997 interview, guitarist Ed O’Brien told NME that he attended the festival in 1990: “It was amazing… It was two in the morning and all I could see were all these campfires in the distance and choppers overhead. It was like something out of Apocalypse Now.’”
Perhaps some whippersnapper will say something similar of Glastonbury 2017, as he or she looks forward to seeing Radiohead napalm bomb the Pyramid Stage.