Surprise: 5 Epic Glastonbury Secret Sets

After touching down at Glastonbury last year, Led Zeppelin-style, in a bright red helicopter, The Libertines played one of the most exciting secret sets in the festival’s recent history (June 26). A major factor in the buzzing atmosphere that fugged the Pyramid Stage was the fact that this was a well-guarded secret. Nattering and rumours had been flying around all day, but those in the know kept quiet, allowing Pete, Carl, Gary and John’s hour-long clatter of hits and the odd new song – from a supercharged ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ to a run through dubby new album cut ‘Gunga Djin’ – to impact as a real surprise. In recent years, secret sets have become more and more important to Glastonbury and, in particular, the paying public, whose whispers start the second they’re through the gates. It may not be the last, but The Libs’ surprise show will be hard to top. Here are five more epic top-secret Pilton performances.

Pulp, Park Stage, 2011
Opening with a blazing version of ‘Do You Remember The First Time’, Pulp started their Park Stage secret set with a huge bang. Bright blue skies and a packed audience lent ‘Disco 2000’ an euphoric feel, but the most emotional moment came at the end. ‘Common People’ brought a moving tribute to Glastonbury from Jarvis Cocker, who said “Glastonbury is not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about us.”

Radiohead, Park Stage, 2011
On the same stage the next day, Radiohead followed Pulp with a hush-hush show of their own. Eighth album ‘King Of Limbs’ had been released months earlier, and the band played its timid and tender ‘Lotus Flower’ live for the first time. ’15 Step’ was equally touching, with Thom Yorke admitting “I’m really nervous and I don’t know why,” before it. But by encore ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ he’d overcome his nerves to complete a show that still lingers in Glastonbury’s memory.


Mumford & Sons, Strummerville, 2011
Also in 2011, Mumford & Sons played unannounced in Strummerville, the area named after Clash frontman Joe Strummer. A day after their melody heavy folk-rock billowed over a huge crowd at The Other Stage, the band rocked up and, as campfires flickered in the background, picked through an impromptu five-song set that culminated with an atmospheric version of ‘The Cave’.

Alt-J, William’s Green, 2013
They played the Pyramid Stage last year (Sunday, June 28), but Alt-J’s 2013 Glastonbury appearance was on a much smaller stage. Now in its fourth year, the Williams Green Stage is one of the best places onsite to catch new bands. Alt-J’s tricksy, meandering opening night slot put them in an intimate context that seems unfeasible now they’re an arena band.

Skrillex, Arcadia, 2014
Skrillex’s Other Stage set proved a surprise hit in 2014 causing a pile up of fans cramming to hear his thumping beats. But an unplanned show at Arcadia, where the DJs play inside a giant fire-spitting spider, was even crazier. Lit up by the orange flames, delirious fans pounded the mud-caked makeshift dancefloor to the LA producer’s big beats.