In different circumstances, over 200,000 people should currently be descending on the small town of Pilton, Somerset for the 50th Glastonbury Festival. But all is not lost – while birthday celebrations have sadly been postponed until next year, there’s still every opportunity to indulge in a weekend of musical decadence: the BBC have trawled through the archives and dug up over 100 performances from back when social distancing just meant avoiding your ex at parties.
From today (June 24), all the sets will be available to watch online, and there’s even a dedicated iPlayer channel if you want the proper festival experience of having to sit through Mumford & Sons to find out who the Special Guests are.
Glastonbury is a magical place and every band who has played the hallowed grounds of Worthy Farm knows it. For bands like Wolf Alice, Haim or Idles, it’s where their breakout moment happened. The Killers, Muse or Arctic Monkeys, it’s where they proved themselves on the biggest of stages. And for LCD Soundsystem and Blur, it’s the home of their greatest comeback.
We know there’s a lot of choice, from Adele proving big crowds were no big deal in 2016, to Biffy Clyro eyeing up a headline slot in 2017 and Christine and The Queens blowing minds and stealing hearts with an exceptional post-Brexit festival debut in 2016. Too much choice, you might say,
Handily that’s where we come in. These are the ten sets that you must relive this weekend. Camping chairs at the ready, and on the upside there won’t be a single flag blocking your view.
David Bowie (2000)
Widely regarded as the best headline performance of all time, this is a rare chance to see a Greatest Hits set from an artist who rarely – if ever – did the expected. After a decade of refusing to play the classics in a bid to force himself to write new ones, Bowie returned to Worthy Farm (after first playing in 1971) and cemented himself as a legend. From the spine-tingling ‘Life On Mars’ to the aspirational pomp of ‘Heroes’, every moment is iconic.
Why it sums up Glasto: There’s a moment before ‘Heroes’ where the cool persona drops and he’s just a bloke having the time of his life. That’s what Glastonbury can do to a person.
Leaning into the abrasive chaos of fourth album ‘Art Angels’, Grimes delivered a pulsating Park Stage headline set as unpredictable as it was brilliant. The sleek, pop-facing club banger of ‘REALiTi’ kicked things off, before the shredding burst of destruction that is ‘Flesh Without Blood’ shifted into the hammering grin of ‘Venus Fly’ – a no-nonsense blitz of sci-fi energy that threatened to blow the speakers. As the closing snarl of ‘Kill v. Maim’ faded into eerie piano music, Grimes reminded us all what a force of nature she can be.
Why it sums up Glasto: There were rumours of a secret set from Radiohead happening after Grimes, which probably bolstered her crowd. While Thom and the boys never showed up, a lot of unsuspecting punters had their minds blown. How very Worthy Farm.
Riding high off of the release of ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, Idles took to The Park Stage as heroes and then spend the next hour proving why. Mosh pits for ‘Colossus’? Check. ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ saw the first twenty rows bouncing, and then the blistering ‘Mother’ incited field-wide chaos. Powerful, inspiring and energetic, this set is one of Britain’s most exciting bands at their very best.
Why it sums up Glasto: “I come here and feel part of something bigger than myself,” said Joe Talbot before ‘1049 Gotho’ nailing the communal magic of Glastonbury
Lady Gaga (2009)
Lady Gaga owned 2009 with a string of infectious pop bangers (‘Poker Face’, ‘Paparazzi’, ‘Just Dance’) that were impossible to avoid. With all eyes her way, her performance at Glastonbury was a real chance to show the world exactly what she stood for. And in case you were wondering, she stood for costume changes, a flamethrower bra and a motorbike – along with a stonking great closing rendition of ‘Poker Face’ that stole the show. Watching back now, it was the moment that *ahem* a star is born.
Why it sums up Glasto: Not only is the weird and wacky given a platform at Glastonbury, it’s celebrated.
Despite the band describing it as “a form of hell” and Thom Yorke wanting to walk off halfway through, Radiohead’s first Glastonbury headline set in 1997 is a thing of wonder. The Festival was having one of its muddiest years ever (The Other Stage even started to sink), the top two on Sunday had dropped out, but Radiohead, having just released the instant classic of ‘OK Computer’, were here to save the weekend from total disaster. Playing a hit-laden set and with something to prove, the likes of ‘Karma Police’, ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out) and ‘Paranoid Android’ saw the band at their most ferocious.
Why it sums up Glasto: It was a mudbath – but no one cares when the music is this good.
2008 was a very different time. Reading & Leeds Festivals sold out within the hour, while the last few tickets for Glastonbury didn’t shift until the Friday of the event. Despite the previous two festivals having absolutely atrocious weather, and a global financial crisis troubling everyone, the lack of ticket sales was laid firmly – and unfairly – at the feet of Jay-Z by certain closed-minded festival punters Cue one of the greatest intros of all time and a victorious set that shut up all the doubters, including Noel Gallagher.
Why it sums up Glasto: This festival has never been afraid of taking risks, and Jay-Z’s headline performance is the perfect example of why more festivals should follow.
At this point, the band hadn’t even put out an album yet – so this performance, early on The NME Stage (now The Other Stage), is a rare glimpse of Oasis pre-superstardom. Not that anyone told Liam who delivers the likes of ‘Supersonic’, ‘Fade Away’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ like he’s headlining the whole festival. Give it a year though and that’s just where they’d be but for now, enjoy the band back when they still had everything to prove.
Why it sums up Glasto: This was probably the first major festival Oasis ever played and they went on to be one of the biggest bands in the world. Anybody could be next.
Beyoncé was the first woman to headline the Pyramid Stage in a whole 25 years, and arguably, the first pop star to take on the challenge. Introducing her performance, Jo Wiley promised, “the real deal, she writes, she sings,” which was a not-so-subtle way of saying ‘pop music is real music, honest’. Within the first few firework-laden moments of ‘Crazy In Love’ though, Beyoncé proved that pop deserves its place at the very top and her entire, emotional and celebratory set is a masterclass in why.
Why it sums up Glasto: A headline slot on The Pyramid Stage is sink or swim, but when an act gets it just right, it’s mesmerising stuff
Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’ saw her take the quiet minimalism of that phenomenal debut album and explode in a burst of party-starting glee. Teasing the start of ‘Green Light’ from side of stage before the oh-so-cool strut of ‘Homemade Dynamite’ saw her taking the spotlight, Lorde’s set at Glastonbury really highlighted just why her music means so much to people. Hopeful, comforting and over-the-top, it veered between elation and heartbreak – but never left you lonely. Also, she performed in a giant glass box.
Why it sums up Glasto: The spiralling ‘Perfect Places’ could be written about Glastonbury
To be a great festival headliner, you need a load of huge anthems. Coldplay have got bucketloads. Their 2016 performance saw them use everything in their arsenal to turn the Pyramid Stage into a rainbow-lit world of joy as the perfect antidote to a country, post-Brexit. Shaking off the last accusations of being boring, the band inspired euphoria with the tropical escape of ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’, tugged at the heartstrings with a tribute to Viola Beach and even brought out Barry Gibb for a couple of Bee Gees classics. A stunning, emotional set that offers plenty of hope. Also, would it really be Glastonbury without Chris Martin popping up somewhere?
Why it sums up Glasto: “We came here a bit scared about the state of the world,” starts Chris Martin. “But you’ve made us realise people can do wonderful things.”
– Glastonbury performances will be available to watch on the BBC pop-up channel from now (June 24) until June 29