Glastonbury trailblazers: the acts who gave Worthy Farm some of its most memorable firsts

We now know the first headliner for Glastonbury 2019 and it’s an exciting one. After only one album, Stormzy will top the bill on the Pyramid Stage, marking the first time a grime artist has done so and hopefully begins a new, fresh era of headliners. He’s not the only trailblazer to have taken one of the most coveted slots at the festival, though, with a lot of Glastonbury firsts coming before him.

1
The first band to headline on one album

The Smiths

When The Smiths headlined in 1984, their self-titled debut album had only been out for six months. Despite that, they only played three tracks from the record (‘Hand In Glove’, ‘Still Ill’, and ‘This Charming Man’), filling the rest of the set with the likes of ‘Girl Afraid’ and ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’. 

2
The first dance act to headline

The Prodigy

In the mid-’90s, rave culture was thriving and, with Glastonbury as a reflection of young people’s tastes, it made sense for 1997 to see the first dance act close out events on the Pyramid Stage. Who better to book for that honour than The Prodigy, a trio who had emerged from the underground scene and risen through the ranks, and already had two banging records out with a third – the ‘Firestarter’-featuring ‘Fat Of The Land’ – on the way.

3
The first rapper to headline

Jay-Z

In 2008, controversy was sparked, fuelled, and set ablaze by the announcement of Jay-Z as one of the year’s headliners. He was entering unchartered ground – no other rapper had ever topped the bill at Glastonbury before and people were more than a little divided about the booking. That only seemed to spur him on to put on an incendiary performance, starting with an atonal cover of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ (a dig at Noel Gallagher, who called having hip-hop at the festival “wrong”) and a setlist packed with knock-out hits.

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4
The first band to cancel

The Kinks

It took precisely one edition of the festival for a band – and headliner – to pull out. The Kinks were due to take on those duties in 1970 but cancelled after seeing the event labelled a “mini-festival”. Why that bothered them so much, we’re not sure but it seems at least one of them isn’t so opposed to Glastonbury anymore – Ray Davies has performed solo a handful of times.

5
The first headliner

T Rex

With The Kinks no longer up for the gig, Michael Eavis drafted in T. Rex instead. They played for just 1500 people – an idea that seems incredibly quaint now – and gave what Eavis has called one of the most memorable sets at the festival and “the ultimate rock’n’roll gig.”

6
The first artist to headline twice

Elvis Costello

People complain now about festival bookers running out of headliners and always getting the same old acts back but imagine the furore if any of the big staples of festy headline sets was booked twice in a row. That’s what happened when Elvis Costello became the first artists to headline Glastonbury twice, performing once in 1987 and then being reinvited back for the next edition in 1989.

7
The first solo woman to headline

Suzanne Vega

Unlike some festivals, Glastonbury has always been quite good at booking a diverse line-up, even when there wasn’t the threat of being taken to task on social media. In 1989, Suzanne Vega became the first solo woman to headline and, we’d imagine, the first headliner to perform while wearing a bulletproof vest. The musician and her bassist Mike Visceglia had received death threats beforehand, prompting police to advise them not to play.

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8
The first metal band to headline

Metallica

Jay-Z isn’t the only Glastonbury headliner to provoke a less than impressed reaction. In 2014, Metallica found themselves in the eye of a storm about whether metal should be included in the festival’s oeuvre. Others were unhappy with the booking due to James Hetfield’s associations with bear hunting, which some felt went against Glastonbury’s values. A petition was launched but, like most online appeals, had no effect and the show went ahead.

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