Mourning the loss of Glasto? Here are the most iconic performances

"As we mourn the loss of another year at Worthy Farm, it is only right to look back at some of the most iconic performances the festival has delivered."

Our festival-filled summer plans have been brutally stripped from us, and what would have been the weekend of Glastonbury looms increasingly closer on the horizon. As we mourn the loss of another year at Worthy Farm, it is only right to look back at some of the most iconic performances the festival has delivered. From the life-changing, to the unpredictable, to the emotional, here are the highlights.

1. Arctic Monkeys – 2007:

Arctic Monkeys headline set on the Pyramid stage in 2007 is iconic largely because it was unbelievable. Four lads from Sheffield, scarcely out of their teens, performing to 100,000 people at Glastonbury? It’s mad. Their set arguably marked the moment the band were propelled to rock stardom: it was completely career-defining. With a setlist that most of their fans would swoon at and a baffling but incredible appearance from Dizzee Rascal, this was Arctic Monkeys climbing to new, dizzying heights. Their euphoria at this completely colours the set, bubbling over with the promise of what was to come for the band.

2. Radiohead – 1997:

Whilst guitarist Ed O’Brien labelled it a “form of hell”, Radiohead’s 1997 Glastonbury set was seminal. Beset with a myriad of technical issues that meant most of the band couldn’t hear themselves and frontman Thom Yorke prepared to walk, they still miraculously delivered a set that many deem to have rescued Glastonbury that year. Just a month after the release of OK Computer, their performance cemented their reputation as an impressive live act, with Michael Eavis himself declaring it the “most inspiring festival gig in thirty years”. An aural spectacle, there’s no doubt that Radiohead’s 1997 set (and their 2003 and 2017 sets, on that note) is one of Glastonbury’s most iconic.

3. Dolly Parton – 2014:

As someone whose mum had The Very Best Of Dolly Parton in the car permanently, there is no avoiding that the queen of country music’s 2014 Sunday Legends spot is iconic in every sense of the word. The completely rhinestoned outfit? Iconic. The nails so long it’s a wonder she could even play guitar? Iconic. The security guards dancing to ‘Jolene’? Iconic. Every single song on the setlist is gold (of course, it’s Dolly Parton we’re talking about). She might be a bit corny, but it is an immaculate, hilarious set that I would have given a lot of money to catch. Long may she reign.

4. Florence & The Machine – 2015:

With Foo Fighters dropping out due to Dave Grohl breaking his leg, Florence and the Machine stepped up to the headline spot back in 2015. Fresh from the release of her third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, the set sees the incredible Florence Welch at her most powerful. ‘Delilah’ is, of course, the highlight: Welch becomes a vision of red and silver as she darts about the stage barefoot. It carries the force of intense energy that defines the set, the band delivering something almost spiritual. There’s no doubt that the Foo Fighters had big boots to fill. But Florence managed far more than that: she stomped all over Glastonbury.

5. Lorde – 2017:

Lorde’s 2017 Glastonbury set is an hour of pure bliss. One week after the release of her widely adored album Melodrama, The Other Stage found themselves in the palm of the New Zealand native’s hands. It’s completely electric, from her inimitable stage presence, to the glass box looming over the stage, to the insane setlist. She manages to ignite the crowd, who recite every single word back to her, with fervent energy, whilst simultaneously moving them to tears. It is pure, unadulterated magic: ‘Liability’ is a particularly striking moment, as the singer perches on the edge of the stage, illuminated by thousands of camera flashes. “I didn’t know there’d be so much love in this field, Glastonbury”, she declares partway through. This is precisely why it’s so iconic: from her adoring fans to the love and passion embroidered into her performance, you can’t help but be enamoured by her.

6. Pulp - 1995:

There is a recurring pattern of bands dropping out of their headline slot, and their replacement act arriving to blow any expectations out of the water. Pulp? They invented it. With The Stone Roses dropping out so last minute in 1995 that many in the crowd had no clue who would grace the Pyramid Stage, the Sheffield legends delivered a set widely regarded as one of Glastonbury’s best. Jarvis Cocker manages to cast a spell over the crowd, and with a seven-minute-long rendition of ‘Common People’, the band proved that they really were the true stars of Britpop. With the release of Different Class later that year, their Glastonbury set was crucial for the band, transforming them into the icons they are today.

7. The Cure – 2019:

The Cure and Glastonbury go hand in hand. Having headlined four times, it’s difficult to pinpoint their most iconic performance. Yet, 2019 saw them close the festival with a set that perhaps epitomised each one that came before. A quarter of a century on from their last appearance, but Robert Smith’s vocals sound as perfect as they did the first time. A whistle-stop tour of their greatest hits set to a backdrop of a gorgeous sunset, it is completely and utterly mesmerising. It is timeless, and arguably far too short, standing to testify that the goth rock kings are gods at Glastonbury. They really did get it right: it truly is just like heaven.

8. Foals – 2019:

Last year saw the festival’s most non-secret secret set yet in the shape of Foals. Pulling one of the biggest crowds the Park stage saw all weekend, the set was one of the most enigmatic of the weekend, and in true Foals style, unbelievably raucous. Sliding from hit to hit, the most poignant and iconic moment came in the form of ‘Sunday’, a song which the band brought to life with the prospect of a Glasto set in mind. Thunderous yet elated, Foals may well be one of the sweetest surprises the festival have delivered in recent years.

Words by Neive McCarthy.

23rd June 2020.

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