Pyramid Song for a Pyramid Stage


Talking about Glastonbury in November is a little like starting your Christmas festivities in May. Fortunately, we live where we do and as the lights go up on Silver Street, it is time to talk about the musical incarnation of Noël, namely the small matter of Worthy Farm’s dairy festival come music leviathan, Glastonbury.

The figure of Father Christmas comes in many guises. In the music world, he is the gently bald and bearded Michael Eavis who has brought nearly all of the twentieth centuries biggest acts to his Somerset barns. From legends like Bowie and the Stones to smaller pop acts like Beyoncé and U2, the cows have witnessed a barrage of some of the most diverse and celebrated music. And Metallica.

As the autumnal leaves drop all around us, coating our shoes in gunk and grime, what could possibly have led us to start thinking about the long distant shores of June’s mud-spattered spiritual cleansing? Well, if you must know, it was the October announcement of Radiohead as the first confirmed headliner for 2017’s festival.

We endorse speculation here in the Music section, but the range of rumours for the other headline slots are magnificently diverse. If 2016 saw the festival fall for the safely flat populist trilogy of Muse, Adele and Coldplay, perhaps 2017 should see a plunge for the more experimental or something completely different.

Worryingly, Guns N’ Roses are touted as a bookie’s favourite, while the more enticing florally monikered headliner would be Manchester’s pioneers of all things baggy, The Stone Roses. The apocalyptic likelihood of an Ed Sheeran set sends shivers down the spine of anyone even remotely musically inclined, only abated by the thought of Lady Gaga or Rihanna turning Glastonbury into a lucrative V Festival spin-off. The popocalypse, perhaps.

 This would make Bieber’s new London residency a sure fire predictor of his headliner potential for 2019, and the end of Glasto as a safe space for anyone with musical taste. Here’s hoping for a Stone Roses Sunday slot, perhaps Foo Fighters on the Saturday (they had to cancel in 2015 owing to Grohl actually breaking a leg) and the glory of a Radiohead Friday nighter. Could we see the return of Gorillaz or even the most extremely optimistic rumour: Daft Punk?

 Anyway, let’s deal in definites. We know our first headliner. For those of you have already taken the £243 plunge into the student overdraft to buy yourself a weekend of musical hedonism, you are in the highest quality of hands. The boys from Abingdon know how to do Glastonbury.

Radiohead can call on a long history with Worthy Farm that parallels their rise as a band. Their first time at the festival was in 1994, when “Creep” was getting little air time and their debut album had just dropped. The only dud in their appearances to date was the 2011 Park Stage not-so-secret set that saw the band preview much of the new King of Limbs material, failing to ignite a damp and sober crowd in the murky rain. They were horribly overshadowed by the return of Pulp who played a stunning set of hits and took the crown in a festival that was dominated by these underground headliners.

However, their previous headline shows, in 1997 and 2003, are often rated among the best in Glastonbury’s vaunted vault of an archive. A student of the arts will tell you context is everything, and 1997’s set came precisely at Radiohead’s apogee. Just weeks after the release of their stellar mainstream breakthrough album, Ok Computer, this was the time when every Radiohead fan simply wishes they were there. I was three, but at least the ticket would have been free. Sadly, I couldn’t make it.

The thing with Radiohead is they do not rest in the pursuit of something more. Call it perfection, pomposity or ambition, they have never feared stretching themselves above and beyond the normal comfort zones of most bands. In 2003, with the legacy of their previous performance looming large, they went one better and produced an extraordinary set of sublime proportion. Just Radiohead. Nothing less, everything more. No fancy stage sets, fireworks or distractions, the simple energy of the music in its purest form, entertainment unashamedly stripped back to the songs and the sound of a band at their best.

And what some set it was, just check YouTube for the evidence. Leaning heavily on their latest album of the time, Hail to the Thief, they intertwined older material seamlessly into the core of the set. The Flaming Lips’ lead man, Wayne Coyne, has described the set as “one of the greatest shows I have ever seen”, purring about the evening at length:

“After we got done playing we were able to stay onstage and watch Radiohead play,” Coyne told NME. “I love Radiohead, and just seeing them embrace this huge mass of overflowing love and energy that was cascading down on them…it was amazing.”

“Overflowing love”, might not be a given from all directions as Glastonbury now operates a far broader church than back then. Radiohead remain pioneers who bow to no crowd however big, their latest sets saw the band play songs mostly from A Moon Shaped Pool. As such, it seems that our ideal Glastonbury setlist, courtesy of Mason Boycott-Owen, seems a fair reflection of what may or not come to pass on 23rd June, 2017.

After all, what better way to celebrate the anniversary of the EU Referendum than a night of Radiohead reverie. Some things never change, fourteen years later, Radiohead will bring their firebrand of innovative rock to the Pyramid Stage. Now we’ve just got the long wait for musical Christmas.

Mason’s Ideal Radiohead Glastonbury Setlist

Radiohead ideal Glastonbury setlist

Illustration courtesy of Akansha Naraindas. Image: Mason Boycott-Owen.

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