Muddled memories from muddy fields

With a Glastonbury-shaped hole in our summer, The Face team reminisce on the best sets from the last 50 years.

In this spring and summer of cancellations, the world’s greatest music festival is another casualty. But the show must go on the only way it can right now – in our imaginations. So, here we toast the great artists and great memories of Worthy Farm in its 50th anniversary year. Presenting our team’s best ever Glasto sets, whether experienced in the flesh, on the telly or in the mud.

Mykki Blanco, NYC Downlow / Maceo’s Bar / Pussy Parlure, 2017


The nights at Glastonbury I love and fear most usually end with a long walk back to the tent from Maceo’s, the 24-hour bar next to the NYC Downlow, after sunrise. One time I watched a shirtless Mykki Blanco, who’d performed a sweaty set in the Downlow a few hours previously, climb the roof of Maceo’s like a spider and then swing from the scaffolding. Onstage at the Pussy Parlure the following night, Mykki was on blistering form. She swung her mic stand around her head, jumped off the stage to climb the bar and rap in the staff’s faces, and then started a moshpit from the middle of the crowd with a wig clenched in her teeth. Not bad for a Glastonbury debut.

PJ Harvey, Main Stage, 1995


I was born in 1995, so I’d like to think I was watching from the womb when PJ Harvey performed an electric set for the second time at Glastonbury. During this time, the alt-rock supremo was changing her image in accordance with her new American blues-influenced sounds from 1995’s LP To Bring You My Love. Out were the grunge leggings and black vest tops, in were fluorescent pink lycra jumpsuits and theatrical beauty looks. The first few chords of Meet Ze Monsta, followed by a whistle blow, ushered in what was to become a defining moment in Harvey’s career: a 40-minute, all-guns-blazing set of campy glam rock struts, howls, wails and tambourine-slapping. Ending with the hush-hush tones of Down By The Waters eerie lullaby, this was an artist evolving from the harsher, rawer sounds of her previous releases. All that was missing was Rid of Me

Jay-Z, Pyramid Stage, 2008


Being an avid rap fan I never thought Glastonbury was ever for me – most of the acts performing there were quite the opposite to that. But I was excited when I heard that Jay‑Z was going to be the first rapper to headline a stage. This excited some but pissed off others, most notably Noel Gallagher, who passionately disagreed with this, stating: I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.” All of this made for great conversation and debate around the time – did the festival need this type of new energy to stay relevant and fresh? All those questions, doubts and worries evaporated when Jay‑Z killed his performance. Funnily enough, he came out to Oasis’s Wonderwall. Now who was wrong, Mr Gallagher?

Amy Winehouse, Jazzworld, 2004


It’s hard to think of Amy Winehouse before the Back To Black years and all the tabloid-chronicled drama around Camden’s Hawley Arms and her on-off relationship with drink, drugs and Blake Fielder-Civil. But back in 2004, on a sunny Sunday morning after a wet and messy Saturday night, she was performing her first album Frank at the Jazzworld stage, following on from the fittingly legendary company of Roy Ayers and Bonnie Raitt. The field was thinly scattered with bleary-eyed Winehouse early-adopters who’d rolled out of their tents on the promise of something special…

And that’s what they got. It was a relaxed, pleasantly shambolic show with fun, fishwifey banter between the beautifully belted out songs. As the show went on, the crowd swelled and she transported everyone out of that grim morning-after energy into a more positive place. There are more euphoric memories from my first Glastonbury – Orbital’s Sunday night Other Stage set, creeping round Lost Vagueness (in the days before NYC Downlow and Block9 owned the late night debauchery slot) and watching the sun rise from the LOVE sign. But seeing Amy Winehouse in such an intimate, pre-fucked-up-by-fame way felt pretty special.

“Michael Jackson”, every stage, 2009


I don’t remember who headlined, and I don’t even remember who I saw. I think Dizzee Rascal was good. But Neil Young was fucking boring and I love Neil Young. Michael Jackson had just died. I found out at about 3am in the Gaz’s Rockin Blues tent, where time seemed to have stopped. Small groups of people gasping and calling their mums to find out if it was true, whilst humming I’m dead” to the tune of Bad. This was a time before Jackson had been cancelled and people cared. I can’t say his death bothered me but it framed the weekend. I’m trying to remember seeing some bands but honestly I can’t. I do remember being part of a 15-strong friendship chain that stuck together by holding hands from Shangri-La to the Stone Circle and back again. I remember dancing and laughing for hours in the dance tent and making hundreds of new best friends. I also remember the comedown on the long drive back. It was so bad I vowed never to return and have kept that promise.

Arctic Monkeys, Pyramid Stage, 2013


Apparently Arctic Monkeys didn’t do themselves justice when they headlined Glastonbury in 2007 – something about terrible sound and horizontal rain. I wouldn’t know anything about that – I was 11 at the time and it was well past my bedtime – but there was no better introduction to Glasto than seeing them perform on the Pyramid Stage in 2013. I was 17 now, bunking off sixth form to come to the festival for the first time. AM was on the brink of being released and the whole place was radiating with Alex Turner mania. He was in the throes of his rockabilly reinvention, galvanising the crowd with classic after classic Monkeys tunes. Everyone went mental for Brianstorm (those drums!) and emotional for Cornerstone (impossible not to). But the one that got me was Fluorescent Adolescent. Clumsily balancing three pints of Brothers cider in my arms, I belted out the lyrics without fully understanding what they meant, tears streaming down my face, basically having an out-of-body experience. It was dramatic and I completely lost my voice. When I got home I watched the performance twice over on telly, desperate to relive the whole thing. College gave me a two-week detention. It was worth every second.

R.E.M., Pyramid Stage, 1999


I remember watching the whole of Glastonbury 99 from my house. I was 15, still too young to be allowed to trek all the way from the south London suburbs to Somerset for a weekend (although I just about managed to swing a day at Reading). The whole line up was insane and eclectic and everyone gave it something extra – Courtney Love in particular was at her provocative best. But it was R.E.M.’s headline slot that really made me feel like I missed out on something special.

Going through the hits from Automatic for the People, Monster, Out of Time, it was one great performance after another. But it was the anarchic, celebratory spirit of It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) that really stood out. It was the end of a century, the millennial bug panic was approaching and 100,000 people stood in a field together and defiantly sang. I can’t think of a better anthem for the situation we’re currently in (and how quaint Y2K fear feels now, eh?). Altogether now: It’s the end of the world as we know it /​(It’s time I had some time alone) /​And I feel fine.”

Thom Yorke, a half-buried aeroplane, 2008


Radiohead in the Great Mud Year of 1997: I was there, slip-sliding halfway up a boggy hill in front of the Pyramid Stage. OK Computer had come out the previous month, and already it was the GREATEST THING I’D HEARD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Atrocious conditions both outwith (that Biblical weather!) and within (some dodgy noodles, surely?) may have dulled my senses. But they couldn’t blunt my appreciation of this all-time great Glasto headline performance (even if, we later learnt, sound problems meant singer Thom Yorke was threatening to walk offstage and guitarist Ed O’Brien was going through a form of hell”).

I saw the band’s other main stage headline moments too (2003, 2017), and a couple of Park Stage special moments. But it was 2008 that offered something Totally Glasto: the promise of a pre-dawn techno set from DJ Thom in the fuselage of an aeroplane that had seemingly crash-landed in a corner of the site. Yeah, right. You couldn’t make it up.

And, because this was Glastonbury, no one had. I remember dancing in the gloom in a crowded, cramped, slanted, tilted metal tube, clattering beats ricocheting round this silly cylinder. I bumped my head a few times, and lost the plot a few times (which way is up?), but it was worth it. Pity, again, though, poor O’Brien. He was in there, too, and he’s six-foot-five. His head must have been killing him.

Deftones, Pyramid Stage, 1998


Now, I’m the last person who should be allowed to write about festivals: having survived all but one in my lifetime, vowing never to return, I’m just no good in a throng. However, I’ve probably clocked up an impressive/​shameful amount of hours on YouTube watching historic live sets from more bands than I’d bother with in the real world, and I don’t doubt for a second that this was one of those defining moments of Glasto, whether they knew it or not.

In 1998 I was on the cusp of rejecting radio music (well, let’s call it a hiatus) and branching out into the muddier waters of punk, pop-punk, post-punk and many genres ending in “-core”. Deftones ended up being a band that formed a huge chunk of what I was listening to, what my mates and I looked like, what we wanted to be like. This was the summer after Around The Fur was released, and two years before the near-flawless White Pony would come and cement the band into that mental archive you never quite stop returning to decades on. There’s only a handful of videos from their Glasto performance, but fuck me, it sounded incredible – not least arguably the best captured live version of Be Quiet And Drive you can find. I’m not sure anything heavier has since been played on the Pyramid Stage. Bliss.

Stormzy, Pyramid Stage, 2019


The first black solo British artist to headline Glastonbury and everything about it will go down in our country’s cultural history. Everything: the Ballet Black performance, a guest appearance by my all-time fave rapper Dave and the mid-set playback of Labour MP David Lammy’s speech about the disproportionate number of BAME people in the criminal justice system. I’ve never been a big fan of festivals but watching it on the telly made me wish I was there. Almost.

Also: my friend was casually sleeping with a guy who, after watching Stormzy at Glastonbury, told her they needed to stop. He had a religious experience and finally accepted his Christian faith during Big Mike’s performance of Blinded by Your Grace. I mean, it’s hard to top that.

FKA twigs, West Holts Stage, 2015


The best nights at Glastonbury are the ones you barely remember. Hazy flashbacks of sunshine drinks, wonky memories down the Rabbit Hole, after-dark magic over at Block 9, sticky sets in NYC Downlow and the painfully long walk back to the tent from the South East corner gone six o’clock in the morning with a satisfied smile on your face, legs like jelly and splattered in mud, sweat and god-knows-what-else. That said, watching FKA twigs on the West Holts Stage in 2015 stands out in my memory – it was the first time I’d seen her perform live. In true twigs style she had the crowd hypnotised with her disembodied vocals, as she switched from Video Girl to Pendulum, and her mesmerising, ethereal dance moves. By the time twigs performed Water Me I was in tears. It was Sunday – the four-day comedown was to blame.

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