The Glastonbury Festival is one of the world’s most renowned celebrations of art and music in the world. Opening its gates at Worthy Farm for the first time in 1970, and attracting around 200,000 music-lovers each year, Glastonbury regularly hosts some of the world’s most popular and legendary artists, and is regarded as a major event in British culture and society.
In celebration of Glastonbury once again opening its gates this weekend after two years of successive cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to explore five of some of the festival’s greatest moments, giving you a flavour of the marvellous nature of Britain’s most famous music and arts event.
Jarvis Cocker and Pulp Save the Day
Following the release of their much anticipated sophomore LP The Second Coming, Manchester band The Stone Roses were billed to headlines Glastonbury Festival in the summer of 1995.
However, with guitarist John Squire suffering a series of injuries in a cycling accident only weeks before the festival was due to take place, the Roses had to step down from their headline slot at the last minute.
Thankfully, Sheffield’s own Pulp were on hand to save the day at the 11th hour, committing to the monumental headline slot with very little time for rehearsal or preparation. The gig would turn out to be a career-defining performance for Pulp, propelling them onto the national and international stage at the height of the Britpop era, and truly cementing Jarvis Cocker’s place as a local and indeed national treasure.
Skunk Anansie Headline the Festival
Skunk Anansie’s headline slot at Glastonbury in 1999 made them the first Black Britons to do so in the festival’s history.
Their performance was a landmark moment for representation in the festival scene, encouraging music and arts events across the world to diversify their lineups, to include more women, non-binary artists, and artists of colour. In a 2019 interview, Skin, frontwoman of the band, noted that “Glastonbury had a certain face at that time, and it was white rock artists, and not many women either”.
Skunk Anansie’s would be a seminal performance, opening the door for such artists as Jay-Z and Stormy to headline the festival, in 2008 and 2019 respectively.
Jay-Z Takes the Pyramid Stage
In a move typically uncommon during this period in the British festival scene, American hip-hop pioneer, and general superstar of the Western music scene, Jay-Z, was billed to perform in the headline slot on the famous Pyramid Stage in 2008.
Former Oasis lead-guitarist and chief songwriter Noel Gallagher professed his dissatisfaction with the booking, commenting that he was “not having hip-hop at Glastonbury, it’s wrong”.
Throwing this comment right back in the Mancunian’s face, Jay-Z jokingly opened his set with Oasis’ Wonderwall, in a move that would heroically go down in Glastonbury folklore.
The first of a number of artists brought in by Emily Eavis, daughter of Michael Eavis, the festival’s founder and chief organiser, Jay-Z’s headline performance marked a notable shift away from the guitar-rock culture that had previously defined the festival, in favour of a more musically diverse billing.
Jay-Z truly seized the opportunity, thoroughly asserting the necessity for rap and hip-hop at Worthy Farm’s most prestigious of gigs.
The Monkeys’ Return with a Polished Performance
After a meteoric rise following the release of their debut and sophomore albums in 2006 and 2007 respectively, Sheffield band Arctic Monkeys were billed to headline Glastonbury in the June of 2007.
The band were a generational talent, with their lyrics expertly encapsulating life, love, relationships, and going out in Northern England; the headline slot suited them perfectly.
However, with their 2007 set being riddled with sound and technical issues, the Monkeys’ felt they had a score to settle. In 2013, pre-empting the release of their fifth studio album AM, they got their chance.
Their set was polished to perfection, and included tracks released as singles that would appear on their upcoming LP, as well as some of the older tracks that had brought the band to the forefront of the British music and alternative scene.
The band’s encore included a few of their older tracks accompanied by orchestral arrangements, adding that bit of extra Glastonbury magic to an already dazzling set.
‘Alex from Glasto’
In perhaps one of the festival’s most viral moments in its 52 year history, British rapper Dave, as he sometimes does during his live performances, invited a member of the audience to join him on stage for a song.
In 2019, that audience member happened to be Alex Mann, who had attended Dave’s set wearing a Paris Saint-Germain home jersey with Thiago Silva’s name printed on the back, in homage to one of the British rappers’ famous singles.
Alex went on to sing the entirety of that song with Dave, truly making the stage his own and capturing the audience completely.
The video showing Dave and Alex’s performance naturally went viral, drawing yet more eyes to the famous festival, and bringing smiles to the faces of millions around the world watching from home.
We hope you have enjoyed looking back at some of our favourite moments from Glastonbury Festival. For more content on music and the arts, check out another one of our articles about Italian rock band Måneskin here!