There, There: Radiohead Return To Glastonbury

Niall Flynn /
Oct 20, 2016 / Music

Glastonbury-goers rejoice, for the prodigal songs are returning.

Yep, that’s right – Radiohead are back. Though they’ve popped up on-site for the occasional, enigmatic secret set over the past few years, it’ll mark their first Pyramid slot since 2003. Though this might not seem like a particularly long period of time (many great bands are still yet to grace the fields of Worthy Farm, after all), for Radiohead and Glastonbury, it’s a little different. The two are core parts of each other – intertwined, if you like. The festival is part of the band’s rich, demi-mythical DNA, while Glastonbury’s rich and illustrious history can be bookmarked via iconic performances from Thom Yorke and co. Their 1997 headlining slot is widely considered the best ever by many – including Michael Eavis himself. He ought to know, too.

It’s an important coup for the festival for a number of reasons: the first and obvious one being that Radiohead are a truly great band. They’re phenomenal. Other-worldly. Whether they like it or not (and let’s face it, they probably don’t), they are the biggest band in the world. They have been for years. Even when they’re on one of their hiatuses, they still reign premier; like a translucent, spectral presence hanging over the musical world, they never really feel far away. Radiohead are a trophy for any festival and Glastonbury is certainly no different. Whatever happens, you know you’re getting a show.

However, the confirmation of Radiohead as Friday Night Headliners goes a little deeper than that in terms of importance. For the last couple of years, Glastonbury has threatened to feel a little stale. Even the most ardent of annual pilgrims would find it difficult to have expressed genuine excitement at last year’s line-up, while its predecessors have also found themselves bordering on lukewarm. Kanye West aside, there hasn’t really been a wow booking – and he inspired some of the most toxic critical backlash the festival has ever seen. Granted, all of those critics were fucking idiots, but they’re entitled their opinion. Radiohead, though, kill both of these birds with one beautiful, unsurpassable stone.

As the biggest band in the world, they’re exciting. We’re not talking Mumford and Sons big, either – this is the real deal. They’re at the top of their game, coming off the back of a devilishly successful world tour and run of festival appearances, and looking like they’re genuinely enjoying playing music without the shackles. Even Creep is sneaking back into the odd setlist, for fuck’s sake. With Radiohead, Glastonbury has secured a band sitting at the peak of the pyramid – pun intended. But, you could have labelled Kanye West with the same description, couldn’t you – and look how that one went down. Well, unlike The Good Lord Yeezus, you won’t find many Glastonbury attendees who don’t like Radiohead. In fact, you’ll struggle to find Glastonbury attendees who don’t worship the ground they tread their dainty, divine-powered feet along. To reiterate, this is a band that’s part of Glastonbury’s beating heart. Within those grounds, they are all but universally loved. Make no mistake about it, this one’s a crowd pleaser.

So, with Radiohead, Glastonbury has achieved the holy contradiction: they’ve played it safe, with a wild and exciting choice. As a headlining acts, the band fulfil all of the required categories with an elite abundance. While the music is just the uppermost layer of the festival’s weird and wonderful underbelly, a Glastonbury year is very usually defined by its headlining three. With Radiohead, they’re off to a good start.

Rumour has it that this could be the band’s last hurrah. Rumour has also found itself whispering of a very different kind of Glastonbury after its year off in 2018. For the third and final time, the two are intrinsically enmeshed. Don’t rule out this being one of the closing chapters in their strange and magical story. Hail To The Thieves.

Words by Niall Flynn

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