Monthly Archives: March 2017

Who was the greatest Glastonbury headliner of all time?

Glastonbury has been graced with extraordinary headline slots from the start, but who was the best? One of the legendary sets from the Britpop era? That moment when hip hop stole the headlines? Something from way in the past?

Here’s a selection of great sets for your consideration, from T. Rex and a Cadillac, through to Suzanne Vega in a bulletproof vest, Beyoncé with an unexpected guest, and up to a fantastically profane Adele just last year.

And now, just for fun, it’s over to you to rank these 11 performances and come up with the ultimate answer (until, of course, Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran make us re-think this all again)…

Radiohead, 1997

Michael Eavis has described this watershed moment in the band’s career as the best Glastonbury performance ever and, well, he’s seen a few headliners play. There’s also the fact that readers of Q Magazine once voted this their best concert of all time (though that was back in 2006, so maybe they’ve seen a better one since then; you’ll have to ask a Q reader). The set came just a fortnight after Radiohead released OK Computer, and the band played Paranoid Android, Karma Police and No Surprises. It remains to be seen if they can eclipse their own fearsome reputation this time around.

David Bowie, 2000

Here’s a great yarn, reported by Music Week: according to promoter John Giddins, who worked on David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour, Michael Eavis originally didn’t want the star to perform at Glastonbury, having described his recent drum ‘n’ bass tour as “the most boring thing he had ever seen”. In a cunning ruse, Gidding ‘leaked’ information to the press that Glastonbury was desperate to book Bowie and Eavis’s phone exploded with excitable phone calls. He swiftly did an about-turn and the resulting show – Bowie’s first at the festival since a low-key appearance in 1971 – was a greatest hits stomper that packed in the likes of Rebel Rebel, Starman, Changes and, of course, Heroes.

David Bowie, 2000

Here’s a great yarn, reported by Music Week: according to promoter John Giddins, who worked on David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour, Michael Eavis originally didn’t want the star to perform at Glastonbury, having described his recent drum ‘n’ bass tour as “the most boring thing he had ever seen”. In a cunning ruse, Gidding ‘leaked’ information to the press that Glastonbury was desperate to book Bowie and Eavis’s phone exploded with excitable phone calls. He swiftly did an about-turn and the resulting show – Bowie’s first at the festival since a low-key appearance in 1971 – was a greatest hits stomper that packed in the likes of Rebel Rebel, Starman, Changes and, of course, Heroes.

Pulp, 1995

The Stone Roses cancelled their show when guitarist John Squire broke his collarbone on a bike ride (the most un-rock ’n’ roll mishap ever?), leaving Jarvis Cocker and his merry band of misfits to storm the Pyramid Stage with a performance that marked the zenith of Britpop. The oddballs had the world’s attention at last – although Primal Scream, Blur and even Rod Stewart were approached first. Cocker played up the stroke of luck, joking that he looked somewhat out of place on the main stage at the world’s most famous music festival. When Pulp played Common People, the anthem of the underdog, it underlined the feeling that culture had shifted and – for a time – anything seemed possible for anyone.

Artists you never knew had headlined Glastonbury

One of the hot topics in the toilet queue at Glastonbury is always: who should headline the next one? But as anyone who’s ever been will tell you, Glastonbury isn’t all about the headliners. The wealth of entertainment on offer at Worthy Farmmeans that the organisers have always been fairly relaxed about exactly who is topping the bill. In the early days in particular, a highly personal approach to booking bands led to some memorably eccentric line-ups that defied contemporary pop trends.

Looking back at old Glastonbury posters also reveals a number of headline bands whose star has since waned, but who were undoubtedly big at the time, particularly with a festival-going audience. Here are 12 of the unlikeliest Glastonbury headliners from years gone by – and by headliners, we mean any act who closed out a night on the main/Pyramid Stage or received top billing on the official poster.

Ash, 1997

When reminiscing about the glory days of Britpop, Northern Irish pop-punk outfit Ashare rarely one of the first bands mentioned. But a string of hit singles in the mid-90s earned them an Other Stage headline slot on the Friday. Then, when Steve Winwoodwas forced to pull out of Sunday night’s bill – supposedly his truck got stuck in the mud – Ash were asked to perform again, becoming the youngest-ever Pyramid Stage headliners. Come to think of it, had Winwood played, he’d probably be on this list instead…

Ginger Baker, 1981

The notoriously irascible former Cream drummer Ginger Baker, appearing with his new band, was the first act to headline the newly-built Pyramid Stage on 19 June, 1981. In a moment that certainly trumps Lee Nelson’s stage invasion during Kanye West’s set, Baker caused an almighty ruckus by setting up his equipment while the previous act, folk-rocker Roy Harper, was still playing. Understandably miffed, Harper confronted him and the two ended up scrapping on-stage. According to an eyewitness account on UK Rock Festivals, the crowd then pelted Baker with bottles during his set, with one hitting him square on the forehead. Some claim that Baker, hardman that he is, simply carried on drumming.

Basement Jaxx, 2005

Another last-minute stand-in, Basement Jaxx were bumped up the bill in 2005 when Kylie Minogue pulled out after being diagnosed with breast cancer. The Brixton-based dance outfit rose to the occasion with a carnivalesque show, paying tribute to Kylie by covering Can’t Get You Out of My Head.

Tim Blake, 1979

The first-ever three-day Glasto in 1979 was also the first since 1970 to charge for tickets, becoming a significantly more professional operation complete with healthcare facilities, children’s entertainment and a state-of-the-art Funktion One sound system. So who was chosen to headline this momentous event? Why, Tim Blake of course! Er sorry, who? Let us explain… Peter Gabriel was undoubtedly the biggest name on the bill, delivering a rousing set on the main stage (not yet a pyramid) with the help of a band that included former Genesis cohort Phil Collins and ex-Gong guitarist Steve Hillage. Yet it was another former Gong member, prog synth wizard Tim Blake, who was asked to close out the festival after Gabriel’s set – largely because of his pioneering use of lasers. “I spent the whole evening s****** myself,” Blake told UK Rock Festivals. “But yes, I headlined the ’79 Festival with P.G. as support! Never forget it!”

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, 1992

It seems improbable now, but in 1992, pun-loving electro-punks Jim Bob and Fruitbat – aka Carter USM – were kinda a big deal. Riding high on the chart-topping success of 1992 – The Love Album and its attendant Top 10 single The Only Living Boy in New Cross, the duo celebrated their Pyramid Stage headline appearance by firing thousands of Carter-branded rubber balls into the audience. However, their set was forcibly cut short due to previous bands overrunning; as a result, Fruitbat badmouthed Michael Eavis from the stage and Carter were never booked again.

misleading album titles and the stories behind them

Album titles are often a signpost offering directions to the music within. Sometimes they suggest what the songs sound like, sometimes they’re a statement of a theme; a clue as to why the album was written. But sometimes albums are given titles that appear to be deliberately trying to mess with people’s expectations.

This can be for mischievous reasons – such as Paul McCartney’s 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom – or an attempt to remain coy and open to misinterpretation by listeners (especially in the field of live recordings). And some, as in our first example below, are just plain shifty.

20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle

With the driest of wits, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle titled their third album 20 Jazz Funk Greats partly out of scorn for people who might like an album with that title, and partly because their music had started to incorporate elements that could loosely be termed either jazz or funk. Even the cover was deliberately misleading, as Cosey Fanni Tutti explained to Music Academy: “It was a pastiche of something you would find in a Woolworth’s bargain bin. We took the photograph at the most famous suicide spot in England, called Beachy Head. So, the picture is not what it seems, it is not so nicey-nicey at all, and neither is the music once you take it home and buy it.

“We had this idea in mind that someone quite innocently would come along to a record store and see [the record] and think they would be getting 20 really good jazz/funk greats, and then they would put it on at home and they would just get decimated.”

Alive! – KISS

When KISS were thinking about making their first live album in 1975, they realised that to get a good recording they were going to have to make some substantial compromises to their natural performance. As Gene Simmons told VH1: “In those days, I’d be taken over – I’d be possessed, and I’d make tonnes of mistakes on my bass. I remember talking backstage with the guys, and everybody agreed that we would jump around less – that we would try to hit the notes more.”

But even being less frantic on stage didn’t prevent the band from having to take their live tapes into the studio to fix missed notes, out-of-tune harmonies, and, well, sometimes everything but the drums. So, the name Alive! is an artful sidestep of the fact that it’s not entirely a live album in the accepted sense, despite looking (and trying to sound) like one. Not that Paul Stanley minds. In his autobiography, he embraced the improvements to the tapes, saying: “Who wanted to hear a mistake repeated endlessly? Who wanted to hear an out-of-tune guitar? For what? Authenticity?”

10 from 6 – Bad Company

10 from 6 is a compilation album that came out in 1985. It was given that slightly clunky title because it has 10 songs, and Bad Company had released six albums by that point. The fun part is that there are no selections from their album Burnin’ Sky. Not one. The album that was compiled should be called 10 from 5 (With 1 Remaining).

It’s tempting to add a further layer of mathematical significance, because Burnin’ Sky was their fourth album, and 10 from six equals minus four (yeah? Do you see?). But that might just be overthinking things…

Most heartwarming letters written by musicians

We may not send nearly as many letters as we used to, but we remain fascinated by them as historical documents and because they provide insight into the private worlds of people we admire. And while email and other forms of instant digital communication might have made the purpose of a letter in its simplest form redundant, it’s online that we’re now able to investigate many centuries of letter writing.

Here are six sent by musicians that have come to light in recent years…

Johnny Cash to June Carter Cash, 1994

We may not send nearly as many letters as we used to, but we remain fascinated by them as historical documents and because they provide insight into the private worlds of people we admire. And while email and other forms of instant digital communication might have made the purpose of a letter in its simplest form redundant, it’s online that we’re now able to investigate many centuries of letter writing.

Johnny Cash to June Carter Cash, 1994

This 1995 response to a young French fan called Laurence comes with quite a backstory, as detailed on Letters of Note. Laurence, 21, had written a 20-page letter to Iggy Pop telling the former Stooges frontman about “being the child of an acrimonious divorce with a string of social workers, lawyers, greedy estate agents and bailiffs at the door, the fear, the anger, the frustration, the love”.

Laurence didn’t receive a reply until nine months later – the exact day she was being evicted from her Paris home, along with her family. A day later and she may never have got the letter, which reduced her to tears.

Iggy wrote: “thankyou for your gorgeous and charming letter, you brighten up my dim life. i read the whole f****** thing, dear. of course… i want to see you take a deep breath and do whatever you must to survive and find something to be that you can love. you’re obviously a bright f****** chick, w/ a big heart too and i want to wish you a (belated) HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY 21st b’day and happy spirit. i was very miserable and fighting hard on my 21st b’day, too. people booed me on the stage, and i was staying in someone else’s house and i was scared. it’s been a long road since then, but pressure never ends in this life. ‘perforation problems’ by the way means to me also the holes that will always exist in any story we try to make of our lives. so hang on, my love, and grow big and strong and take your hits and keep going.

“all my love to a really beautiful girl. that’s you laurence.”

See the letter on Letters of Note

Fiona Apple to South American “friends”, 2012

It’s frustrating when your heroes cancel tours, especially if you’re fobbed off with a generic excuse sent out by a promoter or press officer. American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, however, has always treated her fans to the personal touch and few of them in South America would have felt short-changed by her heartfelt reasons for postponing shows on the continent in 2012.

Apple posted a long hand-written letter on her Facebook page, addressing “a few thousand friends I have not met” and explaining that her dog Janet had been “ill for about 2 years now, as a tumor has been idling in her chest, growing ever so slowly. She’s almost 14 years old now. I got her when she was 4 months old. I was 21 then – an adult, officially – and she was my kid.”

She went on to say Janet, who she’d rescued in Los Angeles “with a rope around her neck, and bites all over her ears and face” had been been “the most consistent relationship of my adult life”, adding: “She slept in bed with me, her head on the pillow, and she accepted my hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken, or spirit-broken, or just lost, and as years went by, she let me take the role of her child, as I fell asleep, with her chin resting above my head.”

Apple concluded: “I just can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out… I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and I am revelling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel. And I’m asking for your blessing.”