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.