~ by PBH | 22nd April 2015
Glastonbury 1997. If it were an episode of Friends it would be called The One With Even More Mud Than Usual, or maybe The One With The Legendary Radiohead Set. Yes, it was that one...
In the couple of weeks immediately before the festival, it rained. And it rained. And it rained some more. Come the actual festival weekend, it didn't rain quite as much, but the site was already so waterlogged, churned up, and muddy that it didn't matter. In places the mud was several feet deep, no kidding.
And so it was that a new form of dance was created, on full display during the Prodigy's headlining set on the Friday. After constant pounding from thousands of feet, the entire muddy field in front of the main stage was by now the consistency of glue, and just as sticky. So, as the Prodigy debuted tunes from their shortly-to-be-released album The Fat Of The Land, they were witness to the sight of thousands of people (me included) doing the only thing possible: swaying a bit from side to side because our feet were literally rooted in the ground. It was a bizarre sight.
The bizarreness continued when the insidious dampness caused the stage's PA system to fail. Actor/comedian Paul Kaye came on and gave a lively solo rendition of Hava Nagila, while the Prodigy's roadies ran around frantically trying to get the sound back. Normal service eventually resumed and, what with all the firestarting and smacking my bitch up, it was a wonderfully raucous, hard-hitting set.
This was the first Glastonbury I'd been to since 1990, and it was clear that the police presence had been ramped up bigtime. They seemed to be everywhere, although thankfully most seemed to be yer old-fashioned good-natured bobbie enjoying a bit of a day out, as a welcome change from directing traffic in Frome town centre.
But still, were we on a slippery slope towards over-the-top surveillance and security? What would be next? A multi-million-pound mega-fence? CCTV cameras everywhere? Oh, what it is to have hindsight.
Much has been written about this set. The greatest ever, blew the audience away, blah, blah, blah. Thing is, a lot of it is true. They were astonishing. The set-list was immaculate, combining almost all of OK Computer, released a few weeks earlier, with most of the previous album The Bends and a couple of tunes (including the magnificent Creep) from their first album.
Looked at in retrospect, I'd argue this was peak Radiohead. Much as I can appreciate a lot of their more recent stuff, the pre-millennium Radiohead were poppier, more accessible. Even OK Computer, with its themes of angst and isolation in modern life, was filled with catchy tunes just right for a festival audience.
There wasn't too much banter from Thom Yorke during the set, but it wasn't necessary. The band had a presence on stage, a confidence, that the audience picked up on and went with. Radiohead held up a mirror, we saw ourselves and we cheered. ( Sorry, dear reader, all music reviews have to take a plunge into the waterfall of pretentiousness at some point, it's the law.)
According to some contemporary scribbles, I saw Daft Punk in the dance tent on the Sunday night. I can vaguely recall dancing around inanely to Around The World, but that's all. You'd think I'd remember seeing two guys on the decks wearing robot masks, but hey, such is festival life. Here's to the next one!
Glastonbury 1997 saw the BBC take over broadcasting duties from Channel 4. Here's the first televised link from John Peel and Jo Whiley:
When: Friday 27th June - Sunday 29th June
Where: Worthy Farm, Pilton, near Shepton Mallet, Somerset
Two tracks from Glastonbury 1997 are featured on the DVD Glastonbury Anthems: The Best Of Glastonbury 1994-2004 - The Prodigy - Breathe and Radiohead – Karma Police.
Watch Radiohead at Glastonbury 1997 courtesy of the BBC (running time 58 minutes)
Glastonbury 1997 line-up poster (Main Stage, Other Stage, Acoustic Stage, Theatre and Circus, Jazz World Stage, Dance Tent, Avalon Stage, Kidz Field)