Festival showstoppers

The Pixies' set at the V Festival on Sunday has been hailed as one of the all-time great festival performances. Which are the others? Ciar Byrne and Oliver Duff asked the experts to share their unforgettable memories
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The Independent Culture

Paul King Video DJ

Paul King Video DJ

The Velvet Underground, Reunion Tour, Glastonbury 1993

Like many other people, I am a huge fan of the Velvet Underground, and I had never imagined I would see them perform. The line-up that year was virtually the original one, except Nico.

It was a greatest-hits show, if you can regard the Velvet Underground as having hits. They came out and performed everything you wanted them to. The expectations were high.

As I remember, a lot of people were disappointed because expectations were so high. I have seen Lou Reed several times; he's either in a good mood or a bad mood. You did sense he didn't communicate with the crowd. He was a big moody. I thought it was fantastic. I didn't care because I just wanted to see them.

Rolf Harris was performing that year and he went down better. With the Velvets it was a workmanlike performance, but I was going to enjoy it whatever. They weren't a party band, which works well at Glastonbury. The reviews were pretty bad.

I was working at MTV, so I had the additional good fortune of interviewing them, apart from Lou Reed. They wanted no questions about why they had reformed, whether they were just doing it for the money and no sugary stuff about how great they were in the 1960s. But they were sweet, and when I asked them if they had just reformed for the money, they said, "yes". Really, they were interested to see how it would be if they got back together.

I also remember seeing Billy Bragg at the Cambridge Folk Festival and being blown away. He was an amazing raconteur, politically aware and humorous.

Allan Jones, editor, Uncut

Tim Buckley/The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Knebworth 1974

If I wanted to be insufferably hip, I would say the performance I remember best was at Knebworth in 1974 by the American Tim Buckley, who died the following year and has now become a legend.

When I arrived from south Wales, Buckley had just gone on stage. He had always been among my great favourites and I had never seen him before.

But perhaps the most memorable was the Sensational Alex Harvey Band the same year at Knebworth. They were on the cusp of becoming big at the time. In many ways they were the forerunners of punk. They were very loud, very garish.

The festival was headlined by the Doobie Brothers. It was old school, a lot of beardy hippies. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band went down like a hand grenade in a chicken coop. They were very theatrical and very messy.

By the time they had finished, the stage was like Omaha beach.

I was friendly with the group and it was amazing to see them taking the festival by the scruff of the neck. I remember joining them afterwards when they were celebrating in style backstage.

The Doobie Brothers' road team came in and said they needed to work in the caravan to get ready. I remember, Alex was from the Gorbals, and he just said: "If the Doobies want this caravan they are going to have to fight us for it with fucking knives."

Liz Kershaw, BBC music presenter

Roger Waters Glastonbury 2002

The one performance I'm so glad I saw was Roger Waters from Pink Floyd at Glastonbury two years ago.

I got into Pink Floyd about 1976 but had never seen them live. Given that he was the only member of the band there, I was a bit ambivalent beforehand. I was excited but didn't expect too much.

But it proved to live up to high hopes. It was the Sunday night, dusk was falling on a warm summer evening, the sky was pink, there were bonfires and tents all around. When he played a 27-minute version of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", it was incredible. His set was just mesmerising - so accurate, even though he was on his own.

Everyone was singing and had their cigarette lighters out. It was just as I always imagined a festival would be in the Seventies - bucket loads of peace and love, no aggression about it.

There were people like me who loved the band years ago, standing shoulder to shoulder with 18-year-olds. It was a completely hippy, good vibes moment, and because it fitted the way I imagined festivals it has lived on in the memory. I stood in the same spot to see Oasis in 1995 and that was crap, even though I'm a fan of the band.

Oasis just couldn't be bothered; it was these drunk guys staggering around the stage, and when you looked around it was loads of drunk blokes staggering around in the crowd, being lairy. The atmosphere was totally different and not what a festival's really about.

Seeing Roger Walters was incredibly special for me - because of my love for Pink Floyd, because I'd never seen them live, because of the atmosphere.

Phil Alexander, editor, Mojo

Thin Lizzy, Reading Festival 1983

The best festival performance I saw was at the first festival I went to, Thin Lizzy at Reading in 1983. It was their last tour, which ended in the UK at Reading, where they headlined.

Then, it seemed bizarre that they were splitting up. We didn't believe they really were. Their final show was in Germany two weeks later, but it was the final blow as far as the UK was concerned. It was an emotional evening.

Being 16, I watched every band. By the time Thin Lizzy came on, we were in an incredible state. The combination of being a tiny bit worse for wear and watching a band saying their final farewell was almost too much.

The most emotional moment was a song called "Still In Love With You". There is one line "Is this the end?" When the music stopped the crowd went berserk and there was a massive cry of "No".

I'm sure Thin Lizzy at the height of their powers played with more panache, but that was my most memorable festival moment.

Stuart Maconie, presenter Radio 2

The Verve, Glastonbury 1993

At Glastonbury in 1993 Rolf Harris and the Velvet Underground were on the main stage, which was a bigger pairing, but on the NME stage were Suede and the Verve.

Suede were at the point of being the most-talked-about group in Britain and the Verve were just about to reinvent themselves at this gig as an emotional, anthemic pop group.

The Verve were pretty amazing. Prior to that they hadn't been my kind of band. Under Richard Ashcroft, the band was finally taking control. They really stuck out in my mind. Within a couple of years, Urban Hymns had made them huge. You could sense they were on the cusp of greatness. They played this amazing version of "Gravity's Grace".

The weather was stunning. I always associate Glastonbury with foul weather, and being in canvas and being rained on is not my thing. A few of us, including me and Mark Ellen, now editor of Word magazine, tried to make it as un-festival-like an experience as possible. We set out a linen table cloth, and had a hamper filled with the best cheeses and fine wines.

Someone said to me, "You look as though you've come dressed for a yachting weekend". We sat drinking Merlot and eating Roquefort while all around us were people in balaclavas taking bad acid. I also bought six bottles of Evian each morning so I could pour them over my head and have a shower. I'm of the opinion that pop music is best enjoyed in an inside venue with a bar.

Andy Gill, music critic

Bob Dylan/ Leonard Cohen Isle of Wight 1969/70

For me it's two Isle of Wight festivals: Bob Dylan in 1969, and then Leonard Cohen in 1970.

In '69 it was Dylan's first full appearance since his bike accident in 1966, and the concert at which he publicly unveiled his country-style voice.

He came on really late because there was some problem with amplification and there'd been a bit of dissent, people tired of waiting. But when he came on and did his old back catalogue in this new voice and new style it was a total shock, sacrilege really, but it has since become his trademark.

Beforehand he'd had this huge mop of curly hair, and had a very loud band and had all this electric stuff and been sneering and contemptuous. And then he appeared at the Isle of White in this scrubby little beard and white suit. Unforgettable because of the change, and because it was so eagerly anticipated.

The following year, half a million people had come to the island for a line-up featuring Hendrix, the Doors, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davies, Jethro Tull and the Who. It was Cohen who stuck in my mind - his performance was quite odd. He had a country rock band with him and appeared to be totally drunk. I remember thinking of him as a solo bedsit balladeer, but with that show he seemed like a bloke - less like a poet than a person. It was more lubricated than usual, shall we say, very memorable as a performance - in contrast to Hendrix, who didn't do one of his best.

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