POP & JAZZ

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The Independent Culture
Radiohead play the Glastonbury Festival tonight. Tickets are still available for November concerts in Cardiff (01222 230130), Manchester (0161-930 1000), Birmingham (0121- 780 4133) and Aberdeen (0122-462 0011). Currently scheduled London shows are sold out

There is something about headlining Glastonbury Festival that turns mere bands into gods - after appearing in front of around 100,000 fans, their mythical status in pop is sealed. Glastonbury turned Pulp (after 13 years' slog) into one of the most celebrated bands of the decade, and Oasis were crowned the kings of Britpop (over Blur) after their appearance.

Going for gold this year are Oxford's Radiohead, right now probably Britain's most important band. Tickets for their autumn tour are disappearing fast, and the scramble is on for the follow-up dates. Londoners could be disappointed - both Brixton Academy and Wembley Arena gigs are sold out.

It's a very strange and wonderful circumstance, considering that, post- Creep success in the US, Radiohead were rubbished by pundits and seemed on the verge of splitting up. Then 1995's The Bends album produced one of the most bizarre turning points imaginable. Singles from it just managed to scrape into the Top 20, only to flop like a dead seagull the week after ("My Iron Lung", "High and Dry" "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Just" among them). And the "Lucky" single from the Help charity album did abysmal business, reaching a mere number 51.

But the gigs were telling a different story. Radiohead were frighteningly good. Fans were brought to the brink of hysteria (one girl fainted in my arms at a Glasgow show) and Radiohead inspired road-to-Damascus emotions in sceptics who saw the light. After the autumn tour in 1995, it was clear that the tide had turned when "Street Spirit", the fifth single from the album, leapt in at number five. The genius of Radiohead was out.

Fast-forward to May this year, with sales of The Bends at two million copies. "Paranoid Android" from the latest album OK Computer has impaled itself on our consciousness, helped by arguably the most triumphant appearance ever by a band on Later with Jools Holland. It seemed like the roof would be blown off by Johnny Greenwood's high-voltage guitars screaming to the heavens and the floods of applause afterwards.

There is no chance of the roof coming off at Glasters, of course. But this may be the gig where Radiohead discard forever their image of being promising Brit middleweights and become the Mike Tysons of pop. It would be nice to say you were there.

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