Glastonbury 2016: The best headline performances of the past 20 years from Radiohead to Beyonce

Past headliners have included Pulp, The Smiths, Radiohead, Jay Z and the late, great David Bowie

Jess Denham@jess_denham
Wednesday 22 June 2016 12:15
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Beyonce performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2011
Beyonce performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2011

Glastonbury is the undisputed king of the festival circuit, hosting hundreds of bands every year in the lush, or more often muddy, fields of Worthy Farm in Somerset.

Michael Eavis founded his hippie haven in 1970, when 1,500 music lovers paid just £1 to see glam rockers T.Rex strut their stuff on what later became known as the Pyramid Stage.

Forty-six years later, 175,000 festival-goers are donning their wellies and heading to the farm, braving 11-hour traffic jams and the inevitable mud bath for the chance to see the likes of Muse, Adele and Coldplay perform live in the field.

Past headliners have included Pulp, The Killers, Kanye West, The Smiths, Radiohead, Jay Z, Oasis and the late, great David Bowie, who will be honoured at this year’s Glastonbury with a mass sing-a-long and orchestral tribute.

Let’s take a look back at some of the greatest headline performances of the past 20 years:

Radiohead, 1997


Mere weeks after Radiohead’s classic third album OK Computer hit shelves, the English quintet solidified their status as one of the greats.

Ever since, their 1997 performance has been labelled the greatest ever with some music magazines placing it ahead of Queen at Live Aid and the Beatles on the roof of Apple Records.

If Jonny Greenwood’s blazing guitar solo in the seminal “Paranoid Android” is anything to go by, all the praise seems justified.

The Prodigy, 1997


You can officially feel smug if you attended the festival in 1997, despite the mud. Keith, Liam and Maxim were the rave heroes of the Glasto kids then and they remain one of the most successful dance acts of all-time.

“Firestarter”’s 1996 release had helped the band break into the US and is still considered one of the most influential songs of its genre.

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Coldplay, 2005


Coldplay were not all that well-established when Michael Eavis asked them to headline in 2005. Nevertheless, they were the talk of Glastonbury afterwards, for all the right reasons.

Their rendition of “The Scientist” saw Chris Martin label Jonathan Buckland “the best guitar player that ever lived…except maybe Slash”. Some nice ‘woah-oh’s from the crowd, too.


The US rapper’s booking was not a popular one at first. “Glastonbury has the tradition of guitar music, I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury, it’s wrong” snarled Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher.

So what did Jay Z do in response? Why, cover “Wonderwall” of course (horrendously, which only made it funnier), followed by a much-cheered rendition of his own hit “99 Problems”. “He’s got 99 problems but Oasis ain’t one”, alright Noel?

Metallica, 2014


In a similar vein to Jay Z, the metal group came under fire for not obviously fitting with Glastonbury's traditional ethos of peace and love.

They went on to convert a ton of haters and score rave reviews from previously dubious critics. For that remarkable feat alone they deserve a place in this list but the performance was bang on too.

Blur, 2009


Few Glastonbury headline sets can claim to have throbbed with as much energy’s as Blur’s in 2009. From “Girls and Boys” to “Song 2”, the gig was a non-stop thrill.

So overwhelmed were the Britpoppers that Damon Albarn broke down in tears after “To The End”, making him suddenly so much more likeable than usual.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 2009


He ain’t called The Boss for nothing. Springsteen unleashed a hit-ridden, two-and-a-half-hour long set with the crowd singing along to “Born to Run”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “Thunder Road”.

But what made this set refreshingly great was that it was designed for the real fans, and not just those waiting somewhat bored for the big tracks.

Beyonce, 2011


“Beyonce made me masturbate to my own song.” - Caleb Followill, Kings of Leon frontman on her cover of “Sex on Fire”. ‘Nuff said.

The Rolling Stones, 2013


When the Stones took to the Pyramid Stage two summers ago, their average age was 69. But they say it’s the life in your years that count and, boy, did Mick Jagger’s relentless strutting prove that.

Lisa Fischer’s sassy solo served to add yet more Seventies rock‘n’roll spice.

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