Since Worthy Farm first opened its doors to the public in 1970, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts has grown from an event capable of hosting 1,500 people to a 5-day extravaganza welcoming around 210,000 music enthusiasts.
Running for over 50 years, Glasto’ – as it’s affectionately known – has welcomed thousands of acts to its stages throughout its existence. Each year, ticket holders eagerly wait to discover who is going to be headlining the iconic Pyramid Stage.
In anticipation of the 2023 festival, we’re taking a look back over some of our favourite headliners from years gone by.
1. Levellers (1994)
Formed in 1988, the Levellers are an English folk-rock band whose moniker comes from a political movement of the same name that took place during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Their political roots are an integral part of the band’s identity, with Chadwick admitting in a recent interview that he’s appalled that more musicians aren’t political.
Although the Levellers first performed at Glastonbury in 1990 on the Wango Riley stage, their most iconic performance was when they headlined the Pyramid Stage in 1994, attracting the largest turn out to date. They performed in front of 300,000 fans, many were gate crashers who breached security measures and swarmed the field. Their set list included top hits such as One Way, Belaruse, and Fifteen Years.
When asked in their post-performance interview if they feel pressured into speaking out about topics such as politics and freedom, Mark Chadwick and Jeremy Cunningham said no, that they speak about these issues because they’re important. They’ve since said they’re unlikely to return to play at the festival.
2. Pulp (1995)
An English rock band formed in 1978, Pulp struggled to find success throughout the 1980s. It was in the mid-1990s that they rose to prominence, after the release of their album titled His ‘n’ Hers (1994).
In June 1995, the Stone Roses were supposed to perform the headline set at Glastonbury. However, they pulled out at the last minute, leaving Pulp to take the helm. They stepped up to the mark, performing to an almost 100,000- strong audience. Their set list included live debuts of Sorted for E’s & Wizz, Disco 2000, and Mis-Shapes. However, without a doubt, the highlight of their performance was their rendition of ‘Common People’.
The Sheffield-born rock band have since played at the festival on one other occasion, in 2011, when they played a Secret Set. After the announcement of a reunion tour for 2023, they’re rumoured to also be on the Glastonbury line-up.
3. Arctic Monkeys (2007)
Headed by the extremely talented vocalist Alex Turner, the Arctic Monkeys are an English rock band that formed in Sheffield in 2002. They’re proclaimed as one of the first bands to attract public attention via the internet. Their album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history.
One of the reasons that the Arctic Monkey’s 2007 headline performance on the Pyramid Stage was so impressive was they it took place only a year after the release of their first album, and only three months after the release of their second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. BBC2 aired the highlights of their set.
Although this was their first Glastonbury performance, it wasn’t obvious, as their crowd were screaming the lyrics from the very start of the set, much to Alex Turner’s awe.
The performance was made even more special by a surprise appearance from Dizzee Rascal, who accompanied them for their song Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend, which they had never played live before. Another highlight was their cover of Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds Are Forever.
4. Beyoncé (2011)
Just three years after her husband, Jay-Z headlined the festival, Beyoncé became the first ever solo Black female artist to headline the Pyramid Stage. From the beginning of her performance, Sasha Fierce pulled out all the stops, even rising up out of the stage on a hydraulic platform.
In true Glastonbury fashion, 2011 was yet another mud filled year for the festival. This didn’t, however, stop Queen B, who executed a full 90-minute energetic performance, a feat made even more impressive by the fact she was pregnant at the time.
Asides from performing her own music, she also included breath-taking covers of Alanis Morisette’s You Oughta Know, Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire, and Etta James’s At Last. The latter was accompanied by powerful footage from the civil rights movement and President Obama.
Beyoncé addressed the fact that the festival was known mostly for booking rock bands as headliners, by announcing to the audience: “You are witnessing a dream! I always wanted to be a rock star!”.
5. Dolly Parton (2014)
A round-up of top Glastonbury headliners would not be complete without a mention of the Queen of Country music’s most iconic performance. The Glastonbury bookers had been trying to secure Dolly Parton ever since 1970, when the festival began. It wasn’t until 44 years later that Worthy Farm was graced with a performance from the legend herself. Indeed, Parton told the audience, “I’ve been waiting a long time for this!’.
Wearing a white, rhinestone-studded suit, she performed hits such as Why D’you Come In Here Lookin’ Like That?, 9 to 5, Coat of Many Colors, and Jolene to a crowd of over 180,000, which included other performers as well as festival-goers, who she told, “It’s always been my dream to sing for people like you”.
Her performance was peppered with stories about her life, lovers, and her music. At one point, she played a short solo on a saxophone. She also performed a song that she had written on the Sunday morning, especially for the occasion, which included the lyrics “Mud, mud, mud, mud/Up to our bums in all this crud”. Fortunately for the singer, the sun came out for her performance.
The superstar attracted the biggest crowd of the entire weekend, and many wore blonde wigs as a tribute to the singer. Even the security staff got involved, choreographing their own dance routine for Jolene. Parton finished with her classic hit, I Will Always Love You. Unsurprisingly, her set was a resounding success, with The Guardian awarding it 5 stars and dubbing the concert ‘ridiculous, yet sublime’.
**Bonus Mention** – David Bowie (2000)
With hundreds of stellar performances from a variety of artists over Glastonbury’s existence, whittling a list of top headliners down to just five is no mean feat. More than worth a special mention is David Bowie’s 2000 performance, which is regarded by many as one of the greatest sets the festival has ever seen.
Ziggy Stardust returned to Worthy Farm after 29 years, and performed a dream set that included hits like Ashes to Ashes, Changes, Life on Mars, and Heroes.
Who will headline Glastonbury 2023?
Sunday night’s headliner has already been confirmed for 2023, with the Rocket Man himself, Elton John set to perform on the Pyramid Stage for the final night of the 5-day festival. The news was announced in December 2022 on Glastonbury’s official Twitter account. The Tweet read, ‘We are incredibly excited to announce that the one and only @EltonOfficial will headline the Pyramid Stage on Sunday night at Glastonbury 2023, for what will be the final UK show of his last ever tour.’
Blur, Harry Styles, and Arctic Monkeys are among the other artists rumoured to be headlining the Pyramid Stage this summer.