Radiohead at Glastonbury Festival 1997: One of the best sets ever despite technical hell

Radiohead’s Glastonbury Festival title in 1997 is heralded as one of the band’s finest performances.

Q Magazine named it the best concert of all time. Far Out Magazine said it had “saved” Glastonbury. Michael Eavis, the festival’s founder, once placed the ensemble in his top five Glasto performances of all time.

However, the set, which is being replayed in full on BBC Two this weekend, nearly ended in disaster.

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Guitarist Ed O’Brien said in 2017 that the 1997 set was “like form hell”. He continued: “We were doing something that felt like a dream, playing the Pyramid stage on a Saturday night, it doesn’t get any better than that.

“[But] getting into a situation where it felt like we were in crisis mode – equipment failure was happening, [we were] trying to keep all the members on stage, people don’t walk away – it was like, ‘This should be heaven but it felt like some kind of hell.’

“Maybe it galvanized us somehow.”

Their headliner on the Pyramid Stage, which came just two weeks after the release of their acclaimed album OK Computer, was plagued with technical issues. The stage speakers repeatedly malfunctioned, and the band complained that they could not see the audience or hear their own instruments.

Lead singer Thom Yorke would later reveal that he nearly walked off stage due to the issues.

He told BBC 6 Music: “At one point I just walked up to Ed, tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘I’m leaving, see you later. “”

“He turned around and said, ‘If you do this, you’ll probably spend the rest of your life regretting it.

“I went, ‘Good point.'”

Yorke also said he didn’t want to play Glastonbury in the first place. “I got burned,” he said. “We had a meeting about what we were going to do for the shows and I was like, ‘I can’t do Glastonbury’.

“I just needed a break. And in fact, I didn’t have one for another year and kind of, at that point I was pretty much catatonic.”

Despite all the problems, the performance went down in history as one of the best ever. You can catch it again on iPlayer now or on BBC Two on Friday June 25 at 10 p.m. For more on what to expect this weekend, check out BBC TV’s full schedule for Glastonbury.

Jan G. Gilbert