This week on ‘Once Upon a Tine’:
In this week’s edition of ‘Once Upon a Tine’, we look at a pivotal moment in 1990s alternative rock history: Radiohead’s seminal performance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 1997.
British rock music in the early-mid 1990s was dominated by the emergence of ‘Britpop’, a scene that ironically celebrated elements of British culture from a stance of wry observation.
Radiohead never fit into this scene, and by their third and defining record, ‘OK Computer’, started to pull the cultural tides away from the now-tired Britpop formula and into a darker, more progressive alternative space.
As Radiohead took to the stage at Glastonbury 1997 for the Saturday night headline slot, the band’s mental state was far from ideal. Lead singer Thom Yorke confessed, ‘I’d burnt myself out. 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.’
Having decided to proceed and play Glastonbury, things weren’t about to get any easier for Yorke, as technical issues plagued their set – ‘At one point I just went over to Ed [O’Brien, guitarist]. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘I’m off mate, see you later,'” said Yorke. “He turned around and went, ‘If you do, you’ll probably live the rest of your life regretting it’. I went, ‘Good point.’
“Thom (Yorke) had a terrible time,” said the guitarist. “He couldn’t hear himself sing and it was really about literally getting through that gig in one piece. That’s what it felt like. Phil played a blinder that night and he sort of held it all together. And I think we came off stage and I think we thought we’d blown it.”
Despite these onstage challenges, the band, with its backs to the wall, managed to deliver an era-defining performance that will go down in history for its mesmerising intensity.
Throughout the set, and on standout tracks such as ‘Karma Police’, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood adorned the band’s music with swathes of warm Rhodes piano, playing the band’s much utilised MK1 Suitcase 73-Key piano.