Photo Credit: http://www.nme.com
Every year, for hundreds of thousands of fans (and for millions at home), Glastonbury Festival is one of the year’s most anticipated music events, with tickets sold out in minutes – even before the line-ups have been announced.
So, what did the Glastonbury music festival 2023 deliver? Who were the headliners, the surprise guests and the icons, and what were the most memorable moments?
Generations of Memories Made Down on the Farm
Music forms the soundtrack of our lives, and live music in particular can create memories unlike any others. Glastonbury hosted its first festival at Worthy Farm in late summer 1970 – the day after Jimi Hendrix died. That year, it was called the Pilton Pop, Folk and Blues Festival, cost the princely sum of £1 to get in and included free camping and free milk (for anyone who doesn’t know, Worthy Farm is a working dairy farm.) The 1,500 attendees enjoyed Marc Bolan’s T-Rex – playing in place of the Kinks, who were due to headline.
By 1971, the festival, which was inspired by the success of the Isle of Wight Festival and Woodstock in the US, had been renamed The Glastonbury Fayre and the date was changed to coincide with the summer solstice. Festival founders Michael and Jean Eavis saw the event as a place for the ‘expression of free-thinking people.’
This is borne out by the location of the now iconic Pyramid Stage (a replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt), which was determined by the Glastonbury Abbey and Stonehenge ley line, an invisible line that runs through the Vale of Avalon and is believed to demarcate ‘earth energies’.
However, Glastonbury as we know it really kicked off in 1979, with a three-day festival attended by 12,000 revellers paying £5 a head, and Peter Gabriel headlining. Glastonbury 2023 welcomed over 210,000 revellers – similar to a city the same size as Bath, providing a five-day home to its festival-goers.
Over the decades, as the Festival grew in size and reputation, it attracted some of music’s biggest names – everyone from Van Morrison to David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Stormzy has taken to the Pyramid Stage – plus, of course, the Sunday afternoon ‘legends slot’, reserved for established, well-loved artists.
In the early 90s, Britpop bands Oasis, Pulp, Blur and Radiohead all made their festival debuts at Glastonbury; it’s well established as a festival that embraces rising stars – this was also the place for the emerging dance and rave culture. The first TV broadcast by Channel 4 was in 1994 and the BBC took over in 1997.
The Festival programme caters to every kind of festival tribe and music fan, from dance to jazz, cabaret to rock, rap to pop and world music.
Memorable Moments From Glastonbury 2023
Who were the Glastonbury 2023 headliners? Friday night saw the Arctic Monkeys deliver an – it’s fair to say – divisive set, combining both new tracks and favourite hits, headlining for a third time (they previously headlined here a decade ago.)
However, frontman Alex Turner’s pivot from raw, authentic Sheffield accent to a kind of lounge-lizard, Vegas persona isn’t for everyone. Hardcore fans who’ve been with them from the start love it, but with so many other stages and acts on offer elsewhere, if you weren’t enjoying it, there were plenty of other options – especially with the BBC’s Glastonbury channel offering the pick of each stage.
The Mystery Is Solved
The Arctics were arguably overshadowed by one of the big moments of this year’s festival: the Foo Fighters. There’d been a lot of chat about who mystery band ‘The Churnups’ were when the 2023 lineup was announced. Could it be Pulp, who last played Glastonbury in 2011, Red Hot Chili Peppers – yet to ever play the festival after pulling out of a headline slot in 1993 – or Blur, set to play Wembley in a fortnight (with ‘churnups’ being a cheeky nod to bassist Alex James’ love of cheesemaking)?
But no, after a cryptic message from Dave Grohl that referenced ‘churning up emotions’, the Foos took to the stage ahead of Royal Blood and the Arctics at 6.15pm on Friday for, as the NME said, ‘a brief but brilliant return for a band who’ve etched themselves into festival folklore.’
Marking one of the band’s first UK gigs since their tribute gigs to late drummer Taylor Hawkins last September and the release of their first album since his death, But Here We Are, the set’s hour run-time was ‘refreshingly zippy for a Foos show.’ Just nine songs, including ‘All My Life’, ‘No Son of Mine’, ‘Learn to Fly’, ‘The Pretender’ and ‘Everlong’, which was dedicated to Hawkins. It was a special gig for other reasons too – it was the 25th anniversary of the band’s first appearance at the festival, even down to the stage and the slot.
Dave Grohl also joined The Pretenders with Johnny Marr for their performance on Saturday and Saturday’s headliners Guns N’Roses for ‘Paradise City’, clearly making the most of his Worthy Farm weekend. Plus, he showed he really is one of the most down to earth rockers around, when he tweeted a pic en route, saying, ‘Even rock royalty knows that there is no better way to travel to Glastonbury than by train’, from one of Great Western Railway’s finest.
Photo Credit: www.bbc.co.uk
The veteran hard rockers’ set featured 25 songs in two and a half hours, creating, as the NME put it, ‘a solid performance… to the wrong crowd… Guns N’ Roses’ sultry, whiskey-chugging, in-your-face brand of rock felt misplaced when delivered at the hippie nucleus of the world.’
G N’R were a controversial booking, given the lack of female headliners for 2023, with Lizzo and Lana Del Rey being pushed onto other stages, and a dearth of support for emerging talent. (Think of Stormzy headlining in 2019.)
As well as the hits (‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘November Rain’ and ‘Paradise City’), the band paid homage to some of their heroes, featuring UK Subs’ ‘Down on the Farm’, ‘TV Eye’ by The Stooges and Wings’ ‘Live and Let Die’.
BBC News thought it was a ‘meandering, sporadically brilliant set that mixed stadium-level classics with less familiar deep cuts.’
Lana Del Rey, meanwhile, was headlining the Other Stage, but was half an hour late (‘My hair takes so long to do… super sorry I’m so late’) and, having not started till after 11pm, ended up having her set cut by at least six songs, to the huge disappointment of her army of fans. (The setlist suggested that two of her biggest songs, ‘Summertime Sadness’ and ‘Video Games’ were among them.) The crowd made up for it in part by singing ‘Video Games’ a capella, with Del Rey singing along with them.
Yusuf/Cat Stevens played a nostalgic, slightly political set in the Sunday ‘Legends’ slot. The 74-year-old opened with ‘The Wind’ and later confessed that he was as nervous today as he was the first time he approached a microphone in public, in a small club in Soho in 1965.
There was a medley of 60s classics and he paid tribute to George Harrison with a cover of ‘Here Comes the Sun’, followed by Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. If you were feeling at all emotional, then closing out with ‘Wild World’ and ‘Father and Son’ would’ve done the trick.
Rocket Man Takes Flight: Elton John Glastonbury 2023
On Sunday evening, as the sun set over Worthy Farm, a true music legend took to the Pyramid Stage for, surprisingly, his first ever appearance at Glastonbury: Elton John. As the gig was also billed as his last ever live performance in the UK, following three years on the road for his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour (now officially the highest-grossing tour of all time, with box office receipts of £697m), it drew a monumental crowd.
The 76-year-old, dressed in a gold lamé suit, played a non-stop stream of total bangers with his band and special guests for two hours, kicking off with ‘Pinball Wizard’ and building to an emotional climax. On what would have been George Michael’s 60th birthday, Elton dedicated ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ to ‘one of Britain’s most fantastic singers, songwriters [and] artists. He was my friend, an inspiration… I want to dedicate this song to his memory, and all the music he left us with, which is so gorgeous.’
As fireworks echoed round the site, there was an extended version of ‘Rocket Man’ to finish a truly epic performance.
Ahead of the show, there’d been all sorts of rumours of special guests – from Britney Spears to Harry Styles and Dua Lipa. In the end, Elton championed a new generation of musicians over pop stars who could’ve been headliners in their own right.
He invited Jacob Lusk of US soul group Gabriels to sing ‘Are You Ready for Love’; newcomer Rina Sawayama took Kiki Dee’s part on a rousing ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. Nashville’s Stephen Sanchez got to sing a song of his own – surely a huge honour in such a prestigious set – ‘Until I Found You’.
The one exception was The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, who took to the stage for ‘Tiny Dancer’.
Proving how highly anticipated it had been, Elton’s show was the most watched in the Festival’s history, with 7.3 million people tuning in, and social media going wild. (As a comparison, last year’s Sunday headliner, Paul McCartney, pulled in 2.7 million viewers.)
- Pinball Wizard
- The Bitch Is Back
- Bennie & The Jets
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
- Philadelphia Freedom
- Are You Ready For Love? (With Jacob Lusk and the London Community Gospel Choir)
- Sad Songs Say So Much
- Someone Saved My Life Tonight
- Until I Found You (with Stephen Sanchez)
- Your Song
- Candle In The Wind
- Tiny Dancer (with Brandon Flowers)
- Don’t Got Breaking My Heart (with Rina Sawayama)
- Crocodile Rock
- Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
- I’m Still Standing
- Cold Heart
- Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
- Rocket Man
Standouts & Surprises
Other standouts from the Glastonbury 2023 lineup included dance auteur Fred Again…, who had queues forming to get into the field when he took to the Other Stage for his blend of dubstep, grime and house, brought together with a pop sensibility. If you were looking for a kick-start for an evening in the dance tent, Fred Again’s crowd generated enough mass euphoria to take you through till the early hours.
There was a time when Rick Astley was about the furthest thing from cool. But he was definitely Glasto 2023’s biggest winner. He’d never even been to the festival before (he confessed the closest he’d got was dropping off his daughter there in previous years.) But he stormed it not once but twice this year.
His solo show, opening up the Pyramid Stage at midday on a gloriously sunny Saturday featured his hits (‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, ‘Together Forever’ and ‘Whenever You Need Somebody’) of course, but also covers of Harry Styles’ ‘As it Was’ and – in a showstopper absolutely no-one expected – taking to the drums and singing AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell.’
He later brought even more joy as he paired up again with indie band Blossoms for a set of Smiths covers. ‘This Charming Man’? Absolutely – Rick Astley is, it turns out, a musical genius living his best life.
There was an outpouring of emotion for Lewis Capaldi who had cancelled his other June dates in order to prioritise his mental health. The Scottish singer-songwriter has Tourette’s syndrome and his Pyramid Stage crowd proved themselves to be, as the Guardian’s Laura Snapes noted, ‘keenly aware of his situation, and determined to buoy him at every possible opportunity.’
His voice started to go and as he closed out his set with ‘Someone You Loved’, it went completely and the audience belted it out for him – ‘it’s palpable how much the crowd want him to know that he’s OK, it’s all OK, he is loved. Although I’m sure it’s not the main stage moment Capaldi dreamed of, it is beautiful, supportive, truly communal, and a testament to the complex bond he has built with his fans; a real human triumph.’
Surely Lizzo’s got to be a headliner next year? (Insert your own ‘It’s About Damn Time’ gag here.) Killer costumes, long green mermaid hair, her all-female band the Lizzbians and dancers the Big Grrrls – plus wave-your-arms-in-the-air pop gorgeousness (and her trusty flute), the US singer was her usual mischievous self (‘Can we twerk at Glastonbury?’) bringing nothing but positive vibes and a hell of a good time.
Other unexpected joys? The BSL (British Sign Language) option on the BBC iPlayer, not least for Guns N’ Roses and the Foo Fighters – ‘People watching Guns N’ Roses on iPlayer are missing out if they don’t choose the British Sign Language option’ tweeted one fan, with another praising the, as yet nameless, BSL lady for, ‘some of the best god damn air guitar playing I’ve ever seen’.
Photo Credit: http://www.twitter.com
And fans loved Cate Blanchett, who starred in the video for ‘The Girl is Crying in her Latte’, joining Sparks on stage in an incredible yellow suit and glittery red headphones to dance at a level of cool that left pretty much everyone else behind.
The Power of a Soundtrack
When it comes to creating a memorable moment, Glastonbury shows that you need the right music. How to translate that for your events, projects and videos? First of all, work out what emotion you’re trying to evoke – from excitement to joy, empathy to nostalgia – and pick the track or genre that will bring that to mind for your audience.
Enhancing your storytelling with music will create a connection with them too – check out our Sound and Story playlist for inspiration. Here at Audio Network, we have a vast catalogue of licensed music to cater to all your creative needs.
We’ve got as many diverse genres, moods and styles as there are on Glastonbury’s stages – dive into our hand-picked playlists, and if you want that festival feeling, then of course we have a playlist to fit, so give it a listen!
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