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Radiohead confirmed as Glastonbury headliners

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On the face of it, Radiohead’s vandalisation of Glastonbury’s green and pleasant land yesterday (and subsequent reveal that the drawing of their logo 50 feet wide in weedkiller in front of Worthy Farm’s Pyramid Stage signalled a Friday headline slot at Glastonbury 2017) isn’t a great surprise. After all, theirs is one of a handful of names perennially linked to the festival, and after Muse and Coldplay (the only other bands to have headlined the festival more than twice) had their turn last year, anything less than an enquiry from Michael Eavis would surely constitute a snub. There’s also the sense that they’re due: the band last played Glastonbury, albeit on the slightly more low-key Park Stage, six years ago, the same gap as between their first and second headline appearances. Like a much-travelled comet, it seems, Radiohead’s time to be visible in the West Country’s night sky has simply come around again.

Bundle that with next June’s 20th anniversaries, not just of the release of OK Computer but also of perhaps the first true “Glastonbury moment” of the modern era – when Thom Yorke instructs the illumination of the main stage’s house lights just before Paranoid Android so the band can see their sodden public – and it seems like one of the easier booking decisions the festival has taken in recent years.

However, much has changed since 2003, when Radiohead last closed the Pyramid Stage, for both band and festival. For all their big-name suitability, and a back catalogue capable of delivering two hours of festival-friendly fireworks (if they so choose), there remains a sense that surprises might lurk. Given how they treated their festival audiences this summer – opening each set with the graceful, meditative first half of A Moon Shaped Pool but no acknowledgement of audience or surroundings, before playing highlights from recent albums but little in the way of bona fide classics – a Radiohead headline booking in 2017 is no easy win, more akin to a Kanye or Metallica slot than the cosy singalongs of Adele or Coldplay.

When Radiohead first appeared on a Glastonbury bill, wringing the last drops from their Pablo Honey material halfway down the NME Stage in 1994, Thom Yorke was 25 years old. Next June, he’ll be only a few months short of his 49th birthday, and will have spent the second half of his life becoming increasingly both artistically untouchable and suspicious of giant pop-loving audiences and songwriting. In the same period, Glastonbury’s gone the other way: once the bastion of indie kids, crusties and record-shop snobs (for comparison, 1994’s headliners were The Levellers, Paul Weller and Peter Gabriel), the remaining few of whom cry foul when the likes of Beyoncé or Jay Z headlines, it is bigger and broader with every passing year and increasingly eager to ensure everyone, to paraphrase Spinal Tap’s Viv Savage, has a good time, all the time.

There’s no denying that Radiohead could fulfil that brief – and twice before, by and large, they have. Whether their current incarnation has the guts, inclination and desire to do so next summer, and quite what Glastonbury’s new Pyramid Stage audience, raised on the feelgood Soma of Mumford & Sons and the Stones and paying giant sums to see a nailed-on extravaganza, will do if they don’t, makes this a more curious booking than meets the eye.

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