The Sunday afternoon “legends” slot on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage tends to draw the biggest crowd of the weekend. Year after year, veteran musicians not usually associated with muddy festivals are invited down to Worthy Farm to perform. If they get it right, they can produce unforgettable Glastonbury Moments that go down in festival folklore.
As Diana Ross prepares to take the the Legends slot next week, James Hall ranks all the previous legends who have attempted to wow the exhausted Glastonbury masses.
19. Paul Simon, 2011
Through no fault of his own, Simon was poorly when he played under blazing Somerset skies in 2011. “Yeah, I’m happy to be here. I’ve got a throat infection so if I’m not at the top of my game, that’s the reason,” he croaked. The set failed to land, summed up by the camera crew neglecting to film bass player Bakithi Kumalo playing the famous solo towards the end of You Can Call Me Al. No disrespect to Simon, but American Pie veteran Don McLean – who played on the stage earlier in the day – may have been a wiser choice in retrospect.
18. Van Morrison, 1997
Van the Man is a Glastonbury regular. But the 1997 festival was the wettest ever. Stages sank and inches of hideous thick gloop coated almost every surface on the site. Even the Pyramid Stage’s speakers were slathered in the stuff. By the Sunday afternoon, members of the crowd who’d stuck around were knackered. The atmosphere that day wasn’t helped by the withdrawal of two of the artists who where meant to follow Morrison (Neil Young cut his finger making a ham sandwich and Steve Winwood got stuck in mud). Morrison played a hit-heavy set. But the vibe was too grey for it to be enjoyable.
17. Willie Nelson, 2000
Sporting his trademark red bandana and armed with Trigger, his trusty guitar with a hole in its side, Nelson played hits such as Always On My Mind and On The Road Again. It was a solid set, but the relatively modest crowd meant that it lacked that special X-factor that makes ‘legends’ slots so memorable. Nelson clearly had a ball: the Texan returned to play on the Pyramid on the Friday of 2010, when (false) rumours swirled that he was to be joined by rapper Snoop Dogg.
16. Jeff Lynne’s ELO, 2016
Mr Blue Sky? Hardly. This was another legends slot that was hampered by the rain, which was torrential. One reviewer remarked that the crowd that turned up to watch were “curious rather than devotional”, which doesn’t a classic legends slot make. Evil Woman and Livin’ Thing were well received, while Don’t Bring Me Down got people shaking their brollies. And of course Mr Blue Sky was greeted with joy, even if in an ironic fashion.
15. Kenny Rogers, 2013
The best legends slots always contain an element of ‘What the hell?’ from the performer. This was the case with country veteran Kenny Rogers in 2013: he had a look of wry bewilderment etched on his face throughout. But he was let down by his lack of well-known crowd-pleasers. When few people seemed to know the words to Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, he remarked: “They sang that better in Morocco, and they don’t even speak English in Morocco!”. This changed with The Gambler and Islands in the Stream, Rogers’ 1983 duet with Dolly Parton. Both were rapturously received. “I’m very out of my comfort zone. It’s unusual for me to play to a crowd as small as this,” a clearly buzzing Rogers joked afterwards.
14. Ray Davies, 2010
The Kinks frontman was joined by The Crouch End Festival Choir for this enjoyable, sun-kissed set. Davies is a Glastonbury regular (The Kinks had been due to headline the first ever festival in 1970), and he encouraged mass sing-alongs to songs like Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon. It was a moving hour: Davies dedicated Kinks song See My Friends to the band’s bassist Pete Quaife, who’d died the week before. Things got a little testy when Davies was almost forced to leave the stage before he’d finished his set. Thanks to his stubbornness and the crowd’s encouragement, he stayed.
13. James Brown, 2004
The Godfather of Soul put on one hell of a show in Somerset, in the year that the “legends slot” pulled its first truly enormous crowd. Wearing a red suit with black-tasselled epaulettes, he was accompanied by a vast band that included two drummers, a horn section, a hype man, three backing singers – called The Bittersweets – two dancers sporting hotpants with a “J” and a “B” on each buttock, and an assistant carrying a white face towel. “Let’s get funky,” Brown urged the crowd, having waited for 10 minutes to make his appearance while his troupe warmed things up (not ideal when time is tight). But Worthy Farm did get funky. During I Feel Good, Brown – then aged 71 – even did the running man. Great fun, if not a classic.
12. Tom Jones, 1992 and 2009
Jones played Glastonbury’s first ever “legends slot” on the afternoon of Sunday 28 June 1992, on a festival bill that included Carter USM, Ozric Tentacles and The Orb. It was my first Glastonbury and the incongruity of seeing the purple-suited Jones on stage was strange indeed: a valley that had been pounded by repetitive beats for three days suddenly echoed to It’s Not Unusual. But the crowd loved it, and his booming voice could be heard from Worthy Farm’s furthest cowshed. Jones set in place a classic template that has been followed ever since. He returned in 2009, where he was equally well received.
11. Isaac Hayes, 2002
Hayes brought the funk in 2002. Dressed in a double denim suit, he played a fantastic version of Shaft and a gave a straight-faced, deeply funky performance of Chocolate Salty Balls, from South Park (in which Hayes voiced the Chef character). Members of the audience unaware of the song – a joke recipe, with a chorus that goes “suck on my chocolate salty balls” – watched on, confused. Speaking to veteran DJ John Peel afterwards, Hayes remarked on the “sea of humanity” he’d seen from the stage. He also noted how cold it was: “I left Memphis the other day and it was 97 degrees. My body hasn’t adjusted. Culture shock!” On Peel’s recommendation, he said he’d be interested in wandering around Glastonbury’s Healing Fields to see all the strange stuff going on. “I like strange. I feel the energy,” Hayes said.
10. Dolly Parton, 2014
An uncomfortably large crowd of 100,000 turned up to see Dolly Parton in 2014. Her set was peppered with enjoyably bonkers moments. She sang a bizarre song she’d written about Glastonbury called Mud, and Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora turned up to play guitar on a version of his band’s Lay Your Hands On Me. Like Kenny Rogers the year before, Parton sang Islands in the Stream, while 9 To 5 prompted a frenzy among the crowd (many of whom were wearing Dolly wigs). But despite her phenomenal stage presence, the hype surrounding the Queen of Country’s set overshadowed the show itself. Accusations that Dolly was partially miming – denied by her people – didn’t help.
9. Tony Bennett, 1998
When a Glastonbury legend plays in the sunshine, his or her job is to harness the hedonism and take it up a notch. When a legend plays in the rain, his or her job is to raise spirits and soothe battered souls. Bennett’s role in 1998 fell into the latter camp, as Glastonbury endured its second grimly muddy year in a row. The New Yorker and his band – all dressed in immaculate suits and ties – read the situation perfectly and played Billie Holiday’s Laughing at Life. “Don’t mind the raindrops, Wait ‘til the rain stops, Smile through your tears, Laughing at life,” Bennett sang. Afterwards he described the experience as “magnificent”. “It was so wonderful to be received that way. It’s something that’s unforgettable. I rarely do something like this… I loved every second of it,” he said. He was right. It was glorious.
8. Shirley Bassey, 2007
For its sheer theatricality, Dame Shirley Bassey’s entire 2007 Glastonbury performance was something to behold. From the moment she stepped from her helicopter in wellies with ‘DSB’ emblazoned on them in diamonds, the 70 year-old showed us mortals how it’s done. Backed by a full orchestra in black tie (with a conductor), she wore a fur-trimmed pink gown slit to the thigh. Highlights were Goldfinger, Big Spender and Diamonds Are Forever (which was covered in homage by Friday night headliners Arctic Monkeys). “I can understand why everyone comes here,” Bassey said. “I’ll come again.” To add to the drama, the helicopter taking her home was forced to make an emergency landing on the way home due to the weather. Legend just about sums her up.
7. Neil Diamond, 2008
Despite technical issues which saw the sound cut out, Neil Diamond delivered a hit-packed set under warm skies. With songs including Forever in Blue Jeans, Red Red Wine and I’m A Believer, the Bard of Brooklyn couldn’t really go wrong. Sweet Caroline was the inevitable highlight, yielding one of those classic Glastonbury sing-alongs. Banners seen on the TV coverage included one proclaiming ‘You can touch me anywhere, Neil’. Backstage, the singer told the BBC’s Jo Whiley that he’d had “goosies all over” as he’d looked out at the crowd. “What a thrill. What a great audience,” he said.
6. Al Green, 1999
In white suit and bow tie, The Reverend Al Green wowed the crowds at the last Glastonbury of the 20thcentury, playing much of the set clasping a pair of red roses. As the festival’s first sun for four years shone down on Worthy Farm, crowds were treated to the gospel-soul of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? and Take Me To The River. During a slow burning but euphoric Let’s Stay Together, Green walked down to the barrier and glad-handed the crowd before a spine-tingling sing-along of the song’s “good or bad, happy or sad” refrain.
5. Brian Wilson, 2005
The California-like sunshine wasn’t the only thing to celebrate when Brian Wilson played the legends slot in 2005. Backed by a well-drilled eight-piece band, the Beach Boy played an astonishing 25 songs, including Wouldn’t It Be Nice, California Girls and Help Me, Rhonda. The harmonies were as precise and heart tingling as they were on record. Wilson himself, who has a long and continuing struggle with mental illness, seemed a touch perplexed to be there. But this was a classic set. As Good Vibrations sailed from the speakers, the keyboard player grabbed an actual surfboard, leapt into the crowd and was carried over people’s heads. The entire glorious thing was a perfect tonic to the flash floods that had swept the site just two days before.
4. Barry Gibb, 2017
When the last surviving Bee Gee had finished his set, a joker on social media accused him of playing too many cover versions (specifically Words by Boyzone, Tragedy by Steps and How Deep Is Your Love? by Take That). All are, of course, Gibb originals, and this fantastic 15 song performance showcased his songwriting at its best. Time may have thinned his voice, but the crowd didn’t care. Nor did the security guards; during Stayin’ Alive, bouncers at the front barrier did a choreographed dance. Islands in the Stream got its third legends outing: it must be the only song that has been performed by its composer and two singers (Rogers and Parton) on different legends occasions. In an inspired piece of scheduling, Nile Rodgers’ Chic carried on the disco party straight afterwards.
3. Lionel Richie, 2015
There was something almost perfect about Richie’s Glastonbury appearance in 2015. Perhaps it was the charged atmosphere: Patti Smith had just played an incendiary set which saw her bring the Dalai Lama out on stage. Perhaps it was the weather: the sun had made an appearance. Or perhaps it was simply the prospect of seeing Richie deliver his greatest hits: there is something uniquely life affirming about belting out cheesy pop surrounded by up to 200,000 other people doing the same. It was probably all three. While ballads Easy, Three Times A Lady and Hello saw a sea of arms in the air, Dancing On The Ceiling and All Night Long (All Night) invoked a vast, jubilant, colourful dance party. Richie couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. “Glastonbury, what the hell is going on?” he repeated, open-mouthed. It was genuinely remarkable.
2. Kylie Minogue, 2019
The “legends” slot dropped a generation — or at least a few decades — in 2019 as Glastonbury welcomed Kylie Minogue. The singer was meant to headline in 2005 but a breast cancer diagnosis saw her watch the festival from her bed in Australia instead. But, boy, did she make up for lost time. The sun shone and a heaving Pyramid field welcomed the pop icon back with buckets of love. Kylie, a mere 51 at the time, gave her all in return. She crammed her show with camp, clever, effervescent pop hits that sounded classic where they’d once sounded cheesy. The Locomotion, her breakthrough hit from 1987, incorporated the ‘beep-beep-toot-toot’ refrain from Donna Summer’s Bad Girls while Slow included the lick from David Bowie’s Fashion. Coldplay’s Chris Martin came on for Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and Nick Cave duetted on a stirring Where The Wild Roses Grow. Kylie couldn’t hold back the tears when she talked of how “circumstances” had prevented her from appearing 14 years earlier. Many in the field were equally moved. This big, joyous, mushy set was as close to perfection as a ‘legends’ slot can be.
1. Johnny Cash, 1994
The Man in Black may well have scratched his head as his tour bus wended its way through the narrow Somerset lanes as it approached the festival. Glastonbury was still very much a counterculture concern back in 1994 (headliners included The Levellers and Orbital). But from the minute the country legend took to the stage with his trademark “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”, the crowd grew and grew. The early double whammy of Ring Of Fire and (Ghost) Riders In The Sky turned the field into a hoedown. In the stage’s wings Jim Thompson, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, clapped along in full regalia. Cash’s face was a picture of bemused delight as the reception became ever more rapacious. After a prolonged career downturn Cash had, two months previously, released American Recordings, the first of a series of stripped back Rick Rubin-produced acoustic albums. Playing songs from that record, Cash could have had no idea that this performance and that album would mark the start of one of music’s most astonishing career revivals. He ended with A Boy Named Sue. According to people who were there, tears rolled down the overwhelmed Cash’s face as he left the stage.