How have last-minute Glastonbury headliners fared?

Following Florence + the Machine’s promotion to the top slot at Glastonbury 2015, we take a look at the substitutes who’ve seized the moment – or been beaten by the big occasion

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By replacing an ailing Foo Fighters on the Pyramid stage at this year’s festival, Florence + the Machine continue a grand Glastonbury tradition: the late call up from the Glasto subs bench to become a festival headliner. But will their performance find its way into the scrapbook of big Glasto moments, or be reduced to a mere footnote? Here’s how some of the festival’s other last-minute headliners fared, from T Rex to Lenny Kravitz.

T Rex – 1970

Replaced: The Kinks, who officially pulled out due to Ray Davies having a sore throat (though Michael Eavis claims they were put off by Melody Maker calling the event a “mini festival”).

How did they fare? As disappointed as Eavis must have been to lose the Kinks at the time, in retrospect it probably was a good thing. Marc Bolan and T Rex were on the cusp of proper massiveness, lending some added credibility to the nascent festival: Eavis claims that their late booking encouraged people to bring their friends along, swelling the crowd. It certainly had the desired effect of attracting names to Worthy Farm: 1971’s lineup included Fairport Convention, Joan Baez and David Bowie.

Lenny Kravitz – 1993

Replaced: Red Hot Chili Peppers, who pulled out due to Flea suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.

How did he fare? Er, good question. Kravitz’s last-minute inclusion can’t have pulled up many trees, as he barely warrants a mention in any of the official write-ups of Glasto 1993. The Guardian decided instead to focus on the 60s feel of the festival – the Kinks actually bothered to show up this time, along with a reunited Velvet Underground (who also made the cover of the NME) – while Suede proved to be the weekend’s most buzzed-about band. Poor Lenny was asked back in 1999, but only as support to the Pyramid’s Sunday headliners ... Skunk Anansie.

Pulp – 1995

Replaced: The Stone Roses, after John Squire broke his collarbone while mountain biking.

How did they fare? Triumphantly. Pulp’s headline turn at the 1995 festival is widely regarded as one of the greatest Glasto performances ever, nudging the band on to Britpop’s top table. Featuring Jarvis at his most puckish and engrossing, it concluded with a communal sing-along to Common People that everyone – everyone – joined in with. All things considered, probably better than a disinterested Roses chugging through Second Coming.

Ash – 1997

Ash

Replaced: Steve Winwood

How did they fare? Ash had already topped the Friday bill on the Other Stage when they were asked to stand in for Winwood on the Sunday night, making them the youngest ever band to headline the Pyramid, and the first act to headline the festival twice in one year. All very impressive, but that year’s festival really belonged to the mud, and Radiohead’s brilliant breakthrough set.

Basement Jaxx – 2005

Replaced: Kylie Minogue, who had to withdraw after contracting breast cancer.

How did they fare? Basement Jaxx were widely considered a bit of an underwhelming replacement for Kylie – but then again, who wouldn’t be? In the event the Jaxx went down better than expected, with the assembled suddenly remembering en masse that Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe have written a fair few tunes themselves: “No other dance act has so many great pop songs and such a diverse remit,” wrote Dorian Lynskey in his round-up of the weekend. Bonus points awarded for currying favour with the crowd by covering Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head.

Gorillaz – 2010

Replaced: U2, who pulled out when Bono got a back injury.

How did they fare? A giant audio-visual show with appearances from Bobby Womack, Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed certainly hit all the Glasto headliner buttons, but Damon Albarn and co rather ruined things by including too many introspective songs. “Both Blur and U2 have a sackful of famous hits to snare the passerby. It quickly becomes apparent that Gorillaz, for all their charms, do not,” wrote Lynskey in one of many withering reviews of the show. U2 rocked up with said famous hits the very next year, and were received a little more warmly.

Contributor

Gwilym Mumford

The GuardianTramp

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