Before Sound System hits WOMAD we get in the mood with our ten favourite festival performances.
Sound System is poised to deliver great live audio to WOMAD for the fourth year running, and we decided to choose our ten favourite festival performances of all time. No easy feat.
Our choices include some classic performances – Nirvana’s last UK show, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first US one – but also some that are a little more personal to us.
This incredible set brought Pulp to the attention of a mass audience, and is one of the defining moments in the Britpop movement of the mid 1990s. Pulp were last minute stand-ins for the Stone Roses, and delivered set that featured the first outings of a number of tracks from the yet-to-be-released Different Class. They went on to headline in their own right a few years later, but there’s an energy and precociousness to this performance that is hard to beat.
Monterey Pop Festival 1967
This was the performance that brought Hendrix to the attention of America. Living in Britain he had developed his hard-hitting, feedback-driven sound, but his home country had no idea what to expect. He unleashed his full armoury on them, including a show stopping closing act where he took a can of lighter fluid to his guitar. This is the performance that birthed the legend.
Nirvana were chosen to headline the Reading Festival at the height of their success and during Kurt Cobain’s press infamy. The result was a performance that strutted with ‘screw you’ confidence, but was also bitter and somewhat world weary. The video footage is a little below par, but the live album released of what was sadly their last ever UK gig is a thing of sonic beauty.
This was a case of the perfect band, in the perfect place at the perfect time. Radiohead were in their indie god pomp, before diversions into electronica and more avant-garde music would divide popular opinion. And a rejuvenated Glastonbury was ready and waiting for them: all the songs people wanted to hear, delivered by a band in their element.
V Festival 1997
Another band that played an amazing festival set at the height of their success, the Prodigy put in what is without doubt the best V Festival performance ever. Usually regarded as a lesser event, in 1997 the organisers of V hit gold with an incredible gig by the biggest crossover band at that time. Blistering versions of Firestarter and Breathe sent the crowd wild!
Newport Folk Festival 1965
This was the performance that brought the electric Dylan to the world. And the folk world had very mixed feelings on it, with the future Noble Prize winner booed by sections of the crowd for bringing rock and roll to the home of acoustic music. The set, though brief, was incredibly powerful, and singled the future direction of arguably our greatest living artists.
John Talabot has been an ever-present presence since we launched Sound System at Primavera 2014. His 2017 show in our newly enlarged stage was the highlight of these appearances though, bringing the house down with his signature sound. And of course, all the better thanks to the audio quality of the Bowers & Wilkins Sound System.
Isle Of White 1970
1970 saw the third of the original Isle of Wight festivals, and this was the biggest and best of them. Some 600,000 were in attendance and the show was closed out by a classic performance by the Who. The set was split in two, with the second half showcasing the complete Tommy rock opera, and is available as a blistering CD or Blu-Ray that really captures the band at their very best.
This is a very personal choice for us. We love WOMAD, and love the eclectic mix of acts that you get to experience over the three days – on our own stage but also on all the others. You never know what you are going to hear, and on that evening in 2015 we were lucky enough to enjoy a fantastic performance by one of the legends of World Music.
There were many, many great performances at Woodstock, and the festival would feature close to the top of any list of great festivals or important moments in musical history. But forced to choose, then we have to go with Joe Cocker’s barnstorming opening to day three. And in particular, his stunning rendition of With A Little Help From My Friends. Still breath-taking after all these years.