“We were younger than Billie Eilish when we headlined Glastonbury!”: How Ash accidentally set a record headlining the Pyramid Stage back in 1997

Ash in 2018, Billie Eilish headlining Glastonbury in 2022
(Image credit: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Ash had reason to chuckle to themselves every time they saw pop superstar Billie Eilish described as Glastonbury’s youngest ever female headliner over the summer of 2022, because they’re the reason the point needed to be clarified. Ahead of the release of the Northern Irish rock trio’s eighth album Race The Night, the Downpatrick trio's frontman Tim Wheeler spoke to music Substack publication The New Cue about the time his band accidentally set the record for the youngest ever Glastonbury headliners.

It was back in 1997 – the year that the festival site at Worthy Farm turned into a notorious mudbath, so bad that at one point the Other Stage was shut down because it was sinking into the sludge.

“We headlined the second stage and that was the Friday night and the weather got so bad over the weekend that by the time Sunday rolled around, the headliners [Steve Winwood] couldn’t get on site,” Wheeler recalls. “We’d stayed around to party and hang out so we got a knock on our tour bus door and asked, ‘Can you guys headline?’.”

The problem was that, Wheeler reveals, post-gig, with no further duties on the band’s schedule, they had proceeded to get mashed in a way that only three teenage maniacs who’d already scored a Number One album [1996's 1977] and had one of the world’s best festivals at their mercy could.

“We had to sober up pretty quickly,” he notes. “We were absolutely wasted… we were like, ‘Oh crap, we have to get our stuff together’.”

But that they did, ending their ’97 Glastonbury just as they had started it on the Friday, with a rip-roaring set of rampaging, indie-rock singalongs drawn from their now-classic debut album.

“With Billie Eilish, they had to say that she was the youngest ever solo female performer,” Wheeler laughed, “because myself and Mark [Hamilton, bass] were still younger than her when we headlined.”

The BBC website doesn't even mention Ash as headliners on June 29, 1997, but three Northern Irish musicians remember the occasion, and presumably Billie Eilish is now aware of the fact too.

Ash's new album Race The Night is out on September 15 via Fierce Panda.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.