Greenpeace’s greatest hits: 50 years of working with music’s biggest icons

Greenpeace UK plays the hits! From Joni Mitchell in 1970 to an online festival featuring Arlo Parks in 2020, and many more in between.


Greenpeace has a long history of teaming up with iconic musicians and putting on showstopping events to spread the word about what’s happening to the environment.

To mark our 50th birthday, here’s a timeline of some of our greatest hits.

The opening act: Joni Mitchell at the Amchitka concert, 1970

Greenpeace was always bound to make a splash with such a start in life. The founding concert featured none other than Joni Mitchell – who was also just at the start of her own glittering career.

““Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot””
Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell Tweet this

Greenpeace – The Album, 1985

Fast forward 15 years and Greenpeace was established as a major force for the environment, and peace. 

In 1985, a year famed for the massive Live Aid benefit concert in London and New York, Greenpeace – The Album was released. 

By this point, the organisation had musicians clambering to collaborate with it, thanks to its bold approach to confronting the injustices like nuclear testing in the Pacific. Contributor artist Suggs from Madness reflected this admiration, saying: “Greenpeace are ecologists but they do things. They don’t have debates, they don’t have marches, they just do things.”

1985 was also the year Greenpeace suffered the tragic loss of photographer Fernando Pereira, killed in the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland by French intelligence services. 

The US release of the album featured a photo of the ship taken by Pereira.

Music on ships, 1990–2020

Greenpeace’s ships have been a staple part of its non-violent actions since the beginning. But the ships aren’t always out confronting whalers or dropping boulders to stop supertrawlers. 

Here are a couple of times when they served as stages for the biggest names in music:

Eurythmics released their Peace album with a concert on the Rainbow Warrior in London in 1999: 

Damon Albarn launched the shiny new Rainbow Warrior III in 2011:

Also in 2011, Paul Simonon, bass player for The Clash worked undercover as a chef on the Esperanza and got arrested after a protest on an oil rig. You can hear about his experience in this video from the Stories of the Rainbow Warrior series. 

Saving the Arctic, 2010s

One of the most overtly musical times for Greenpeace in recent years was the immense global campaign to stop oil drilling in the Arctic.

First, huge names in music rallied behind Greenpeace supporters in 2014 to free the Arctic 30 from Russian prison, including Paul McCartney and Madonna.

Then in 2015 Charlotte Church sang a Requiem for Arctic Ice in a protest against Shell’s proposals to drill for oil in the Arctic:

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke was the DJ on the Arctic Hope float during the People’s March for Climate Justice in London ahead of the COP21 climate conference (where the 2015 Paris climate agreement was agreed):

In 2018, Yorke also donated this track to the campaign to create the world’s largest protected area in the Antarctic:

And finally, in 2016, composer and Pianist Ludovico Einaudi performed on a floating platform in the Arctic Ocean – a powerful showpiece on top of the world for the campaign that finally got Shell to withdraw its plans to drill in the Arctic:

Greenpeace at Glastonbury 1991–…

No review of Greenpeace’s musical credentials would be complete without a celebration of 30 years of Greenpeace as a core feature of Glastonbury Festival

The Greenpeace Field is a staple at Glastonbury, sitting at the heart of the world’s most famous music festival. For five nights and four days, Greenpeace volunteers offer everything from fun activities for children to free solar powered showers, vegan food and star-studded gigs.

Jarvis Cocker DJing in the Greenpeace Field at Glastonbury 2017 © Alex Stoneman / Greenpeace

Even in the year when live action festivals weren’t possible, Greenpeace broke new ground with a digital offering called Action All Areas in June 2020. The online festival featured an incredible lineup of stars beaming into our homes from all over the world – including the now-Mercury Prize winning Arlo Parks, singing from a bedroom setup!

Bonus track: DJs for Climate Action, 2020–21

There’s no doubt that the global pandemic has been devastating for music acts around the world. But music is often a soothing response to a crisis; a way to bring people and cultures together in a shared experience. This has been true for the dual health and climate crises we face.

During 2020, DJs for Climate Action asked producers around the world to create original tracks built from a sample pack field recordings made by Greenpeace, including Arctic ice claps, Amazonian storm loops, Pacific wave crashes, and (of course) whale sounds.

The response was phenomenal, and a number of the submissions are soon to be pressed on limited edition eco-friendly green vinyl. You can catch a sneak peak of the tracks on Soundcloud below.

DJs for Climate Action · Climate Soundtrack (Digital Compilation Preview)

Timeline 1970–2016

What's next?