Several years ago, in the middle of a field near Pilton, REM moved a crowd of thousands with their heartfelt indie-pop.

Playing with pure passion at the start of Everybody Hurts, a flare shot into the sky and didn't touch down until the song had finished.

A collective ah! brought a sense of real peace and happiness to the Glastonbury festival and earned the band a cool £100,000.

It had been 20 years since the group formed in Athens, Georgia, and started their quiet revolution in American pop music.

In these days of The Strokes, Coldplay, et al, it's easy to forget that back in 1980, bands were either Led Zeppelin clones, played new romantic twaddle, or spent most of their time gobbing, not rocking.

There were no Smiths, Stone Roses, or Beck so when REM released their debut single, Radio Free Europe, in 1981, to some it was really revolutionary.

It came out on the tiny Hib-Tone label, then again, on IRS after the major recording company snapped up the band.

Subsequent releases were moderately received and it wasn't until Murmur, in 1983, that the band politely exploded into student bedsits.

Shared song-writing contributed a variety of styles, from the lilting We Walk to the sinister Moral Kiosk, a facet which has become one of REM's most enduring features.

Another is the band's unusual arrangements on some songs like Pilgrimage which had more in common with Captain Beefheart than most pop of the day.

REM essentially invented indie pop and with their quirky image, particularly that of singer Michael Stipe, they enabled the likes of Morrisey to follow them into the charts, fuelled by the hard-earned cash of indie fans hungry for new bands.

Only Nirvana's profound influence on the music of the late 80s and 90s was as great as REM's.

Indeed, Michael Stipe has gone on record saying that he might well have met the same fate as Kurt Cobain had REM's rise to fame been as fast as Nirvana's.

When the money-grabbing 80s gave way to the caring 90s, it was as if by some design of REM's who were moving from college radio dominance to household name as the decade rolled over.

Albums such as Green and Automatic For The People, and singles Losing My Religion and Shiny Happy People turned REM into one of the biggest bands on the planet.

True to form, after they'd made it big with one sound, REM switched to another with the album Monster which was more crash, bang, wallop than considered and measured.

Subsequent albums have sold well but REM will never regain the sales they enjoyed in the 90s.

As a live band, however, REM continue to amaze and win over new legions of fans as at the above mentioned headline slot at Glastonbury.

* REM play the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday, July 10.