There’s a numbers of gigs that have happened in the UK where people that weren’t there claimed they were, so thousands upon thousands claimed to have seen the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, or the Stone Roses at Spike Island, or Oasis at King Tut’s, but in reality only a fraction of those that say they did actually attended these gigs. Same goes with the second Glastonbury Festival in 1971. Over the years I’ve spoken to loads of people that said they were here in 1971, some clearly too young to have been there and remembered what they did. Even those sites that document old festivals admit they weren’t there.
Then again it’s easy enough to bluff false memories with a document as good as Glastonbury Fayre (Glastonbury was known as Pilton Pop Festival in it’s first year in 1970, and the second Glastonbury Fair, it wasn’t until the next official festival in 1979 that it became known as Glastonbury Festival), the first film made that documents what is now the UK’s largest festival.
For myself there’s a point when Glastonbury became something I vaguely knew about, though I can’t remember whether it was Camelot 3000, a DC Comics miniseries from the early 1980’s, or Glastonbury Fayre because of one of it’s directors, Nicolas Roeg. By my early teens I was a massive fan of Roeg thanks mainly to watching The Man Who Fell to Earth and Don’t Look Now more than a teenager probably should. It was in reading a book about Roeg that I saw the first mention of Glastonbury Fayre and that made me want to see what isn’t just an essential bit of archive, but something that shows a young Roeg developing his style. From the opening moments it’s clear you’re watching a Nicolas Roeg film.
Glastonbury Fayre follows in the footsteps of Woodstock, in trying to document the events of this second festival. Unlike later documentaries about the festival there’s no Michael Eavis as he only allowed the organisers the use of his land. Those organisers were middle class hippies and drop-outs from London, including Winston Churchill’s granddaughter Arabella and Andrew Kerr, the man probably the most responsible for shaping the vision of Glastonbury Festival from something to supplement selling milk to something more ethical and well, hippy. Even today the festival holds a little part of that 71 festival in it’s fields with the Spirit of 71 stage that still has bands playing that attended in 1971.
In the film’s footage of happy young people wandering round a muddy Worthy Farm there’s a direct link to today’s pictures of young people wandering round a muddy Worthy Farm. Sure there’s a lot more consumerism, more crap and a lot of the modern festival is contrived as a Hipster version of what started here, not to mention the Pyramid Stage now is full of tourists that are ticking Glastonbury off as a box of things to do, but away from Babylon there’s still a proud beating heart of Glastonbury that is traceable to these beginnings.
The film is raw. It’s not as smooth or shiny as more recent attempts to tell the Glastonbury story, but at this stage the Glastonbury story only had one festival behind it. Like Woodstock there’s a real focus on the acts, but the crowd form as much of an attraction as people watching at festivals is as much of an attraction as anything else, and this captures it perfectly. Plus there’s something about the shimmering thick film stock that gives this a dreamy, hazy quality akin to a trip, again something that shows Roeg’s influence.
For years though it was bloody hard to see the film. It did have a release in the cinema where it earned an X certificate for I assume the amount of nudity and drug taking rather than anything else, but after a run on the late night/double bill circuit the film vanished and only had a brief VHS release and never got on TV as far as I remember until the 1980’s. In fact I only remember it being shown once since the turn of the millennium. If I remember right there were issues of rights and there is now a pretty basic DVD release though the commentary by Roeg is worth the tenner alone.
Glastonbury Fayre should be something that any historian of British culture or someone that loves the festival should get. Not because it’s a brilliant film, it’s not and times it’s actually poorly thrown together, but because it’s a film that serves two purposes in that it shows us where the juggernaut of the current festival comes from and it shows us a director learning to do things with film in order to shape a story. In fact I’ll go as far to say that alongside Andrew Kerr and Michael Eavis, the third man to shape the origins of the festival is indeed Nicolas Roeg with this film because this film sold a dream. One that still lives on today.