The early days of the Glastonbury Festival

One of the many, many things to have come out of the lack of a Glastonbury Festival this year, and touch wood, only this year, is a look at the history of the festival and no I don’t mean the BBC’s rather cursory look back at the last 25 years of the festival. Although the weekend’s coverage by the BBC was good, and the broadcast of David Bowie’s set from 2000 was one of 2000’s few highlights, there was one name missing from the programming which was that of the late Jean Eavis, Michael’s wife.

The first few years I went in the 90’s Jean was as much a figurehead of the festival as Michael, and she’d be there on the site making sure fences were repaired slowly so tens of thousands of kids like myself could get in. Michael in recent years admitted they calculated for a certain few thousand on top of those buying tickets getting in as they knew these kids would bring something to the festival that, bluntly, has been lost in the age of the superfence which is the anarchic spontaneity of people trying to pay for their weekend by creating whatever entertainment they can for people.

And those people ranged from hippies or crusties, or indeed any folk who’d fell through the cracks of Tory Britain in the 80’s and early 90’s. All the lost, all the misfits were welcomed and they played with the wealthier students and other folks who came to the festival with no problems.  Well, more or less no problem. Even by the time I first started going in the early 90’s parts of the site were places to avoid at night but more on that another time.

So I’ve been looking at what footage exists of that first quarter-century of the festival is online and most of it is fragments of a festival that doesn’t exist anymore, but the spirit of that festival still resides in the Green Fields and some of the people that attend who don’t see Glastonbury as just a big gig in a field.

The main thing that does get me is the growth of the festival. Fields that lay empty in 1990 are now. I remember long walks to get from where the bus from Bristol used to drop you to the site, but now that’s all within the walls of the festival as the site grows each year.

I especially love the grainy old Super 8 footage. There’s something instantly nostalgic, even romantic, about it.

Looking at the 1986 footage it really is remarkable how it’s grown. Back then the site is basically what is now the main area for the Pyramid, plus what’s now the kids’ field. Everything over the old train tracks was more or less untouched waiting for future years to descend upon it.

By 1995 the first age of the festival was over. Now longer aligned with CND and such a direct political cause the festival moved to something more inclusive which has transformed into an event where Tory MP’s are seen mingling with millionaire footballers and those kids who would have something to add to the festival are locked out. 1995 is my favourite year of those early years I went as the entire site was bursting with creativity. I miss the sound systems everywhere mainly as Michael has no love for dance or electronic music so would try to keep that out but he eventually had to change.

Rave culture may have been something Eavis struggled with, but it transformed Glastonbury into what it is now just as the fence changed it, the television coverage changed it and even Covid-19 will affect the festival in some shape or form in the years ahead.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first Glastonbury Fayre (1970 was the Pilton Pop Festival), so in many ways, this is the festival kicking off properly after 1970’s dry run. Hopefully I’ll be there next year to celebrate, and remember what came before us to get us to where we are today.

1 thought on “The early days of the Glastonbury Festival

  1. The crusty toddlers with mullets! Forgotten them! Some of their parents were my political education in the early to mid 80s. Good people.

    Liked by 1 person

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