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.

I’d give anything to be at Glastonbury Festival

This week should have been the 50th anniversary of the Glastonbury Festival, but instead, everyone is locked down thanks to Covid-19 and watching what the BBC are showing (which is all the big headliners so mainly Coldplay or Adele) or scouring YouTube for footage which isn’t just focused around the main stage and Babylon. Instead of 200,000 or so people on site there’s the Eavis family obviously, the few people who live on the farm all year long, and a small BBC crew so the site looks like this.

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It’s a very melancholy sight, A few trucks, a few vans, a tent, and the bare skeleton of the Pyramid Stage.

What the weekend has shown is how much a part of my, and thousands of other people’s lives, the festival is. After all I’ve nearly been going for 30 years, so more than half my life has involved Glastonbury in some shape or form, and I’ve made sacrifices over the years to go there. Even now I’m disabled and not especially well I want nothing more than to be in a field with mates watching bands, or soaking it all up at the cider bus or as it is Sunday afternoon, I’d probably be watching the act on the ‘Legends’ slot before getting ready for the final night and the grim return to reality on Monday.

Had things not went the way it did regarding the stroke and cancer over the last few years, my plan was to move to the general area. I’d already done some checking things out in Glastonbury regarding work and somewhere to live, but that all went south thanks to illness, then Brexit made it harder and now Covid makes it even more unlikely so I’m here in Glasgow wishing souls existed so I could sell it to whatever Devil is out there so I can solve all problems overnight and ensure Glastonbury returns next year.

Because here’s the thing; I’m not sure we’ll be able to go back to what it was like before the virus, at least without accepting we have to live with an increased death rate. There’s a wee voice at the back of my head saying 2021 won’t be able to happen as remember, we’re only seven months into this pandemic and we’re finding out Covid as we’re going along. We might have drugs that help but the chances of a safe, working vaccine in 12 months looks unlikely and although I remain optimistic, there’s a realism which is beginning to sink in.

I hope I’m wrong because I want nothing more than to spend a week on Worthy Farm be it by Faustian deal or otherwise. I hope this time next year I’m working out how to make the final day last as long as possible and that maybe, perhaps someday everything awful is gone and I might even go back to my plan of spending the rest of my life in the area.

Til then it’s the BBC and YouTube. Hopefully though I’ll see some of you on a farm in Somerset next year…

Return to Glastonbury 1999

The end of the millennium was a strange time. The 90’s had been relatively stable since the end of the Cold War, minus the odd bit of genocide and war and we were all looking forward to the 21st century as after all, it could only be a next stage in the evolution of humankind?

Sadly, this was not to be the case but there was a shiny new optimism in 1999, Y2K panic aside of course. That year’s Glastonbury Festival is something I’ve written in detail about previously, was a bit of a mixture as in 1999, Britpop had breathed its last though bands still vainly plugged on for that last big hit, and although Big Beat was a thing music and youth culture was a bit over the place in these pre mass internet days. So the festival’s lineup that year felt like that with no major strand of music one could pull out of it.

 

 

Also the weather played a part. 1997 was muddy but it’d remained dry most of the weekend so was hard work, but still fun. 1998 was just wet, miserable and muddy all weekend, plus the lineup was poor, or acts you looked forward to were shite. It was a terrible year so 1999 was hoped to be dry just so we could have more options than rain and mud.

 

 

Fortunately, it was dry and in fact, on the run-up to the festival it even seemed it could be a ridiculously hot year which it wasn’t. It ended up being a perfect weekend weatherwise. Warm, dry with a wee bit of rain on Saturday to keep the dust down. Getting between stages wasn’t an issue as it was busy, but not rammed as people had clearly been put off coming down without a ticket due to the weather in the previous couple of years.

 

 

I liked 1999’s festival a lot. At the time it felt like a reward for those of us who suffered especialy in 98 which overall, still stands as one of the worst festival I’ve ever been to in 30 years, and the great thing about watching this video footage is just how many great acts played that year. Hole for example were fucking brilliant, and REM still pulled off one of the best headline sets I’ve seen. Watching tens of thousands of people bouncing at the Fun Loving Criminals was awesome in the truest sense of the word, but there was so many dreadful acts milking out a last few rays in the sun.

 

 

So 1999 felt like an end. We’d survived Britpop and the 20th century with a whole fresh new one just six months away, so of course, the festival closed the final one of the millennium with the general averageness of Skunk Anansie.

 

 

Glastonbury 1999 didn’t end with a massive climax, but just sort of faded away. 1999 itself didn’t end with the apocalypse but a lot of hangovers, and maybe a few computers which glitched a bit. 2000 was going to be a great year, and the 21st century was going to be so much more different than the 20th century.

Well, that’s right for sure. I do however miss 1999’s festival. It was fun, and it was a year where the best stuff happened away from the main stages in a lovely disorganised mess and the future looked good. Fast forward two decades and we’re living with far-right lunatics in charge of the UK, and we’re in the middle of a lethal pandemic which has seen me quarantined since March.

Sigh

Bring back 1999…

 

 

Return to Glastonbury 1997

What seems like a long time now back in 2013I wrote a long piece about my time at Glastonbury 1997. Well, there’s always room for more as some videos have cropped up on YouTube of the BBC’s coverage, which was their first year after picking up after Channel 4 who pissed off Michael Eavis who I seem to remember thought were not taking the festival seriously.

 

The thing about 1997 it was the start of the festival forming into what we know it as today so it was slowly becoming more corporate, and the rumours of Richard Branson buying Eavis out to run it post 2000 hung around like a bad smell. However for now it was safe with Michael and Jean Eavis running it. I have to say at this point that for the first 30 years, Jean Eavis was the heart of the festival as knowing that she’d turn a blind eye to collapsing fences or fence jumpers as she wanted the inner city kids to be there to supplement the student kids from wealthier backgrounds.

 

However, the mud which descended upon that year put off the gentrification of Glastonbury did sort the men from the boys. By Thursday afternoon it was horrendous, and to this day I still tell people of the sleet which fell that Thursday afternoon or watching people in tears looking at whatever bit of art which was falling apart or standing there wondering where their tent went. Sadly the conditions meant thieving was rife, so tents were robbed (as I mention we suffered from that) or stolen completely.

On the Friday though it did slowly improve. An early slot for Echo and the Bunnymen saw us sit on what grass there was in front of the main stage, but the Other Stage was a mess with the stage sinking into the quagmire which meant missing Kenickie, but this meant more time to drink. One of the things of this year was although by the Friday afternoon it wasn’t freezing, but it wasn’t hot either so it meant your beers were cold.

 

Thing is because of the mud everyone’s thighs were like coiled steel by the Saturday afternoon so we were all bouncing along like wired kangaroos through the mud.

 

Looking back at all these videos just reminds me of how bloody good this year was, and that how through adversity, tens of thousands of us went ‘fuck it’ to make that year a special year. Of course, the TV footage sold it to tens of thousands of people who were normally outwith what was still countercultural, and in years to come this would change the festival to an establishment event.

But even now it is firmly part of the UK’s establishment there’s a part of it which retains the soul of years like 1997.  There’s still people there who are going not because it’s part of the ticksheet of things to do before university and a nice comfy job, and it’s because we can in our own wee ways recapture the great years like 1997.

Return to Glastonbury 1994

If there’s a year where Glastonbury Festival musically hit a height then a good argument can be made for the line-up in 1994.

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I’d previously skimmed over 1994 mainly because much of it was a blur to me, but over the seven years since writing that post more has returned to me, partly through conversations with people who were there with me and through watching the TV coverage that sneaks onto YouTube.

1994 was a year that fell into the badlands between the burst of Britpop just later that year and the mix of American bands like Rage Against the Machine, and British bands still riding the last wave of the ‘Second Summer of Love’ from 89/90. Contrary to modern versions of history of the time, the early 90’s were a glorious time for British bands who were diverse in genres, as well as their members. Britpop came along and crushed that with its bland white homogeny that it eventually became after the initial exciting period.

That year was a blur because of various chemical substances, but also because it was impossible not to spend that year dashing between stage and stage to see acts. It was exhausting! It also was the first year television filmed vast chunks of it with Channel 4 and MTV being everywhere, so you had to get used to boom cameras being waved in the collective faces of the audience.

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I seem to vaguely remember turning up on the Thursday, pitching in front of the Pyramid (which had burned down a fortnight before the festival to be quickly replaced by a standard big stage) before going on a big adventure. See, in those days you didn’t turn up on the Wednesday unless you were one of the hardcore, were working or you could afford that extra day. Also nothing was on, well, nothing organised but once you made your way to the Green Fields you’d find things, and on the way back home you’d try to avoid the dark, dodgy corners of the festival. Back then there was an issue with gangs fighting for their territory and that spilled over a few times that year, most notably during Elvis Costello’s set on the Saturday.

Being much younger and fitter then meant it didn’t take too long to get between stages, and as I’d basically decided to do my own thing rather than hang out with friends who were happy setting up for large chunks of the day in front of the Pyramid or NME stage. I wanted to explore the site, meet people, drink and be merry which judging by my muddled head 26 years later, I seemed to have done exceptionally well. So the Thursday night I went up to the Green Fields, sat around drinking, chatting, and all manner of things til daylight. I didn’t want to waste time sleeping but managed to grab a few hours before being woken up by the early morning soundchecks.

Friday was all about Rage Against the Machine who at this point were the band everyone wanted to see at the festival, and they turned in one of the finest performances Glastonbury ever saw. Outwith of them, everything else is a blur. I remember bits of The Pretenders, some Beastie Boys and being underwhelmed at World Party.

At some point on Saturday morning, I got some sleep somewhere in the Green Fields before waking up to be offered a cup of tea by a lovely young hippy girl. Apparently I’d ended up in one of the tea tents in the wee hours gibbering like a loon talking about comics with a Tank Girl clone. At some point I’d closed down, and they chucked a blanket over me so when I woke up a few hours later to the offer of a tea I was actually not in much of a mess as I should have been.  I must have wandered off at some point because my next clear memory is brushing my teeth back at the tent.

From what I remember, I spent most of the Saturday at the NME Stage mainly because Orbital were headlining and they could not be missed. Also I was a tad fragile plus I wanted to spend the night up at the Stone Circle, so Saturday I took it easy.

 

Again things are blurry but having enjoyed a brilliant festival so far, the Sunday looked to be a great final day but by now I don’t remember being myself as it were. I was lacking sleep (in thinking about it, I’d probably just about hit double figures. I did however want to see the sun come up and I’d arranged to meet the folk from the other night before heading to the Stone Circle. Thankfully this is 1994 and the Lord created speed so I managed to get my sunrise before getting some rest before the greatness of Johnny Cash.

From there it was a few more bands with Blur being one highlight before the now traditional final night wander around the site and the last night session which leads into an early return home, which in 1994 meant a long, sad drive back to Leicester and a vow that I’d try never to miss a Glastonbury Festival in my life, which was easy to say when you’re young and healthy.

These festivals will never return. Glastonbury has moved on to be something else which I still love, but it’s more curated, more organised and has long shed it’s major counter-cultural aspects though parts still linger on especially in the Green Fields. The more those times are documented before they get lost the more we’ll be able to appreciate what’s now gone forever.

Glastonbury 2020 has been cancelled

Glastonbury 2010

To nobody’s surprise this year’s Glastonbury Festival has been canceled thanks to the Coronavirus with deposits for this year carrying onto next year though for those wanting tickets for next year, I’d expect a lot of cancellations as this year is going to fucking hurt badly.

I’d been given the heads-up a while ago that the festival was likely not happening, which is a shame not just because this is the 50th, but because a lot of good people are going to be screwed for money over the summer. See, like myself in regards comic conventions in April, Glastonbury gave traders, and those working there a base to build their year with some working every week of the summer to make enough money so they either don’t need to worry about work for the winter, or are on minimal hours. All that lies in ruins as Glastonbury will be the first UK festival to cancel. Expect others to follow so June and July will be barren months.

If we’re lucky the tail end of the season in August might still happen. Realistically you can forget the 2020 summer festival season and wish good luck to those traders and staff who’ll be working out how to make a living in an industry also completely left to ruin by the UK government.

So to sort of help, I’m going to not so much update my Glastonbury blogs but threw some stuff out in parallel to them because there’s so, so much stuff I could write about. Stay tuned!

End of the decade

We’re nearly at the end of a decade many of us are glad to see the end of. It’s often said the second decade of a century marks how the rest of that century more or less goes, and if the last one is anything to go by then we won’t hit the end of this century, but after the relatively quiet 90’s and troubled 00’s we hit the decade where things start to solidify which means we’re in the middle of a dystopia what with Brexit, Trump, climate change, the destruction of modern culture, the death of facts and critical thinking and many, many more.

Take my pet topic, comics. A decade ago the comics industry in the UK was suffering thanks to the recession. The annual big convention in Bristol, London or anywhere had died and things looked bleak. The Marvel films kicked it all into overdrive though so that now a decade later the UK can’t move for ‘comic conventions’, which sadly most have nothing to do with comics.

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Yet comics are in a position of cultural dominance like never before as the culture of 2019 shows compared to 2009 where frankly, most of us were thinking mainly of keeping our jobs. Today we’re entering something new for a generation who’ve spent the last decade knowing things were the norm, but having lived through many a recession what comes next endangers every industry.

What I’m talking about is Brexit. We’re about to face what it’s like to be a small country outwith of all the planet’s huge trading blocs and hey, 99% of the world think we’re utterly fucking insane. We live in the era of the liar, the cheat,the strongman who never backs down even though they are horrifyingly wrong because they don’t want to look weak. Propelled by the internet which a decade ago was still mainly a curated space but is now open war encouraged by a handful of massive corporations who have turned our lives into tradeable commodities to sell to other massive corporations. Assuming the planet doesn’t fry or freeze we have no idea where the next decade ends but for many of us it’ll end badly.

Of course things might improve but not before something awful happens on a massive scale until then let’s raise a glass to the decade which set up the horrors of the forthcoming one and hope there’s something good coming at us…

Boris Johnson goes to Glastonbury

Yesterday and today Jeremy Corbyn has been making an arse of himself here in Scotland. Today though Boris Johnson stepped up to the plate to show himself incapable of normal human interaction, plus he managed to be kept out of a staged visit to a bakers in Glastonbury.

However this wasn’t his first time at Glastonbury. Back in 2000, the BBC invited Johnson down to the festival to be escorted around by Billy Bragg on the Friday of the festival. At that time Johnson was editor of The Spectator, plus he was gathering a strong media profile as an ‘affable Tory’ so here is paraded on the Leftfield stage on the Friday.

Now I missed Johnson’s slot having ingested some quantity of alcohol and mushrooms, but here it is clear how Johnson is shaping his image, and how easily it was for it to be formed by people playing along with the gag.

Here we are 19 years on and the act seems to be wearing thin but the question is to those of us in our nice, leftish wee bubble is it really wearing thin with the people who’ll vote for him, or place him as a better option as PM than Corbyn? Stick our heads into the real world and Johnson has supporters across the UK, well, England who will put their vote to his party in less than six weeks.

Johnson is dangerous. He’s a shapeshifter who lies continuously and cannot be trusted. As a Unionist he’ll strip back devolution, leaving us with no way to insulate ourselves which means we have a situation where someone who wants power so much and to wield it without opposition will do anything to win.

No Glastonbury 2020 for me

Next year is the 50th anniversary and it’d have been my 19th festival. So first time I went the place looked like this.

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It now looks like this

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We expected it to be tough this year but not one of our group got tickets leaving open limited options. There’s a resale in April, but that’s super-tough to get tickets on an ordinary year, then there’s volunteering which would be an easy way to get in but stroke/cancer recovery rules that out and then there’s winning tickets in a competition…

So yeah, I’m fucked and not going. Some C list celebrities will walk in because they’re on a comp list and wealthy yuppies will also walk in but folk who save all year? Nah, it’ll be a Saga holiday for us.

Fuck it, I’m going to play the new Sturgill Simpson album yet again and read some comics…

 

A small return to Glastonbury 2002

2002 is a weird year. 9/11 had happened but the aftershocks hadn’t fully kicked in, while the idea of a Tory government ever happening again was laughable due to a Labour government which was doing a job (insert how well of a job here as by 2002 I was done with them) than the Tories could though history has now shown they were writing cheques to be cashed in the present of today. The 21st century hadn’t really kicked in yet while UK culture was in a flux with the 90s still casting a shadow as there wasn’t really a developed idea of where things were going.

Which brings me back to the Glastonbury Festival of 2002. This was the first year back after the massive year which was 2000, and the first of the superfence which did its job so well that the festival felt quieter than it’s ever felt to me. Still busy and frantic but there were chunks of open space and room to move. Compared with 2019’s frenetic crowds it felt so bare but this and 2003 are the transition years of the festival as a meeting of the British alternative to something of the establishment because by the time Paul McCartney rocks up to play in 2004 you can’t really hide what you’ve become and where you’re going.

So I feel a massive fondness for 2002. It’s one of the last festivals I did myself over a beautiful weekend where it seemed the sun would always shine and things could only get better.

Imagine my joy then at YouTube’s algorithm spitting the video below at me. It really is a delight to see this raw footage to remind me of how the festival was, and how I forgot writing about previously about seeing Richie Havens being fucking brilliant or just how nice everyone was even though the lineup wasn’t one of the greatest it was one of the best years for the festival. There’s never going to be a year like it ever again so sit, watch and soak up a piece of history.