“Hippies Keep Out”: The Beginnings of Glastonbury Festival
If you’re like me and were lucky enough to get a ticket for this year’s Glastonbury festival, you’re probably in a field right now up to your welly-clad knees in mud and wondering why you thought you could survive five days eating just pot noodles and Lidl’s own breakfast bars. The packing was done by Sunday, the excitement had been building since Saturday and it’ll all be over by Monday, when, tired and muddy, you’ll crawl home in epic traffic and prepare to re-enter the normal world on Tuesday.
Glastonbury festival is one of the biggest, and arguably most iconic, festivals in the world, and it all started in a muddy field in Pilton by a farmer who couldn’t afford to pay the headline act and had to agree to an installment plan. Michael Eavis had attended the Bath Blues Festival in 1969 and liked what he saw and, on returning home, thought he could probably do something similar. In our resource, Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975, he describes his initial steps to get his festival off the ground:
"The first problem was that I knew nothing about the music business. I started by ringing up the Colston Hall in Bristol to ask how I could get in touch with pop groups. A chap there gave me the name of an agent, who then put me in touch with the Kinks, who agreed to appear for £500, which was a lot of money for me to pull out of a milk churn."
The Kinks actually ended up pulling out, after they took offence to the music magazine Melody Maker describing the gathering as a mini-festival, and Eavis was left in the lurch. His ten year old daughter told him he would be a fool to give up, and he managed to convince T-Rex to play the headline set instead. The stage was built from scaffolding and plywood and lashed to two apple trees, local cottages and land were sorted for accommodation, the Hell’s Angels were accidentally booked for security (never again, after they stole the ox from the ox roast and burnt a hay wagon), the hippies started arriving and Glastonbury Festival had begun.
One of the attendees of the first festival describes her preparations:
Jane Cady (fan): "I’d just dropped out of college with my friend Di Chalker, so we got our festival kit together - a bottle of apricot wine, a kazoo each and a carton of bubble mixture. We’d seen people on the Woodstock movie with purple hair, so we dyed ours and set off. I wore a floral skirt and Di had denims that she’d sewn a huge insert into, so they would be like bell-bottoms."
And another describes the local community's reactions:
Brian Seal (local journalist): "There were signs up on the local pub, the Crown, saying ‘Hippies Keep Out’. People were just generally opposed to the whole idea."
An attendee of the 1972 'Glastonbury Fayre'. Image © Private Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
This 1970 start was a long way from the Kanye West headlined festival that we see today and there are many that argue that this is a bad thing, that the festival has become commercialised and the acts too mainstream. Problems with fence jumping in the 1990s, which would swell the festival to double its size, with only half of the attendees possessing tickets, meant that the Mean Fiddler Organisation were hired to handle logistics and security, ending the culture of gate-crashing and, for many, the non-corporate culture of the festival. It’s been a controversial ride for the organisers and the festival itself and this year has been no different. Glastonbury has gone from a mini-festival that cost £1 (including free milk from the farm) and gained popularity through word of mouth, to a world renowned festival where tickets sell out in ten minutes and Dolly Parton plays a tiny saxophone to an adoring crowd whilst rasping about the mysterious Jolene. And I don’t know about you, but if that is anything to go on, I can’t wait for the music to start.
Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975 is available now. Full access restricted to authenticated academic institutions who have purchased a licence.