Rock for Ages

1970 (the year Edward Heath became Conservative Prime Minister), Michael Eavis, of Worthy Farm, Pilton, decided it would quite nice to have a little festival on his farm. After haymaking, of course. Fifty years later, the Glastonbury Festival is the most famous regular rock festival in the world.

Eavis had been a fairly conventional Somerset farmer - his family had lived and worked Worthy Farm for generations. Earlier that year he had gone to a Blues Festival at Bath & West Showgrounds (Shepton Mallet), where 200,000 fans had enjoyed a couple of days of top-line rock'n'roll.

So, he decided to do it himself. Commercial, it wasn't. Barely 2,500 people turned up to the Pilton Festival, and if it hadn't been for Marc Bolan of T Rex, it might have been an utter, financial disaster (Eavis had hoped to pay off his mortgage on the proceeds). But those few enjoyed themselves hugely, and a seed had been planted.

The next year, a chap called Andrew Kerr turned up (after holding an all-night vigil on Glastonbury Tor), suggesting that Eavis should do it all again - only bigger, brighter, better - and free (and we'll call it Glastonbury Fayre).

Kerr wasn't just a crazy hippy (though he looked like one). He was charismatic and able. He had been Randolph Churchill's personal assistant until that old monster's death. Arabella Churchill (Randolph's daughter) joined him on this enterprise.

This 1971 festival has entered the mythology of English music. A lot more people have claimed to have been there than ever turned up (about 12,000). The musical line-up was pretty stratospheric, and everyone involved seems to have had a jolly good time - though whether those who were really there actually remember much of the detail - I'm inclined to doubt.

But it was, very nearly, the last Glastonbury Festival. Over the next seven years, people turned up, hung around, got stoned - all without anything being organised or advertised. Michael Eavis neither encouraged nor discouraged the pilgrims. On one occasion, they even "acquired" access to an electrical feed, and had an impromptu rock show, right there, in a field.

It became clear that the idea of a Glastobury Festival was something that wasn't going to go away. And although there were no official festivals at Pilton, there were hundreds elsewhere. Big festivals, little festivals, free festivals, expensive festivals, even anti-festivals (the so-called "Festival of Light"). By the end of the decade, there was a need for regular, well-planned venues, to cater for something which had gone way beyond a short-lived fashion.

There was also a raft of new legislation, ostensibly designed to improve the conditions at outdoor festivals, but, in reality, designed to stop them happening at all. When Eavis and others decided to have another Glastonbury Fayre in 1979, it was no longer a matter of putting up the fences, digging a few latrines and hiring the bands. Licenses were required, and sureties. And the audiences had become a little more sophisticated too. They required some basic comforts and a broader range of entertainments. Eavis had to put up the deeds to his farm to get a loan to cover all the expenses, even though there was no longer any intention to benefit Eavis. 1979 was The Year of the Child, and this Glastobury Fayre was dedicated to raising money for that cause.

But, although 1979 was again a musical and "feel-good" success for the 12,000 who turned up, it was a financial failure. No-one was inclined to try again in 1980.

Hill Hill Hill Hill Hill Hill Pyramid Builders Pyramid Builders
© David Craig Send me a message