Glastonbury, SomersetGlastonbury. It is as much a part of the British cultural scene as the Edinburgh Festival , Glyndebourne , or The Proms . Indeed many who get a taste for musical culture at the now eclectic Glasto will graduate to those other events (while perhaps remaining true to their first love). More...
The setting for The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is fittingly magical, given its now dyed but still strong hippie roots. Glastonbury Tor provides part of the backdrop to the site; local legends have this as Avalon, where King Arthur recovered from battle-wounds; and Glastonbury is supposedly where Joseph of Aramathea’s staff grew to become a thorn tree outside the Glastonbury Abbey he and 11 other apostles are credited with founding.
Given the fixed nature of the festival in the British cultural calendar (albeit with occasional years off to allow Worthy and Cockmill farms to recuperate) it is ironic that the very first, in 1970, was opened by a DJ (Mad Mick) playing It’s All Over Now. After a follow-up in 1971 there was indeed a gap for several years, but the festival got a grip on the youthful imagination in the 1980s and continues to do so to this day. The Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival came of (new) age long ago.
It is perhaps a mark of local tolerance that Glastonbury continues: now with 170,000 attendants, it dwarfs the population of the nearest town, Shepton Mallet with under 10,000. Traffic in the area changes out of all proportion in the run up to the festival and through its three days of performances; but then so does the local economy.
Security is now much better organised than was the case in 1995 when a massive invasion of the event took place by those without tickets, indeed over the years the whole thing has evolved organically, managing to retain a very real idealism while becoming logistically smoother. The presiding genius is still Michael Eavis , though his daughter Emily – who appeared on the stage as a five-year-old with her violin - has a big say in its management. Why Mr Eavis, whose creation generates enormous sums for charity every year, and who has given this country one of its great cultural milestones, has thus far only been awarded the CBE, when minor classical conductors, time-serving civil servants, and actors receive knighthoods, is one of those very British establishment mysteries.
A list of the bands and stars to appear over the years at the festival – which must be headed by Marc Bolan and Tyrannosaurus Rex who starred at the 1971 opener – is a Who’s Who of British and American music, with world music also becoming more of a force in the programme over the last years: David Bowie ; Sir Paul McCartney , Radiohead, Oasis, The Who, Ray Davies, Dizzee Rascal, Van Morrison , Paul Weller , Elvis Costello , Mark Ronson...
The ability of the festival to retain its personality while developing over the years is legend: much against the wishes of a certain section of its clientele the event embraced Dance and Hip Hop, to great acclaim. It features Jazz; and of course has non-musical stages for comedy, circus, and poetry.
The national character would be poorer without Glastonbury; and many friendships formed in mud, queues for toilets and burgers, and buzzing campsites, would never have come about. If you’re a regular but getting a bit beyond camping, or you don’t fancy a tent, Information Britain has plenty of places to stay in Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet and the surrounding area.
If you like this, Share it
More Cultural Britain?
On this day: