Michael Eavis

Glastonbury Festival organiser Michael Eavis by the Pyramid Stage, not during the festival

At the 1999 Glastonbury Festival I was present to research a book on festival culture, that was published the following year as Glastonbury: A Very English Fair (Gollancz, 2000). I attended the press call with festival organiser—dairy farmer—local landowner—Methodist—ex-coal miner—and national treasure Michael Eavis; my question to him was about the travellers. I also spoke with him earlier that year in a telephone interview to Worthy Farm; I think that material is folded in here.

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[Talking about his recently-deceased wife, Jean] She put all the finishing touches to it. Amazing feeling of friendship and support for Jean from festival-goers. Eveyone’s pushing the boat out to there, all the Green Fields are doing a bit extra. There’s a lot of Jean feeling around at the moment (smiles). That just finishes it off nicely. I think we’ll do it again, yeah. Jean and I spoke about the possibility of retiring after the year 2000. I don’t fancy retiring on my own. I do enjoy doing it, as long as I’ve got the brains and the ah the stomach for it.

Well obviously I’m sad, yeah, very lonely without her. I’ve got lots of lovely people about, but it’s not quite the same as having Jean around, is it.

Did you watch REM last night?

Yeah I did. They’re so much more polite than the London bands, Americans are so much more supportive! Debbie Harry, strangely enough, was my daughter’s choice. I thought Blondie did surprisingly well, actually. Al Green I’ll be looking out for, and I’ll be watching the Manics tonight as well, see whether they might be a bit more friendly than last time they played here.

It’s the fourteen-year-olds, the fourteen-year-olds that going around nicking from out of tents, it’s a real nuisance. It’s the most serious problem that we have, and it’s quite large numbers. We arrested 126. The drug situation seems to be much more calm now, not that many drug arrests, and there’s no overt selling that I’ve noticed. Not much violence either. There was a tent burned last night, a calor gas cylinder exploded. We sent her off to hospital in a helicopter. But practically no violence at all. After REM there were millions of people , I was just walking through and there wasn’t even a hint of anyone being aggressive. Extraordinary, it really is.

What’s the hardest thing ?

Persuading the neighbours and the council that it’s a good idea. I had a phone all from Street, that’s seven-eight miles away, and he said we kept him awake all night. I’ll keep in touch with him over the  weekend. You see you have to deal with every single one, you can’t say Oh forget it, it’s not like that. I can’t just do the show and go home. My family’s been here 130 years. I’ll be phoning this fellow back tonight at one in the morning to see if he’s happier. If not, I’ll go and turn down the sound on the Other Stage. It’s a very one-to-one thing, and everyone has to feel like you care about them locally, otherwise it never would happen again.

We’ll make some [band] bookings today for next year.

I’m afraid the weather’s going to break, some rain forecast for later. So enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

It’s the appreciation of the people who  actually come that make the thing. I’ll drive out there now, and everybody will come forward and say thanks this is fantastic.

Jean thought it wasn’t really worth the hassle, to be honest with you.

We always converted that into supporting the idea of the next one. People phone in and write to us, every day we get phone calls and letters—it’s a massive support network, and its very reassuring really.

Well you don’t retire when you’re in front, do you? As long as people still want to come, as long as we get all this artistic input, the bands still want to play—REM actually ran me up this year, and said please can we play. And I said Oh yes, you know, we’ve been trying to get them to play for 20 years. And we agreed a fee, and it wasn’t millions and millions and millions, it was a sensible fee. And then they said Do you mind if we do two dates in London? I mean, do I mind, if they play in London? Extraordinary! They’re so polite, you know. It’s brilliant, it really is, so impressive.

Tony Bennett last year, they went absolutely ape over Tony Bennett. They’re fantastic, the kids out the front.

How does it compare with all the other festivals? I think it’s the best one. Don’t you? [journalists laugh with him] I think that the way we treat people as well, we treat them with respect. Everything that we do we try and make it better and better every year—the showers, the water, even the loos are better, you know. We’re trying all the time, the programme’s included in the ticket price, we try to give real good value for money. The most important person is the person who actually buys the ticket, we have to win every single one over, you can’t take them for granted, we really have to convince them that we’re giving the m the best value in the world, and we really are doing that. That’s why they come. And it costs £7 million to put this show on.

It feels to me that this year is the best one we’ve ever done. But then I always say that.

Any improvements planned for next year?

Yeah, I dread to say it but we’re going to put a bit more tarmac down. Bel Mooney’s not around here, is she? She’s gone, yeah? Tarmac—it stops the dust, and all these small stones that people trip over and twist their ankles. We’ve got loads of space for caravans, we want to encourage more caravans, they’re safer, the fourteen-year-olds can’t so easily break into a caravan.

At the festival in 2000, publicising the new book, Glastonbury: A Very English Fair

How is your relation with the new travellers?

And we’ve still got the travellers’ field you know, they’re in caravans as well, aren’t they, but just different sort of caravans! About 1000 travellers up the road I’m looking after on a daily basis. And that’s another problem with putting on the festival—300 vehicles there are, in that travellers’ field, and they’re parked off site, about two miles away. They’re doing their own thing, it’s a bit difficult for me to manage, to get the services in there, and to keep the locals happy round about that site. I just manage the travellers who turn up here. We manage them quite well, responsibly, don’t go round beating them with baseball bats, just give them a site and we make it work, make it comfortable, and they’re reasonably welcome. It’s a different approach to English Heritage—but then I’ve had years of training. It is a drain, it’s a very difficult thing, again, I have to talk one-to-one, with their leaders—you get a dialogue going then it might work. I can’t get somebody else to go there. It’s a bit of a wordly-wise thing, years and years of history. It’s no problem, it’s fine, it’s just a part of the festival that nobody really  knows about—it’s all happening right out there.

What about local opposition to the festival?

Yeah, one councillor in particular. (Skidmore) He just makes it up, you see! He doesn’t like me, basically, it’s a personal thing.

The fence—it only came down in ‘95, it only came down once—and that was a traveller-instigated thing.

Do you have any idea how many people get in over the fence?

No I’d love to know that. Too many, I’ll tell you that.

We give away about £700,000 a year, you see. We haven’t got a pot of gold to cover if things go wrong—with savings you pay so much tax, about 40% I think, so you just lose it for stacking it up for a rainy day (smiles), so we give it all away, and there’s no tax to pay. So we just hope and pray every year that we at least over our costs. I was really worried about a month ago about ticket sales, I didn’t think we were going to break even. We didn’t sell out until this weekend. The wether forecast was good last weekend,  and people didn’t really buy in large numbers until about 10 days ago.

I think people were put off by the last couple of years of mud. Anoyne here from NME? Yeah? Ah! Those stories you printed last year—anything to answer for? (Laughter from all press except NME’s young reporter) They weren’t very flattering. It didn’t help any. We get a good clear warm year,we’ll probably get some good reviews in the music press. (To NME boy) What do you think of that? Yeah? We should do. Well, are you going to write them?

The crowds haven’t been a problem, no not really. The car parks got a bit busy about 7 o’clock last night (Friday), and making your way from the main arena about 12.30 it was a bit crowded. But there’s loads of room on site, all the arenas are fairly manageable. It was just the dance tent last really packed for Fat Boy Slim—all the sides were up, and that tent is the biggest tent in the country. We need a bigger dance tent really.

Yeah, a bigger dance tent and wider bridges basically.

[Talking about his recently-deceased wife, Jean] She put all the finishing touches to it. Amazing feeling of friendship and support for Jean from festival-goers. Eveyone’s pushing the boat out to there, all the Green Fields are doing a bit extra. There’s a lot of Jean feeling around at the moment (smiles). That just finishes it off nicely. I think we’ll do it again, yeah. Jean and I spoke about the possibility of retiring after the year 2000. I don’t fancy retiring on my own. I do enjoy doing it, as long as I’ve got the brains and the ah the stomach for it.

Well obviously I’m sad, yeah, very lonely without her. I’ve got lots of lovely people about, but it’s not quite the same as having Jean around, is it.

Did you watch REM last night?

Yeah I did. They’re so much more polite than the London bands, Americans are so much more supportive! Debbie Harry, strangely enough, was my daughter’s choice. I thought Blondie did surprisingly well, actually. Al Green I’ll be looking out for, and I’ll be watching the Manics tonight as well, see whether they might be a bit more friendly than last time they played here.

It’s the fourteen-year-olds, the fourteen-year-olds that going around nicking from out of tents, it’s a real nuisance. It’s the most serious problem that we have, and it’s quite large numbers. We arrested 126. The drug situation seems to be much more calm now, not that many drug arrests, and there’s no overt selling that I’ve noticed. Not much violence either. There was a tent burned last night, a calor gas cylinder exploded. We sent her off to hospital in a helicopter. But practically no violence at all. After REM there were millions of people , I was just walking through and there wasn’t even a hint of anyone being aggressive [a bit like the Queen, people on their best behaviour for Michael Eavis]. Extraordinary, it really is.

What’s the hardest thing ?

USE SOMEWHERE

Persuading the neighbours and the council that it’s a good idea. I had a phone all from Street, that’s seven-eight miles away, and he said we kept him awake all night. I’ll keep in touch with him over the  weekend. You see you have to deal with every single one, you can’t say Oh forget it, it’s not like that. I can’t just do the show and go home. My family’s been here 130 years. I’ll be phoning this fellow back tonight at one in the morning to see if he’s happier. If not, I’ll go and turn down the sound on the Other Stage. It’s a very one-to-one thing, and everyone has to feel like you care about them locally, otherwise it never would happen again.

We’ll make some bookings today for next year.

I’m afraid the weather’s going to break, some rain forecast for later. So enjoy the sunshine while it lasts .

It’s the appreciation of the people who  actually come that make the thing. I’ll drive out there now, and everybody will come forward and say thanks this is fantastic.

Jean thought it wasn’t really worth the hassle, to be honest with you.

We always converted that into supporting the idea of the next one. People phone in and write to us, every day we get phone calls and letters—it’s a massive support network, and its very reassuring really.

Well you don’t retire when you’re in front, do you? As long as people still want to come, as long as we get all this artistic input, the bands still want to play—REM actually ran me up this year, and said please can we play. And I said Oh yes, you know, we’ve been trying to get them to play for 20 years. And we agreed a fee, and it wasn’t millions and millions and millions, it was a sensible fee. And then they said Do you mind if we do two dates in London? I mean, do I mind, if they play in London? Extraordinary! They’re so polite, you know. It’s brilliant, it really is, so impressive.

Tony Bennett last year, they went absolutely ape over Tony Bennett. They’re fantastic, the kids out the front.

USE SOMEWHERE—conclusion?

How does it compare with all the other festivals? I think it’s the best one. Don’t you? [journalists laugh with him] I think that the way we treat people as well, we treat them with respect. Everything that we do we try and make it better and better every year—the showers, the water, even the loos are better, you know. We’re trying all the time, the programme’s included in the ticket price, we try to give real good value for money. The most important person is the person who actually buys the ticket, we have to win every single one over, you can’t take them for granted, we really have to convince them that we’re giving the m the best value in the world, and we really are doing that. That’s why they come. And it costs £7 million to put this show on.

It feels to me that this year is the best one we’ve ever done. But then I always say that.

Any improvements planned for next year?

Yeah, I dread to say it but we’re going to put a bit more tarmac down. Bel Mooney’s not around here, is she? She’s gone, yeah? Tarmac—it stops the dust, and all these small stones that people trip over and twist their ankles. We’ve got loads of space for caravans, we want to encourage more caravans, they’re safer, the fourteen-year-olds can’t so easily break into a caravan.

USED How is your relation with the new travellers?

And we’ve still got the travellers’ field you know, they’re in caravans as well, aren’t they, but just different sort of caravans! About 1000 travellers up the road I’m looking after on a daily basis. And that’s another problem with putting on the festival—300 vehicles there are, in that travellers’ field, and they’re parked off site, about two miles away. They’re doing their own thing, it’s a bit difficult for me to manage, to get the services in there, and to keep the locals happy round about that site. I just manage the travellers who turn up here. We manage them quite well, responsibly, don’t go round beating them with baseball bats, just give them a site and we make it work, make it comfortable, and they’re reasonably welcome. It’s a different approach to English Heritage—but then I’ve had years of training. It is a drain, it’s a very difficult thing, again, I have to talk one-to-one, with their leaders—you get a dialogue going then it might work. I can’t get somebody else to go there. It’s a bit of a wordly-wise thing, years and years of history. It’s no problem, it’s fine, it’s just a part of the festival that nobody really  knows about—it’s all happening right out there.

What about local opposition to the festival?

Yeah, one councillor in particular. (Skidmore) He just makes it up, you see! He doesn’t like me, basically, it’s a personal thing.

The fence—it only came down in ‘95, it only came down once—and that was a traveller-instigated thing.

Do you have any idea how many people get in over the fence?

No I’d love to know that. Too many, I’ll tell you that.

USE in conclusion

We give away about £700,000 a year, you see. We haven’t got a pot of gold to cover if things go wrong—with savings you pay so much tax, about 40% I think, so you just lose it for stacking it up for a rainy day (smiles), so we give it all away, and there’s no tax to pay. So we just hope and pray every year that we at least over our costs. I was really worried about a month ago about ticket sales, I didn’t think we were going to break even. We didn’t sell out until this weekend. The wether forecast was good last weekend,  and people didn’t really buy in large numbers until about 10 days ago.

I think people were put off by the last couple of years of mud. Anoyne here from NME? Yeah? Ah! Those stories you printed last year—anything to answer for? (Laughter from all press except NME’s young reporter) They weren’t very flattering. It didn’t help any. We get a good clear warm year,we’ll probably get some good reviews in the music press. (To NME boy) What do you think of that? Yeah? We should do. Well, are you going to write them?

The crowds haven’t been a problem, no not really. The car parks got a bit busy about 7 o’clock last night (Friday), and making your way from the main arena about 12.30 it was a bit crowded. But there’s loads of room on site, all the arenas are fairly manageable. It was just the dance tent last really packed for Fat Boy Slim—all the sides were up, and that tent is the biggest tent in the country. We need a bigger dance tent really.

Yeah, a bigger dance tent and wider bridges basically.

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