Glastonbury Festival, June 1999—transcription of interview with Michael Eavis, transcriptions of voice-recorded observations, field notes
[Glastonbury Festival, June 1999—transcription of interview with Michael Eavis, transcriptions of voice-recorded observations, field notes—for the book I was writing, Glastonbury: A Very English Fair (Gollancz, 2000). Thank you to Michael Eavis, and to John Shearlaw of the Press Office. As I remember I did a telephone intereview with Eavis too, wonder if I still have that. Also included are odd capitalised notes to myself as I was writing the book, such as ‘USED’. I found these notes in a quarter-lost file in a semi-forgotten folder on my old computer in March 2011, and decided to put them on my website, for your pleasure—hey, I’ve just realised, this text forms a dialogue with the Stonehenge diary from 1984, which is on the website here too! At the time to me it seemed that Stonehenge in 1984 and Glastonbury in 1999 were worlds apart; now from the vantage of a man in his sixth decade, in 2011, they seem like partner events and texts, with a connecting gap.
(There is at least one factual error, I’m afraid: unlike Ian Dury, Gene Vincent did not have polio, don’t know where I got that from. Vincent was disabled as a result of two road traffic accidents, one in the US and the second in the UK. Apolos.)
Actually I was really struck by re-reading the short paragraph on Dury, because I have since completed a book about disability and pop, from a project called Spasticus—which is becoming the book Shakin’ all Over—and I even quote from that song here. Secondly, early on, the description of flowers planted in hedge and wall: there’s a section in my imminently published Radical Gardening about walls and flower, and another about festivals. So curious to see one’s embryonic ideas, and be surprised by the evidence of them a decade and more on. OK: if we wanted to be more utopian about it, we could say that the genius loci of Glastonbury directly inspired or indirectly intuited THREE of my books (to date): Glastonbury: A Very English Fair (2000), Radical Gardening (2011), Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music & Disability (2013). That might well be special.
Ah yes, and I remember one of the reviews of the Glastonbury book pointing out how uncool I was because I didn’t know that ‘Cos the drugs don’t work’ is from a song lyric. Ah well, I know now, thanks.
Here is a short piece of film footage from the 199 festival I found on YouTube, which I like in part because it’s shot on Super 8 film, so has a nostalgic visual feel about it.]
1. Michael Eavis at the press conference, Saturday
2.Transcriptions of voice-recorded observations
3. Field notes (written observations)
1. Michael Eavis at the press conference, Saturday
[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 ?
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.
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.
2. Transcriptions of voice recorded observations
(Fela Kuti record in the background in the car) USED
I’ve been having a close look at the hedges on the outskirts of Shepton Mallet. Ican see several different sorts of ivy, brambles, thorns, blackthorn perhaps, I can see some high trees there, like elder maybe, I can see a rowan tree, I can see cow, cow, whatever that stuff’s called, cow parsley, and stinging nettles of course, and I can also see just on the other side there some lovely purple wild geraniums, and wild wheat. I can do all this while I’m waiting and have been waiting for one hour now, in the queue outside Shepton Mallet, the traffic jam, to get through Shepton Mallet, to get on the the Glastonbury road, to stop at Pilton, on Thursday, oh God, evening now, it was afternoon when I got to Bristol, it’s evening now when I’m twenty miles down the road, serves me right for coming in the car. It’s quite sunny, though a little bit of cloud, but it’s warm, in fact it’s a glorious summer’s day almost, except for the grey ominous cloud over there, by what I take to be Pilton a few miles behind that hedge, and in fact one brilliant thing I just saw a minute ago, in one of the rare moments when the traffic moved, I glimped through the hedge, and it’s sort of flat the landcape, green, green, fantastically green, shades of it, and then voomph out of nowhere on the horizon there’s this really extraordinary oh rump, bump, mound in the landscape, with the Tor on top of it, with er St Michael’s Tower on top of it. That’s Glastonbury Tor. First time I’ve seen that. It’s em an impressive sight.
Twenty minutes, forty yards later. I’ve been sitting listening to Wimbledon on Radio 5, another green England, and em now I can see, just, some lovely buildings on the edge of Shepton Mallet, glorious kind of er beige stone, and they just look nestled neatly lovely into the landscape. I can see in the hedge, which is really actually an overgrown stone wall, not a dry stone wall I don’t think, no it’s got mortar on it, I can see yellow flowers, several different sorts, pink ones, I can see what look like the remains of a primrose, other white flowers, big purple ones, and some bushes that look like they’ve escaped from someone’s garden nearby.
When you hit Glastonbury town, at the roadside, the town sign says ‘Welcome to Glastonbury, Ancient Isle of Avalon’. I must get a photo of that. And the Tor, coming from the festival to Glastonbury is so spectacular, it’s just the way to see it, it’s its perfect frame. It’s so confident, the way it presents itself to us, free-standing. The festival does the Tor and St Michael’s Tower such a favour: the contrast between our temporary noisy mass event and its fixed silent solo power is worth, worth all the crappier bands and their overbearing volumes. When you see the Tor from the other side, from the west of the town, it’s just a church tower on a hill. But from the east side, looking down the er vale of Avalon, moving along it in fact, it’s so isolated in its splendour, and the isolation contributes to that splendour.
One of the things I keep seeing is young men getting out of the cars in the traffic jam and pissing in the hedges, and em quite a lot of that, already, and I guess if you’re a local and you live round here one of the things you see is an invasion of people, and lots of them young men want to jump out and piss in the hedges. I’m reminded of a story CJ Stone tells in The Last of the Hippies, about one of his neighbours, one of Michael Eavis’s neighbours, insisting that he would only support his application for a licence if Eavis himself went round and picked all the human turds out of the hedge on his land, where people, festival-goers, had dumped them. I’ve also seen a police pick-up truck doing the rounds, because there are sign on these quiet, quiet country lanes with very high hedges, lovely green high, fifteen twenty foot high, fantastic, signs saying NO STOP AREA. IF YOU STOP YOU WILL BE TOWED AWAY. £125 FINE ETC ETC. And there’s a tow truck with the police doing the rounds I guess. There’s a car broken down in the lay-by, they’re stopping to make sure they’ve got someone coming to sort them out. If there’s another car somewhere they’re stopping to see why they’ve stopped.
(Maybe this is all to do with anticipation. Deliberate delay to make arrival the better. It’s a litle early bit of democracy: everybody’s caught. Except for major stars flying in and accident victims flying out by helicopter we’re all in it.)
When I did finally get here they were very welcoming, because I had this red sticker on the windscreen whih meant I could go to a certain gate, get waved through by the police and er several times in fact, eventually I found my way to where I was supposed to be. I produced my documents, my invitation, and whatever else it was, and they were very friendly the people there, and they were sort of moving you along, so you come down here and there were like two or three rows with fences where like cars would go down at different times building up I suppose for tomorrow when it all gets a bit more kind of manic as people come for the entire weekend. And the stewards, young a bit alternative (except the security guy, who looked like a regional stereotype of a scally in deepest Somerset. He did tell me that I wouldn’t believe some of the things people tried to bring in. Not just bottles and and knives but one guy had a chainsaw he thought might be useful. He looked in my boot and told me about the knife fight there’d been on Wednesday night outside a beer tent), nice and chatty. Oh has it been a long jouney, you look a bit hot, well you’re here now, time for a good time. I felt a bit better, and my hangover from Norwich had gone by then so that helped. And eventually I found, no no, the press people’s main advice was I dunno find your way around mate. I eventually parked the car, and no they wouldn’t let me through a particular gate in spite of my production pass, so I had to queue up along with everyone else. How appalling (IRONY). So I queued up and em, em, with my tent in two bags on my shoulder, and em after a while when I was queuing someone said Oh you don’t have to queue here, you’v got a blue band, you just go through the side there. So that was good.
Now I’m in, and I’m directed differently by several stewards, and this is a ginormous event, you know, fields, fields, fields, different gates, the lot, you know it’s huge, and then there are two main, I think two big main stages, the Pyramid Stage and the Other one, and then in between those two, right at the heart of it, there’s this space that’s enclosed off, and that’s the backstage compound, and that’s where I am. It’s terrific from that point of view: access, convenience, security.
So eventually I managed to find my way to the backstage, and I started pitching my tent, where I’d asked someone could I pitch it, and they said yeah yeah. And then this er boy comes over from Virgin Megastores or Crap-U-Like, some music biz boy, and there’s lots of them around backstage, er, you know they all kind of think they’ve hit the good time, and em, he said Oh you can’t pitch here, this is only for Virgin Megastore people or something. So I said well actually I did ask, and I went to the press office as well, the press tent, but of course there was no one in there at the time blah blah. So anyway, I’m standing around now, and this kind of hippy guy came over and said Did that guy from Virgin just tell you to get off here? I said Yeah, and he said Well he said that to me, and I told him to fuck off. I said, Oh I can’t be bothered. So this hippy guy helped me move my tent over to this other bit and he went off even and found a mallet and banged in the pegs for me, which was very nice. Yeah, so that was good.
And anyway it meant I had to walk from where I’d parked the car, and you drive along this kind of aluminium rack, track which is put own in the fields, right, so there’s a roadway that’s put down of aluminium, and that goes on and on and on, of aluminium strips joined together, a bit like a pontoon bridge or something. As I was driving along there I was thinking, Jesus, you know, in this whackingly huge car park driving on aluminium, you know, all this stuff I’ve been writing about festival—communing with nature, celebrating the solstice, the Arthurian past thing, all that—it’s like forget it, man. It’s just a mass, mass, mass, mass event.
So em what else, I’ve been wandering, yeah, so, I had to go back to the car about an hour later, and it’s getting late by then, towards nine o’clock, and er to pick up you know the clothes, my rucksack with clothes and sleeping stuff and food and things like that. And I walked along the old railway line that runs through the site, and then there where it runs through this particularly sort of ugly bit, in the middle of which is like a little scar, a sort of a waste land, and ironically this is right next to some of the Green Fields, and er in there there was kind of old dead wood around and stuff, and people were pulling that off,and there were a few dead trees, and loads of people were hovering around, and it stank of sort of damp dead wood and piss and things like that, and there were loads of people in there pulling it all off to get a big batch of wood so that they could have a big fire when they drag it back to their tent, you know, three quarters of a mile away or fucking two miles away Jesus. That was a bit grotty actually, it was all dusty and dry and smelly and horible, and all these people sort of beavering away in this dark little space, pulling bits off dead trees (better than live ones, I suppose), scavenging, scavenging a temporary identity.
Quarter to midnight on Thursday evening, there’s an amazing, well not amazing, there’s a er cacophony of competing sounds, dance music and so on, coming from all around, all around. I’m camped up in the middle of the backstage compound, and er which has got fuller and fuller as the night’s gone on, and just outside me now, at midnight, there are a couple of people, couple of journalists or someone, trying to er put up their tent. One of those very easy tents, you just put the little poles together and then it forms a bender, and then the tent comes boing! and it’s up, but they can’t quite manage it. Heh heh. And em if I knew how to do it I’d go and help them, but I’m not, I’m in bed. I spent the last little while watching John Peel and some other young, younger DJ, a young guy doing sort of house music, no, dance music and things like that. I just went along through the hospitality tent (big) to the press tent (little) and then I just had a look down the end to see what was going on, and therewas a couple of lights shining on a little sound, er, decks. And em when I looked a the decks, underneath there was a big red sign saying ON AIR. BBC RADIO 1. You know, Radio One is broadcasting from Glastonbury, and I was surpriesd because it looked so casual, you could have gone up and pulled it all apart and stuff, and disrupted it or whatever, and there were about four people standing around watching it.
It’s that casual, in the middle of a field, under the sky. And when you look around you you see all the fantastic silhouetted trees, you look up in the sky and there’s a gorgeous moon, and we’re on this flat, sort of I suppose it’s a flood plain, and all around on both sides is the valley almost stretching into the distance. And I assume tomorrow we’ll see the Tor, you know, the valley stretching up to the Tor in Glastonbury.
Then I realised that it was one of the things gong out live, and that John Peel and this young guy, this young blade, and Peel was interesting because he was animated, he laughed when er at one stage the young guy he came to the end of a song , a heavy dance piec, with a drum beat and that, and then it just wentt ooooommmm and died away. He mistimed the end of the piece, it was supposed to feed into another piece, but it just slowed down and Jon Peel laughed his head off then, he thought that was very funny. Peel put in some of his faves and was amazed, no I was surprised because he even played a Status Quo song. And suddenly there were about five more people, they’d come out of the hospitality tent thinking Status Quo? Pretend dance with air guitars and things like that. Took me back to where? Hammersmith Odeon 1975 or something. Status Quo and then Nirvana, and then a piece of sweet African pop with singing guitars. It’s a fantastic setting, and we small crowd are just standing around watching these two broadcast live to the nation, so informal, they’re eating chips under a summer moon, chatting to each other. Even when he starts playing the African piece John Peel starts doing the air guitar himself you know, dancing around, and his legs are moving and his shoulders are moving, and hey you can see the years coming off this guy. So I’ll try and build up the courage to see if I can talk to him, be good to interview him about it, about Glastonbury, about festivals. Last time I saw him at a festival was when? When I went to Reading three years running in the late-1970s. He was emcee, used to entertain the crowd with a song called ‘I’m a wanker’, chorus went ‘I’m a wanker, I’m a wanker, and it does me good like it bloody well should’. I’ll ask him if times have changed.
I’ll see how it goes. All the journos, all the people who’ve got ‘production passes’, like me, that means you’ve got a blue wristband, all the jounos, they all know each other, and they’re all young, so in the hospitality tent and the press tent, they’re all sort of young in there and they’re all kind of hip, and well look a bit silly actually half of them, and em, so I, well you know they all know each other from other gigs and ligging around at festivals and things, and then there’s me standing around at the bar on my own having a pint of bitter. What is it with youth and generation and age? Is festival exclusive?
(recording of ‘Sex & drugs & rock & roll’ in background)
I’ve come out this morning, I’ve partly come out over here, I’ve come around the other side of the backstage and I’m at the Pyramid Stage, which infortunately isn’t a pyramid anyway, and I’ve just come here in order to see Ian Dury, who’s supposed to be playing at 11 or 12 noon or something. They’ve just made an announcement that a band’s been put back a little while, Bjorn Again, because Ian Dury’s unwell and he won’t be able to play. That’s a shame. Here’s the guy dying, supposed to be playing, and I’ve come to see him, not to be ghoulish or maudlin (not the late Billie Holiday syndrome), but for one more go, remembering the Stiffs Tour in 1977 where he played drums for Wreckless Eric, and had Elvis Costello, Nik Lowe, Larry Wallis, Dave Edmunds, all singing along to ‘Sex & drugs’ for an encore and the power failed and the audience kept the chorus going loud loud till it came back again. Shame. Wonder if Radio 1 will play is ‘Spasticus autisticus’ tonight from the festival as a tribute, seeing’s the BBC banned that great song 20 years ago? We didn’t know who he was at first at that gig, and then Wreckless Eric came on, this very nervous boy playing a Top Twenty guitar bought out of Woolworth’s, very impressive touch, and then his drummer, seemed to be helped on to stage, and he had a really crappy little drumkit, box joke set really, and he had what looked like leg calipers, and his whole body looked a bit strange, and gradually the rumour went round that Wreckless Eric’s drummer was Ian Dury. We’d all heard about him, but none of us knew what he looked like up in Norfolk, hardly. I thought seeing him here now twenty-odd years later would be a good, a very nice way to start the musical proceedings of the festival for me.
I thought, hoped, he’d be here, performing in adversity, which is why that song ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ is so good. Vincent had had polio too. He used to come own steps on stage to the mic, and his manager made the steps bigger so his crippledness couldn’t be missed by audiences. And my middle is a riddle!
It’s ever so easy to identify contradiction at Glastonbury. For instance here I am sitting in the Green no the Sacred Ground, where there are signs around saying SACRED FIELD NO CAMPING ETC ETC, and em it’s surprisingly unpacked, wherea there are hordes and hordes and hordes of people down by, I can see them in the distance, the em Pyramid Stage and the Other Stage. And this Sacred Field seems to be filled by people sitting around drinking cans of lager and smoking dope, just like down there in fact, and there’s all sorts of bits of crap and quite a lot of litter but not huge amounts over the floor, empty, empty em what are they called? cup things, beer cups, with the Glastonbury Festival logo on them. Em, so on the one hand you look down at the, at the earth, the Sacred Field, and it just looks like any other old field with a load of people in it, full of rubbish and dump. But then you look up and you see it in the context of, well, you know, all its flags, there’s a big wicker man, more like an angel, staring up to the sky, which might be pretty strange since I seem to remember the wicker man in the film being quite a paganistically evil thing. Well this one looks, or is supposed to look, more positive, though the face is ugly. In front of that is the stone circle of maybe twenty quite big, eight foot, ten foot, fifteen foot stones, with a little dolmen or two in the middle, and some other bits as well, one or two other stones round and about the sides. Uh, that’s quite impressive, I don’t know when that was done, I’ll have to find out, fairly recently anyway, in the last few years, but even there’s the idea of sort of reclamation or reinvention of er ancient, ancient culture, and the significant thing is its rootedness to the land, it’s on a terrific spot, you look down over and a bit along the valley and of course you look down over the valley of what is at this time of year the festival as well.
And when you do mill round and lift your eyes, you do, you see the landscape, you see the Vale of Avalon, and the fields and the trees and the writing of the hedges. At one edge of the site you see a big white cross, erected by one of Eavis’s neighbours a few years ago, a dedicated Christian, who sees this event as a kind of pagan or satanic thing. So at one side there’s this big white cross and at the other side of the site, the valley, there’s a stone circle, a fake henge, erected by some of the people at the festival a few years ago, I think. So you know you’ve got Xtianity at one end and you’ve got paganism at the other, they’re competing narratives, discourses underlining it all. (Very dialectic—is the synthesis convincing, though, the festival itself? I did see the Jesus Army tent earlier, near the main drag for easy pickings.) And the thing is, they’re both invented, plonked in the middle of fields pretending to be ancient, tapping into otherworldly traditions. New cross and new stone circle, ancient religion and then even older one.
The Green Fields are most like the old East Anglian Fairs, and it’s pertinent that the Green Fields got going in the very early 1980s, just as the Fairs were coming to the end of their ten or fifteen year life. The idea got passed along, with some characters sharing both. Didn’t Bruce Lacey, veteran ritualist of the fairs, do some of the early green gatherings at Worthy Farm that led to the Green Fields? I know one of his daughters a bit, will have to ask. Space at Glastonbury is organised schizophrenically (or is it just organised? No—it is divided, and it may be that the division strengthens the festival, its appeal, its mostly charming splitness). In spite of Andrew Kerr’s assertion in 1971 that ‘Glastonbury is too beautiful for just another rock festival’, it is that—or at least two-thirds or three-quarters is that. The rest is green, crafts, organic, travellers. Talking about this with one of the Press Tent people (when anyone’s there) who said REM etc. pay for the Green Fields, Kidz Areas etc., all those nice things around the edge wouldn’t be possible without the beer cans and hot dogs in the stadium rock valley floor. There are one or two smaller areas on site of what seem to be darker, dirtier, slightly more edgy communities. E.g. near the old railway line on the way to the Green Fields is what you might if being kind call a wooded glade. It’s dark, very dusty—and smelly, since a number of the more primitive loos hav been sited here. There are a few rough benders, a rusty car, one or two nice old hippy trucks, converted FGs. What is it about the people in here that makes most of the other festival-goers pass through rather than pause? Mostly young men, serious about something, probably about getting out of it, and they are deliberately refusing the glorious sunshine. They are distrusted because they’ve come to this open air feelgood event (logo: dancing people, fun people) and kind of closed it off, gone semi-subterranean.
Inc. in GREEN FIELDS section
Still sitting in the Sacred Ground. A couple of people over there are playing with er a frisbee, there are some drummers with the djembes, clapping, singing a bit, two or three drummers by the stones, there’s a guy rather precariously dancing on top of a thin stone in the circle, that looks not much bigger than, well he hasn’t got much more room to dance than to stand, he could come off at any moment, and he’s framed in the background by a lovely oak tree, and in fact the trees are a real nice feature, they just kind of go round and round and they block off parts of the site, and then open it up with a view. I can see down towards a wooden, a little fort thing, at the bottom of the Sacred Ground, there are flags and streamers, there are big poles sticking up out of the ground twenty thirty feet, it’s like a fair, it’s like Rougham Fair or a Sun Fair, something like that. There’s a big totem pole over there which looks like it’s been around for a while, I looked at some of the things carved on it, it’s maybe thirty-forty foot high, I looked at some of the carvings and they were faces, and symbols, ancient mishmash, and then at the top there was an A in a ring about a foot and a half wide, so there you know you’re going from a sort of er, what are you doing there, you’re mixing a native American culture with a sort of Celtic imagery and then contemporary sort of anarcho-subversive things, and it’s all there, you know, just in a totem pole. And Glastonbury’s full of these, these sort of em mergings, some of them contradictory, some misunderstandings, fantasies, wilful fictions. Another very easy, simple one at the back, there’s the em totem pole and the stone circle—everyone’s clapping the two drummers now, yeah, that’s nice—there’s the totem pole—the guy who’s dancing on top of the stone is whistling loud, saying more more more—there’s the totem pole, there’s the stone circle, there’s the wicker man, and then behind that there’s a big white fence with a sort of a runway, no-man’s-land really, and then behind that there’s a big wood solid fence. And then just along from those, which are obviously intended to keep people out, they’re twelve-fifteen feet high, just beyond those there’s a watch tower, literally a fucking watch tower, with one or two guys, two security guards, watching along the wall and fence, making sure no-one gets in. That’s pretty elaborate security, and it’s also, you know, I know it’s about drawing up boundaries and limitations, it’s also quite er, well it’s more than ironic, it’s problematically ironic that, I think. We’ve got sacred space, fields, freedom, and it’s closed in with two fences and security guards. What are they doing really? Are they watching what’s going on outside or are they watching us inside, us being free inside the fences? This is a different sort of exclusion zone to the one the police usually put up around Stonehenge round about now. How different?
Looking round it now you can see that there are a number of, yeah, why is it called the Pyramid Stage, it’s got TV screens on each side of it, huge big things that are saying WELCOME TO GLASTONBURY ’99, it’s just the kind of bog-standard outdoors stage now, which is disappointing like I said. On either side of it, about one or two hundred yards away are these big wooden frames, made out of what look like telegraph poles, with hanging baskets crammed with flowers dangling down, a nice organic touch among all the computer screens, decks of lighting and PA stacks and stuff like that. They’re superfluous too, which I like: splash of colour and decoration of nature around the site, not just in the Green Fields.
And it’s gloriously sunny, it’s gloriously sunny. How dispiriting it must have been in the past two years to come here at summer solsitce time and get pissed bucketloads on. And from my end what does the sunny weather mean? It means that yes I’ve brought my cagoule and waterproof leggings, yes I’ve brought my wellington boots, no I have not brought a hat and no I have not brought suncream! The last two years I think are playing heavily on things.
USE in Glastoplc?
I’ve sent some postcards of Glastonbury ’99—you buy them and stamps as well at a stall and post them in a little red postbox that looks like a school woodwork project. They say they’ll send them for you. Doing a raring trade down on the main drag, though the same stall up in the Green Fields is much quieter. As a form of communication it beats the fucking mobile phone. Like getting to the top of Sca Fell Pike is now only a valid achievement if you can ring someone with your mobile while you’re there to say where you are (which is even better you know because it’s where they’re not), part of the essential Glastonbury experience nowadays seems to be you ringing a mate to surprise them with the news of where you are, right now. Amazing. Yeah, and one of the festival sponsors is Orange mobile phones. The future isn’t green after all. Where are the Orange Fields? Yeah, there’s more energy coming from the mobiles, static in the air, combined with the quick perspective of the pylons stamping long the valley floor, than you’d feel right now from the St Michael ley line, maaan.
(Flute playing in the background) I don’t know if I did this bit earlier. I mentioned it earlier on, it’s to do withthe stone circle on the one side, this kind of this er this symbol of er alternative culture, past, rootedness, and you know it’s also a sort of kind of failure in a way, because in a way what it’s saying is Here’s a stone circle, don’t go to Stonehenge, you know? Em, Stonehenge is cut off so we need to make our own one, I think there’s one at one of the Big Green Gathering sites as well, a stone circle put up. These must be what the two newest stone circles, one of two stone circles built in the last how many two thousand years or something? I don’t know, very few. So on this side there’s the circle and then on the other side—it’s big, it’s a bit like Castlerigg actually, only the stones are slightly bigger—and on the other side of the valley right over on the other side of the festival, right overlooking it is the big white cross, this thirty foot high cross, which you can seen very clearly, and so, which was put up by one of Eavis’s neighbours. Yeah, what an obvious dialecic, what an obvious oppsition. And thats’s quite good in a way, it’s good that the neighbour did that, it signals a sense of the awareness of contradiction, the awareness of that what you’re celebrating is what’s feared as well. And the thing about the cross is it’s there as a symbol of her kind of Xtian beliefs, and her construction of the festival as something evil or er satanic, or at least pagan—and that probably all means the same thing to her.
The Sacred Ground, the Green Fields are what make Glastonbury different, really, and em, I wonder, when I look at this field, which is pretty quiet, I mean there are lots of people around but nothing like the number that I can seen down there where there are thousands and thousands crammed in together, watching I don’t know who they’re watching, some rock band on the big stage, and I think it’s this that sets it apart. And it’s interesting I think that I can see a number of official or press photographers up here, in this area, you know, my guess is that they’ll be taking pics in the pit of the star bands and er, then they’ll be—well, the first three numbers of the star bands, actually, that’s the limit—and they’ll also be taking pictures of this area here, with the Green Fields and the green crafts and all that side of it, because this is the bit that sets Glastonbury apart, that says We are different, we are not just another rock festival. Isn’t that what Andrew Kerr said in 1971 or something? Glastonbury is too beautiful a place for just another rock festival? Erm, and I think the Green Field aspect of it is such a contribution to the maintenance of Glastonbury’s alternative identity, and the other thing that does that is, or another thing that does that is the em—name: Glastonbury. I can’t at the moment, it’s a bit hazy, and hidden behind trees, but you can often glimpse in the distance five six eight miles away, the Tor, Glastonbury Tor, which you know I mean we really are here—Jesus, amazing me saying this!—we really are here in this Vale of Avalon, looking towards the Tor. I sen a postcard to someone this morning, and wrote Here I Am in the Vale of Avalon Amongst the Beautiful People Gazing Towards Glastonbury Tor, and er you know, it was a sort of sucession of cliches, but nonetheless, when you’re here, or at least in this bit of it, you get a feeling of that, you get a sense of that. And that feeling must be to do with landscape, history, and that’s one of the things that Glastonbury has to offer—and it’s aware of that, it trades on it, by virtue of it having that name, for instance. You know, it could be Pilton Festival, and I think the first one was, and don’t locals call it that anyway? or it should more accurately if you’re looking at the nearest town be called Shepton Mallet Festival. But it’s not, it’s Glastonbury, and the Tor, although it does, although it dominates the skyline in a way that’s less to do with its scale, its actual size, than the fact that it’s there in the first place, and its sheer sense of presence, the Tor with the tower on top of it, its presence is great.
At the Pyramid Stage. Uh, huge crowds standing around watching. Debbie Harry—see? the past again—says We’re out here in this beautiful aspect of nature, as an introduction to another song, and there’s a legitimacy in that, especially coming from an American, recognising a little local wilderness myth. The sound is awful, the sun is fantastic.
The song they do is a ballad, a slow piece, nobody’s very interested, but they seem to have the idea that it reflects uh some sense of the landscape, as though slowing down can capture that, I guess the only thing spoiling the landscape is the pylons, you know, especially in this sort of atavistic space, where, what, Spender? There runs the quick perspective of the future? and they’re not really here I don’t think. There’s an atavism about this place which, even if it doesn’t go back to medieval times it goes back ooh thirty years, which is a fuck of a long time for a terminally amnesiac culture like ours, and that’s why you see the photographers and so on up in the Sacred Ground—Sacred Ground not Field—talking about that. But even the pylons, when I was looking last night down towards the Tor, even the pylons for a while they seemed to direct themselves towards that, even though they veered off afterwards, there was an attraction, some sort of energy. Oh yeah, one other point about energy, is the way that, em, I heard one guy talk about being on his mobile and then er him saying that the em, yeah he was on his mobile right, he was on the mobile yeah right, the er the reception was really bad, it kept breaking up. And he said oh the reason is, it’s because there’s so many mobiles around here and em I don’t know, electronic generators or something I don’t know, and the point being for him that there was too much static electricity in the air, because of the number of mobiles? So that you’ve got like, you come to Glastonbury for energy, but what you end up with is a kind of different form of energy. Again, one of those nice contradictions, the whole place is fucking teeming with contradictions. They’re falling over each other.
Now Hole are on stage, er Courtney Love, grungy punk, there’s a stage invasion by all the young people desperate, she lets lots of them get up and all the security, bouncers are trying to stop them, and after a while there’s loads of them up there, and it’s getting a bit out of order, and she says Right you’ve got to stop now. She says I love you Brits, you’re so good at rioting, you taught me everything I know. This after the Carnival Against Capitalism last weekend in London, where Mercedes and McDonalds got trashed. A posh Merc was smashed in the showroom by someone dancing on its roof! Party & Protest! The burger joint was daubed with EAT SHIT! Now the Festival of Alternative Capitalism this week in Somerset, field after field full of cars, including mine, and far too many burger-donut stalls making it look like Blackpool on a good day. Urban-rural: the Guardian‘s got a front page aerial shot of the festival with the heading Welcome to the city.
Mary Coghlan’s on in the Acoustic Stage, and she’s just introduced an old hit by Nancy Sinatra, played by a jazz, one two three, trio, piano guitar double bass, uh, she says, Some of you might remember this one, if you’re old enough, depending how old you are, and the she talks about the parents being here, she says to some of them, Hey you’ve even brought your grandchildren. For an encore she does a slow folky blues song, that she first heard in Ireland when she was thirteen, that made her run away to a festival so she could hear it sung again. She remembers his kiss, and the warmth of his embrace, and the word kisssss is so long, it’s a perfect piece of music, perfect early evening sun going down on the festival, kids running around, mums and dads holding hands, smiling women remembering her kiss, the warmth of her embrace.
The field where the Acoustic Stage is is another one of those areas with a different feel to it than the two main rock stages, the big ones. This one is up on a bank, looking down into the valley, the sun setting over there, there’s the Common Ground cafe, 24 hour cafe on one side, then a nice big beer tent on the other, and in the middle there’s uh the Acoustic Stage, a blue big top really, with a series of pointed roofs on it, pvc medieval, and sitting outside in the glorious sun, gently going down the valley, there’s a nice sprinkling of people, with lots and lots of children round, running around chasing each other with pushchairs, little tiny babies being changed and crying a bit because they’re probably wondering what’s happening to their routine, and the em, yeah, lots of mums and dads around, and what look like grandparents who haven’t got their kids with them, they keep looking around a bit like I do, smiling at the little ones and their mums or dads. I mean, okay, I’m here to research the festival for this fucking book, but that’s no reason to come on your own, I miss my wife, my little daughters, they’d love this bit here, you shouldn’t come to Glastonbury on your own, that’s sad.
The hot air balloons are out, coursing slowly over the sky, up o’er the valley, coming over for their fix of Glastonbury Festival, and the moon as well, three quarter moon, a minute ago I saw an orange hot air balloon and then behind that I saw the moon, and, yeah.
USED in music
Okay now it’s night and I’m walking down from the Jazz Stage after having a glass of beer, well a paper carton of beer, in a bar called District Six, and I walked round the corner and eventually found mself back where I hoped to be, broadly anyway, and er in the field, the arena field that’s looking onto the Pyramid Stage which is semi-circular, globular, and when I came round the corner, past these big hedges and trees, I was just amazed. There are all these thousands of—and it’s a beautiful clear night,you can see stars, not many, but stars, the moon—and they’re all around: everyone’s got fires alight, little single fires, little flare things, like candles and stuff, and they’re everywhere, all around, all around. It’s dark, you can just make out the trees in faint silhouette, against the darker horizon, you can see the forest around and about, and then there’s just fires everywhere, flickering candles, hundreds and hudreds of them, it’s a fantastic sight. Crowd as spectacle, and we’re gazing at ourselves. Wonder what band we’re waiting for.
When you turn round the other way, on the other side of the stage, you can see the lights of all the stalls. The stalls are a little bit disappointing, I found, cause there’s about two thousand food stalls, selling everything from real sausages (what the fuck is that?) to falafels—and I saw just one book stall so far, called the Festival Bookshop, and every book in there is just two-ninety-nine, a remainder stall, most of them crap. Some budget bookshop with a few new age-y titles and boxes of novels no-one else wanted to buy. That was disappointing for sure, or maybe it’s that I just haven’t stumbled acoss the alternative-y bookshop yet.
So here I am, in the evening in the field, and everyone’s sitting down, well further up to the stage they’re crowded together standing, because in about five minutes REM, the headliners of the weekend, are due on. The two huge video screens on either side of the stage have got a frozen shot of the daytime crowd with GLASTONBURY 99 NEXT UP 10.50 REM. And all these fires everywhere is an extraoridinary sight. Er an announcement says there is crushing at the front, people are getting crushed, can we all move back three paces, especially at the sides. (Has there ever been a serious public odrer problem at the festival? You could see something awful like a Hillsborough just coming out of nowhere.) Up on the dark horizon, there is a big pyramid structure which has got different lights on, that flash on and off, yellow top, green side and red side, and that makes the shape of a pyramid, man, cosmic. And when you look around, you look over to where the Tor is, you can’t see that at all, the prospect’s totally covered by smoke, like a well a big fog really. A huge big fog that all these alternative people, we, are producing.
USED Select Magazine, who are sponsoring the hospitality tent in the backstage area, and doing a daily free paper, they’ve got a rather curious slogan. Select Magazine, it says on these pint beer mugs, these paper cups, Select Magazine Cos The Drugs Don’t Work… And er that’s pretty curious, what’s that about, you know, replacing your er drugs er you know you’re not getting a very good night so you get a bit of excitement from your magazine instead, reading about music and the youth and the kulchur. And em that’s strange in this place, where there’s quite a sort of, well a rhetoric anyway of anti-drugs even though jesus everyone all around me is rolling up joints everywhere, all the time,endlessly. But nonetheless it’s still a curious thing to state, to have as a slogan.
USED The Dance Tent? Em, it’s a glorified disco in there really, with flashing lights and a million people. The busiest, the most popular part of the festival by the looks of things—and I can’t understand that, but I’m the wrong, too old, too old—what I think is interesting as well is there are all these E-d up youngsters, people wandering by looking over their shoulders saying ‘Want any pills? Es, Es, want any pills?’ And em—oh, I’ve just seen someone do something good, which is pick up a glass bottle that someone else was kicking around and put it in the bin—what I think’s interesting is that, just opposite this fucking ginormous tent, with a sound party system thing on in it, there’s the Glastonbury Spring Water Company, with their stall, which has got this ort of fake fibreglass rock wall on the front of it, to make it look authentic, like the water’s just come out of the ground, though it’s in plastic bottles and the limestone’s fibreglass. And so there you’ve got this kind of effort to market itself as a located erm source, you know, of water, the purest etc, and it coming from this area, it’s Glastonian etc. And they’re doing an absolutely roaring trade, queues and queues of people, and it’s not cos it’s boiling hot, cos it’s overcast and was spitting with rain earlier. It’s cos everyone’s dancing like crazy, and half of them are out of their heads. I tink there’s a nice conjunction there, of the old image of alternative, fresh, purity, local, even pagan water thing, and then the newer techno thing of e-generated music and narcotic alike. Anyway.
Coming out of the festival we’re directed by police towards Glastobury not towards Pilton, and what you see is that there’s litle bits of the festival growing up around and about outside of it. There are other fields not associated with the festival that offer parking, patrolled parking, parking with toilets and water and a cafe and so on, in little fields. In this way the informal economy of the festival is spread about through the locale. When you hit Glastonbury town, at the roadside, the town sign says ‘Welcome to Glastonbury, Ancient Isle of Avalon’. I must get a photo of that. And the Tor, coming from the festival to Glastonbury is so spectacular, it’s just the way to see it, the perfect way for it to be seen from. When you see the Tor from the other side, from the west of the town, it’s just a church tower on a hill. But from the east side, looking down the er vale of Avalon, moving along it in fact, it’s so isolated in its splendour, and the isolation contributes to that splendour.
3. Field notes (written observations)
Came to Glastonbury Festival not from my home in Lancashire but from an academic conference at UEA on utopia. From near brutalist concrete jungle on the East to deep green countryside on West, if a countryside that hides behind a thick veil at festival time. In fact, ironically, it may may be that the veil thickens at festival time, that it is more difficult to catch glimpse of—of what? Glasto’s otherworldliness. As if that wasn’t difficult enough already. (I’m reminded of an earlier writer on Englishness and deep green landscape, Kipling. In his supernatural writings didn’t he once describe those stories, set in the vales and behind the hedges of the South Downs, as trying to capture what we see out of the side of our eyes while looking straight ahead? Something tangential, instinctive.) Wasn’t it Dion Fortune who said that the veil is thin at Glastonbury? Glastonbury’s otherworldiness? What is this thing? Is there, can there be, at this event? Row on serried row of petty bourgeois stalls, minor capitalism working its usual, its predictable miracle: erasing the potential of transformative energy.
I’m reminded of Elizabeth Nelson’s observation that the British counterculture of the 60s and 70s was buying into the American model of alternative lifestyle. And, after all, this event’s origins lie partly in Shepton Mallet’s Bath Blues Festival in 1970, an Americanised form of social gathering (festival) and music (blues) alike. (Or am I just blaming America for capitalism here? Not entirely.) Lots of meat, as well, for sale—from disgusting fairground hot dogs to local venison burgers. That surprised me, my puritan veggie mindset, anyway. But also the sense of idealism which Glastonbury hopes to present or preserve is undercut by this gross commercialism. The punters lap it up many young people, shades of white and red, with often unsuitable Celtic tattoos (a ring all round the upper arm, usually) are lying crashed out on the grass, an empty bottle of wine next to them. I must be getting old…
The Green Fields are most like the old East Anglian Fairs, and it’s pertinent that the Green Fields got going in the very early 1980s, just as the Fairs were coming to the end of their ten- or fifteen-year life. The idea got passed along, with some characters sharing both. Didn’t Bruce Lacey, veteran ritualist of the fairs, do some of the early green gatherings at Worthy Farm that led to the Green Fields? I know one of his daughters a bit, will have to ask. Space at Glastonbury is organised schizophrenically (or is it just organised? No—it is divided, and it may be that the division strengthens the festival, its appeal, its mostly charming splitness). In spite of Andrew Kerr’s assertion in 1971 that ‘Glastonbury is too beautiful for just another rock festival’, it is that—or at least two-thirds or three-quarters is that. The rest is green, crafts, organic, travellers. Talking about this with one of the Press Tent people (when anyone’s there) who said REM etc. pay for the Green Fields, Kidz Areas etc., all those nice things around the edge wouldn’t be possible without the beer cans and hot dogs in the stadium rock valley floor. There are one or two smaller areas on site of what seem to be darker, dirtier, slightly more edgy communities. E.g. near the old railway line on the way to the Green Fields is what you might if being kind call a wooded glade. It’s dark, very dusty—and smelly, since a number of the more primitive loos hav been sited here. There are a few rough benders, a rusty car, one or two nice old hippy trucks, converted FGs. What is it about the people in here that makes most of the other festival-goers pass through rather than pause? Mostly young men, serious about something, probably about getting out of it, and they are deliberately refusing the glorious sunshine. They are distrusted because they’ve come to this open air feelgood event (logo: dancing people, fun peole) and kind of closed it off, gone semi-subterranean.
USE in conc
In fact (overlooking the necessary exclusionary fact of up to £100 per ticket) there’s something for everyone here: eco, acoustic music, rock megagig. Glastonbury is one of those open spaces in part characterised by its capacity to be whatever you want it to be, within reason (rarely challenging that safety). This is a faily banal observation after three days here. Is it the observation that’s banal, or actually somehow the festival itself? I mean in the sense that what is here is everything you’d expect to be here. There’s a predictability that may be that of counterculture, of the fairly limited nature of it imagination. (I’ll be sounding like the elderly Murray Bookchin next, an apparently miserablist veteran anarchist railing against what he called ‘the detritus of the 60s’.) But while Glastonbury is a sign of the scale, the energy of traditional aspects of counterculture—in Green Fields and Sacred Ground, at least—in other ways the lack of surprise should be considered more critically. This may be a point about counterculture, not of festival per se (unless you bear in mind that counterculture is mostly organised at a festival around stalls, craft—i.e. commerce). Like the secondhand book dealer down Pottergate in Norwich who dug out his old fading stuff on festivals he’d kept not thinking anyone would ever want it said, ‘There’s only so many times you can watch a wicker man burning before you start looking for something else to do with your life’. The surroundings, the proceedings are so familiar here, I suppose comfortably so… I keep feeling churlish, writing anything that sounds critical—as though aligning myself with the fearful Xtian who has the large white cross, Mrs Noone (no-one)—a permanent feature?—built on a field overlooking the festival site. I’ll have to carve out a space of critical distance.
What are the things that set Glastonbury apart?
1. Charity—or, more politically interesting, campaigning via fund-raising and via consciousness-raising at the event itself. CND, Greenpeace, and this year a new £300,000 village hall for Pilton itself.
USED 2. Green Fields/Sacred Ground/Avalon Field. These are what define Glasto’s difference from other commercial rock festivals. People here state and reiterate the significance of these pieces of space—of land, of mind. (Note that the Avalon Field is next to the Kidz Area. Old hippy slogan: ‘You’re never too old for a happy childhood’.) These areas contribute both to Glasto’s perception of green-ness and raise profile in festival-goers’ minds of the issues. Avalon Field: ‘cross the bridge and it’s different’, said someone. Its name obviously taps intothe Glasto/medieval myth, and the ethos there does too. Talking to stall-holders, there was a—I just fucking can’t believe I’m writing this—a gentle capitlism. (I’ve been here too long, time to get out…) Or maybe that was just when I was buying things from them, some stained glass, a garden decoration. Not as organic/green craft-y as some of the Green Fields—less wood-turning and chalk-carving, less workshops of those too—more stained glass, music instruments sort of specialised, expensive crafts.
3. USED Continuing engagement with New Travellers—even though Eavis says that they are a major problem for him. This year (in spite or because of the Levellers a couple of years back?) there’s a Travellers’ Field a couple of miles down the road—300 vehicles (or was it 300 people he said?) Neighbours don’t like that much, but it signals Eavis’s ‘one-to-one’ strategy of negotiation or mediation, which is used with both travellers and his neighbours, those opposing the event, anyway. Counterculture’s awkward tribes aren’t always turned away—sure, distancing (two miles) is a way of controlling and codifying. But in a way we’re back to the huge, impossible contradiction that is this idealistic, commercial, city in the countryside. The irritant aspects of the counterculture, those difficult to commodify, those resistant to it, are sympathetically treated, given space, green fields (the one thing they really want!), which in turn reflects well on the festival’s open, liberal image of inclusivity, of alternatives. Then, no sooner written than in need of qualification, it has to be noted that it’s a curious form of inclusion which actually excludes: keeps you two miles down the road, out of sight/off the site. (It may be a necessary form, then, but it still needs exploring.) I think Eavis said something at the press conference like the fact that the festival doesn’t want the New Travellers, that the police effectively forced them on Glastonbury post-Stonehenge (1985 and following), to rid them of a traffic problem.
4.USED The countryside. These fields, hedges, trees, the grand mellow sweep of the valley itself. A couple of years ago wasn’t an image of the dairy cows used to promote the festival, the event marketing itself through its (organic?) rural product, land use? The Green and Avalon bits, they’re called—Fields. And with all the male pissing that goes on in the brook and hedges you need, like the giant wicker man/angel in the Sacred Ground, to look up—up from the detritus to the horizon, from the valley floor to the hillsides, from the stages, scaffolded and transitory, to the Tor, hazy but solid.
5. The other thing is the range and wealth of entertainment available. Not the headliners—after all, who goes to Glastonbury with the sole or primary reason of seeing a single band? Whoever that band was, you could see them in Bristol or Birmingham or London with a better sound, better view, better loos, more comfortable bed afterwards. (This overlooks the suggestion that maybe bands too are affected by the Glastonbury spirit, and play better than they might at a routine venue.) Some of the features are even permanent or semi-permanent structures, like the stone circle, the huge wooden play ship in the Kidz Area. And the way it’s directed for different audiences. Theatre, cabaret, acoustic folk, comedy, story-telling.