Why would you go to Glastonbury?

The balance of the payment for this year’s Glastonbury Festival was due to be paid on Monday. Being able to afford the £250 price of the ticket only means having paid one small part of the cost: there is still a need to reach the festival, the traffic for which creates chaos on the country roads; and the cost of food and drink during the time there, none of which comes at supermarket prices.

It is forty years since I went to the Glastonbury Festival of 1979. The tickets that year were only £5, and, being locals, we were able to buy them in Glastonbury itself for £3 each. It wasn’t marketed as Glastonbury Festival that year, rather as “Glastonbury Fayre.” Locally, it was known as “Pilton Pop Festival;” Worthy Farm, the festival venue is outside the village of Pilton, some miles from Glastonbury. There had been festivals in 1970 and 1971, in the dying days of the hippy era, 1979 seemed like a different age.

Had the earlier festivals been free? I remember the International Times, the radical underground newspaper condemning the 1979 festival for being “commercial.” The term “commercial” was used by those who assumed themselves knowledgeable about music as a label for anything they did not like – generally, anything that was successful. The Marxist International Times objected to the idea that there was an admission charge to the festival, presumably regarding it as a piece of capitalist exploitation.

Facilities at the festival that year were basic; the toilets were unspeakable and the wash facilities were non-existent. No-one minded the facilities, though, we felt being there was enough, but why had we gone there? It had seemed a search for something that we did not find.

In 1979, the golden age of music seemed to have passed before we had been old enough to be aware of such a time. The Beatles had broken up in 1970; Jimi Hendrix, Joplin and Jim Morrison were dead before we became aware of their existence. There was a feeling that history had ended. Even in 1970 and 1971, Glastonbury had been a piece of nostalgia for time that had gone. It was not as though there was a shortage of talent at the 1979 festival,  on the final night Peter Gabriel, Nona Hendrix, Steve Hillage, Phil Collins, John Martyn and Alex Harvey took to the stage together, it was just that the times had changed.

We had imagined Glastonbury Festival to be a symbol of the radical, the alternative. We had imagined it to be a mark of protest, a mark of dissent. The previous month, Margaret Thatcher had been elected as prime minister and had promised a restoration of “Victorian values:” Glastonbury seemed counter-cultural.

Forty years on, Glastonbury Festival seems not to deserve the iconic status it has acquired. Social and political radicalism are absent. Prices have made it truly “commercial.” Radicals will find their own gathering places and music fans will find dates for concerts by the bands they want to see – and the fields at Pilton will continue to generate huge revenues fr the owners and promoters.

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1 Response to Why would you go to Glastonbury?

  1. Vince says:

    I doubt Glastonbury festival was, or was seen by Radicals as being radical since the 80s. And even then was seen as selling out.
    I was in London when Thatchers’ police were having running battles up and down the A roads with Vans and caravans blocking routes to the Tor and Stonehenge. But even then the population of Crusties was heavily weighted to doctors & vicars daughters and sons and where the stepping away from society was temporary. A sort of gap year or five.
    But honestly, I cannot thing of anything worse than a wet June slobbering in mud with the sounds of the upper middleclass mating and vomiting. And what’s more I’d have been the same mind in the 80s.
    But what I will do sooner rather than later is cross the Camino.

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