The first time I went to Glastonbury festival I couldn’t find it. That was 7.7.77. These were the early days when the Festival didn’t yet know it was going to become the Megatropolis of Festivaldom the world over. I wandered into Glastonbury with a few other 18 year old Bridgy punk rockers and asked people where it was. Nobody knew. So we went into a café. Only to find it had a big ‘No Hippies’ sign in the window. So we stole it. Then got chased down the street by the café owner shouting “’ere Give I my No ‘ippy sign back”. To which we responded ‘But we ARE Hippies!’ It’s fair to say we were confused. So we followed the stream of hippies to a hill near the Butleigh monument, wandered through a thicket of trees and suddenly there was a festival. Full of naked hippies. We hid our ‘no hippies’ sign. Now this wasn’t THE Glastonbury Festival – it wasn’t at Worthy farm – but it was A Glastonbury Festival and there hadn’t really been one at Worthy Farm since 1971. But there soon would be. I’ve been to Glastonbury many times since, as a paying customer (once) as a controller of traffic in the country lanes (that’s juggernauts we’re talking), as the organiser of and worker at the beer tents of the Workers Beer Company, and last year as driver for the American country rap band Gangstagrass. This year I went there as a Somerset County Council member of the Licensing Committee…..oh dear…..
The Glastonbury Festival is massive. A town of 210,000 people springs up in the middle of the Somerset countryside and naturally….people should realise, requires the setting up of a Local Authority with all the relevant services to manage such a thing. We spoke to Managing Director Melvin Benn, top man at 15 festivals around the country from Leeds to Reading to Latitude to Glastonbury. Melvin’s ‘Festival Republic’ is what we now have just 50 years after Melvin first hitch hiked from Yorkshire to his first festival (Reading) and liked it so much he set up the admin block for all tomorrow’s festivals. “In Local Authority terms I’m the Chief Executive..except without any pesky councillors to interfere…” Ha! So he thought…
To appreciate the size and scale of the services needed for such a population centre you have to think maybe Norwich (213,000). Benn suggested they were the 10th biggest town in England, but they weren’t, that’s Sheffield (640,000). In fact they’re 39th. Which is no mean feat. So maybe imagine Swindon (200,000) but in a swamp with a fence all around it. Or for local people that’s 35 Highbridges.
So the licensing panel of the far too big Somerset Unitary Council had to have a tour. On a minibus. Some of the councillors were Glastonbury virgins. A young South Somerset Tory said “It’s like a zoo!” To which I replied “ Maybe, but with the animals on the outside”. We passed the Left Field tent, he asked “Why isn’t there a RIGHT Field!?” The basic answer was ‘because no one likes the bloody Tories’ but Cllr Leigh Redman had lost his patience by now and exclaimed “They don’t need one because it’s only your posh mates who can afford the tickets these days!”.
But the Licensing committee wasn’t going to spend 2 hours driving round the massive site with it’s acres of medical facilities, plush toilets, stages and green rooms, vegan, semi vegan and quasi vegan stalls, works of alternative art (mainly involving heaps of recycled metal looking like cats, futuristic heads or a magnificent ‘Car Henge’ and ready to let rip security staff ) and say ‘I think we should cancel it this year, that stone circle with the satanic inscriptions to summon up the devil is a bit of a health and safety hazard’.
So we let it go ahead….
So everyone went home happy. The Tories thinking ‘great, that massive fence should keep out asylum seekers’, the Lib Dems thinking ‘ooo this is lovely’ , the Greens thinking ‘Yes! These is MY people!’ (as yet another portable toilet toppled into a ditch with the Green leader in it) and the Labourites thinking ‘hey we got in free!’
The Glastonbury Festival is a typical Somerset achievement. The creativity, the energy-well, at its own pace, the jobs created, the idyllic setting and the massive wealth of talent on show in every single corner. We should be proud of it and of course support it. Well done you farmer Michael Eavis…now let’s have a few moments to think about how it all started…..