This weekend will see the 34th running of what has come to be known as The Glastonbury Festival. Now a massive event known across the world that has featured thousands of musical acts and some of the most renowned performers of the last 50 years, here are some fun facts about Going to Glastonbury!
Beginning in 1970 as the Pilton Festival the event has not run every year since then. Following the initial occasion and one the following year, re-named the Glastonbury Fayre, there was an eight-year hiatus until 1979. On the basis of the massive financial loss to the organisers that year there was again no festival the following year.
However, in 1981 the festival returned and continued to do so annually for the entirety of the 1980s. Following that, every fifth year the organisers give themselves and the site a break with no event occurring in 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2012, and 2018.
The site of the festival is actually 6 miles away from the town of Glastonbury on the site of Worthy Farm. Situated between the villages of Pilton and Pylle in the English west country county of Somerset.
The historic Glastonbury Tor, a hill mentioned in Celtic mythology, upon which stands the Grade I listed St. Michaels Tower, can be seen from the site of the farm owned by festival organiser Michael Eavis CBE. Several structures have been built on the hill over the last thousand years with likely religious reference which continues to this day with the Tor being a significant component of ‘New Age’ lore in the vicinity.
At 83 years old Michael Eavis, a farmer who was born in the village of Pilton continues to organise the festival under the auspices of his Glastonbury Festivals Ltd. company with the assistance of his daughter Emily Eavis and in conjunction with Festival Republic who manage the logistics and security of the event.
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From a visitor number in 1970 of 1500 to which entry was £1, including free farm milk, numbers peaked in 2000 at an estimated quarter of a million festival goers. However, this huge number could only be guessed at based upon an official ticket sale of only 100,000 meaning that event numbers were more than doubled by ‘fence jumpers’.
Not for the first time this brought the festival to the attention of the local authorities citing safety concerns over such a massive and unofficial attendance. In response Eavis invited the vastly experienced music event organisers Mean Fiddler to assist in combating the issue at the 2002 event, which included the erection of the ‘super fence’ and the successful restriction of unofficial attendance to a minimum.
This was not without criticism from some quarters who saw the association with the corporate entity of The Mean Fiddler Organisation as not in keeping with the spirit and hippy ethos of the event’s founding, and also complaining that the reduced numbers diminished the energy of the event.
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It has been a predominant feature of Eavis’ involvement with the festival that the profits of his Glastonbury Festival Ltd. are awarded to charitable causes. Beginning in 1981, the event started a close association with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), with Eavis donating £20,000 to the organisation that year, rising to £130,000 shared with local charities within six years. Since the diminishing call for CND after 1991, donations have been diversified to include Greenpeace, Oxfam, Wateraid and other local charities.
The iconic ‘pyramid stage’ was initially a temporary erection at the Glastonbury Fayre in 1971 made from scaffolding and plastic sheeting. The first so called CND festival in 1981 saw the creation of a new pyramid stage that was a permanent structure doubling as a cowshed and animal store during the winter months. Intended to be topped with the CND symbol as detailed on the posters throughout the 1980s, the one provided that year was deemed too heavy for the structure.
The current version of the main stage is now four times bigger than the one built in 1981 with it alone requiring electricity from four of the 250 total on-site bio-diesel power generators to supply its 250 speakers, lighting rigs and other elements. The 250 generators run on 60,000 litres of waste vegetable oil to produce 27 Megawatts of power to the festival.
Although it seems not to dampen the spirits of many festival goers, rain has presented some of the most significant challenges to the organisers over the years. In 1985 considerable deluges on the site presented the sight of revelers knee-deep in slurry in front of the pyramid stage. With Worthy Farm being a dairy farm what washed down into the low-lying areas was a mixture of mud and liquefied cow dung.
In 1997 and 1998 storms brought on flooding once again, with “mud-surfing” becoming a popular festival activity, and in 2005 lighting storms delayed the start of the festival with subsequent rain seeing some areas of the site submerged under 4 feet of water. Drainage improvement after the mid-90s didn’t prevent the flooding but enabled it to dissipate within a few hours.
Although most known for its music component, not least because of the high profile coverage by the BBC, the festival features much more including healing, yoga classes, debates and political forums, film screenings, live theatre and circus performances, comedy, mediation, and other organized events, besides the inevitable commercial component and the dancing, general revelry and imbibing of certain substances known to be present at festival time!
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Several films have been made over the life of the festival starting in 1971 with a film entitled Glastonbury Fayre made by Nicolas Roeg whose other films including appearances with significant musical figures includes Performance (1970) with Mick Jagger and The Man who Fell to Earth (1976) starring David Bowie.
In 1996, Glastonbury the Movie by filmmakers William Beaton, Robin Mahoney and Matthew Salkeid was released. The documentary style film bears similarities to the 1971 film, itself derivative of Woodstock (1970) by Michael Wadleigh, inter-cutting scenes of performances with footage of festival goers.
Ten years later, Julien Temple, responsible for The Great Rock & Roll Swindle (1980) about the demise of the Sex Pistols and for the infamous Absolute Beginners (1986) brought forth a third documentary film, this time taking a historical perspective on the 35 years since the first event.
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The number of featured artists over the history of the festival is vast. Each year the poster is a seeming telephone directory of performers, but early stand outs included T-Rex featuring at the original Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival in 1970, David Bowie who appeared the next year and again 30 years later in 2000, Peter Gabriel, New Order, Aswad, UB40, The Smiths, Elvis Costello and Joan Baez.
Throughout the 80s and nineties almost every rock and indie act you might expect to name would play the festival including U2, Simple Minds, The Cure, Madness, Simply Red, The Pogues, Oasis, Pulp, Level 42, Blur, Sinead O’Connor, Primal Scream, Bjork, Manic Street Preachers, Radiohead and many others.
Also growing by this point was the presence of Hip Hop and dance acts, with the initial televising of the event by Channel 4 in 1994 being partly responsible for convincing many people not familiar with it that there was nothing inherently dangerous about the music that formed the soundtrack to so many popular raves going on at the time.
The festival has also always enjoyed a strong presence from non-English language artists including Fela Kuti, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Yossou N’Dour, Los Lobos and many more.
As the festival has grown in size and profile some initially unlikely but nonetheless significant acts have made appearances including Tony Bennett, Dame Shirley Bassey, Sir Tom Jones, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Beyonce, Kylie Minogue, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Chic, and the artist who performs as Sir Paul McCartney.
This year the pyramid stage acts indicate the diversity of performers at the event nearly 50 years after it started and will include Stomzy, The Killers, The Cure, Janet Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Liam Gallagher and Lauren Hill.
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