Glastonbury or bust?

The Glastonbury Festival was born 30 years ago from the hippy ideals of peace, love and community. But how much remains today? Ed Harris turned up empty-handed to find out
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Friday morning, and I was standing by the side of a busy road in west London, cars and lorries thundering by. I had been there for an hour and the initial thrill of optimism was wearing off. Nobody had stopped at the sight of my extended thumb - some had even jeered, although others had smiled sympathetically.

Salvation finally came in the form of a well-travelled Dormobile. Geoff, an electrical fitter, was on his way home to Devon and could drop me five miles from Glastonbury. I was on my way.

What was I hoping to find at the festival, equipped with just a fiver and a packet of Rizla cigarette papers? Disillusionment seemed most likely. The annual music festival was once the most visible well-spring of the hippie spirit. Was that spirit still alive? Would my fellow revellers bail me out, buy me a pint, even welcome me into their tents?

Geoff, himself a bearded veteran of festivals when Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin headlined, said not. "It's all much too commercial these days," he said. "I wouldn't go to one now."

My next saviour was Guy, a fey young man with paint-spattered clothing and feathers in his hair. He picked me up minutes later and delivered me inside the festival arena. I had arrived, and had yet to break into my fiver or peel off a Rizla.

It was now early evening and I was hungry. Food was not cheap here; my precious note would stretch no further than a pint of beer and a baked potato. Only the water seemed to be free.

The day was warm, the sun still high in the sky; what I wanted most was a cold drink. Off to the Workers Beer Tent. "Any chance of some work?" I asked. "I've lost my wallet and need to make some money." The man behind the counter looked incredulous. "We don't get paid here," he said. Well, maybe I could work in return for a few free pints? "I don't think so," he said, shaking his head.

I applied the same strategy to food-gathering. There was a Cornish Pasty Company van, but, "There are too many of us as it is" I was told, after asking if I could help behind the counter. Vinegar Joe's fish and chip van didn't need any help, either. But perhaps they smelt my desperation for suddenly there was a portion of fish and chips on the counter. "Go on mate, take them; take them away." Blimey! I stammered out my thanks and made off - that was dinner taken care of. Rashly, I celebrated by marching straight back into the Workers Beer Tent and breaking into my pounds 5 note - just a half of lager, but I was down to pounds 3.60.

It was hard work, tapping into the spirit of peace and love, and I suddenly felt quite weary. Night was falling and, reluctant to think where I was going to lay my head, I went to listen to some music.

Some hours later, lost, cold and disoriented - and facing an unexpectedly chilly night closer to nature than I wanted to be - I made some friends. Bill and Matthew had only to hear my hard luck story and they invited me back to their "camp" where we could have "a bit of a smoke". I immediately proffered my Rizlas, but they were declined, as a devalued currency; everyone had them and was selling them.

Bill and Matthew and their friends, shaven-headed and tattooed Glastonbury veterans from the West Country, had arranged their tents around a camp fire, where they seemed to consider sleeping an activity fit only for drips. They rolled an endless succession of fat ones and had conversations laced with "yeah" and "man".

The night took on an interminable aspect and after several hours I longed to sneak away and sleep under a tree. Eventually people retired to their tents and, as the sky began to brighten, I snatched an hour or two of uneasy sleep next to a gently snoring hippie. You can't pick your friends when your options are restricted, but Bill and Matthew had been more than generous. I was obviously on the right track.

It was now Saturday morning, the festival was in full swing, and in the 24 hours that I had been at large I had managed to travel the country, eat sufficient food and even enjoy a few beers.

Saturday was another hot day. I was tired and hungry, and it was time for me to hustle for breakfast, but I couldn't face it without a nice hot cup of tea first - kitty down to pounds 3.10, not quite enough for one of Desperate Dan's Big Stick Breakfasts, a sort of veggie fry-up in a baguette which right then looked the tastiest thing on earth. There was no option but to resort to desperate measures. I whipped out my juggling balls, spread a T-shirt on the grass before me and ran through my limited repertoire of tricks. Thirty minutes later I had 50p. I had been performing close to a "Everything's pounds 1" stall so I splashed out on a bacon roll. Kitty: pounds 2.60, barely enough for a pint of beer. Really, this was not the easy way to enjoy Glastonbury.

Plenty of people were working, but all day I couldn't find anybody prepared to take me on.

This was turning into a full-time job, leaving little time to enjoy the entertainment, but by evening I had forced myself to embark on casual conversation with a group of campers who, like Matthew and Bill, had set up commune-style. This proved to be the weekend's best decision. I was a day late, though - the night before they had roasted half a goat. A steady stream of revellers in varying states of sobriety wandered to and fro, bringing food or buying beer. It was like an instant community.

"You have to know where to look," Zac, one of the group, told me. "Down around the main stage and the dance tent it's all young ravers and pills. There are two Glastonburys, and you really need to be up here."

He was right. Up here was where the real peace-and-love crew were, with their organic foods, gewgaws and strange wooden structures. And up here was where my new friends got me the hippie equivalent of the backstage pass - entry into the stewards' area for the spiritual climax of the festival, a ritual burning, Wicker Man-style, of a straw effigy accompanied by discordant music and prancing druidic types. Even Michael Eavis, the man behind the festival, was there.

I pressed my Rizlas on my new friends, but they would not take my money. Here it was, then, the spirit of love and peace - and not before time, for it started pouring down shortly after and didn't let up for the rest of my time there.

Sunday dawned wet and cold and a blanket of cloud hung low over the fields of soggy tents. But I had achieved what I set out to do. Thirty years after the original Glastonbury Festival it was still possible to survive on pounds 5 and a packet of skins. The hippie spirit lives on here - but it had been mighty hard work finding it. If you go next year, heed my advice - take your wallet, with at least a tenner in it.

Comments