An appreciation: Glastonbury at 40

Happy birthday, Glasto! To celebrate, Jonathan Brown meets 10 workers who sum up the festival's unique spirit
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The Independent Culture

It was 40 years ago that the Pilton Pop Festival was held. For the 1,500 fans who turned up, entry cost £1 and included a glass of milk from Worthy Farm in whose rolling pastures it was held. Four decades later, the Glastonbury Festival has become an international phenomenon. On Wednesday, the first of 177,500 music lovers, followed by millions more on television and via the internet, will embrace the unique atmosphere and ethos that have guided the event through its evolution. But while the eyes of the world will be focused on the Pyramid stage, it is the people behind the scenes, many of them there since the very beginning, who make the festival what it is. All have a Glastonbury tale to tell.

MistaJam, 27, urban DJ

"Noel Gallagher was really ignorant with his comment about hip-hop having no place here. It has been here for a long time on the Pyramid stage and elsewhere. Hip-hop has been the dominant culture for 20 years and has influenced everything it touches. This is my first Glastonbury. The most important thing for me is playing a good set. All music has violence in it and all music has peaceful elements. What I represent and what I want to do is play good music regardless of colour and creed."

Audrey Brown, 56, staff catering manager

"I have been to every festival here and worked on every one bar three. When the festival is on we will be feeding more than 2,000 people at every serving which means I have to be here all the time. The crew on the build-up and take-down is almost like a family. The food has got healthier over the years and there are fewer vegetarians. The days of wandering up to the dairy with a buckets for milk have long gone. When people come to eat I have to help them switch off. It should be an oasis in a mad world."

Joe Rush, 49, Mutoid Waste Company

"What we do is mutate waste. We build film sets that people can party in. We first came here in 1985. Scrap men love us because we do something with the scrap instead of wrecking it. The ideology is mutation – living in a state of constant change and being secure by trying to adapt. We try to inspire people. I think it is important that people enjoy their lives and experience things. I can remember when five thousand people drummed our sculptures at Carhenge – they were just hitting them all night, not with violence but by the end everything was totally flattened. Glastonbury itself is a mutation – everything has evolved. We don't do a lot of festivals now but we do this one because it has got that magic about it."

Rachel Inman, 37, tipi worker, Hearthworks

"I've been coming since 1997 but have been working with the tipis since 2004. People get inspired by Native Americans – I had a tipi of my own and I used to travel around the world living in it. It is great to live within a circle. My highlight was last year when my partner and I had just had a baby girl. We saw Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The baby has since died from a rare heart condition so that time was so special. The tipi field is a really beautiful spot. It is a very relaxed place inside the madness of the festival."

Liz Elliot, 70, Green Fields co-ordinator

"I got involved in the festival in the early 1980s. I love a good party and I was part of Green CND. I see my fields as an extension of my family and I am here to see that they are alright. We don't believe in hierarchy we just all get together and do things. On Wednesday festival goers will dance around a stone circle, and we will burn a big willow sculpture. The Green Fields are trying to show a way of life that is in harmony with the planet. We have turned a lot of people on but there are an awful lot more out there to reach."

"Mad" Mick Ringham, 63, retired DJ

"My agent asked whether I was free on the day of the first festival in 1970. He told me that someone was putting on a gig in a field in Somerset and could I put a few records on between acts and tell everyone where the loos were and help find lost children. It was like a country fete just with longer hair and no cream teas – Woodstock on scrumpy. I'm coming back on Saturday night and doing a set. You don't realise at the time that you are making history."

Dan Stuart, 41, sign designer

"I came in 1971 as a toddler with my mother and brothers. I lived on the road working the festivals for 20 years. Things weren't so specific then – I was putting up fences and gates, building toilets and litter picking. One of the best moments was jamming around a fire with the Waterboys. Things like that don't happen now. Fires aren't allowed backstage."

Tom Paine, 30, and Dave Harvey, 32, Team Love at The Wow

"We fell in love with the place as teenagers and always wanted to get involved. We like to cause a bit of trouble in the nicest possible way. Last year we put on East 17. We had 7,000 people in the tent and 14,000 trying to get in. Everyone was singing 'Stay Another Day'. It was totally unbelievable."

Lucy Brooking Clark, 30, sustainability co-ordinator

"Coming to the festival was a rite of passage for anyone growing up around here. The best year was when we finished our GCSEs back in the 1990s when it was very edgy. If I had a message now it would be: pick up your stuff, pack light and travel by public transport. Before, people would borrow a tent from their parents and sometimes that tent might be going to its 20th festival. Now they just leave them behind."

Bob Wilson, 60, events organiser, Greenpeace UK

"Michael (Eavis) is our biggest supporter in terms of giving us access to the festival and his donation. We went through a period when I despaired with the dance culture, people just wanted to get off their faces. We now have a generation that does care more about the environment. I asked my partner to marry me when Coldplay were on stage. She said yes."