The other Glastonbury

One Glastonbury attracts travellers, mystics and pop fans; the other gets the aggravation - and the money. Hettie Judah talks to the villagers of Pilton in Somerset, population 932, as they prepare for the invasion of 100,000 festival-goers. Photographs by Robert Wyatt
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Hardly anyone who attended the first Glastonbury Festival, in June 1970, when Marc Bolan headlined, thought it would still be going strong nearly 30 years later. That first year, it cost pounds 1 to get in, with all the free milk you could drink. Not until 1979 did the promoter, farmer Michael Eavis, impose proper entry fees; then it was pounds 5. A three-day ticket for next weekend costs pounds 75 to see the Prodigy, Beck, Radiohead, Kula Shaker and the Chemical Brothers.

Glastonbury has survived against all expectations, and some opposition, notably from Eavis's neighbour, Anne Goode, a Christian fundamentalist who erected an illuminated cross on her front lawn as a rebuke to the festival's supposed paganism. Despite the insanitary habits of festival-goers and the acts of petty vandalism, the villagers of Pilton, where the event is actually held, have gradually been won over. "Glastonbury" is now financially and culturally central to the life of this Somerset village.

One estimate is that it brings in pounds 10 million annually to the local economy. In 1995, when the festival was last held, local hotels and B&Bs alone made pounds 250,000. This year, Eavis is contributing to a shelter scheme for the young homeless (Greenpeace is another large beneficiary).

Tickets are still free for villagers, but no one is as wide-eyed as they were, when families would go and gawp at dreadlocked men congregating around the gateways and chanting "black 'ash, 'ash for cash". As a teenager, I once counted 76 in an hour.

Nearby public schools have always tried to ban their pupils from attending what they call the "Pilton Pop Festival", but, in the run-up to every festival, local teenagers are paid a small fortune to cover any blank surface on site with pictures of daisies, fish and cows. In my time, I graduated from elementary pole decoration to painting the lavatories under the tutelage of the legendary Brian Bog-Fix. Bog-Fix, since deceased, would turn up each year with the swallows, unbidden but ready to create bogs for the 80,000 audience.

As the punters arrived, security, crew and caterers roared around the site in what resembled the bastard offspring of a Land Rover and go-kart. Each had a walkie-talkie over which drivers would grumble dismissive West Country commentaries on the shuffling rabble. "Them damn cows are in field one again," signalled the Hari Krishna's arrival in a carved mobile temple drawn by huge Indian oxen.

The upper-crusties and horse travellers arrived in the Sixties; the forest camp, home of Jyoti, pictured on the previous page, dates back to this time. Much blame, locally, has been laid at the door of Eavis for attracting these "travellers", many of whom now stay on all year, but Glastonbury has been attracting devotees of alternative lifestyles since Edward I venerated Arthur's bones at Glastonbury in 1278. The composer, Rutland Bowton, used the town as the base for an experimental community in the 1920s. He started the original Glastonbury Festival - less mud and more oboes than today's version, but radical at the time. The Glastonbury Assembly Rooms has hosted such top acts as George Bernard Shaw and D H Lawrence; Bertrand Russell is even said to have vomited on the floor.

Pilton has undergone a change of image since the mid-Eighties, when the festival really took off. Then it was still in thrall to the blue rinse and the support stocking. Now it has become a West Country Jerusalem: icon outlets nestle up to crystal centres and shops selling statues of goddesses. A sign on the high street reads: "Healing available now by donation". It may be hard to buy a leg of lamb, but it has everything the spiritual tourist could ever need

Penny Lane owns Pilton's village store with husband Nigel

"We lived in Belgium for five years.We're used to the unusual." Nigel: "We used to have a few buses a week. Now there are five a day, and three of those are to the supermarket. People first came to the festival and, when they wanted to leave, they'd say, `when's the next bus?' and you'd say `next Tuesday'."Penny: "The school's gone, the policeman's gone, and the vicar's spread between four or five parishes. Now there are people who are only here for the weekend."

Titania Hardie, witch and Gavrick `Oberon' Losey, film producer "My grandmother was a white witch - she taught me and my mother. The ideology of using herbs, nature and fixing your thoughts is a central thing in all country areas where the church didn't effectively stamp it out. There was nothing strange about it. My mother would come in and say prayers with me every night as well. I used to do regular spots on Richard and Judy. Every time I'd go on and do a simple spell, the phones would light up like Christmas trees."

Bahli and Bill Mans-Morris own a new age shop called Pendragon - The Spirit of the Celt "Bill has people coming here all the time and saying, `what's going on? I feel different, strange'." Bill: "We live in a world of pollution and drug culture. There's so much technology the inner consciousness is really swamped, the feminine spirit squashed. But we're awakening to ourselves. People are drawn here for that very reason. It seems like the place they can start their search. They're affected by the land energies, by the feminine energies."

Anne Goode, villager and Christian "People drawn by the Glastonbury mystique have this hunger for spirituality. We put the cross up because of it. The person who made it, his wife is my prayer partner, and I kept saying, ` I see a cross'. Then I saw in the press some telegraph poles for pounds 5.The festival is a mishmash of absolute trash. Our young people deserve better. The only ones who have a good time there are the traders - they have an absolute ball. And Michael, of course. He gets a hell of a power kick."

Alan Gloak, district councillor "People complain about the travellers, but they've been coming here since the days of the monastery. The festival brings in anything up to pounds 10 million. My enemies would say I've brought the wrong sort of people here, but the economy is buzzing.This autumn we're promoting a major conference on the problem of drugs in the Mendip towns. If we're able to prescribe things like heroin, why aren't we able to prescribe cannabis?"

Jyoti, hippie resident, with Ele "My family is from India. I went back there and saw the way that they lived, and it appealed to me. There's about 20 people up here with families. It's how we want to raise our kids - up in the woods. I've been here since August. My husband and I made the bender. I was having contractions most of the time. He works for one day a week and earns pounds 20, which covers all the food we need. We grow a lot ourselves, and we don't have any bills, so we feel rich. "

John Gane, farmer and haulage contractor, handles security "I've seen the festival from the very beginning. I can remember the first ones. All the villagers were up in arms. It rained and rained and rained, and quite a few of these hippies started dancing around naked in the mud. Most of the villagers took photographs. There was such an outcry, but they all managed to get down there with their cameras."

Mo, sign painter. Mo works with his friend Dan, who lives in a bus and spends his winters in Portugal. He's in charge of painting and positioning all the signs on site - at least 1,000 of them. Dan: "The repainting takes over a month - which means Mo needs the rest of the year to recover." Dan has done previous festivals: "I can't remember how many." Mo: "That probably means you've done it too long."

Finn Christensen, farmer "I came from Denmark, originally, and moved into Pilton 20 years ago. We're helping Michael Eavis in as much as we lend him some of our land - about 300 acres on an annual basis. We own the entrance to it all. When we got involved, I insisted to Michael that we took the pressure off the roads so that people could go on with daily life. There was a time when there was a queue right in to Glastonbury and right out the other side of Shepton Mallet. I guess we put pounds 2 million to pounds 3 million back into the local community. All the local football clubs, this is their main fund-raising event - pounds 20,000, pounds 30,000, pounds 40,000, maybe. Michael is very generous to good causes."