Minister bestows a strange respectability

Last night the Glastonbury festival was treated to something it feared more than rain, mud and pounds 75 tickets - the blessing of the Government.

The festival, cherished over the years by hippies, anarchists and the joyously apolitical, was welcomed into the ample embrace of Mark Fisher, minister for the arts, as he became the first member of the Government to address the Glastonbury Festival, or indeed any big open-air rock festival. Mr Fisher was scheduled to take to the stage just before the cult rock band the Smashing Pumpkins.

Wisely, in view of the fact that the Pumpkins' performance had been keenly anticipated by the crowd, he kept his remarks to under two minutes and promised he would not make a political speech.

Referring to the previous government in words that sounded suspiciously political, he said: "For 18 years the last government ignored the British music industry. It looked down its nose on this event ... The new Labour government backs our British bands and applauds the role this festival has in putting them on the map. Whether rehearsing in a garage or performing on the main stage here, we applaud everyone involved in it."

The minister said before he arrived that he intended to dress casually, but not conspicuously like a festival goer. "There's nothing more ridiculous than an overweight, middle-aged politician trying to look and sound young," he said.

Actually, Mr Fisher achieved two firsts. Not only was he the first government minister to take the stage. He was the first politician performer whose son was also playing at Glastonbury. Mr Fisher's stepson Crispin Hunt is on the bill tonight playing in his band, Longpigs.

Sadly, this was one gig the music loving minister couldn't make. Mark Fisher was attending a meeting of the European culture ministers in Rome, where the weather at least was decidedly better.

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