Time to give good vibes back to the land, says Glastonbury farmer

MARIANNE MACDONALD

Glastonbury, the legendary music and arts festival at which young professionals rub dreadlocks with hard-core hippies to tune in and drop out, will not take place this summer.

Michael Eavis, the farmer who runs it from his Somerset farm, has decided to give the event a miss this year, in the interests of good farming practice.

"We're having a fallow year," he explained yesterday. "Missing a festival every three or four years - the last times were 1991, 1988 and 1982 - has always been Glastonbury practice." Others were dubious about his explanation, as Mr Eavis was recently selected as the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Wells, a traditionally true-blue seat.

"One wonders if there has been some involvement by the Labour Party to say 'give it a rest this year in case there's an election'," Peter Gold, the Liberal Democrats' prospective parliamentary candidate, said.

Mr Eavis was shocked by the suggestion. "The festival's too important to muck around with. We see this as a break to stimulate everyone to go for it the following year.

"We've all got proper jobs. Glastonbury's run by doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers and farmers, but they do it because they love it. It's nothing to do with politics. Most serious punters don't think there'll be an election until 1997 anyway."

Either way, the festival's absence will be a blow for thousands who yearn - often behind their conventional lifestyles - to cast off convention and chill out in the country amid dirt, dope and loud music. And there are more and more of them. In the last 25 years, the festival has grown from 1,500 people watching Marc Bolan at sunset to its present, awesome magnitude. It attracted 120,000 people last year and made a turnover of almost pounds 5m.

Meanwhile, the bands have come and gone, from Elvis Costello and Van Morrison to Oasis, Supergrass and Pulp, and the festival has grown up. From a cheap weekend run by a rock-mad farmer who lost pounds 1,500 for the privilege, it is now a big business, as likely to attract corporate hospitality as New Age travellers.

In the early days, as devotees will attest, the profit motive was non- existent. Entrance was free, along with milk from the farm, lavatories were communal cesspits and free spirits danced naked in the mud. Those were the days when drugs were sold openly and, even when an entrance fee was charged, it was possible to nip under a fence. Now a mini-city springs up on the rutted fields, making fortunes for the stallholders and assorted entrepreneurs.

But it has never matched 1970, Mr Eavis says. "I reckon it's about the best thing that's ever happened here."

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