There are many reasons to hate Glastonbury, but I don’t detest this festival because it’s a betrayal of the original hippie ethic that transformed an obscure Somerset village into a multti-national corporate brand. I have no problem with selling out to commercial, vested interests as long as it’s honest. No, what I really hate about ‘Glasto’ is this myth that somehow it’s still some kind of anti-authoritarian, dissident manifestation of Ye Olde Englishe Non-Conformism. It isn’t and never has been.
Farmers are perhaps the most over-indulged, selfish, self-pitying breed of tradesmen and women in history. All those other supposedly unproductive, uneconomic and state subsidised industries were allowed to face the economic X-Factor of the 80s and 90s and yet farmers somehow managed to cling to their subsidies and their land and their EC protected crop gluts and received generous benefits simply for doing us all a favour and acting as ‘custodians’ of the land.
Michael Eavis, far from being some kind of saintly philanthropist, has simply turned ‘his’ land to alternative use; a rock festival, a caravan site, a nature reserve, a site of historic interest, whatever the use, they’ll get weighed in for using the land for their own purposes.
Eavis himself perhaps symbolises the confused wishy washy ideology underpinning most of the non-committed ruritarians who fall in behind WOMAD internationalism. A public schoolboy who inherited his arl fellar’s plot, Eavis is a man of many paradoxes. He’s a Labour supporter and Green who accepted a CBE and supports hunting. He considers himself as some kind of maverick radical yet presides over a vast corporate enterprise that raked in £22.5 million in 2011 and rents his own land out to himself at a rate of half a million quid.
You can’t blame him, I suppose but let’s not crack on that Eavis and his annoying daughter, Emily are a pair of philanthropists, doing it for the kidz. Ticket prices start at £205 plus a £5 booking fee plus £6 P&P! Six quid to post a ticket! If you fancy going all Little Plum, you can rent a tepee for a mere £950. The festival sells out within hours, so there’s always demand on eBay and other sites but back in the day, the cheapest way to get into Glasto was to bunk in.
In the early 00s, young Liverpudlian scallies made a mass exodus to Somerset in order to ‘gegg in’ to the festival, sell drugs and generally bully the hippies and middle class musos who made the village their home for three days every summer. I know lads who dug those tunnels under the makeshift fences and charged student types a tenner or twenty to crawl underneath, like polar opposites of Colditz escapees. Many others simply ‘grafted’ the wrist band or jarg ticket blags with a bit of insider help from the security lads on a backhander and various band members and promoters who passed on passes for distribution and counterfeiting.
To the scally, these festivals were and still are, easy pickings. They’re not really interested in the music but if they can combine a few days graft with a couple of decent gigs, them why not? It got hairy in 2002, when Manchester’s Gooch and various Liverpool mobs decided that the pickings were too good to stop at mere bullying and ended up using violence to achieve their ends. That’s when the real fence went up and Glastonbury showed its true colours.
Far from being a fun-loving, spiritual free-for-all, the money men needed to protect their core punter at all costs and so, the festival became increasingly white, middle class and safe. Let’s look at this year’s line up; Yes, there are three stages devoted to ‘dance’-type music but the main Pyramid stage is whiter than a snowman in a Real Madrid kit. Eh? What about Dizzee? Rita Ora? Er, yeah, token 'urban' artists who will no doubt end up with OBEs and other token imperialist baubles if they play the game.
The Rolling Stones are also on the Pyramid stage this year and despite their incredible back catalogue have become peddlers of exactly the kind of raised-eyebrow, sing-a-long cabaret tack that Glastonbury loves to wallow in. That’s what it’s famous for. This year it’s also Kenny Rogers' turn: 'Islands in the Stream', 'Ruby', 'Coward Of The County' - I can see those girls on shoulders, desperately looking for the camera, singing along to ‘Ruby’ right now.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Glasto is surely one of those Great British ‘we’re all in together’ moments of cultural unity, where ‘we’ can celebrate our invented sense of nationalist identity and show the world that Britannia stills rule the pop waves, if nothing else. Yet the image of ‘Britain’ presented at these festivals is always one that chimes with dominant notions of cultural identity. ‘We’ Brits are ’diverse’ an ‘we ‘ are ‘open minded ‘ and ‘we ‘ are ‘humorous’ so get yer wellies out and put yer feet up because this is on BBC 2, 3 and 4 and iPlayer. It’s as significant and central to our abstract identity as The Horse Of The Year Show or The Boat Race,
So, forgive me if I don’t join in with the Glasto hype. I’ve never been into tents, pissing in fields and waving flags whilst nodding along to Eton hillbillies. Leave that to those who need to assert their identity by visiting spurious sites of Anglo Saxon/Celtic mythology to hold their 400 quid iPhones in the air and wave 'em like they just don’t care!