What a long strange trip it's been

Life changes so fast nowadays that it's hard to keep up. But in some places old values live on. Next weekend tens of thousands will descend on Glastonbury to listen to music, get stoned and wallow in peace and love. Is it 1970, or is it 1995? Who knows? W

Simon Garfield
Friday 16 June 1995 23:02

Mostly, people remember the mud and the queues and the good vibrations. Many cannot remember anything else, including the year they were there, and, in some disastrous cases, the decade.

Glastonbury celebrates its 25th anniversary on Friday, when 80,000 people are expected to pitch tent at Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, for what is still regarded as the broadest and best pop festival in Europe.

It is more than pop, of course. Each year a small city springs up overnight, and Marc Bolan, the main attraction in 1970, today might feel a little lost beside the comedy stage or mountain bike tent or vast market area. But he would smell the same joss sticks, even those now burnt by city types down for the weekend in Land Rovers. And he would recognise Michael Eavis, the strange-bearded cattle farmer, who each year takes on the local council and grumbling neighbours to prolong his party (and make money even European quota directives can't take away).

The music changes, but not much. This year Oasis and the Stone Roses will do battle with the ghosts of Led Zeppelin and the Stones. Elastica will represent all the punk bands that never played there. Folk singers will sing and not be canned off. And there's always a chance Hawkwind will turn up to treat the faithful to a 72-minute "Silver Machine".

Each year, the tickets sell out earlier than the year before. Entrance used to be free, but then free enterprise demanded a tab of pounds 65; the black market is already charging pounds 150. Greenpeace still benefits each year, as does anyone who can get a stand within half a mile of the site. It was once a cheap weekend en plein air, but now it can seem as though almost everyone is on the make. A little carelessness these days liberates pounds 200, and when you get home you wonder where those tattoos came from.

To date, the commercialism has not wrecked the party - not quite. The few hippies turning up with guitars to look for King Arthur have now turned into huge amounts of hippies, travellers, protesters, students, - your basic dirty stew of disenfranchised idealists - and for a long, lost weekend, the festival still represents a little hope in a blue world. It would be hard to find a stronger picture of the Nineties' attempt to get back to the spirit of the early Seventies.

Ron Reid, Photographer

I can vaguely remember this scene with three crucifixes and a stoned rooster wobbling around on the one in the middle. They formed a circle and danced around the crosses, very pagan. I think they took the rooster off before they set fire to them.

I'd like to feel there was something left of the early days, the fact that kids from the concrete can see the stars, and feel the earth under them, and generally get in touch.

It does change you. Someone gave me a black tablet. I thought, `What could this little thing do?' I took it and heard a voice saying `You'll never be the same again'.

One of the village shops had a sign up: no hippies. The locals came down to watch, horrified. I remember one middle-class couple who brought their son in school uniform. His parents looked on in fear, but he looked on in wonder.

Angela Coles, Media Trainer

I went to the Bath and West Showground festival with Led Zeppelin in 1970, the one that inspired Michael Eavis to hold the first ever Glastonbury later that year. Then I went back in 1971 to appear in a play with an alternative theatre group - about King Arthur, of course - written by someone who thought village society was the answer to everything. All I can remember is waiting for hours and hours in the mud and rain for our slot, and then we got on to the stage, on the rough boards with our bare feet, and we were so high and unamplified that no one could see or hear us or took any notice at all.

Mike Ringham, Estate Agent

All the festivals before were a day thing; you'd turn up for six hours, then go home. Even at the beginning, Glastonbury was a live-in event, and the atmosphere was entirely different. At the first one, there was an ox roast, which would be totally frowned upon now. And there was free milk from the farm.

I was the first DJ, just filling in between Sam Applepie and T-Rex, very primitive. It was all thrown together at the last minute, but somehow it all worked, and you got the feeling you had found a whole new vast family. There was no donation to CND or Greenpeace then - no one gave a bugger about a cause.

Anthony Ginn, Computer Writer

In 1971, I was part of the Talke Pits Development Company, an anarcho hippy commune in Staffordshire, and we erected benders in the field behind the Glastonabury Great Pyramid. The stage site had been chosen by Arabella Churchill, Winston's granddaughter, because it was on an intersection of ley lines, connecting Glastonbury Tor, the Pyramid of Cheops, Stonehenge and Kidsgrove dole office. I remember being alone and putting my head down to roll a joint, and when I looked up again I was surrounded by a circle of 30 people all licking their lips.

The latrines were a communal cesspit 12 feet deep, covered with the top of a railway sleeper. On the second day an angel appeared, floating 50 feet above the ground. Everybody saw it, it wasn't just the drugs. The MC had a conversation with it from the stage, asking what it was doing there, what it wanted. A little later, Dave, our company secretary, swore he saw a flying saucer. That one turned out to be a lorry.

Sandy Lieberson, Film Producer

1971 was one of those last festivals where the amateur spirit was really in effect. Many of the festivals since have been motivated as much by commercial interests as anything else, but in the early days the profit motive was nil. I remember the young Maharaji Guru arriving in a car and getting stuck in the mud, and he had to get out and help push himself out just like eveyone else. The film we made (Glastonbury Fayre, directed by Nic Roeg) did very well, though we had some trouble with the censors who objected to all these bodies rolling around naked on the ground.

Laurence Hasson, Caterer

In 1971, I played keyboards in a progressive rock band called Marsupialami. Mostly I remember this very rich American who turned up with vast numbers of sausages in Tupperware. You couldn't imagine how many sausages there were.

Now I run a food kitchen there, and I'm developing a market in organic potatoes. I went down there with the stall for the first time four years ago, and I lost money, but last year I did well. This year I've got one of the best sites, 200 feet from the pyramid stage, called Leary's Organic Spud Experience, pounds 3 for a big potato and a drink, with fillings overflowing.

The security is much better than it used to be, and the safety and hygiene regulations are very strict. And they've managed to stop the selling of drugs openly. Even in 1991 they'd be shouting out what they'd got every ten yards. It became like those people in Torremolinos selling timeshare.

Sally Hudson, Painter

I went in 1979, because I had met people who had been to the early ones and they had great memories. I was fairly punky then, and there were loads of other punks there, but we were horrified that the music hadn't really kept pace with the times. It was Steve Hillage and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. When the most awful progressive bands were on, we played the Damned and the Ruts very loud on a tape recorder in our tent. I'd like to think that all the New Age resistance movements that have sprung up since began at that moment.

John Hegley, Poet

In the early Eighties I went with a children's theatre company, so since then my audience has increased in height, if not in intellect. You don't get the normal heckler there, someone's who just had too much to drink. At Glastonbury, you get the heckler who has just found enlightenment, and they're always harder to deal with. It's become media-ised, though some things have resisted media-isation, like the people who insist on urinating on the side of your tent.

It's the tent city that makes it unique. You see it even before you hear the music. And tent is risk. The first mistake you make is to find a spot a long way away, and a good distance from other tents. You can be certain that you'll be woken at 4am by a van, and that the people will all get out and try putting up their tent right next to yours, and they'll be drunk, and dropping the poles and pegs everywhere. The rule is to find a plot as near to someone else as you can, and leave no space in between.

Billy Bragg, Pop Star

I've done it eight or nine times, and this year I think I'm going to overtake Van Morrison. I was onstage when Maradona scored against England with his hand. Occasionally, I go intending not to do it, and then get roped in. A couple of years ago, Nanci Griffiths called me up beforehand and asked me to do one Woody Guthrie song with her. But on the day she didn't turn up, so I had to fill in an hour with Paul Brady.

A lot of people who can't afford a proper holiday go there for a cheap time - pounds 60-odd for the ticket and petrol money, and they go on the Tuesday before the Friday it starts. It's some distance from a train station or town and so the place creates its own spirit - you just have to deal with it, sun, rain or mud. Despite the way it's grown, it's still retained its best qualities, although there's always some different incident that makes the tabloids - last year it was the shootings, but you're more likely to catch typhus.

John Otway, Performer

The pay's pretty lousy, pounds 150. But you do get to play to a large cross- section of people. Also, I've never got bottled off there. The bar backstage at the theatre tent stays open 24 hours, and they have a cocktail bar, and the more paralytic you become, the more famous you think you are. The posing at the theatre bar puts rock-star posing to shame.

Abigail Leland, Film Production Runner

I've been going every year since I was four - my mother used to run the kids area. It's changed drastically. It used to be a close community. Everyone would walk around barefoot, but if you did that today you'd bleed all the way home. When I told people I was going, I used to get teased for the being a little hippie, but now it's become far too trendy. I used to feel very safe there, but last year some people came by in a van and tried to steal my whole tent. And I overheard some people on a train discussing whether it was a good place "to pick up chicks". That's why I'm not going this year.

Derek Ridgers, New Musical Express Photographer

I went to an exhibition recently of nothing but photographs of the Glastonbury toilets, people's feet basically. How good can those photographs be? Not bad at all. I had an interesting experience last year. Glastonbury is probably the worst place in Britain for your car to break down, especially if it's at the end of the last day. The time it takes to get an AA man on to the site is nobody's business. All the telephones have been dismantled, the traffic is gridlocked. Eventually I called a man out using a BBC man's mobile, and he was not pleased in the slightest.

Emma Forrest, Music Journalist

Last year, I didn't really have time for any band after Manic Street Preachers had played on the Friday night. The band materialised on the stage in a cloud of dry ice, to the noise of a circling helicopter. When the mist cleared, the first thing you saw was the singer running towards the front wearing a terrorist balaclava. It was brilliant because it freaked out all the nouveau hippie kids, down from boarding school for the weekend, out of their minds on LSD. Halfway through the performance, Nicky Wire, the bassist, said, "I hope they build some more fucking bypasses over this shithole."

Glastonbury troubled me because you can't just see the band you like and then get a taxi home - you're obliged to pretend you're actually a good person as well.

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