There's only one way to stop Glastonbury being taken over by the middle class - lower ticket prices

A weekend at the festival will cost you £500. You can get a week in Spain for less

Alice Jones
Saturday 21 June 2014 09:15 BST
Glastonbury (Matt Cardy)

At the risk of coming over a bit Gove, how might one define “middle-class values”? To judge by popular social media threads like Middle Class Problems (“I think I’ve put too much water in my quinoa”) and overheard in Waitrose (“Daddy does Lego have a silent ‘T’, like Merlot?”), they are an endlessly mockable structure built on Boden, Bugaboos, hummus, and stereotypes. All of which, incidentally, you are likely to see a lot of next week if you go to Glastonbury.

Glastonbury pretty much runs on hummus and falafel and grilled halloumi burgers and Nutella crepes these days. It also runs on punchy cider and other, probably less legal substances but there is no doubt that, should you want to recreate a little corner of your Southwold second home in the fields of Pilton, you can – simply pack a Cath Kidston duvet, an M&S hamper and a case of Magners Pear.

Now Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, has dissed the festival for being too middle-class. “It’s the most bourgeois thing on the planet”, he said. “Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.” His band wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole, he said.

It is hardly a revelatory blast. But it might be a worrying one. If every musician starts snubbing festivals because they’re too bourgeois, we’ll all be spending our summers standing around in fields, watching people wave giant, wobbly flags at nothing, eating corn on the cob in silence and having to interact with the men on stilts – there are always men on stilts – for entertainment.

Of course, one should take most things that an old rocker with a tour to hawk says with a pinch of salt. Particularly when the rocker railing against the bourgeoisie is an alumnus of Oundle School who studied history at a redbrick and likes to fence and fly planes in his spare time. Nevertheless, Dickinson has a point. Glastonbury 2014, with its new £600,000 “super loos”, box-fresh VIPs, mobile-phone charging points, Pimm’s bus, lanyards, pop-up BBC HQ, tipis at £950 a pop and yet more expensive “glamping” (surely the most irritating portmanteau to enter the lexicon in decades) options, is not what it was.

At the first Pilton Pop festival in 1970, entry was £1, or considerably less for those who simply scaled the fence. For that, according to the flyer, festival-goers could enjoy The Kinks, Marc Bolan, “Freaks and Funny Things”, an ox roast and free milk from Worthy Farm. Of course things have changed. Festivals are big, global business these days, a staple of the summer. They are also, probably, a lot safer and more pleasant places to be than they once were.

Indeed, Glastonbury has always struck me as the most utopian of festivals, as welcoming of old hippies as young hipsters. It is big enough that babies in the Kidz field and ravers in the dance tent can have the same transcendent experience in a field without getting in one another’s way. And if the middle-classes want to bring their Hunter wellies to the party too, why not? Music ought to be a classless pursuit. When it comes to twee branding or corporate sell-outs, there are worse offenders on the circuit.

There is a serious point here, though, and it comes down to money. If Glastonbury has become “too middle-class”, whatever that means, it is surely a matter of pricing. A weekend ticket now costs £215, but the reality, once transport, parking, camping and picnic gear, food, drink and the inevitable emergency, extortionate purchase of socks or suncream are included, is probably closer to £500. You can get a week on a Spanish beach for a lot less than that – no mud, no jugglers.

It’s not just music festivals. Concerts and comedy gigs regularly top £100 a ticket now, but rock stars and stand-ups rarely complain that their audience is too well-heeled to sing or laugh along. This week The Stage reported that the cost of a top-price ticket in the West End has tripled in the past decade. Now a premium ticket to The Book of Mormon costs £152.25 and the average top-price hovers just below £100. And people wonder why musicals keep closing early.

If culture is to be enjoyed by all, it needs prices for all. In the meantime, Iron Maiden will play Sonisphere festival in the grounds of Knebworth the weekend after next. Tickets are a rock ‘n’roll, not-at-all-bourgeois £215.

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