A History of Glastonbury Festival

It’s been a week since Glastonbury finished and we’re already feverishly anticipating its comeback in 2019, due to 2018 being the traditional ‘fallow year’. So in the meantime, we’ve taken a look at how, even for non-music lovers, it’s recognised as one of the main events in the British calendar. 

Its roots can be traced back to Michael Eavis who’s known just as much for his Abraham Lincoln-esque beard as he is for being the man who’s farm the festival is held on. He was inspired to open his own festival after seeing British Rockers Led Zeppelin perform in Bath in 1970. The first festival was actually called ‘Pilton Festival’ and was originally intended to be a much smaller festival than some of its other contemporaries, despite being headlined by The Kinks and T-Rex two of the biggest rock acts of the time. The following year, it became known as ‘Glastonbury Fair’ and its now famous pyramid stage was initially built out of nothing more than scaffolding and expanded metal covered with plastic sheeting.

Roll on the 1980’s and the pyramid stage was now a permanent structure and the name changed to Glastonbury Festival. By the mid 80’s, the festival was becoming so popular that the neighbouring Cockmill Farm had to be brought in order to accommodate the visitors as well as the addition of the farm office, communications, welfare and medical teams. The reason for its steadily rising popularity was that it was beginning to attract some big acts at the time such as The Smiths, The Cure, Madness, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello to name a few.

the smiths
The Smiths’ only Glastonbury appearance was marred when fans overran the stage during their set. © @Johnny_Marr

The festival’s biggest success at this point came in 1990 which would prove to be a defining year. The festival went from strength to strength as it branched out into dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret, and other arts. The charitable profits in the 1991 year changed due to the end of the Cold War and went from being donated to ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ to being donated to Greenpeace and Oxfam. The decade also saw the festival being broadcast to living rooms around the country, with Channel 4 televising the Main Stage performances, resulting in an increased appeal to a wider audience. 1995 saw the show see its Silver anniversary, which saw an appearance of the two performers from the first event – Keith Christmas and Al Stewart – to mark the occasion. Appeal grew as tickets completely sold out within a month of their release date. The end of the 1990’s saw memorable performances from Radiohead, Pulp, and a well-dressed Tony Bennett as well as the 100,000 attendees milestone being broken in 1998.

The start of the noughties didn’t start quite as brightly. Gatecrashing was becoming a serious safety concern when 250,000 attended the festival despite 100,000 tickets being sold. This led to the 2001 festival being called off to address the safety concerns raised by the local District Council. Yet that didn’t stop the popularity of the festival from growing, as it started to become normal for tickets to sell out within hours, even before the line-up had been announced. At the turn of the 2010’s, the festival was called off due to London hosting the Olympics in 2012, yet this didn’t stop a string of successful years, including a famous appearance from the 14th Dalai Lama, which showed how much people, even outside the music world, appreciated its significance.

This year’s Glastonbury went down a storm and thankfully there wasn’t an actual one to spoil everyone’s experience.

Featured Image credit: gigaddict.co.uk





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