My first Glastonbury was 1979. I was 27 years old. I had been going to festivals since I was twenty. My first festival was The Great Western Festival near Lincoln in 1972 but when I went to Glastonbury for the first time I realised that it was the best and I have been going to Worthy Farm ever since. In total I think I must have spent about four months of my life at Glastonbury festival. We were in the Canal Tavern in Bradford On Avon and somebody said that there was a festival to be held down at Pilton. We needed cheering up because a month before there had been an election and Margaret Thatcher had come to power and a darkness had descended on the land. The Conservatives held on to power for another 18 years but Glastonbury Festival was to be a beacon of hope in all the misery that was to come. On the sunny evening of Friday June 21st 1979 I got on the back of my friend Fred’s motorbike and we set off for Pilton. We didn’t even take a tent. In those days we called sleeping bags ‘Dossbags’. You just rolled up your dossbag and tied it up with string and slung it over your shoulder. That was all I took to my first Glastonbury. I think when it got time to crash out I just curled up around a campfire and if it rained there was a crash tent up near the market area.
When we arrived the entrance was right up at the top of the site near the farmhouse. Standing at a table collecting the £5.00 admission was this girl who was topless. All she had on was a pair of shorts and a big smile.
“Crikey”, I thought to myself, “I’m going to enjoy this”, as I handed her my fiver and tried not to stare.
In those days the small market area of craft stalls and food outlets was at the top of the site as well and we wandered down there towards the main stage. The whole of the valley could then be seen leading away to Glastonbury Tor in the distance. It looked beautiful and the whole scene seemed really peaceful compared to other outdoor music events that I had been to. That festival was one of only two occasions I can remember when they didn’t have the Pyramid Stage. The other time was in 94 when it burned down shortly before the festival. In 79 the stage was a square sort of thing with what looked like an inflatable roof.
I think there were about 12,000 people there in 1979 and it was so small and friendly that you got to know quite a few of them by Monday morning. These days at Glastonbury everybody has a phone and are twittering and Facebooking non-stop but in 1979 amazingly there wasn’t one single phone on the site. To make a phone call you had to walk into the village of Pilton and use the public phone box. That’s what I loved about this festival, being cut off from the outside world in this little cosmic bubble of Glastonbury. The information point got covered in little hand written notes of people looking for their friends but there was no real need even for that. If you walked around for half an hour you would meet everyone you knew. I really wish I had taken a camera with me though. All the photos in this story are from Google Images.
It was still called Glastonbury Fayre in 79 and was in aid of the United Nations Year Of The Child and the Children’s World Charity. That charity was founded by Arabella Churchill and is still going to this very day. Arabella was the grand-daughter of Sir Winston Churchill and was a real driving force at Glastonbury. As well as organising the theatre and cabaret in 79 she introduced the Children’s area to the site which evolved into the Kidz-field of today. A lot of festivals don’t cater for children but that is another thing that makes Glasto so great in that it isn’t ageist. You get all ages from little kids to pensioners and everyone gets on fine. Arabella is remembered today on the site because Bella’s Bridge is named after her. She was quite a character. My partner Kim and I met her one magical night in 1999 but I’ll tell you about that when I get to it. Another thing I ought to mention is that there was a tiny medical centre there which was run by the local doctor whose name is Chris Howes. As Glastonbury has grown it has developed into Festival Medical Services and is the biggest field hospital in Britain and also provides medical services for other festivals and events as well.
Another major difference to today’s festivals is that these days there are bars all over the site but in 79 I can’t remember there being any. The only booze available was from a wagon which sold rough farmhouse cider in gallon plastic containers. It was smelly and tasted horrible but people including me still forced it down. Another difference to today’s festival as well is that there were no teams of people picking up the rubbish. I think everyone just took responsibility for their own area. There was probably some tidying up to do afterwards but compared to the scenes of devastation these days it was nothing. Nobody would dream of abandoning their tents back then, they were too valuable compared to today’s cheap throwaway society. One final difference is that these days there are cash machines everywhere for instant access to money. At Glasto 79 most people were completely broke by Sunday night and there was a lot of scrounging of cigarettes, tobacco & food going on. Nobody seemed to care though, everyone shared what they had.
And so to the music. I could look through the archives and tell you who was on but that would be cheating. Because this is a personal memoir I will just tell you about who I can personally recall which isn’t all that much I’m afraid because it is so long ago in the mists of time and I can’t really remember who played on which day. One band I do remember were called The Only Ones. They had a minor hit around that time called Another Girl/Another Planet which was really good. I remember Steve Hillage as well because I had one of his albums. The only song of his I can really recall was his version of the Donovan song Hurdy Gurdy Man. Steve must have played last on either Friday or Saturday because the organiser Michael Eavis came on stage to ask them to stop playing as he had made an agreement with the villagers to end the electric music at midnight and it was now 12.30. Steve dutifully brought the set to an end after explaining it to the audience. Steve Hillage was to have quite an influence on the development of Glastonbury in subsequent years.
Although the weather was really nice that weekend I think there was some rain because I have a vague memory of John Martyn playing and the rain dripping onto the stage through the leaky roof. I wasn’t all that familiar with his music at the time but I have read somewhere Michael Eavis saying it was the most moving performance he had ever seen at Glastonbury and brought tears to his eyes. I did have a chance encounter with John Martyn many years later at Glastonbury but I’ll tell you about that later as well.
Sunday night was my best memory of all. There was a big jam session featuring amongst others, Pete Gabriel, Alex Harvey, Tom Robinson, Nona Hendryx and Steve Hillage. People told me later that it was Phil Collins on drums but I didn’t recognise him at the time. Songs from that set I remember were Pete singing Solsbury Hill, him and Tom Robinson singing Bully For You and Alex Harvey singing a song called The Mafia Stole My Guitar. The festival ended with someone called Tim Blake playing synthesizers accompanied by a laser beam display.
That festival was a financial disaster unfortunately and there wasn’t to be another Glasto till 1981 but I’ll tell you about that next time.