344. The clinging (VI)
Updated: Aug 29, 2021
The Glastonbury Festival started in 1970 as a free event held in the Somerset countryside, no more than 1,500 people attended that first year—yet today the festival can now attract up to 200,000 people. The festival is slightly different from other music events because it is organised by a local farmer, Michael Eavis, on his family’s land; his family has had a dairy farm there for well over a hundred years—so he is deeply rooted in the landscape.
The landscape is significant for the event, since it is held in the Vale of Avalon—ancient name for England—and so is redolent with associations connected to King Arthur and the Grail; indeed, the Grail is said to reside at nearby Glastonbury Tor. Not so very far away lies Stonehenge, our island’s most ancient monument and another lacuna for those with a spiritual inclination; especially those who adhere to what was once called the “New Age”—now in semi-retirement and easing its arthritic pain with generous draws on homegrown weed.
The Eavis farm is located in the small and quintessentially English village of Pilton, its permanent population is no more than 998. In line with local democracy, the village voted many times for the festival to stop and the reason was fairly simple: the 200,000 plus revellers invade the property that surrounds the festival to have sex, defecate, and do drugs.
The festival has seen many sub-cultural waves over the years; so, for example, from the mid-1980s to around 1994 it was dogged by the New Age travellers. The New Age travellers were degenerate hippies; they were hippies from the underclasses and not the original playacting decadent aristos and children of doctors and the like. As neo-gypsies, they travelled the land, mostly on benefits, and, in line with their worldview, attempted to crash Glastonbury for free—unsurprisingly, they often caused violence and property damage. Now, the festival has become a good deal more gentrified since then: today, you are somewhat more likely to encounter fancy coffee on offer from a man called Cedric with his hair done in a bun than a white Rastafarian with fleas and zip bags of ecstasy. Yet the point remains that you do not pen 200,000 people from Britain’s urban centres in with music, drugs, and booze without things getting out of hand—and a few sheep being savaged by dogs, of course.
Farmer-founder Eavis is an interesting character. His family lost its money in the 1920s, barely holding on to their farm via a remortgage; so the festival has remade the family fortune. Yet, from his interviews, there is a resentful streak to Eavis: he dislikes the village’s strict class structure, although he is far from poor—it is more a dislike of culture. Further, Eavis comes from old Quaker and Nonconformist Methodist stock, as opposed to the dominant local Church of England—the establishment. It used to be said that the Labour Party owed its ideology more to Methodism than Marxism; and this streak towards being literally nonconformist is present in Eavis. He decided the festival should support CND and Greenpeace—other leftist causes—and even now it relies on volunteer labour from these causes. Funnily enough, Eavis was surprised that many musicians he wanted to book did not share his anti-nuclear and environmental views.
Political microcosm: a decadent elite, the landowner Eavis, resents the society in which they live and has strange religio-political views as well. They use their property—Eavis’s farmland—to import the masses who in turn make life miserable for everyone else, infringing on their property but doing so for a “good cause”. We see in Glastonbury an attempt to make money—the Quaker instinct—mixed with a desire to proselytise weird political beliefs and be piously superior to others; even though, if implemented, the same strange ideas would take Eavis’s land away from him. Indeed, Glastonbury is exactly the same scenario as mass immigration, if you think about it—only the scale differs.