The People's Songs - One Day Like This - The Music Festival Experience
From the early days of Reading and the Isle of Wight to the massive success of Glastonbury, Stuart Maconie looks at the British love affair with al fresco music.
The British music festival is now as much a summer staple as Wimbledon, the FA Cup or Glorious Goodwood. It's also a rite of passage for any music fan; there's nothing quite like the heady combination of being in a crowd in the great outdoors with waves of music washing over us. No doubt it's a primal human experience hard-wired within us.
The rock festival, like the music itself, has its roots in jazz and blues, namely The Jazz and Blues festival - which started in the early '60s and would in time become better known as the much rockier Reading Festival - and which featured The Who, The Yardbirds, Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac in the mid-Sixties. Then came a festival in Spalding, Lincolnshire, in a cattle auction shed in May '67 featuring Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and The Move all in one day, for the princely sum of £1! The Isle Of Wight started in '68, and there were also festivals in Uxbridge and Bath, before the daddy of them all, Glastonbury, started in 1970. The last Glastonbury, in 2011, sold out its ticket allocation in just four hours, and 18.6 million viewers watched the BBC's coverage on TV.
Today, there's is a music festival of every stripe, ranging from the full-on Metal festivals like Download or Bloodstock through to those that cater for the arty, Guardian-reading crowd with their literary tents and highbrow headliners, such as Latitude in lovely Southwold, Suffolk. There are festivals in Sidmouth and Cambridge that cover folk music both indigenous and from further afield. And there are cultured and curated festivals like All Tomorrow's Parties and those held in holiday camps catering to families and those less-inclined to sleep in a tent in a field, with the promise of a bed, a hot shower and choice of restaurants.