Entertainment & Arts

Meet the Glastonbury survivors

It is 40 years since 1,000 flower children trooped to Worthy Farm to see Marc Bolan play the first Glastonbury Festival.

Since then, the event has taken place 28 times and grown to embrace 177,500 people, who are even now descending on the Somerset site for this year's festivities.

But a select few can claim to have been to every - or almost every - Glastonbury.


Image caption The 1971 festival attracted 15,000 fans. Photo: Brian Walker/Glastonbury40.com

Many music fans would envy Brian Walker, possibly the only person to have been to the UK's most famed festival every single time - apart from organiser Michael Eavis.

It is ironic, then, that he should say: "I've never gone to the festival for the music, quite frankly. I'm not a music fan."

Mr Walker is a photographer who first covered the event for local papers in 1970.

"It was one of many jobs," he recalls. "It didn't seem out of the ordinary at the time. I was only there for a couple of hours.

"I missed Marc Bolan and everyone else, not that I knew who Marc Bolan was. I took a few snaps of punters and hippies hanging around and that was about it.

"I was probably wearing a collar and tie at the time and probably stood out like a sore thumb."

But Mr Walker grew fond of the festival when he soaked in its celebratory spirit the following year - a free event that established Glastonbury's legend.

"I think I stayed up all night on the solstice," he says. "It was the time of love and peace and free lentil soup. The whole world was there. 1971 was really the height of hippydom."

The festival became more edgy in the 1980s, he says, before being embraced by the mainstream in the mid-1990s, after problems with travellers were resolved and a new security fence was erected.

"I preferred the old days much better, but I do understand that the world's changed and the festival had to move on," he says.

"In the late 70s, the local kids, including my daughter, just used to walk down the lane and crawl through the hedge.

"I can't say it's got worse - it's like having double yellow lines and parking meters. We all hate double yellow lines and parking meters, but if we didn't have them there'd be chaos."

Mr Walker's photographs, along with those by six other festival photographers, will go on show at the Glastonbury 40 exhibition at the Atkinson Gallery, Somerset, from 12 July.


Image caption Andrew Kerr doused ley lines to determine where the main stage should be

The first Glastonbury took place in 1970, but several key ingredients did not appear until 1971.

The first Pyramid Stage was constructed that year and was sited in its current position, near mythical ley lines. It was also called Glastonbury - as opposed to the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival - and its spiritual element was in the ascendant.

The driving forces behind the 1971 festival were Andrew Kerr, former personal assistant to Sir Winston Churchill's son Randolph; and Arabella Churchill, Sir Winston's granddaughter - rather than Mr Eavis.

Many believe that that event set the template for the future and created the ethos that led to the festival's enduring popularity.

"I made Michael into a millionaire but I'm on benefits," says Mr Kerr, now 76.

Mr Kerr decided to hold a festival after being disenchanted with the "commercialism and corruption" at the Isle of Wight in 1970, where Jimi Hendrix played.

Although he did not attend in 1970, Mr Kerr persuaded Mr Eavis to let him stage another event on the farm. A friend of Hendrix, Mr Kerr says the guitarist had agreed to perform at his event. But he died in September 1970.

Mr Kerr dowsed the ley lines - thought to have ancient mythical energy - to determine where the stage, originally made out of scaffolding, should sit.

He also changed the festival's name. "I'm living in London and I'd never heard of Pilton. But I'd heard of Glastonbury and been there several times," he says.

Like many veterans, Mr Kerr has misgivings about the festival's current size.

"They asked me to say something at the end of the '71 festival, and I was feeling very emotional about it because I thought it was so beautiful. And I said, 'this one's too big.'"

But like most veterans, he goes back every year. This weekend, he will be found in a caravan in the theatre area. He is also preparing his autobiography, which will be published in time for the 40th anniversary of his event, next year.

And the festival's current incarnation is still imbued with some of the original's character, he believes.

"Have you ever been to the Glastonbury festival?" he asks. "Did you notice, when you went in through the gates and were in there, it's a different sort of atmosphere, isn't it?

"It's tangible, it's palpable. It's that energy. There's nothing like this site anywhere - you can go to rock festivals wherever you like but this has that extra bit of what I call spirit."


Image caption Hawkwind, with Nik Turner (second right), were favourites in the early years

"I went to most of the Glastonbury festivals," says Nik Turner, a former member of Space rock crusaders Hawkwind. "I may have gone to all of them, I'm not quite sure."

Hawkwind were one of the main musical attractions at the first event and even used Worthy Farm to rehearse before the festival was launched.

Michael Eavis "felt that bands rehearsing there stimulated the milk production of his cows", Mr Turner explains.

"We went to the festival and had some sort of tipi that we'd constructed and were living in on the side of the hill.

"Everyone was camped on the hill facing the stage. There were maybe a thousand people there. We did our gig and it was really very exciting.

"I remember we had some sort of parade march around the site as well with Twink, who was one of the drummers from the Pink Fairies."

The atmosphere in the early years was "really wild and wacky", he recalls.

"It was a wonderful event. It was the infancy of alternative culture. There were quite a lot of hippies and beatniks, and people who experimented with drugs. A lot of people dancing around naked and rolling in the mud. But it was all pretty harmless."

Mr Turner has performed most years since, and will be returning with two bands this year. With one, Space Ritual, he will perform with two other members of the Hawkwind line-up that played at the original.

They will be recreating the spirit of 1970 in The Rabbit Hole on Saturday night.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites