The 135,000 fans enjoying the live music at this year’s Glastonbury festival won’t be giving much thought to how it all began. They will just know that it’s the place to be for the true music lover and that it’s the best and biggest festival of its kind in the country.

To give it its full name, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts was born in 1970 when local farmer Michael Eavis saw Led Zeppelin perform at the open air Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. He resolved to hold a similar event on his own farm near Pilton in Somerset and, with cash from some investors, built a stage and the rest is history.

The first festival, then called the Pilton Festival featured T. Rex (who replaced the Kinks) and sold 1500 tickets. It was well received and was followed up in 1971 with David Bowie headlining and 12,000 tickets sold.

There was a hiatus until till 1978 when a small unplanned event came together and the following year the festival was revived to support the Year of the Child, but despite good ticket sales it lost money.

In 1981, the festival was revived again with Eavis in charge, Organised in conjunction with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), it made a profit for the first time (£20,000 being donated to CND). From then on the festival was to become a regular feature on the calendar and has been held annually since with the occasional year being missed to allow the ground – and the local residents – a break. This was also the beginning of a long association with charities. Children’s World, for example, was founded in 1981 as a result of the success of the Children’s World area at the festival and Glastonbury now supports Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid.

By the end of the decade, ticket sales had leapt from 18,000 in 1981 to 70,000 in 1990, but attendance was impossible to assess, as many visitors broke in by scaling the fence. 1990, however, saw serious trouble after the close of the festival when New Age travellers, who had been able to access the site for free, clashed with festival security at the ‘Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge’.

Following a year off to reassess its organisation, the festival returned in 1992 bigger and better than before and has since gone from strength to strength. Though ticket sales remained steady, huge numbers breached the security fence on a regular basis and it is estimated that numbers at the 1995 festival doubled as a result. 1995, however, was a very successful year and was the first year to see the introduction of a dance tent – a regular feature that has expanded since then.

With 1996 off, the festival returned in 1997 stronger again and with major sponsorship from the Guardian and the BBC. However, continuing problems with interlopers saw the local council suspend its licence in the interests of public safety – despite ticket sales of 100,000, actual attendance in 1999 and 2000 was around 250,000 as people jumped the fence. The result was a break in 2001 that saw the Mean Fiddler Organisation invited to help.

Glastonbury Year 2000

The 2002 festival was held with a brand new security fence that was so effective that there were some disturbances caused by disgruntled would-be festival goers who hadn’t paid and could no longer scale the fence. Since then, however, the festival has been run smoothly and this year boasts ticket sales of 135,000, all sold in less than two hours. With a hiatus in 2012 due to the London Olympics – Glastonbury Festival will be welcomed back from 26th-30th June 2013, with a name dropping line-up from Mumford & Sons, Artic Monkey, Professor Green and The Vaccines to the ever entertaining Sir Bruce Forsyth.

Glastonbury Flooded

The Glastonbury festival has had years of flood and years of sunshine but fans keep flocking back unperturbed by mud or bone hard ground. It’s easy to understand as the greatest names in contemporary music are always on the programme – Cold Play, Rod Stewart, R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, Kings of Leon, U2, Beyonce and Oasis; the list just goes on.

Image credits: Jay Gooby and Chris Ford (CC BY 2.0)

One Response to “A Short History of the Glastonbury Festival”

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