Glastonbury: History in the Making



So, it’s over a month since the last reveller left Worthy Farm in the UK’s West Country – home to the world’s most famous and celebrated outdoor music event – The Glastonbury Festival. Nearly 180,000 people came and went and they’re still talking about Beyonce‘s stunning Sunday show, as well as everything else that went on there over five mad and magical days in June. Outside, the mud has dried up and this corner of England is already looking cleaner and greener. And inside, in the farmhouse, founder Michael Eavis and his youngest daughter Emily, are limbering up for their daily sparring session.

“It’s a bit tame, this question and answer thing,” says Michael. “Where’s it going to go?” “It’s perfect,” counters Emily. “Let’s see how it goes…”

Emily Eavis: How has the Festival changed since you started it?
Michael Eavis
: The best things come out of accidents, like the discovery of penicillin. That’s the way it has always worked here too. Right from the start there’s been a constant striving to address things that aren’t quite right…that’s taken us up a gear every time a new Festival comes round. 41 years now. We don’t get to a point and say that’s it. We’re always building new things into the event. We’ve also got an enormous responsibility for all the people who put so much of their lives and their creativity into the show.

Emily Eavis: Where did you think it was going to head?
Michael Eavis
: Well, we have famously said, haven’t we, that we treat each Festival as if it is the last and that always seems to make the news for the wrong reasons! What it really means that we aim to put on the best possible show each and every time; not playing safe and not holding anything back. Once we’d found our feet, and our purpose, by the third Festival in 1979, when we came out for CND, looking back, yes, we had created something we could build on. But the strength of Glastonbury Festival is not down to a blueprint or a long term plan; it’s down to making the day to day decisions that are right for the Festival and the people who contribute to it.

Emily Eavis: 1979 was the year I was born, so I missed that one by a couple of weeks! Fast forward. What do the recent line-ups say about global music culture?
Michael Eavis
: “I do think we’ve leapfrogged over everyone else in recent years. There’s definitely been a widening of the cultural spectrum; opening the door to different types of music. JAY Z in 2008 was a huge booking; the success of that opened the door to everything that followed. It opened the door to hip hop obviously, but it also opened the door to the other huge American acts who saw what was possible. Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder. Then this year, when we had the three biggest headliners you could imagine – U2, Coldplay and Beyonce – but each completely different. You can’t put on a Teddy Bears’ Picnic and get away with it. You need the headliners. We always have to be optimistic and we always have to take the risks!

Michael Eavis: [Emily,] What has it been like for you to see the Festival evolve?
Emily Eavis
: Well obviously I grew up with it, and then came back to help out in the 1990s when my mum (Jean Eavis, who died in 1999) was very ill. But there did come a point when I was able to say, “Dad, can I have a proper job?” Because I was thinking, I don’t quite know what my job really is here! We got an extension to the land we use for 2007 and there were discussions about a new performance area and I was able to say: “Is there any chance I could do that area?” Which is where the Park came about. We went up there on New Year’s Day and immediately started drawing things on the map. Suddenly it was all the things I’d been “helping” with; an area of land, a budget – my own field! We had Africa Express the first year, which was magical, and it has grown from there. We had unannounced gigs from Radiohead and Pulp this year, although it is a tiny stage compared to the Pyramid, and that was pretty special.”

Michael Eavis: Where do you see the Festival going?
Emily Eavis
: We’re coming into the year off (Glastonbury Festival will enjoy its traditional ‘fallow year’ in 2012, but will be back in 2013) and that’s always the time when we get down to talking about what’s going right and what isn’t working so well.  At the moment I really want to ask you: “Michael, why are you being so negative about the future?” But I know you so well that I’m sure I already know the answer. “Michael just has so many day to day things to deal with, some of the comments he makes don’t always come across in quite the right way. Especially to the press! He gives them good headlines, so obviously they’ll keep coming back. But the story of the Festival, and Michael, gets bigger each year. So we’ll probably both still be stuck with things we’ve said for quite a while yet.”

Michael Eavis: Finally, what was this year’s Festival like for you?
Emily Eavis
: Really incredible, as I had my first child, George Albie Eavis Dewey, just a couple of weeks before the gates opened. So it was “hands on” for me in quite a lot of different ways this year, and really, really memorable. Pretty memorable for you too I reckon; your 16th grandchild, just before the Festival.

Michael and Emily Eavis photo by Alun Callender