The Glastonbury festival has gradually attained the status of some kind of cultural institution. It is as familiar a part of the British calendar as the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon, and the Last Night of the Proms. It makes the front pages of most national newspapers and gets covered by TV and radio. The scale of the event has become immense.
It had all begun in summer 1970 when Methodist dairy farmer Michael Eavis attended the Bath festival and liked the music and colourful hippie types in evidence. He contemplated the idea of a similar sort of gathering at his own Worthy Farm, six miles away from Glastonbury near the village of Pilton, which his family had worked since 1894. Later that year, in September, a small-scale event took place. A mere 1,500 people saw Marc Bolan’s T Rex headline. It was enough of a success to be noticed but Eavis lost money nonetheless.
At this point, visionary initiative was added to the dynamic. Andrew Kerr had been personal assistant to Randolph Churchill, Sir Winston’s son. When Randolph had died, Kerr sought a fresh outlet for his energies. He read John Michell’s The View Over Atlantis, the classic 1969 work on ley lines and sacred geometry, and was inspired by the idea of reviving the celebration of the summer solstice. He had the funds to set his dream in motion. After the success of the small Pilton gathering, Kerr realised the possibilities of the site and approached Michael Eavis who readily agreed to his plans. A charming tale tells how Kerr was atop Glastonbury Tor when he saw a rainbow that seemed to descend onto the Worthy Farm area. This confirmed for him that it was the necessary location.
The contents of The View Over Atlantis hung in the air, like an esoteric energy transmission, around the inception of the 1971 festival. Powerful forces were at work. The story of the famous pyramid stage is a good example of that. In 1970 Bill Harkin was camping with a friend on the south coast of England. One night, gazing at the stars over the sea, he experienced an intense feeling of light. He decided to allow himself to be guided by it and they set off in his car, navigating solely through the vibe, with no sense whatever of any destination. Eventually they saw a road-sign for Glastonbury and arrived at the Tor. The synchronisation beam got them there in time to meet a group of extravagantly dressed hippie characters descending from the summit. One of them was Andrew Kerr. He and his friends were on their way to meet Michael Eavis to discuss the possibilities of a solstice festival the following year. Harkin fed them with tea, honey and oatcakes. They exchanged phone numbers. The next Wednesday, Harkin was out driving when he saw a vision of Andrew Kerr’s face on an upcoming phone-box. He immediately stopped and rang him. The news was that the festival had been given the go-ahead and that Kerr and his associates were moving in to Worthy Farm to begin the preparations. Harkin offered to help them that weekend. On the Thursday night he dreamt of a stage with two beams of light forming a pyramid. He was impressed enough to take the morning off work and make a small cardboard model of his vision. Within a few days he arrived on the Festival site. Kerr showed him a location he had dowsed as being auspicious for the stage to be constructed upon. Harkin recognised his dream landscape. Before long, his model was on a table at the farm and a phone call was being made to John Michell for advice on the sacred dimensions for the pyramid stage.
When the whole thing finally came to fruition months later, Kerr introduced the bands with this inspiring invocation: “Glastonbury is a place far too beautiful for yet another rock festival. If the festival has a specific intention it is to create an increase of awareness in the power of the Universe, a heightening of consciousness and a recognition of our place in the function of this, our tired and molested planet. We have spent too long telling the Universe to shut up; we must search for the humility to listen. The Earth is groaning for contact with our ears and eyes. Universal awareness touches gently at our shoulders. We are creators being created and we must prove our worth.”
What followed became a mythic event. Fortunately for posterity, the festival was filmed by David Puttnam and Nicholas Roeg and later released as Glastonbury Fayre. The event worked on many levels. Most obviously, it was a rock festival and a truly impressive line-up was assembled. Traffic, Arthur Brown, Daevid Allen’s Gong, Fairport Convention, David Bowie, Hawkwind and Quintessence, provided a time capsule of the musical vibe of the era.
By all accounts it was a splendid time for all. All except the local residents, who had felt like they were on the receiving end of some sort of alien invasion. A number of the festival-goers and others who had connected to it inevitably became interested in Glastonbury itself. The place loomed large in The View Over Atlantis and John Michell’s earlier classic of psychedelic ufology, The Flying Saucer Vision. Strange hippies had been visiting the town in small numbers since the mid-sixties. Now they became increasingly visible, getting banned from local pubs and not exactly welcomed with open arms. By the mid-seventies a few idealistic types had settled there. The opening of the now-famous Gothic Image shop began the transformation of the High Street into the New Age Mecca it has now become.
Something of the 1971 mood still lingers in the further reaches of the festival fields. The mysticism and vibes still work their magic. The festival can be seen as a unity with the spiritual experiment occurring all the year round in the town of Glastonbury itself. People come here and change. Some quality of the place inspires them very deeply. Come and experience this for yourself.
Text adapted from material in Avalonian Aeon by Paul Weston, which contains a far more extensive account of the mystical roots of the festival.