With the world’s largest greenfield music and performing arts festival on the horizon, let’s take a look back at some of the memorable moments from its history.
£1 Tickets, Free Milk & Hell’s Angels
In its first year, and known as the Pilton Festival, those attending not only had the likes of T.Rex and Stackridge to enjoy but also a cheap ticket, milk from the farm and Hell’s Angels, hired as security, getting hammered and setting fire to a hay wagon.
A Shift in Direction?
After The Smiths were announced as headliners this was, for many, the first sign the festival was moving away from basing itself around the ethics of the hippie movement and instead was veering more towards mainstream culture. Despite this, fans revelled in the band’s set as some made it onstage and draped themselves over lead singer Morrissey.
The Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge
The festival was overshadowed by clashes between police and new age travellers, culminating in a full-on fight. Molotov cocktails, cars on fire and countless arrests resulted in the prevention of the 1991 festival and a major rethink. Returning in 1992 with a ten foot high fence and an exclusion zone, with travellers told to stay away (though festival founder Michael Eavis continues to employ those he can trust), the face of the festival had changed forever.
A Legend Humbled and Dance Here to Stay
Johnny Cash received a heroes’ welcome, causing him to choke up, as he tore into a set packed with classics. In the same year, also Glastonbury’s TV debut, Orbital proved to a wider audience that dance music could not only stand toe-to-toe with rock but was here to stay. It was also a testament of the varying genres of music the festival strives every year to represent.
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Jarvis Cocker and his Britpop band were drafted in at such short notice to replace the Stone Roses, after guitarist John Squire had broken his collarbone in a mountain-biking accident, they had to camp on-site. A stylish, witty set turned the band’s Common People from an enjoyable, clever track into an iconic anthem. The band’s triumphant return in 2011, which swamped the Park Stage, was further proof of their and the track’s enduring appeal.
‘Glastonbury’s Finest Ever Set’
Sleet, rain and equipment failure are hardly ideal ingredients for a headlining slot. Yet Radiohead rose above the horrendous conditions to reach a new high and deliver a performance that had even the harshest critics of their alternative, experimental sound joining in, leading Michael Eavis to declare it as the festival’s best set yet.
Dawn of the Super Fence
Gate-crashing had always been a regular occurrence at Glastonbury, but this year it reached a whole new level. 100,000 tickets were sold, but as many as 300,000 people attended. Safety concerns meant a fine of £15,000 and a licence for 2001 being denied. The enforced fallow year was spent tightening security and the construction of a 12 foot tall fence that would circle the site. Veteran festival-goers described it as the death of the festival, but with Glastonbury’s future in jeopardy, there was little alternative. Despite this, the festival remains sponsor-free and continues to give away millions to charity every year. For many, despite the festival’s new appeal to Middle England, it’s a compromise they’ve learned to accept, if not love.
A Triumphant Return
30 years after first playing, David Bowie came back to find the crowd eating of his hand as if he’d never been away. He even wore the same jacket to mark the occasion. For co-organiser Emily Eavis ‘it really felt like he was so pleased to be back and he really connected with it in a great way’. It remains one of her favourite musical moments in the history of Glastonbury.
Young or old, hippie or city worker, it didn’t matter – class and social divides came tumbling down like the Berlin Wall as Sir Paul McCartney’s classic song erupted from the stage, resulting in one of the biggest sing-alongs in the festival’s history
Mud, Mud Glorious Mud
Glastonbury is well-known for its mud and it became national news as two months’ worth of rain fell in two hours, a once-in-a-100-year occurrence. It prompted mud surfing whilst the cost of dinghy’s skyrocketed. Many tents were washed away. All in all, with the help of the onsite welfare, everyone pulled through and were greeted on Sunday by sunshine and a promise from organisers to improve the drainage system.
Hip-hop comes to Pilton
Controversy arose when Jay Z was announced as a headline act. Many, including the likes of Noel Gallagher, believed rap had no place at the festival. Like jam meeting mayonnaise in a sandwich, it couldn’t possibly work. The combination proved a winner though as the superstar rapper seduced the crowd with the aforementioned Gallagher’s Wonderwall before launching into a storming set. Could 2015’s Saturday headliner, Kanye West, follow in his footsteps and disprove the haters?
Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen!
A humble, gracious and legendary gravel-voiced singer, scorching Sunday evening sun and one of the greatest songs of all time, Hallelujah… Put them all together and what do you get? A singalong to rival 2004’s Hey Jude and utter joy.
‘Fuck the Curfew!’
Having already played a barnstorming show, Bruce Springsteen further endeared himself to a wowed crowd by deciding to ignore the strict time restrictions by playing for a further 40 minutes. Festival organisers were handed a £3,000 fine, but everyone watching would’ve gladly chipped in if asked to cover the cost.
It’s difficult to know how to best celebrate a 40th anniversary, but Glastonbury received a fitting tribute. A glorious, hit-filled set from Stevie Wonder to close the sun-drenched weekend under a starlit night, culminating in a duet of Happy Birthday with Michael Eavis, went some way to showing how much the festival meant to people over the years. It truly was a vintage year. Michael himself commented, ‘It has been the best party for me – the weather, the full moon and last night a crowd of 100,000 people, every single one enjoying themselves.’ Here’s to the next 40 years!
The first woman to headline in nearly 20 years, Beyoncé made up for the lack of female participants by combining the festival’s past with modern pop. Singing a hippie chant as she emerged onto the Pyramid Stage she effortlessly produced a dynamic performance that would have delighted stadiums around the globe, let alone a field in Somerset. Tears streamed as she finished emphatically with the power ballad Halo as the crowd’s realisation that the festival wouldn’t be back for another two years began to hit home.
Good Things Come to Those who Wait
Michael Eavis had been trying to get The Rolling Stones to perform since Glastonbury’s inception. More than 40 years later and in the band’s 50th year he finally got his wish. Some things are just meant to be… The Stones and Glastonbury combined to produce an evening that will be etched into rock and roll folklore.
Thunderbolt and Lightening, Very Very Frightening!
Bands, including Rudimental, were in full flow until a storm meant stages had to be completely powered down and sets cut as lightening prowled the site. Hail made an unwelcome appearance instead as everyone ran for cover, leaving acts including Elbow to wonder if they’d ever be able to make it on for their slot.
What are your unforgettable Glastonbury moments? Let us know below.