Glastonbury Festival in Pilton, Somerset (Jun. 23rd to 26th, 2011)

Intro – Times They Are A-Changin Like A Rolling Stone…
Special Feature – Intro – Times They Are A-Changin Like A Rolling Stone… @ Pilton, Somerset, England 2011.06.23 – 26

Glastonbury Festival
“I guess what Bob Dylan and Donovan were singing about… I just wanted to make it true like creating a paradise where people with alternative mind can come and get together once a year. It is like a romantic approach to a paradise.”

It was about a quarter of a century ago when I first met the organizer of this world known Glastonbury Festival at his farm house located at the edge of the festival site. I could not re-create his words exactly anymore, but, as far as I left in my articles I wrote at the time in Japanese, he did mentioned those words about his idea behind the festival.

The festival is located in Worthy Farm in a small village called Pilton which is an outsirt of Shepton Mallet near Glastonbury in Somerset. Michael Eavis is not anything like a concert promoter as such but a farmer running this farm and very proud of a prize given as one of the best milk makers in the area. Well, it was my impression of him back in the mid 80′s and now he is a world famous figure without any doubt, but, at least to me, I believe, he still would see himself a farmer rather than a big festival producer.

WoodstockMy first experience of this festival was in 1982. Remember this was almost 30 years ago, away before we started having what we call a festival culture and there was no venues providing music having audience on floor, but almost all were held at a seated venue in Japan at the time. Having those in your mind and guess how incredible it was for me to be there. It was like a getting on a time machine and dropped into the original Woodstock. The number of the people there was not that massive in comparison with Woodstock, but the scene branded on my memory looks like a sleeve photo of the original soundtrack album of Woodstock.

Graduated from University, with no idea of future might turn up or down, I was spending some time in the UK at the time and happened to visit the Glastonbury Festival. Even though I had enough culture shock then, I would never even have imagined myself becoming a regular visitor to the festival for 30 years. In fact, except 95 when I was forced to be in hospital, I was there as a journalist at the festival every time it was held since 1984.

Michael EavisOccasionally I change a route to get to the festival from London, but mostly taking M4 to the West and going down onto the South at either exit 17 or 18. Driving on a country road running through soft waves of green hills and some tunnels of green trees, when a sight of enormous amounts of colorful tents in green fields comes in, it is almost there even though sometimes it takes hours to reach caused by a heavy traffic jam. Still it is an introduction of overwhelming excitement of a festival though.

Started off as a tiny gathering under influence of Birth Blues Festival back in 1970, The Glastonbury Fayre was into hibernation mostly throughout the 70′s caused by financial loss of the one held in 71 which was filmed as “Glastonbury Fayre” at the time. It was in the 80′s during which Glastonbury Festival was growing fast as a major British event with new blood of CND, Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament. Thinking of a future of the youngest daughter, Emily, Michael Eavis approached to CND when there was a massive danger of limited nuclear war caused by NATO’s setting up IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) in Europe including The UK. As a reaction to that, there were a series of massive demonstration against Nuclear Armament all over Europe and the major force of the movement in the UK was CND for which Michael decided to donate the profit of the festival instead of them giving a help providing a lot of volunteer workers. It was the time the Glastonbury Festival was leaving an old image of a hippie gathering.

You may not believe this, but it was not unusual at all at the time to find some notices of “No Hippies” at a pub around that area in the festival period while there was some direct pressure from some conservative politicians mentioning directly that Michael could have had permission to organize a festival by getting a rid of CND. Along with those, there are some musicians refusing to appear the festival because of political background. Rooted in the 60′s flower movement, Glastonbury Festival was partly a traditional fayre fusing the alternative movement and music culture and growing with some complex and sensitive mixture of political & business factors.

Glastonbury FestivalBy the end of the 80′s, there was a sign of detente symbolized by a fall of Berlin Walls and it seems a risk of an immediate limited nuclear war faded away. With a change of the time and political climate, Glastonbury Festival was approaching to some organizations dealing with environmental issues such as Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aide. There was, I guess, a rise of the public awareness of those issues as well as a massive charm to music business which helped the growth of the festival and it was becoming a gigantic event of Britain. I remember a turning point was 1995 when the original Pyramid was burned down just before the festival started and the replacement of a huge tent stage with the same name had Oasis. It was a beginning of their phenomenal success as well as the festival itself.

The growth of the festival was escalated when we opened a door to the 21st century and, without any doubt, it now has become the biggest festival in Europe. The size of the festival site was getting bigger along with the number of the stages. Along with a newly build Pyramid Stage, there are several new major stages such as John Peel Stage named after his contribution as the top radio DJ in the UK to the festival after his death. Also there are countless small stages for not only music, but theatre, cinemas, circus or any kind of alternative entertainment were being born in bars and restaurants or where-ever possible.

Now the size of the festival, excluding the parking areas is 1,100 acres which is more than 100 times bigger than Tokyo Dome which have about 46000 seats and, we hear, about 140,000 tickets were sold out this year. However the number does not includes kids less than 12 years of age who can get in for nothing as well as people like us working as a press, musician, music business people or those working for the festival. No matter what, it is like having a big city in the middle of nowhere in Somerset and Glastonbury Festival is incredibly huge.

Glastonbury FestivalA long time ago, Glastonbury Festival was compared with Reading Festival and the both were the top2 big ones in the UK, but it is a history now. For the last 10 years or so, there are so many what-you-call festivals everywhere from begging to the end of summer. In fact it appears like a festival bubble economy was hitting music industry and even at Glastonbury we experienced some ugly business advertisement in the site some years back. But it seems Glastonbury has gone back to the roots again in some way keeping a distance from silly commercialism particularly this year.

At the entrance of the press tent, there was small banner saying “Make Your Own Headline” and behind the reception, we could all see a big parody drawing of world known Hokusai’s masterpiece. “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” with a line, “Wave Nuclear Power Goodbye”. I was feeling similar vibes of the people there when I first contacted them back in 1984 if there was any chance for us to show a movie about Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the cinema tent of the festival and they were delighted to help and co-operate with us. This time, the same thing was happening. A London based Japanese female sax player, Megumi, known as a member of The Trojans, The Top Cats or Ska Cubano and originally from Soma-City in Fukushima was approaching to them. Straight after the news of disaster in Japan, particularly about Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident, she formed a group called Kimono Girls to ask donations for the victims all over in London and she was asking to do something at the festival site. Nothing stopped them. The girls were there from a tiny club to press conference, appealing a need of a help for Fukushima. Well, Megumi even played with Lee Perry as a surprise guest, we hear.

Glastonbury Festival
This year we did not see a fat daily paper with full of advertisement which appeared nothing but a waist of paper and commercialism.

“Simply too commercial, we found, and decided to go back to where we are”.

I hear from one of the press officers there and instead of that piles of advertisement, they decided to make one page paper called “The Glastonbury Firelighter” which perhaps worked for those campers setting a campfire in the site, but there we could see lots of alternative information of the festival. I guess there is another sense of the name to keep an organic light up of the alternative movement.

My 30th anniversary since the first experience of Glastonbury Festival started off on Wednesday. I used to come to the site on Thursday, but the doors opens on Tuesday now. To find the best camping space, so many people head for the site on Wednesday for the last few years, we know, and I hear there were 134000 people there when officially the festival started on Thursday there.

Glastonbury FestivalFrom Wednesday to Friday, it was basically rainy and the site was covered by the sea of mud. In addition to that, it was freezing cold by night and I needed to wrap myself in 2 sleeping bags to worm up and have decent sleep while , from Saturday, the climate brought us burning hot summer. It was like a typical experience of hell and heaven of British festival.

As usual, we, Smashing Mag, has some photographers joined forces to cover this gigantic event. But along with them I asked some veteran photographers like Mitch Ikeda and Jay Inoue, a regular visitor to Glastonbury for the last quarter of a century, give us their reports as well as young and fresh photographers of Smashing Mag. It is very interesting to see how they found the festival.

The main part of the reports will be a bunch of photos of the musicians played live at the festival and t is inevitable as there are thousands of bands and artists played here. While the headliners like U2, Coldplay and Biyonce attracted more than 100,000 people covered in front of the Pyramid Stage, some secret acts like Rediohead or Pulp surprised were driving the audience mad at a tiny stages and some legendary musicians like B.B. King or Paul Simon were there as well. For a music fan, it was like a heavenly experience even just to be here and share the same time and space.

Glastonbury FestivalStill I am curious as well to see their overall photo document of the festival which surely tells us how each of the photographers from a different generation to see this massive fayre through their experiences. Hopefully it will tell you why Glastonbury Festival, with a 40 year history, still is fresh and influential to us. There might be an answer behind the scene captured in the photos.

Bob Dylan released an epoch-making song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, back in 1963 and almost 50 years gone by. Surely the time is changing. Yesterday’s revolutionaries might be today’s reactionaries and the common sense of the past might be a complete absurd at present. When this Glastonbury Festival took off, what the general public might have thought that an alternative way of life was simply a hippie’s nonsense. But someway somehow, it is getting closer to norm and more influential like a rolling stone… That was what I felt at this 30th anniversary of the Glasto experience.

“Well, there are lots of differences, but nothing’s changed”

This is a phrase I hear from an old friend of mine who introduced me to this festival back in 1982 and came back with me for the first time for the last 20 years or so.What I understand from her words are that it has got so big, but what the festival is doing is the same. Perhaps what she meant was Michael Eavis’ romantic approach to a paradise is working still.


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