An intimate chat about the festival - from the organisational challenges involved in running such a huge affair to the ethical and practical reasons why people can not jump the fence any more.
Imagine our excitement when the big man, the ‘Godfather’ of festivals and the most famous farmer in the world invited us down, not only for a good old chat, but also to give us a personal guided tour of Worthy Farm – which regularly becomes The Glastonbury Festival. The site was hauntingly quiet without the hundred thousand festival goers we would usually see there, but still retained its uniquely enchanting air.
As Michael drove us around the rolling green fields in his land rover, we talked about the festival – from the organisational challenges involved in running such a huge affair to the ethical and practical reasons why people can not jump the fence any more… Here are some highlights from the conversation…
Virtual Festivals: So, why is buying a ticket is so important this year?
Michael Eavis: We’re making the case that you need to buy a ticket for three reasons. One there’s the upgraded security patrols, the engineering of the fences and the fact that you won’t even be able to get a bus to the site or a car into the carpark without tickets; two there’s the responsibility everyone has for the future of the festival; and three there’s the moral duty towards the charities – Oxfam, Water Aid, Greenpeace – who all benefit enormously from the money raised by the festival. That last one is massively important – without the festival the money will just stop. Do people care about that? I hope they do.
So what about people who just think the fence and security is a big challenge?
Whether or not people see the security and the engineering as a reason to buy a ticket or simply a challenge isn’t really that important. What people should realise is how vital the other two points are. I don’t want people to think that we intend this to be the last Glastonbury Festival – but whether it is or not is down to how people behave this year. It’s a bit like looking after the environment – we all have to act responsibly or we’ll mess it up for everyone else.
Ultimately we’re spending more – a lot more – on the organisation of the festival this year. But it’s a fine line between what we spend now and being able to keep it running in the future.
Of course you’re probably more in tune with what people are intending to do aren’t you? I mean, people tend to tell me what they want me to hear don’t they… they’re not telling me the truth most of the time!
Well there’s a fundamental cultural problem with the rock ideal of being anti-establishment, just goes with the territory doesn’t it?
Yeah, I guess we are pretty established now after 32 years. But I was watching the hippy film about Woodstock the other day, and they really missed the point when they tried it again [in 1999]… I mean all that Woodstock non-refundable plastic money, it was a real racket! That’s why they had all the trouble with people burning stalls. We don’t get any of that because people know that we’re doing it right. That’s why we’ve lasted so long.
It’s certainly true that in relative terms there’s very little trouble at the festival when you compare it to a Saturday night in pretty much any major town.
That’s right, there’s no real conflict – just a few individuals who make the headlines.
And what about ticket sales this year?
Excellent. We started selling them late because of the licence hold-up, but they went so much faster than any other year – it’s fantastic really.
And is there any reason behind not actually sending tickets out yet to people who have paid so far? Are you trying to reduce the risk of forgeries?
Oh nothing that sinister. Again, because of the uncertainty with getting the licence we didn’t get to order the paper until late. Its specially made in Scandinavia. We’re not worried about forgeries because you just can’t copy these tickets – they’ve got so many built in security features.
[Michael stops the land rover beside a deep trench]
Is this where the fence is going in?
That’s it. There’s not much to see at the moment; we’re just preparing the ground and closing off anywhere people might try to get underneath. We’ve put concrete sleepers into any drainage tunnels – so I’d hate to be anyone who tried that way in because they’d get stuck half way! You probably already know that the fence is connected to the metal roadway and so you can’t dig under it. It’s also fully interlocking, so to take it apart you’d have to start with the very first panel!
What about this little field here? It looks like a bit of a secret garden.
Ah. This is Roy’s field. He was a traveller through the 80’s and we were always banging heads over this and that, but last time out he decided to come over and join us, so this is where he did his ballroom dancing. It went down brilliantly, so we’re giving him more space this year – it’s going to be called ‘Lost Vagueness’! The undergound piano bar’s going to grow this year as well.
Is Jools going to be back again then – we caught the duet you did with him in the piano bar last festival… fantastic stuff!
Yes, he’ll be back. The piano bar is a great feature… but of course like everything it was best the first time they did it when it was really small and a bit of a secret and just sort of happened all by itself.
What happens in this field – I don’t remember seeing this one before?
Oh this is the backstage campsite. It’s where all the crews camp and hang out and just sort of have a good time by themselves… it’s sort of like a festival within the festival.
How many people make up the crew?
I guess about 30-40,000… that’s performers, helpers, stewards, traders and police.
That’s as many people as go to most of the other ‘major’ festivals!
With the huge numbers who come every year are there any who get tempted to just stay on when everyone else has gone home?
Well we always get the farm back – as you can see, it’s just a farm right now. But yes there’s often a few who try to stay around, but we shift them in the end. We’ve got all the technique worked out… we know how to persuade them!
…I guess you always have the cattle prods…
Oh we even had to resort to releasing the bulls one year… that worked well!
So changing the subject, do you still get a bit excited around now?
Even after over 30 years it’s difficult not to – and this year maybe even more so with having taken a year off and with having so much to prove about being able to make it all work the way we have to. And there’s so many people want to get involved. All the bands want to play, all the theatre groups are coming on board… everyone just wants to get involved.
So with everyone so positive about coming along and being part of Glastonbury do you really still think that the authorities might eventually stop it?
Well if they did then what could we do? It’s not like it used to be. If we don’t get the license we don’t get to hold the festival. It really is as simple as that!
And I guess that the responsibility for safety and suchlike eventually rests with the people who are granting the license – even if it’s you that ends up in Court?
A bit like that Shirley Porter fiasco in Westminster where she got a bill for millions? Ultimately none of the official agencies who were asked to look at the application recommended refusing it… not even the police. So it really would be impossible for anyone to accuse the Council of making a poor decision.
But it’s votes as much as money, surely?
Well not really – I mean the Festival is a real vote winner whatever happens… the votes really are very good!