This summer marks 50 years since the very first Glastonbury Festival goers made their way to Worthy Farm. Paying just £1 for entry and with only 1,500 people in attendance, no one could have anticipated the longevity and impact of this fledgling festival in the rural South West.
To mark this very special anniversary we speak to Kate Bailey, a curator at the V&A, which is one of our Independent Research Organisations and the custodian of the Glastonbury Festival Archive.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us for this historic anniversary. Can you give us some background on why the V&A acquired the Glastonbury archive?
Glastonbury is the largest green field music and performing arts festival in the world. Its extraordinary history across 50 years is a celebration of decades of art, design and performance. And as well as being a stage for the world’s greatest performers it is a unique expression of British identity. It has been an epicentre of creativity, a witness to significant social, cultural and political change. Today it continues to represent some of the most creative minds who are encouraged by festival organisers to experiment and showcase innovation and artistic excellence.
Why is this anniversary important? In what ways has Glastonbury Festival contributed to cultural experience and live performance?
Glastonbury Festival has paved the way for the now extensive festival culture in the UK and overseas. It has grown in a unique and organic way from a festival attended by only 1,500 in 1970 to over 200,000 in 2019. The festival’s success is testament to the ethos of its founders, and the ongoing vision of Michael and Emily Eavis who make it all possible. Overseeing its development to a now 900 acre site, they provide a stage for countless diverse and thought provoking festival experiences. Over the course of a five day festival, Glastonbury offers an extensive range of shared, collective experiences – intimate and spectacular, popular and niche, political and fantastical.
In the context of the V&A’s wider National Collection of the Performing Arts, what does festival culture tell us about life and society beyond the arts and cultural scene?
The V&A is home to the National Collection of Performing Arts, and Glastonbury’s own history plays an important role in documenting festival culture and in bringing together a range of performances, across genres including theatre, circus and music. This collection provides a window to 50 years of performance history, and is also a mirror to society. The festival founders established Glastonbury as a platform for free-thinking people and as a stage for activism. Each year festival profits are donated to charitable causes, as the festival continues to campaign on various issues from climate change to Water Aid.
During the lockdown, AHRC launched Boundless Creativity to pioneer new ways in which culture can thrive in a digital age. Do you think this period of lockdown will drive forward digital alternatives?
Boundless Creativity is a great initiative and there is no doubt that this difficult and challenging time will also trigger pioneering creative approaches to how we create and how we experience culture. We have already seen many examples from virtual orchestras, performers live streaming from their homes in lockdown – even concerts taking place in video games. Festivals are a brilliant space for bringing together ideas and innovation, through shared experiences, and it is great to see opportunities emerging in both physical and virtual realms. Of course, we look forward to the moment when we can return to festivals and live performances again, but there is also something uplifting and connected about how the pandemic has increased our access to culture through digital experiences. I hope this increased access will develop in the future as we see new types of cultural experiences and collaborations emerge.
To mark the anniversary, how is the V&A making the Glastonbury archive and insights from the collection available digitally? How can people get involved?
We are planning seven days of activities at the V&A and there is something for everyone. For younger audiences, they can participate in our #LetsMakeWednesday festival activities by designing a flag or creating a festival look. We’ve also launched new digital content around the festival’s history, as well as features on Glastonbury, fashion and stage design, and three binaural soundscapes captured and created at the festival by award-winning sound designer, Gareth Fry. These sonic experiences are a great trigger for Glastonbury memories as they take you back to festival life at Worthy Farm!
As part of this year’s 50th anniversary celebrations, we are inviting festival goers and fans to add their memories to the Glastonbury archive. We would love to know when you visited, where your memory took place and its significance. Please send us an email via firstname.lastname@example.org
And you can also add your favourite festival track to our ultimate Spotify playlist.
Before you go, we can’t resist asking…what’s your favourite item in the Glastonbury archive and why?
I love Misty Buckley’s designs and mood boards for the development of The Park area. This is a fascinating insight into the transformation of the festival site and the creation of its iconic ribbon tower. It also reminds me of visiting the festival and witnessing great performances on the Park Stage.