The National Trust stages a rave: it could only be Glastonbury

Fri, Jun 18, 2010, 01:00

YOU KNOW the estimable Glastonbury Festival is truly in, if not beyond, the mainstream when the News of the Worldhas a “they should be taken out and shot” piece about it.

We already knew that the Trotskyites at the BBC send more people to cover Glastonbury than they did the last Olympic Games (both, coincidentally, two of the biggest drug fests on the planet), but this year “the bloated BBC is Glastobarmy” according to the red top. More than 400 Beeb staff “are off to the festival at the taxpayer’s expense” says the paper, before using the word “lavish” a couple of million times and then getting a Tory MP to give it the why-oh-whys.

The simple reason the BBC aren’t scaling back on their Glasto coverage this year is because soon they will no longer have to pay Jonathan Ross a forklift truckload of cash. The four-day festival to end all festivals kicks off next Thursday, and the BBC will be providing its usual superb coverage on TV, radio and a dedicated website.

“It’s a major cultural event,” says the broadcaster. Scratch that – it’s the most oversubscribed cultural event in the world, with some five million people throwing their names into the hat in the hope they’ll be one of the 170,000-odd to get a Willy Wonka ticket.

Everything you hear, taste, touch and feel at the modern-day rock festival owes a substantial debt to the Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival, as it was first known 40 years ago. In his authoritative book, Glastonbury: A Very English Fair, author George McKay got it in one when he wrote that the festival was “an arena for idealism, anarchy, being young, getting old disgracefully, trying to find other ways, getting out of it, hearing some great and some truly awful music” and that the festival culture it inspired is all about “a politics which admits pleasure, pop and rock music, temporary community, landscape, nature, promiscuity and narcotic”.

But every year as you pitch up in Michael Eavis’s back garden you hear the rumblings begin: it’s not like it used to be. It’s lost its soul. Too middle-class. Like the Henley Regatta with music. This sort of attitude – which invariably emanates from whey-faced indie music journalists – annoyed because “ordinary” people have now been switched on to the festival (thanks in no small part to the BBC’s coverage), has been a vuvuzela-type hum at Glastonbury since the early 1990s.

It merely distorts the real significance of the festival. Glastonbury remains a non-profit-making festival that raises a couple of million pounds each year for Greenpeace, WaterAid and Oxfam. The big-name acts that play there do so for a fraction of their usual asking price.

Granted, after the weekend is over you may feel you have been hectored at every step of the way by a bunch of very militant Greens, but they have been doing the whole ecological good-vibes bit since day one. Biodegradable tent pegs made of potatoes – where else would you get them? Every hippy-dippy add-on (“holistic”, and all that jazz) at a festival near you this summer has been transplanted wholesale from Glastonbury.

To copper-fasten Glastonbury’s heritage status, this year those crazy rock’n’roll kids at the UK’s National Trust will be making their way down to Worthy Farm. They are keen to establish formal links with the festival (as they rightly should), and their first contribution will be to provide a rave light show on the Glastonbury Tor, which they manage. The Tor – believed to be the Avalon of Arthurian legend – will be lit up each night between sunset and sunrise with a variety of groovy coloured lights.

The National Trust providing a rave light show to the thousands of kids down below – how very Glastonbury.