The Glastonbury Festival
The Glastonbury Festival started in 1970 as a quasi-jazz event held in the Somerset countryside. It started—this will be relevant later—as a free festival, although in the first year no more than 1,500 people turned up. Glastonbury differs from other music festivals because it is organised by a local farmer, Michael Eavis, on his family’s land. Indeed, the Eavis family have farmed the land for over a hundred years; they are rooted in the landscape. Over the years, the festival has grown in size and regular attendance now tops over 200,000 people—all squeezed into a small village, Pilton, with a settled population of around 900 people.
Glastonbury—or “Glasto” in irritating middle-class slang—constitutes a national institution for a certain type of British person. At university, I tagged along with this type to two different festivals—just to see what they were like—and disliked both intensely; perhaps because I hate crowds and loud noise. The festival scene in Britain appeals to roughly the middle and upper-middle-class demographic, except—and this is important—not privately educated and not identified with what might be called “traditional” Britain. These are the children of professionals who are employed as social workers or FE College lecturers; prosperous but morally priggish and identified with the “counterculture”—effectively official state culture as promoted on the BBC. Other festivals appeal to the working class—such as the V Festival—with more corporate sponsorship and mass-market bands; however, the ur-festival, Glastonbury, retains an anti-capitalist sensibility and aims to attract and support artsy acts. So the festival is itself a cultural-religious event for a certain type of middle-class youth—who do not admit they are middle class, incidentally—and a rite of passage.
Now Eavis, the Glastonbury founder, is an interesting case. His family have owned their dairy farm for generations, but they nearly lost it in the 1920s—and only held on through remortgage. The festival has restored and consolidated the family fortune, but it is much more than that. For many years, Eavis was at odds with his neighbours in the village because the festival impinged on their properties and their lives—although only five days long, the festival aftermath and preparations effectively disrupt the village for at least a month. Basically, when you crowd together 200,000 people, mostly from Britain’s urban centres, you will experience overspill. So, for years, revellers would slosh into neighbouring fields where they would defecate, take drugs, copulate, and—occasionally—savage a few sheep. Until the early 1990s, Eavis did not even fence the festival site; so although an entrance admission was charged it was effectively a free-for-all.
The level of disruption for the village varies from year-to-year, for the festival’s character has changed with sub-cultural tides in Britain. Initially, it was a festival for hippies and then, by the 1990s, it was plagued by the “children” of the hippies: the New Age travellers. The hippies were mostly middle-class dropouts and decadent aristos, perhaps they went on the dole for a laugh because it was novel; as with all social decay, the fish rots from the head downwards: the New Age travellers were those working-class and underclass youths who were inspired by the example set by the hippies and so set up a nomadic and parasitic life living off benefits and travelling by bus-caravan convoy. This phenomenon has now largely died out, but for a while these neo-gypsies roamed the countryside; and, when they turned up at Glastonbury, being rougher material than the hippies, serious disruption was the result.
Today, Glastonbury has gentrified to such an extent that you are more likely to be served artisan coffee by a man called Raphael with his hair done up in a man bun than to encounter a white Rastafarian with fleas who offers you ecstasy in a zip bag—although this type still exists. Nonetheless, gentrification notwithstanding, Glastonbury remains a serious disruption to the lives and livelihoods of local people.
Farmer Eavis comes from old Quaker and Nonconformist Methodist stock, and this is significant—for Eavis, by his own account, detests the traditional class structure in Pilton; the quasi-aristocrats, the wealthy in-comers, and the established Church of England. Eavis himself, being a landowner and farmer, is far from “working class” but he identifies as such, probably for two reasons: firstly, residual resentment over his family’s financial troubles in the 1920s; and, secondly, his religious background—even though he is technically a secular person who will not affirm Jesus was the son of God.
It used to be said that the Labour Party owed more to Methodism than Marxism. What was meant by this was that British socialism was different from continental socialism. On the continent, the social-democratic parties—such as Germany’s SPD—tended to be explicitly Marxist parties. Trade unions existed separately from these parties, so that you would find—as is still the case in France today—that there was a Communist trade union, a social-democratic trade union, and even conservative or Christian-Democrat trade unions. In Britain, the Labour Party grew out of the trade union movement to represent its interests; the British Labour Party is more like a pressure group for manual workers than an ideological project to reform the country on socialist lines. The Labour Party is the political wing of the labour movement, and the idea that there could be a “Conservative trade union” for Conservative workers would puzzle British people. Accordingly, the Labour Party was never explicitly Marxist and its socialism was fundamentally “ethical” as opposed to Marx’s “scientific” socialism.
This ethical socialism was rooted in the tradition of Methodism and Nonconformism that dominated life in, for example, the Welsh valleys where Labour’s vanguard—the coal miners—laboured. This was a world of slate chapels where all pubs were closed on Sunday and sober moralism ruled. In turn, Methodism and Nonconformism go right back in their origins to the English Civil War and to those communistic extremists that Cromwell squashed: the Ranters and the Levellers (Glastonbury’s biggest ever attendance saw a band called “the Levellers” headline). It is this tradition to which Eavis belongs and it explains why he so bitterly opposed what could be called the “natural order” of his village; for the Methodist or Nonconformist, the Church of England, the gentry, and property are common enemies to be eliminated. So even though Eavis was relatively prosperous—though resentful at the hardship his family suffered in the 1920s—he was suffused with the spirit of Methodism, Nonconformism, and Quakerism; the spirit of English ethical socialism. This explains his antagonistic stance towards towards his village and why he would establish a festival that would effectively ruin it for the people who lived there and also why he freely infringed on neighbouring properties; it was a religious principle—partly influenced by the Quaker instinct to make money while violating social norms, such as refusing to participate in the defence of a community, the Quakers being pacifists.
Accordingly, Glastonbury has always had a strong political element to it. The festival relies on volunteer labour from various left-wing political causes and in the 1980s Eavis associated the festival with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Greenpeace. Comically, Eavis was surprised that some of the acts he tried to book for Glastonbury took umbrage at his support for CND; presumably, he assumed that all pop and rock musicians are countercultural and leftists. This is far from the case, not least because a pop or rock musician can almost be a one man authority who leads the masses like a king; and, further, artists tend to seek maximal responsibility for their work—if they are any good—and so are quite sensitive as to what happens to their property, their creation. Neither of these aspects lends artists to the left, except insofar as they tend to be very chaotic in all areas except their work; and this can incline them to leftist chaos as a source of energy and creation.
In line with his Quaker roots, Eavis created a festival that was rather like Bournville, a model factory built by the Quaker Cadbury family in Birmingham to produce chocolate; it included generous provisions for the workers, a model village and sports grounds. The impetus behind chocolate manufacture was ethical: chocolate—particularly drinking chocolate—was an alternative to booze, perhaps even an alternative to the strong stimulant coffee. This broadly Nonconformist attitude towards booze and tobacco continues to influence the left today. I am convinced, though I cannot prove it, that the leftists today who stand up and praise cannabis because it is supposedly safer than booze are still captured by these Nonconformist memes; it is less that cannabis is good and more that it is not the demon alcohol or tobacco that is the point. Indeed, I think this even influences the left’s indulgent attitude towards heroin and harder narcotics; it might be bad, but at least it is not alcohol or tobacco. Again, to understand how potent these broadly prohibitionist ideas were is difficult today, but at the end of the 19th century this attitude was almost fever pitch.
Glastonbury shows the hallmarks of being an “ethical” business; it was free at the start, depends on volunteer labour, and then was not fenced for a substantial time. It is not so much an obsession with money making that is the problem, as some might think; rather, it is an interest in making money in a particular way so as to achieve religio-politico results that accounts for Glastonbury’s peculiar anti-sociality. Hence Labour’s quasi-revolutionary leader, Jeremy Corbyn, pitched up at Glastonbury one year; it is natural territory for him—and he was duly surrounded by, so it was noted at the time, his extremely white support base. Indeed, Corbyn’s old comrade on the far-left of Labour, Tony Benn, formerly Viscount Stansgate, also appeared at Glastonbury. Benn was an extremely talented orator and vied for the leadership of the Labour Party in the 1970s and 1980s; he was also from an old Nonconformist family, a distant ancestor was a noted Nonconformist preacher—Benn explicitly stated that Nonconformism informed his socialism. The Nonconformist strikes again: truly Ingsoc (1914-????) is the child of Nonconformism and the Methodist chapel.
In the early 1990s, Eavis face a challenge from a neighbour—Mrs. Goode—who might be described as a redoubtable pillar of the local establishment. A devoted Christian of the Church of England with a son who was an organ scholar at Cambridge, Goode saw Eavis in Christian terms as a bad neighbour and excoriated him as such. There are some rightists who will make much of the musical clash here; the contrast between high and low culture, beauty and ugliness or love versus fucking—it is there, but it is not, as the hippies say, my trip.
Goode’s basic point was that the overflow from the festival caused dirt, disruption, and danger to her property—to other property in the village—because the festival attendees spread out everywhere. Although she was doubtless motivated by the female compulsion to challenge any notable male in the district, her substantive points were true. Documentaries made around the time tend to emphasise that the village featured many semi-aristocrats or people who made money elsewhere—the narrators, especially from the leftist Channel 4 station, would always say this with a slight sneer.
Yet whether or not someone is rich or distinguished has no bearing on whether their property should be protected, not in a lawful society. In any case, the fallout from Glastonbury also hit perfectly modest farmers—including two relatively impoverished shepherd brothers who lived right next to it—apart from people who were rich or respectable, so their status is hardly the point. Besides, Eavis himself is now very rich from Glastonbury; does that mean it would be legitimate to drive down and mess up his farm anytime we would like?
The clash between Goode and Eavis—between Goode and Eavi(l)s—also took on a religious complexion. Goode placed a large cross on her land directly facing the festival’s central Pyramid Stage. Her view was that the stage was an occult object, thoroughly unChristian and malevolent. Eavis, for his part, as already noted, demurred on the question of Jesus. Pilton is located in the Vale of Avalon, an ancient name for England, and the name “Glastonbury” itself refers to the nearby Glastonbury Tor—said to be home to the Holy Grail; Stonehenge is not too distant, either. So the festival, being founded in the 1970s, had always been rich in neo-paganism—the aforementioned New Age travellers—and similar experimenters. You could say they are modern nonconformists, without the capital “N”, after a fashion.
Nietzsche was right to say that Christianity is a feminine religion that celebrates weakness. However, contemporary neo-paganism tends to be even more insipid; and this is because paganism is dead and so can easily be injected with any ideological content someone wants. The left, partly defined by hostility to Christianity, eagerly embraced paganism and gave it an entirely feminine complexion—goddess worship—in order to promote feminism. The result is that most neo-pagans you meet today are an unsavoury bunch, smelly and unshaved, and on the look out for some women to indirectly molest. Actual paganism was fiercely masculine for the most part; and this tradition is carried on in a covert way, mostly by people with a sympathy for National Socialist Germany or Fascist Italy. They are somewhat closer to the original, though nobody can really capture what has been irretrievably lost. This means that when pagans and Christians clash today—even if they are residual cultural Christians—the Christians are usually relatively the more masculine and, if you like, right-wing party; whereas the pagans tend to be hippy-dippy-dissolve-it-all-by-the-Pyramid types.
Goode’s basic point to Eavis was that his conduct was unneighbourly and so unChristian. She had a point, and, of course deep down—especially when you hear the resentment in Eavis’s voice in other interviews—the unneighbourliness was the point. Eavis picks up The Times and shows the positive coverage the festival receives, and how it is described as a “national institution”. Goode, quite correctly, says she does not care what a journalist in London thinks; she cares about the destruction to her property. The clash illustrates the way in which the leftist attitude—resentful irresponsibility—can combine with money making, love for a distant religious cause (saving the whales, ignoring your neighbours), and a love of press attention. In a moment of unawareness, Eavis claims that The Times usually dislikes his festival, since he promotes anti-nuclear causes, and yet overlooks the actual fact that the newspaper has praised his festival—apparently relatively uncritically.
Good fences make good neighbours, so they say; and yet Eavis neglected to put fences around his festival for about twenty years. Was Eavis a good neighbour? Answer: no. The village itself repeatedly voted against the festival, but in a relatively centralised state an irresponsible landowner can ignore the views of his neighbours and even count on the state—through the police and emergency services—to facilitate his activities. Further, given that property owners are not allowed to shoot trespassers, the state facilitated a situation where there was no deterrent to any negative behavioural overspill from the festival.
So what can we learn from this whole affair? The Glastonbury Festival is a microcosm for a range of Western political dysfunction; especially, in my view, mass migration. What we have is an elite—the established landowner Eavis—whose family is down on its luck and who resents his neighbours for their success and different cultural values. He decides, in the name of his peculiar religious beliefs, to use his property to invite the masses onto his land—for free at first, and then through a poorly enforced ticket system. Financial benefit is not the primary motive; the primary motive is resentment and not belonging to what exists culturally, along with peculiar religious views—views that are essentially political views in modernity. Secondarily, making money is a motive; although the money is made in an irresponsible way and never pursued very seriously—Eavis took forever to fence his festival, so actively losing money on the venture; and, of course, he would rather the festival be political and lose big “right-wing” acts than drop the politics.
The result is that one man—or one decadent elite—can ruin the lives and damage the property of other people, of their immediate neighbours, in return for smug satisfaction at the damage, adulation from the masses, praise from the mass media, and some financial reward. The connection between the real decadent elites and Eavis is solid; a key collaborator in his project was Arabella Churchill, granddaughter to Winston Churchill—she even has a bridge named after her at the site. So though Eavis, as with many leftists, liked to play himself up as an ever so ‘umble dairy farmer he was, from the start, in cahoots with decadent aristos.
The whole situation is just the same as mass immigration in the West. Decadent elites who own some “property”—the national equivalent of a dairy farm—suffer resentment from not having so much as other elites and mix this resentment with peculiar religious beliefs; they then utilise their power to invite the masses—immigrants—onto their property, or rather the national property, and then watch them damage their immediate neighbours. If any of their neighbours protests, they insist that it is all in a virtuous cause and that they are merely resentful and jealous of all the money the decadent elites make on their new wheeze, though the consequences are a net negative to the community; and so the village, the nation, suffers—and suffers at all levels, from stockbrokers to shepherds, because a small decadent group impose the irresponsible masses on what the villagers have worked to maintain; and it is all done under the cloak of self-righteousness. This is the lesson of the Glastonbury Festival.