'It's a nice place for it'

In 1970 a Somerset dairy farmer organised a gig in his fields to pay off his bank overdraft. It didn't. And yet 45 years later his Glastonbury festival has grown into a national institution.

With wife Jean and daughter Emily, Michael Eavis has evolved the event from a small gathering of hippies to a world famous carnival hosting 175,000 people. But, from bullet-proof vests and mud to a burnt down stage, it's been a bumpy ride.


'Don't touch my car, man'

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Michael Eavis gives an interview to BBC News from a prototype 'superloo' in the run-up to the first Glastonbury festival.

At just 19 Eavis gave up a budding career in the merchant navy to take over Worthy Farm at Pilton, near Shepton Mallet, when his father fell ill.

He decided to host his own festival there after visiting the Bath Blues Festival in 1969. His first choice headliners, The Kinks, cancelled when a rock music paper described his event as a 'mini festival'. Marc Bolan stood in, turning up at the farm in a velvet-covered car and taking exception to Eavis stroking the material. The festival lost money, forcing Eavis to pay Bolan's £500 fee in instalments from the farm's monthly milk cheque. Ticket: £1 (incl free milk). Attendance: 1,500.

Listen: Michael Eavis on Desert Island Discs


The first Pyramid Stage

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'Slightly off their heads': Eavis recalls the 1971 Glastonbury organisers. Clip from Arabella Churchill: First Lady of Glastonbury (BBC R4, 2008).

A year later Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of the wartime prime minister, rented the farm off Eavis to stage a free festival.

Kerr, later credited with bringing a sense of ecological awareness to the festival, was heavily into mysticism. For the stage he commissioned a pyramid construction exactly a tenth the size of the Great Pyramid in Giza. It was built on top of a blind spring so as to tap into the earth's natural energy during the summer solstice. A designated landing area for UFOs was also laid on. Headliners included David Bowie, Hawkwind and Traffic. Ticket: Free. Attendance: 12,000.

Listen: Arabella Churchill, First Lady of Glastonbury

Jean and I decided to abandon the whole thing. It was all too much; there were too many hippies and too many drugs.

Michael Eavis on the legacy of the 1971 festival


The impromptu festival

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'That was really wild': Hawkwind's Nik Turner on his part in the impromptu festival. (Glastonbury Tales, BBC R6 Music, 2012.) Image: Roger Hutchinson.

The 1971 festival might have been the last official Glastonbury but for an intervention by police seven years later.

After a phone call between Eavis and the local constabulary, a convoy of travellers heading from Stonehenge to Glastonbury was diverted to Worthy Farm. "I couldn't really do anything about it," said Eavis later, "so I kind of joined in." With Andrew Kerr roped in once more a portable stage was located, and an informal festival began in poor weather. Legend has it that the stage was powered by a 13-amp cable plugged into a coin-operated meter in Kerr's caravan. Ticket: Free. Attendance 500.

Read: The Guardian's obituary of Andrew Kerr


Betting the farm

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Michael Eavis tells Kirsty Young how he saved the 1979 festival. Clip from Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4, 2008). Image: Steve Bayfield.

Inspired by the previous year's gathering, Churchill and original Pyramid Stage designer Bill Harkin set about reviving the festival at Worthy Farm.

They soon ran into financial trouble. With headliner Peter Gabriel already booked to appear it fell to Eavis to raise a £15,000 bank loan against the farm to allow the event to go ahead. When the same amount was recouped in cash from gate receipts, Eavis drove to his bank in Wells to repay the loan. But the festival, which also featured Tom Robinson and John Martyn, made a considerable loss, and discouraged a further attempt in 1980. Ticket: £5. Attendance: 12,000.

BBC Radio 6 Music: The Tom Robinson Show

I suddenly realised at that point that I didn't get scared, I didn't get sleepless nights and I enjoyed the challenge.

Michael Eavis on the 1979 festival


The turning point

Steve Bayfield

A view of the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 1981. Pic: Steve Bayfield

The new Pyramid Stage doubled up as a cow shed in winter time.

Bitten by the bug after having carried the 1979 festival over the finishing line, Eavis decided to put together another from scratch.

A keen supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Eavis approached its general secretary Bruce Kent to suggest a tie-in. A new, permanent Pyramid Stage was built at Worthy Farm with a CND logo on top. Headliners included New Order, Hawkwind and Gordon Giltrap and from the receipts Eavis handed £20,000 to the CND. After a stuttering start the Glastonbury festival looked like it was here to stay. Ticket: £8. Attendance: 18,000.

Watch: Pilton villagers interviewed about the festival


From rock to pop

Paul Norris

Morrissey of The Smiths onstage at Glastonbury in 1984

Morrissey onstage with The Smiths at Glastonbury in 1984.

With the festival settling nicely into an annual rhythm, Michael Eavis was about to get his first taste of headliner controversy.

Impressed by The Smiths onstage at Bristol University, Eavis booked them to headline in 1984, much to the distaste of the festival's Hawkwind-loving fanbase. Eavis was vindicated by a storming 45-minute set from the band he considered "the most fashionable thing in the world at that time", which was abruptly ended by a stage invasion during Hand in Glove. The Waterboys and Elvis Costello also appeared. Ticket: £13. Attendance: 35,000.

Watch: Billy Bragg on Glastonbury in the 1980s

I knew then the whole thing had changed to something else... that we had gone into pop festival music.

Michael Eavis on seeing The Smiths' set in 1984


Police, court and death threats

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Two police officers on the Glastonbury festival site in 1989

Police on the festival site in 1989, when the sun shone on Glastonbury.

After years of policing itself the festival was patrolled for the first time by police.

For the third festival running Eavis had to take Mendip District Council to court to secure a licence to allow the event take place. There was drama onstage, too, with Friday night headliner Suzanne Vega and her bassist Mike Visceglia both advised to play in bullet-proof vests after receiving death threats. The sun shone, however, and a bumper crowd enjoyed a line-up including The Wonder Stuff and festival regulars Elvis Costello and Van Morrison. Ticket: £28. Attendance: 65,000.

The Telegraph: The 100 best Glastonbury performances


The Battle of Yeoman's Bridge

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Michael Eavis recalls offstage problems at the 1990 festival, where Sinead O'Connor headlined. Clip from Glastonbury Tales (BBC Radio 6 Music, 2012).

Twenty years after the first festival, the newly titled Glastonbury Festival for Contemporary Performing Arts ended in less than celebratory scenes.

On the Monday after the festival a confrontation between security teams and people looting the emptying festival site ended with £50,000 worth of damage and 235 arrests. Emily Eavis, then 10, recalls “seeing outside the kitchen window Molotov cocktails being thrown and vehicles being set alight. It was one of the lowest points of the entire festival history." The event had been headlined by The Cure, Happy Mondays and Sinead O’Connor. Ticket: £38. Attendance: 70,000.

Watch: Bill Oddie visit Glastonbury Festival in 1990


The Pyramid burns down

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The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 1994

Farm and festival side-by-side in 1994.

Four years on there was further turmoil for Michael Eavis when the Pyramid stage burnt down just 11 days before the festival was due to begin.

A replacement was found and, with Channel 4 broadcasting, the show went ahead. Tragically the first death in the festival's history was recorded after a suspected drugs overdose. In a separate incident five people were taken to hospital after a shooting. Eavis told the press that the overriding mood of the festival remained "one of a peaceful event". The line-up featured Bjork, Johnny Cash and Orbital. Ticket: £59. Attendance: 80,000.

Glastonbury: Read more about the Pyramid Stage's history


The year of the mud

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A Glastonbury festival goer covered in mud 1997

A 1997 Glastonbury festival-goer makes the best of the weather.

Glastonbury's reputation for mud stems largely from a year when heavy downpours churned Worthy Farm's clay fields into a sea of sticky mud.

It wasn't the first time, nor would it be the last. Maybe it was a rain-sodden but triumphant Saturday night headline set by Radiohead that burned the experience of 1997 into the memory. "The monitors weren't actually working so they couldn't hear what they were sounding like," Eavis later told the NME, "and for some reason it made it better. It was pouring down but it was so beautiful." Other headliners included The Prodigy and Massive Attack.Ticket: £75. Attendance: 90,000.

BBC Music: Watch Radiohead's 1997 Glastonbury set

People will have to understand that the growing culture of fence-hopping has to be stopped.

Michael Eavis, announcing the cancellation of the 2001 festival


The year of the superfence

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Glastonbury 2002 superfence

The superfence presented a different proposition for festival gatecrashers.

Faced with an epidemic of gatecrashing, Eavis went to extremes to stop fans climbing over, tunnelIing under or breaking down the perimeter fence.

With police estimating that up to 100,000 ticketless fans had gained access this way in 2000, and the local council threatening to pull the plug for once and for all, the 2001 festival was cancelled. By the start of the 2002 event, featuring Stereophonics, Coldplay and Rod Stewart, a 3.5m (12ft) tall ring of steel had been erected around the site at the cost of £1m. "This year things have to change for good," Eavis told the BBC. Ticket: £97. Attendance: 140,000.

BBC Music: Watch highlights from the 2002 festival

If it was plain sailing, I wouldn't enjoy it so much.

Michael Eavis in the Guardian, 2003


Singing in the rain

Man wades through floodwater at Glastonbury festival camp site

Glastonbury residents told the Guardian the storm was the worst for 15 years.

Bad weather hampered the start of the festival, with torrential rain falling during a five-hour thunderstorm on the first morning.

The storm left more than a foot of standing water in parts of the site, flooding tents and knocking out power supplies. Portable toilets sank in the mud, the BBC Three set was flooded and Radio 1's Jo Whiley had to abandon her live broadcast after a nearby river burst its banks. Undaunted, Eavis told the BBC, "If you get a challenge like this it wakes everyone up and it improves the spirit." Headliners included White Stripes, Coldplay and Basement Jaxx. Ticket: £125. Attendance: 153,000.

BBC Music: Watch highlights from the 2005 festival

I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong.

Noel Gallagher, April 2008


Another headliner controversy

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Jon Kay reports from the festival on the crowd's reaction to the choice of Jay-Z as Saturday headliner. Clip from Breakfast (BBC One, June 2008).

Glastonbury history repeated itself when American rapper Jay-Z was unveiled as the Saturday night headliner.

In a controversy reminiscent of 1984's event Michael and Emily Eavis, by now working alongside each other, came under heavy fire from diehard fans unhappy with the apparent musical departure. For the first time in 10 years tickets failed to sell out immediately. With Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher adding his voice to the protest, a defiant Jay-Z began his set with a cover of the band's hit Wonderwall. Amy Winehouse, Kings of Leon and The Verve also appeared. Ticket: £155. Attendance: 134,000.

BBC Music: Watch highlights from the 2008 festival


Bouncing back

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones onstage at Glastonbury in 2013

Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards making their first appearance onstage at Glastonbury.

After another gap year in 2012 the appetite for Glastonbury 2013 was fierce, with all tickets being sold in a record one hour and 40 minutes.

To celebrate the festival's return a giant phoenix designed by artist Joe Rush was fixed on the 100ft high Pyramid Stage, belching fire into the night sky as the Rolling Stones made their Worthy Farm debut. "I'm not going to say we can do it better because we can't," Eavis told the BBC. "That was the ultimate festival this year." Arctic Monkeys and Mumford & Sons also headlined. Ticket: £205. Attendance: 135,000.

BBC Music: Watch highlights from the 2013 festival

There are 1,000 acres of creativity on a massive scale and to a very, very high standard. You won't see anything else like this in the whole world.

Michael Eavis, BBC News, 2013


A pop-up city

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Emily Eavis tells Alex Jones and Chris Evans about her role in organising Glastonbury. Clip from The One Show (BBC Two, 2014).

A million people registered online to buy tickets for the 2014 festival, which by now had grown to a scale beyond imagination back in 1970.

At a cost of some £30m, more than 2,000 performances were laid on across more than 100 stages, ranging from music to poetry and theatre to puppetry. Some 35,000 passes were issued to crew, performers, stewards, traders and staff. For the first time festival-goers enjoyed free wi-fi courtesy of a series of hubs within life-size fibre glass cows dotted around the site, now a pop-up city with an economy to match. Arcade Fire, Metallica, Kasabian headlined. Ticket: £210. Attendance: 135,000.

BBC Music: Watch highlights from the 2014 festival

It makes other festivals look like a gig in a field.

Billy Bragg on Glastonbury


Ashes to ashes, funk to funky

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Emily Eavis tells 6 Music's Matt Everitt about the festival's planned tribute to David Bowie.

The Pyramid Stage in 2016 was headlined by Muse, Adele and Coldplay. Also appearing were PJ Harvey, Jeff Lynne's ELO, New Order and LCD Soundsystem.

The rain fell and Brexit dominated the news, but festival goers still managed to pull together. Charles Hazlewood conducted Philip Glass’s "Heroes" Symphony in tribute to David Bowie, and an Aladdin Sane-style thunderbolt was placed atop the Pyramid Stage. Sculptures were also unveiled to honour the musicians Prince and Lemmy. Ticket: £228. Attendance: 135,000.

Glastonbury to honour David Bowie and Prince