Culture House Daily

Glastonbury: a middle-aged mudbath for those who failed to misspend their youth

28 June 2014

10:00 AM

28 June 2014

10:00 AM

In 2010, Brendan O’Neill suggested that Glastonbury had become an authoritarian, corporate pigpen. From the looks of things this year, nothing has changed. Here’s Brendan’s piece:

Most people, when they hear the word Glastonbury, think of mud, drugs, drunkenness, moshing, free love, the lighting up of spliffs, and generally harmless experimentation in a field. Well, they’re right about the mud. Yet far from being a site of hippyish self-exploration, the Glastonbury music festival has become a tightly regimented gathering of middle-class masochists who don’t mind being bossed around by nosey cops and kill-joy greens for three long days.

Glastonbury now resembles a countercultural concentration camp, complete with CCTV cameras and ‘watchtowers’ (their word, not mine), rather than a Woodstock-style attempt to escape ‘The Man’.

This month Glastonbury turns 40. Like all 40-year-olds, it’s having an identity crisis. Run by hippy-cum-businessman Michael Eavis, on his aptly named Worthy Farm, the first Glastonbury festival took place in 1970 and attracted 1,500 hippies. The headline act was Marc Bolan and there was free milk for all. Men with beards and women without bras swayed to and fro in the open air in a desperate bid to preserve the spirit of the Sixties into the 1970s.

This year, starting on 23 June, ‘Glasto’, as some people annoyingly call it, will attract 175,000 people and nothing will be free, not even the milk. The headline acts are Gorillaz, Muse and Stevie Wonder. This represents an ageing Mojo editor’s view of what Good Music is. The line-up is designed to satisfy the thirtysomething, fortysomething, and even geriatric attendees. (As of 2007, Saga Insurance, the insurance firm for older people, has been offering over-50s who have Saga Motorhome Insurance a refund on the money they pay for a motorhome pitch at ‘Glasto’.)

Michael Eavis has admitted that Glastonbury has become too middle-aged and middle-class. ‘We have to try to get the youngsters back, the 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds,’ he said. ‘The 30- and 40-year-olds who now swarm the festival like overgrown teens desperately seeking kicks are too well-mannered and polite and respectable… which changes the character of it.’


Some say the yoof abandoned Glasto because it became too expensive, because the acts consist of boring, bloated World Music types, because there are other, smaller festivals — V, Reading — where they can watch bands their dads do not like. No doubt these things have contributed to the greying of Glastonbury. But there’s another, underexplored reason: over the years, Europe’s biggest festival has turned into a massive authoritarian pigpen. Attendees are monitored, filmed and lectured — and young people don’t like being hectored by has-been hippies.

Hippyish music festivals used to be no-go zones for the police, and most people accepted that certain things that are not acceptable in everyday life would take place: clothes-shedding, dope-smoking, bed-hopping, stage-diving. Now, the police are invited into Glastonbury with open arms. In 2007, Glastonbury even became the test site for a new kind of policing: cops with cameras attached to the shoulders of their jackets were sent around Glasto’s campsites, and their footage — of revellers having fun and potentially misbehaving — was beamed ‘live’ to a control room. If the police in the control room spotted anything untoward, such as someone sucking on something that looked too fat to be a normal cigarette, they’d rush to the scene, guided by global-positioning system devices sewn into the camp-watching coppers’ jackets. The cops, from the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, were delighted to use Glasto to test out new forms of camera-based policing, but festival attendees were less impressed. ‘Glastonbury is the one place you would expect not to have to worry about being watched,’ said one.

In recent years, the police have also erected ‘covert capture tents’ at Glasto — tents that are left tantalisingly open, with various desired products visible to passers-by — toilet roll, perhaps, or wellington boots. Inside are tiny CCTV cameras, so if anyone does venture inside to nab the booty they will be caught on camera and arrested. I call this entrapment. The Glasto-police say it is an initiative to put ‘the fear of crime back in the criminal’.

According to the festival organisers’ turgid, nine-page Crime Reduction Strategy (I bet they didn’t have one of those in 1970), the reason festoon lighting is used to illuminate the main campsite areas is to reduce those ‘dark spots, where crime is more likely to take place’. The old hippies might have considered a ‘dark spot’ — an unlit, unmonitored, unpoliced area — a potential site for a bit of nookie or some bong-sharing. Today’s hippies see it as a crime hotspot.

The Crime Reduction Strategy also boasts of Glasto’s ‘watchtowers’, which are not staffed by armed guards (at least not yet), but are used to ‘monitor criminal activity and act as a deterrent’. The festival organisers encourage attendees to set up ‘local “neighbourhood watch” agreements with fellow campers’.

When Glasto attendees are not being spied on or entrapped, they’re being lectured about everything from safe sex to health and safety. The official festival guide tells revellers to ‘Practise Safe Sex’, warning them that ‘if you have sex without a condom you risk catching diseases such as gonorrhoea, syphilis or chlamydia’. This new morality of ‘safe sex’, based on the idea that other people are probably diseased, is the polar opposite of ‘free love’, which was based on the idea that exploring other people’s bodies and minds is a fun and uplifting thing to do. The festival guide warns against stage-diving, too, because it ‘may look like fun, but would you like to be dropped and trampled? Don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk.’

Meanwhile, busybody groups such as Greenpeace, Oxfam and the Samaritans can be seen everywhere at Glasto, lecturing attendees about their role in destroying the planet, their ignorance of African poverty, and the importance of good mental health.

Is it really any wonder teens don’t bother with it anymore? They get enough of this health-obsessed, risk-averse, sex-suspicious, crime-fearin’ propaganda in their Personal, Social and Health Education classes at school. The old hippies initiated music festivals because they believed, perhaps a little self-indulgently, that young people were capable of setting up arenas for communion and self-exploration separate from the pieties and obsessions of everyday life. Now older, greyer and more money-minded, they think that the young are not trustworthy or sensible after all, and therefore must be prodded and goaded like cattle.

The rejection of the new, over-policed, anti-risk Glastonbury by young people is an act of principled rebellion on a par with Michael Eavis’s decision to set up a small, hippyish music festival in the first place in 1970. Today, he’s The Man.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 

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Show comments
  • Asgeir17

    Geriatrics are everywhere now. Even at festivals.

  • Liz

    “Most people, when they hear the word Glastonbury, think of mud, drugs, drunkenness, moshing, free love, the lighting up of spliffs, and generally harmless experimentation in a field.”

    I think of Australians from Clapham glamping.

  • mhjames

    Glastonbury is now so terrible that no one goes there — obviously.

  • amphibious

    Funny, a sheltered workshop for failed undead thatcherites is a perfect description of O’Nihil’s site ‘Spiked’.

  • Mike Lease

    Brilliant article …

  • grimm

    Why are the chattering classes so obsessed with rebellion and protest? Are these the only things that give meaning to their lives? If they are not able to see themselves as rebellious in some way do they feel diminished and just plain ordinary – part of the common herd, little people?

    The hippies have grown old and (obviously) become the establishment. So their concerns – non-discrimination, equal rights all round, environmentalism, peace, alleviation of third world poverty – have become the dull, sanctimonious preoccupations of the establishment.

    Meanwhile, other middle-aged, middle class bores are endlessly scratching around for signs of a”genuine” yoof & rebellion “counter culture” to cheer on. These overrated youth movements have only ever been a way for the young to distinguish themselves from the previous generation and have a good time in their own way.

  • artemis in france

    Presumably in the intervening years the oppressive atmosphère has worsened, Brendan. Thanks for giving me a good laugh, although listening to the cretinous BBC “presenters” is in itself funny because licence fée payers are actually coughing up for them! Unbelievable.

    • grimm

      I agree with your comment about the BBC presenters. Can’t they at least send someone with a bit of musical understanding rather than dopey twerps who offer such perceptive insights as “cool”, “really brilliant” and “awesome”.

  • pearlsandoysters

    I guess that the sheer size of the event speaks against it. Smaller events evenly spread over summer might be a better idea than one big bash. One of the pleasures of smaller events is that they built this evasive “togetherness” feeling. As for the freedom, pretty often so-called “liberation” means exactly more constraints. Galsto is just a money-making exercise that has nothing to do with music and all to do with consumerism and trying to fit into the crowd, in other words joyless.

  • GraveDave

    Good article Brendan.

  • Fraser Bailey

    Crikey – I knew ‘Glasto’ was awful because I attended once, many years ago.

    But I didn’t know it was as bad as this.

  • Gwangi

    Frankly, I would rather pay NOT to go to Glastonbury during the festival. I went once. It was cold, wet, expensive – though I did see a couple of decent bands (but like most people I missed most who were on during the day).

    Far better to buy tickets for a couple of good concerts per year, and take drugs or get drunk or shag at home, in a bed, with central heating and food in the fridge which hasn’t cost you 10 times the retail price (as at Glasters).

    It’s all about the money, honey – as it always has been for greedy grabbing thieving freeloading idle hypocrity hippies (ever seen a couple of the New Agers haggling over a spliff?)

  • YounowModsAreMorons

    Oh well at least METALLICA and some other quality acts are there

  • Tahitiholiday

    ‘free milk for all’: Jeez, how could anyone resist???!!!

    The remarks about ‘safe s8x’ ‘morality’ and ‘the idea that other people are probably diseased’ is not just a problem with Glastonbury but with our society as a whole.

  • ohforheavensake

    Brendan- as entertainingly stupid as he’s always been.

    • GraveDave

      For this one he’s spot on. The police nowadays are a waste of f—-g time and tax payers money. When was the last time you saw or heard of a cop fighting actual crime or doing something heroic. Used to read about crime fighting hero cops everyday when I was a kid. Nowadays they watch youtube and read Facebook and chase down people for not wearing a seatbelt.

  • statechaos

    Sanctimonious claptrap!

  • delMilano

    I don’t bother with it any more and I’m nearly 60. It’s far too tame for me. And when The sunday Times runs a ” this years fashion to wear at Glasto” feature I know it’s time to head for The Green Man or further afield. How very,very sad it all is now.

  • Matt Sharp

    Who’s having more fun this weekend? People at Glastonbury, or writers who complain about people at Glastonbury?

    • GraveDave

      At least the blacks of Nottinghill carry on doing their own thing. And the police wont dare touch them.

  • Pier66

    Boring, predictable and pretentious, not rebellious at all.

  • karsten45

    or just fun?

  • Snipkokken Balsov

    The battalions of the BBC are encamped in the mud of Glasto’…………..

    “Wow, like Wow! Now I just like totally undersand what those guys went through in the trenches in world war one and everything”

  • you_kid

    I don’t care how good you say the heroin is.
    I am not going to serve in Afghanistan!

  • Grey Wolf

    Let’s be honest – there is nothing counter-cultural about Glastonbury.

    It’s an organisation and management exercise on a huge scale where multi-millionaire musicians play their boring nonsense. The audience are either middle class or from the classes sucking at the teats of the welfare state – nothing counter-cultural about that. Boring, predictable and pretentious, not rebellious at all. And, yes, enough with that ”mud” b u l I c r a p.

  • Kitty MLB

    Some relatives live in Cheddar which is fairly close to Glastonbury,
    and they say farmers make a small fortune every year.
    But avoid driving too close to the area or you will be in a traffic
    jam forever, with university students sitting by the road wearing
    wellies regardless of the weather.And older people trying to
    relive their salad days.
    During the morning in town they all look somewhat green, and
    some people climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor, just to reconnect
    with King Arthur…or so they think.

    • Grey Wolf

      You should visit Glastonbury on a cold, cloudy, wet day. The place looks atmospheric and mysterious and its ancient soul, very organic to the British Isles, can be felt. This land is very old, has preserved its memories and traditions and in some ways the Tor symbolises that as it raises its head above and stands tall. I don’t care for historians who think King Arthur is just a story. May be they are right, may be not but in his tales one gets a chance to stay connected with the ancestors because of whom we are here in this land.

      Modernity and progressivism are reducing and deconstructing everything that was great and glorious. Hopefully, there will always be enough patriots there who will reject their progressive ways and will prefer to remain connected with their heritage.

      • Jambo25

        Actually, if there was a real person behind the Arthur legend he was probably from somewhere in what is now Southern Scotland and spoke Welsh. He would certainly have had nothing to do with ‘Glasto’.

        • Kitty MLB

          No you can’t have King Arthur be belongs to
          Avalon and to England.You’ve got Robert the Bruce and Scotlands tragic and short lived
          Queen who died in the arms of King James.
          Your just being greedy now Jambo 🙂

          • Jambo25

            Sorry Kitty, but most of the earliest sources and sites which might point to a shadowy Arthur figure tend to be in or from Southern Scotland and the English Border counties. The long, narrative poem, y Gododdin is about the earliest and was almost certainly written in the Edinburgh area. There is a strong link with some early Dark Ages Welsh speaking, Celtic kingdom which appears to have been based in or near Dumbarton and stretched as far as Cumbria. Stick to the Joseph of Arimathea legend for ‘Glasto’.

            • Kennybhoy

              Och there is much mair o’ the romantic nationalist in you than you like to let on Maister J. lol

              I think I may have told you this before one of your previous forays into the Dark Ages but it bears repeating…

              “Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring…”

              • Jambo25

                Actually Kenny, mine is the anti-romantic take on Arthur. My Arthur figure is that of an Iron Age chieftain, speaking an early form of Welsh running a Post Roman petty kingdom in Cumbria and the Borders. That’s pretty well backed up by the available modern scholarship.
                The romantic take on Arthur is that of the Chivalric tradition from Geoffrey of Monmouth, through Chretien de Troyes and the later German writers. Its then that you end up with round tables, quests for Holy Grails and all the other nonsense.

            • El_Sid

              It’s only a passing mention in y Gododdin though, in the form “He’s quick, but he’s no Usain Bolt”. My writing that doesn’t mean Bolt is British, it merely means that his fame is such that it’s gone beyond his homeland and entered a common culture that stretches internationally.

              So it is with the mention of Arthur – there’s nothing in the text to say he was a Gododdin hero, he could easily be part of the wider Welsh culture of the time. There’s also the problem that although y Gododdin appears to describe an attack on Catterick around 600, the earliest manuscript of y Gododdin dates from 6 centuries later. So the timing is dubious and allows for insertion of the famous hero Arthur at a later date.

              It’s not at all a “strong link”.

              • Jambo25

                I’m not saying that y Gododdin is a strong link or the only link. There are other archaeological and ‘traditional’ leads to some form of shadowy, heroic, proto-Welsh leader in the northern ‘British’ annals.
                The problem with Arthur is that there is no real evidence that he ever existed. All I’m saying is that if he did it would probably have been somewhere in northern England/southern Scotland. It wouldn’t have been the ludicrous Medievalism centred on Glastonbury.

        • Grey Wolf

          My point was slightly broader, Jambo. It was about traditionalism (progressives would call me a ”reactionary” but I don’t care).

          Historically, yes (while I am no authority on the subject), Arthur was probably a Romanised Celt. Also, there are some new things coming out. His troopers probably had Scythians in there as well (Scythians were Indo-European tribes from the Eurasian grasslands who fought from horseback and knew horseback archery).

          Whatever may be the historical facts, Arthur is a glorious part of British heritage as is Queen Boudicca.

          • Jambo25

            Actually, in reality,. I think Arthur is a glorious part of Welsh and Scottish Borders/Northern English heritage. The Medieval Romances of Arthur are what is part of more general English heritage (And French and German and Habsburg.)

            • Kennybhoy

              Forget sad this is absolutely pathetic…

        • Kennybhoy

          Sad Jambo, very sad…

      • pearlsandoysters

        Good point. Modernity with its immense arrogance diminishes many glorious things to utility and makes everything seem worthless; don’t get me started on pure poison of deconstructing everything in view. The only hope is that all this deconstructing brigade will merrily deconstruct themselves out of existence, thus leaving space for people to live, reflect on life and celebrate the glorious, the beautiful, and the worthy.

    • you_kid

      … beats a weekend in Salford Precinct me thinks.

  • Blindsideflanker

    More like metropolitan land on an away day from London.

    • will91

      As Peter Hitchens would say: “They’re bourgeois metropolitan trendies”.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    ‘who failed to misspend their youth’

    Indeed – winkers….