I have to tell you that even though this is about my experiences at the Glastonbury Festival in 1971, I am only now, 43 years later, writing it down in this form. I also have to tell you that in my opinion, 43 years is a bloody long time, and no matter how hard I try to make this piece an accurate retelling of what happened back then, or even an accurate retelling of what I perceived to be happening back then, it is going to be blurred by the years and by the myths about myself that I have built up over those years of my life, and by the myths that society has focused on and enhanced over the same period of time.
So, please understand that while this piece and the events described are written as accurately as they can be at this time and distance from the events, they are not meant to be taken as the “truth” if what you think of as truth is the sort of thing that can be recorded with a video camera, but they are definitely true in the sense that the words carry “the truth” of what it is to be a human being in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries on this particular planet, and more particularly what it was like to go the Glastonbury Festival in 1971, from the perspective of a pretty fucked-up working class lad from a council estate in Llanelli.
I’m guessing that I will tell this story in instalments of perhaps 1,000 words or less, maybe 800, kind of episodic. This is Episode 1. The link to Episode 2 and all other episodes is on the sidebar (if you’re reading this online), or somewhere else like below, (if you’re reading this on a mobile device that doesn’t display a sidebar).
It began on the edge of the Town Hall Square in Llanelli. It was almost midsummer, late, just after dark. I was standing under a tree talking to my friend John. He was a troubled boy with a huge head of curly blonde hair. He showed me a cutting from a magazine.
“It’s a free festival,” he said. “It’s all free – everything. What do you think?”
I glanced at the cutting but didn’t really take in any of the details. It was the midsummer vibes – and the zeitgeist. It involved music, and almost certainly, drugs. We were skint, it was free.
“We’ll go tomorrow morning,” I said.
We hitchhiked of course, along the M4 to Bristol, then on to Bath. We were walking out of Bath, backs to the traffic with our thumbs outstretched, not really caring whether anyone gave us a lift or not, when a black Morris Minor stopped and a head covered in thick dark hair popped out of the window with a questioning look on its face. We nodded, the rear door opened and we got in the car without a word. We knew where we were going, they knew where we were going – that was enough. I recognised the occupants of the car – they were in fact people from Llanelli, boys who had been in the grammar school, a couple of years older than me, and probably the first residents of that town to have the guts to display their hippieness a few years earlier. They’d been beatniks before my cohort became old enough to challenge the mid-sixties hegemony, inspired by the music and the attitude that eventually made its way to our hick town. We didn’t really know them but had admired them as ‘heads’ from afar.
After a spaced out journey that I have no memory of, the car was parked in a field; we separated from our drivers and walked along a road and down a lane to Worthy Farm. The road and the lane were busy with others arriving for the festival. This was a colourful bunch of people, like a gathering of refugees from the sixties. Was it really all over? Some were dressed in druidic cloaks, some in Hell’s Angels’ gear, one gentleman had a live chicken on his shoulder; everyone silently intent on getting to the festival site and working towards some as yet un-vocalised purpose.
We pitched our tent on a hill overlooking the dip where the first pyramid stage was being built, leant back against the slope and surveyed our new habitat. Dotted around the hills were other tents and temporary structures, food vans and marquees, vehicles zipping around carrying equipment, food, and water. Some people had already lit campfires.
This was it. We were immediately at home, sitting on our planet, a gathering of humans who instinctively understood who we were and what we were doing there, though my mission there hadn’t yet formed into words. I’m not sure whether it has even now, forty three years later, or whether it ever will, or whether it matters anyway.
We smoked some cannabis and went to look for something to eat. We found a field kitchen that was providing free vegetarian food. I’d never thought about becoming a vegetarian before that, I don’t think I even knew it was an option, even though I was already 19 years old. The food was good, and the idea of it being free and vegetarian was even better, so I ate a lot.
At some point before, during or after, the next 12 hours or so, someone said that all the food, and the drink, had been spiked with acid. I can’t remember if I actively took some acid or possibly mescalin or whether it was the food and drink, but that next 12 hours, or it may have been days, or minutes. Whatever period of what we know as time it took, it was probably the most significant period of my life, or of any other life I have inhabited in at least the past two thousand years.
Anyway, this is tipping over a thousand words, so I guess it’s the end of episode one.