Glastonbury Festival 1979

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Bonus Features > 40 Years of Glastonbury

Glastonbury Fayre 1979

Perhaps with the memory of the first festivals a little more distant, and a little more rosy, Eavis decided to take the plunge once more. Arabella Churchill and Bill Harkin took the reins, and at Arabella's instigation, it was going to be done for charity - the UN Year of the Child.

Bill and Arabella were joined by John Coleman and Tim Davis, and set about putting the festival together on a frugal beg or borrow basis. Bits of stage were donated by Freddy Bannister, the promoter of the Bath Festival that was the inspiration for Eavis some ten years previously. Peter Gabriel returned a favour and agreed to play for free, and other acts played for expenses only.

Loaned equipment and discount acts weren't enough. With just six weeks to go the financial pressure led to a painful decision: Cancellation. Eavis, in spite of the previous losses, stepped in, borrowing £15,000 secured against his land. He quite literally bet the farm.

Chris Howes, the local GP, organised a first aid tent. Over the following decades, under Howes' stewardship, this would grow to something thankfully invisible to most most festival goers but really quite remarkable - Festival Medical Services (FMS).

The modern day FMS at Glastonbury festival deploys the largest civilian field hospital in the UK. It has its own ambulance service. A volunteer staff of 500 medical professionals - from doctors to dentists, paramedics to psychiatrists. It even has it's own X-Ray facility. If you are unlucky enough to have a fracture on the rolling hills of Worthy Farm, you can be scanned, set, and be back out into the festival in an hour - never having left the site.

Aside from the impressive medical capability FMS has grown to offer, there is another significance to Chris Howes' first venture back then. It was perhaps the first landmark in a long but steady transformation of the festival organisation from good intentioned amateurism to highly regarded professionalism. The festival would later become a model for large event management.

Meanwhile back at the farm: 12,000 turned up for the 1979 festival, enjoying great weather and sets from Sky and Peter Gabriel. The financial outcome however was mixed. Eavis managed to get enough money back from the gates to repay the loan, but Arabella also recalls that alot of people were left unpaid.

The farm was saved, but not without some hurt. Eavis though had finally reached a personal turning point. "I suddenly realised at that point that I didn't get scared, I didn't get sleepless nights... I was actually enjoying myself".

They weren't hollow words either. After the previous intermittent appearance of the festival, the one following this year would mark the start of the longest continuous run in its history.

There is just one other thing to mention about 1979 of course. Michael and Jean had a baby daughter called Emily. If, by any chance, that name means nothing to you: Make a note.

Dr Chris Howes (Guardian, June 2003)

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