With Glastonbury taking a corona-virus imposed year off in 2020, this past weekend has led to lots of festival-goers reflecting on what makes Worthy Farm so special in the first place. Music fans have been getting creative and making their own mini-festivals at home, and a staggering 10 million viewers tuned into the BBC’s Glastonbury Experience over the weekend to revisit stand-out sets and new live performances.
In the absence of the planned 50th anniversary celebrations this year, the V&A in London has put a call out for the public to submit their favourite memories of Glastonbury. The museum has been in charge of the Glastonbury archive – which documents the event’s half-a-century history – since 2014, and ordinarily, curators would be on the ground right now at Worthy Farm archiving objects from the latest festival. Now, they’re celebrating the story of Micheal and Emily Eavis’ festival online.
Check out a sneak peek of the V&A’s ever-growing Glastonbury collection below, along with a Q&A with Kate Bailey, senior curator at the museum.
With Glastonbury taking an unexpected year off, did it feel like a particularly fitting time to put out a call for people’s memories of the festival?
“It felt like the country almost went into mourning when they had to make that call! We left it a while, and then thought: actually, everyone is reflecting, and they have time to think. I realised after speaking to Emily [Eavis] that the BBC were still scheduling all this amazing broadcasting, and we thought actually, this can be a positive thing. People will be thinking back, and wanting to remember, so it was a unique opportunity to recollect and share. To see the David Bowie performance on TV for the first time at the weekend, which had never been shown before, was such a treat!”
How are you marking the 50th anniversary online?
“We’ve started a collections page with some of our objects photographed, and when we’re able to get back on site at the V&A we’ll be increasing that even more – obviously our archives were closed [due to lockdown] at a very crucial time. But separate from those physical objects – and that’s everything from designs to photos to plans and backstage material – we are developing a new database project which the memories will become a part of. Right now we’ve put content up about the history of the festival; particularly stage design and fashion. We want to create an archive that maps the festival, and the way that the site has developed; these different areas, and the 150 stages.”
The V&A is primarily an art and design museum – and thinking about Glastonbury from that perspective, design forms a huge part of its identity. The signposts all around the site, the wall of banners at the Park Stage, even the festival wristbands – they’re all so distinctive. How crucial is design to something like this?
“We’re a museum for art, design and performance, and when you look at the big picture, the design of the site – whether it’s the very distinctive handwritten signs with that Glastonbury typography, or past Glastonbury posters which really paved the way for influencing graphic design at other festivals – it’s very organic. From the location of where the Pyramid is, to how all those other areas came about – it’s organic, but at the same time, they’re building the kind of infrastructure equivalent to a city like Bath. It’s bonkers, and hugely organised; you can’t quite get your head around it! The markets have to provide food for however many people, there’s always a birth on site, it’s crazy. Design is so important: from the site, to the graphics, to the printed material, or installations. Go to any place on the site, and there’s art being made, whether someone’s carving in the Green Fields, or collaborating on a collective commission; there’s a lot of that, too. We’ve got some of the mood-board for how the Park area was developed in the archive – it’s designed by Misty Buckley, who also did the stage design for Stormzy’s Glastonbury headline set. We’re in the process of putting all of that on the website. The ribbon tower, and that Hollywood sign on the hill – those are great objects from more recent history.”
Each area of Glastonbury – from Block9 to the new pier installation that came in last year – also has its own unique design, too. The level of detail must be fascinating to try and document?
“Yes, in fact I’ve just put some additional Block9 material on the site, and we’re planning on increasing the content around that – that new IICON stage [introduced in 2019] was phenomenal. That was only on for five days! My god, the creativity that went into that! We’ve got some fantastic artwork from Shangri-La. And obviously things like referencing what [British artist] Joe Rush has contributed, whether it’s through his Mutoid Waste sculptures, or indeed those incredible creations that he puts on top of the Pyramid stage. That level of detailing really gives Glastonbury that very unique aesthetic. Everyone from the signage, to the Free Press daily posters and newspapers.”
Some people might associate the V&A with older things – collections of ancient ceramics or medieval costume. How does Glastonbury fit into that world?
“The V&A has had a theatre department, since the 1920s, and we’ve collected performance for nearly 100 years – documenting everything from Shakespeare to The Beatles. But we continue to collect – and that’s so important with something like Glastonbury. Yes, it has been on for 50 years, and we’ve been working out how to do the past, but it’s also about working our how to do the contemporary moment as well. Next year, when we’re all hopefully back on site, it’s important for the V&A to capture that, as well as the history.”
Glastonbury is notoriously massive, and often very muddy. Is that a museum curator’s worst nightmare?
“We’re usually there for the pack-down of the festival – we’ll communicate with all of the areas so that they know what to keep for the archive. The collection is created actually at the festival. I remember the first year I went, being absolutely daunted by the idea of collecting, in mud. But it’s very ephemeral, and that’s why it’s important to be there, to capture the details that might otherwise get lost.”
What sorts of memories are you after for the archive?
“We had an amazing submission from 1971 today where the person described Glastonbury as ‘paradise on earth’. This person must be in their 70s now. We’re after memories that cross the breadth of time, really – and capture the place, and mapping of the festival. Some people have said the railway line, and being able to cross the site, is their favourite place. We’ve had everything from people saying: ‘I met my husband here’ to ‘I’ve worked here as a volunteer for 50 years’. Glastonbury is so switched onto the moment, and the political moment, and you really get a feeling for that. People remember Brexit – waking up on a farm where everyone was sharing the same values. There’s a mirror to social history that comes through: it’s personal, social, political, it’s through time, and it’s about a place.”
And what’s your favourite thing about Glastonbury?
“I think the creativity within Block9 and Shangri-La is phenomenal, and that is witness to some of the most incredible innovation, and great minds. At the same time, I always make sure I go to the Green Fields for a moment of reflection. That feels like where the festival started – you’ll always find something peaceful and good for the soul up there. I like the balance of crazy and peaceful.”
Do you have a Glastonbury memory that you’d like to share with the V&A? Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org