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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 June, 2003, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
Michael Eavis: Godfather of Glastonbury

Andrew Walker
BBC's News Profiles Unit

Michael Eavis
Michael Eavis has been running the Glastonbury festival since 1970

The organiser of this weekend's Glastonbury festival is a 67-year-old Methodist dairy farmer with a penchant for Radiohead and the chutzpah to turn down Sir Paul McCartney.

Take 150,000 music fans, a very large field, innumerable tents, add some of the world's greatest bands and what do you get? Quite simply: the Glastonbury festival.

Sure, there are pretenders to the crown all around the world. Milwaukee has its long-running Summerfest, folkies still flock to Newport and Montreux provides an elegant and dramatic backdrop for its jazz.

But Glastonbury is the undoubted daddy of them all, the sine qua non of youthful hedonism: more than a festival, a rite of passage. Enjoyed, sometimes endured, by generations of gilded youth.

Glastonbury festival
Big field. Big sound
But none of its trademarks, the first-class bands, the jugglers, fire-eaters, poets, veggies and others, would come together in such a manner each June, without the benign presence of the festival's creator and guiding light, Michael Eavis.

Eavis is probably the best-known - certainly the best-loved - music promoter in the world. The Methodist dairy farmer - and proud owner of the 600-acre Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, has been welcoming festival goers to his patch since 1970.

Back in those days, when entrance was 1 with a free pint of milk thrown in. Today, a ticket will set you back 105.

Thirty years of music

The loon-panted, tied-dyed hippy crowd of 1,500 swayed to bands like T Rex and Hawkwind, as well as the now-forgotten Amazing Blondel and Steamhammer.

Farmer Eavis is resolutely a local man. Born in 1935, he was educated at the Cathedral School in nearby Wells and then a merchant naval college.

Michale Eavis in black tie
Best bib and tucker: Michael Eavis enjoys a night out at home
He sailed the world, working for the Union Castle shipping line, before inheriting the farm on his father's death in 1958.

In 1969, he and his second wife, Jean, spent a day at the Bath Blues festival.

So impressed were they that they decided to hold their own festival, at home, the following year. Thus, a day after the death of Jimi Hendrix, a legend was born.

Michael Eavis says his motives were simple: "I liked pop music and people so it seemed like a good idea to put the two together. It was all quite naive when we started, we really hadn't a clue."

Jousting with authority

And, even though the festival has grown a hundred-fold, his view still remains the same: book some bands, organise the food, other entertainments and security, sell tickets and give the profits to charity.

Although it thrived during the 1970s, Glastonbury really took-off in the 1980s.

Seen by many as a rallying-point against Thatcherism, its pro-CND stance - guided by Eavis - brought political, as well as musical, relevance. And acts like Aswad, Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg combined pop and polemics.

Fans at Glastonbury
Still crazy after all these years
The Eighties also brought the first confrontation with authority. New regulations meant that the festival had to be licensed by Mendip District Council - the start of an ongoing feud which is still rumbling today.

Travellers rioted in 1990, the festival was cancelled in 1988, 1991 and 1996, to offer a breather to Michael and Jean Eavis (who died in 1999). And it did not take place in 2001 because of security fears. Today, a vast fence surrounds the site.

But, largely due to Eavis himself, the festival is probably healthier today than ever. It must be, to have sold out within 18 hours, even before the line-up was announced.

Labour candidate

"He's incredible. Such a public figure - just like Santa," says Steve Sutherland, editorial director of the music paper, NME.

"He's generous, egalitarian, but a canny character. One minute he can be as hard as nails, the next he plays the nave farmer. All to get what he wants, the best for the festival."

Michael Eavis and a BBC Radio 1 truck
Glastonbury calling: Eavis' festival is heard around the world
His role includes hand-picking the acts, whether they be Bob Dylan, David Bowie or Oasis, and turning others down.

This year, Michael Eavis said "thanks, but no thanks" to none other than Sir Paul McCartney. A number of years ago, another Beatle, the late George Harrison, received the same answer.

But the man, like the festival, is about more than just music. He remains a committed environmentalist and stood for the Labour Party in Wells at the 1997 general election, losing but adding 16,000 to the party's vote.

Now married for a third time, Michael Eavis has said that he will, one day, leave the running of the festival to his daughter, Emily. His will be a huge act to follow.

As Steve Sutherland puts it: "Ask anyone and they'll agree that the unique spirit at Glastonbury is mostly down to Michael."






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