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Interview: Michael Eavis

26 June 13 interview: Paul Klotschkow
illustrations: Jamie Gibson

By day he’s a dairy farmer. But every summer his farm becomes the most celebrated party site in the UK, as he opens up his gates to 150,000 revellers. So when we heard Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis was in Nottingham, we thought we’d say hello...

What you are doing in Nottingham?
I’m here for Confetti’s Industry Week. I was asked to do a talk here last year, but for some reason I couldn’t. So I sent my Deputy, Mark Cann, out instead. Mark really enjoyed it, he’s an ex-teacher and very articulate. So I thought that’s that put to bed. But it wasn’t because they phoned me back again to ask if I could make it this time.
 
How hands on are you with organising the festival these days?
I’ve got lots of people booking the bands with me. There are twelve different stages and they each have their own management structure. They’re doing their own things, but I’m paying them all and agreeing their budgets. I make the final choices about what they spend their money on as we’ve got no shareholders or anything like that. It is still very hands on, but it’s a great privilege with so many people wanting to come. 850,000 people have pre-registered this year, so it’s a hell of a thing.
 
Is there anything new at this years festival? Other than the bands...
There are some campsites we are setting up where people get their tents put up for them. That’s a new idea this year. We hate to see all of those tents discarded, you see. It looks bad and most of those things go into landfill, which is not really what we are about.
 
Do you think people sometimes forget that it’s a working farm?
I think they know that but they can’t be bothered. They buy a cheap tent from Millets and just leave it behind. It’s a real shame people do that. Anyway, we are moving away from that and thankfully people are choosing sites with tents provided, meaning that all of those will get packed and stored away for the following year. That way there’s no waste.
 
There’s been a few obstacles in recent years such as licensing issues with the fence and almost not selling out in 2008. Added to that are all the problems you had with the local council in the eighties. Have you ever thought about just throwing the towel in?
No, I haven’t. If it fails then it fails. But while I’ve got something that actually works and that people love, I’m not going to stop am I? People try and make things work all of the time in this world. If you can’t achieve it then it fails and then you are finished. But you can’t give up while you are still achieving.
 
I wanted to ask how you stay competitive now that festivals are such a big part of our summer and popping up all over the place...
Quite simply we are ahead of them. Glastonbury is the market leader. I wouldn’t like to be one of the other shows that are trying to catch up with us, because we’ve had a big head start. We have been running longer and we are run on more principled lines. Our festival is more sustainable and ecologically sound, or at least that is what we are trying to achieve. I’m not saying that we are perfect, but that ethos is at the heart of our operation. It’s a unique model and it does work.
 
What do you say to people who say that Glastonbury lost its spirit when you put the fence up and invited the TV crews on to the site?
We are actually putting the lid on TV crews at the minute. We’ve got too many, they want to do more and more, but I have told them that’s enough. I can understand the problem people have with so many TV crews about, but the fence just had to happen. We wouldn’t have still been here otherwise, there would have been too many people coming in and it would have got too dangerous.
 
I understand the fence actually has a Nottingham connection?
It does. It’s bought from just up the road somewhere. It’s about time I go and see Rick who owns the company, he’s the boss there and a lovely chap. They put up the whole thing in about three weeks. They’re such workers, even in the rain they still get it all up on time.
 
The fence has become part of the festival now. As you approach the site you can see it and that is exciting...
I know. It looks good doesn’t it? As it snakes around it looks lovely. The fence is fantastic. These lads from Nottingham come down to put it up and fall in love with local girls. So there’s a sort of geographical change in population. You get a lot of Nottingham people marrying Pilton girls.
 
You must have met some amazing people since you’ve been doing this. Who have you been most inspired or impressed by?
I loved meeting the historian EP Thompson. Did you see his speech on the Glastonbury video? It was a beautiful poem and he was remarkable chap. So I would say Edward. But out of the pop bands I’ve particularly enjoyed meeting John Martyn, Coldplay, Thom Yorke, Noel Gallagher and Peter Gabriel. They’re all fantastic people and they’ve helped us with our sales and the TV coverage.
 
Who is the ‘Holy Grail’ of Glastonbury bookings - the one act you’ve tried to book but for one reason or another it never quite happens? Prince? Kylie?
Well, certainly Prince is on the cards one day. We’ve got to get him some time, obviously. And of course the Rolling Stones are doing it this year too. That’s taken us a good while to sort out.
 
Are there any acts who you regret not booking?
Yes there are several, unfortunately. There are one or two sad stories where people have died just before they were going to play. One of the members of Pink Floyd died just before we put them on. Jerry Garcia died before we had the Grateful Dead. And The Beatles - we’ve had Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. But George Harrison had his own band and I turned him down at the wrong time really, it’s very sad. I wasn’t convinced by what he was doing at the time, but that’s probably about the worse mistake I ever made. I was getting fed up with My Sweet Lord and I thought what else can he do? But we can’t always be right, can we? Paul McCartney was brilliant, he was absolutely fantastic. I’m glad I put him on because I think his voice has gone a little bit now, but he was so good back then. So I got that one right.
 
What is the most outrageous rider request an act has made?
Nigel Kennedy wanted an air conditioning unit for his dog. That one was pretty good.
 
Did you get him one?
Yes, we had to. He said the dog panted a lot in hot weather.
 
All dogs do... how are your cows doing?
They are doing well. We’ve had the top herd in Somerset three years running now. They are the highest yielding herd and they’re fantastic. Milk prices have gone up a little bit too.
 
Are you still active on the farm?
I’ve got two farm managers, one who looks after the fields and one who looks after the cattle. They are high quality staff and really good people. I’m dependent on them really. But I’m still down on the farm every day and I go around the cows every evening.
 
Can you envisage a time when you are going to stop?
No. While I feel like this and can carry on like this then it’s just fine. I don’t know how long I can keep going for, but I would like to celebrate fifty years of the festival in 2020.

Glastonbury Festival takes place at Worthy Farm in Pilton on 26-30 June 2013.

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