The festival that never was – rare pictures of Glastonbury at 50

It would have been the party of the year. The muddy field in Pilton, Somerset, that has been at the very heart of contemporary music for two generations, was to have staged its 50th anniversary festival this weekend, with Sir Paul McCartney and Diana Ross among the headliners.

June 1971:  Hippies at the second Glastonbury Festival, which saw the first use of a pyramid stage.  (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
June 1971: Hippies at the second Glastonbury Festival, which saw the first use of a pyramid stage. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Despite the asking price of £270 for a five-day pass, all 200,000 tickets were snapped up within half an hour of going on sale last October.

The Glastonbury Festival is a corporate undertaking now, but as these pictures from the archive remind us, its spirit and atmosphere is not so very different from when the first hippies arrived there in 1970.

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The organiser, Michael Eavis, had conceived the idea after seeing Led Zeppelin play an open-air concert at the nearby Bath Showground. He charged just £1 for visitors to what he initially called the Pilton Festival, and around 1,500 people took him up on the offer, on the promise of seeing Wayne Fontana and The Kinks. In the event, both were replaced at the last minute by the little-known outfit Tyrannosaurus Rex, featuring Marc Bolan.

June 1971: Hippies at the second Glastonbury Festival celebrate the summer solstice with music and dancing. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

The following year, the “Glastonbury Free Festival” was bigger and better, with David Bowie and a stage built from scaffolding and metal sheets to resemble the Great Pyramid of Giza. Nicolas Roeg and David Puttnam made a film of it, which they called Glastonbury Fayre.

But music festivals, like the youthful optimism of the late 1960s, proved to be a passing phase, and it was not until 1979 that Glastonbury was officially reborn, with Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins among the acts.

It grew throughout the next decade – despite the pitched battles between security guards and new age travellers in 1990 – and in 1994, Channel 4 began televising it to an audience too young to know who Wayne Fontana was.

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June 1971: The second annual Glastonbury music festival, which saw the first use of a pyramid stage. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

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June 1971: A group of hippies dancing during summer solstice celebrations at the second Glastonbury Festival. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

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James Mitchinson, Editor

21st June 1971: Festival-goers washing and collecting water at one of the stand pipes at Glastonbury Festival. The event at Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, celebrates the summer solstice. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Hippies at the Glastonbury Fair music festival, 22nd - 26th June 1971. Later renamed the Glastonbury Festival, this was the second festival to be held at the Worthy Farm site, near Pilton in Somerset. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A priest and worshippers outside the 'Jesus Tent' at the Glastonbury Fair music festival, 22nd - 26th June 1971. A sign offers mass and holy communion twice daily. Later renamed the Glastonbury Festival, this was the second festival to be held at the Worthy Farm site, near Pilton in Somerset. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A man eating take-way food by a catering van at the Glastonbury Fair music festival, 22nd - 26th June 1971. As well as fish and chips, the van offers tempura and apple friters. Later renamed the Glastonbury Festival, this was the second festival to be held at the Worthy Farm site, near Pilton in Somerset. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)