On the heels of director Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock, released in 1970, there arrived a number of music documentaries following in its footsteps. As we find ourselves half a century forward from the early seventies, one can look back at standout films that sought to accurately capture the music and attitudes of those times. Originally released solely to reflect then-current trends, they now stand as valuable visual records of a time now mostly passed.
While Woodstock gave us a portrait of a utopian gathering filled with music, brotherly love, and peace…Gimme Shelter (1970) depicted events at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, where darkness appeared to overtake the musical proceedings as violence and a stabbing death took place. Many consider the Altamont concert, which took place December 6, 1969, as the symbolic end of the peace and love movement of the sixties. It was, in actuality, a tragic anomaly regarding the majority of outdoor music festivals at the time. The spirit of peace and love was definitely not dead. A musical gathering in rural England known as Glastonbury Fair (later named Glastonbury Festival) would prove to the world that the enlightenment awakened in the late sixties was still alive and thriving. Thankfully much of this event was captured on celluloid, enabling viewers to travel back to a truly magical time that once was.
Glastonbury Fayre (1972) showcases the 1971 festival, which was the second year of its existence. The initial gathering, in September 1970, was known as the Pilton Pop, Blues, and Folk Festival. The iconic pyramid stage utilized at Glastonbury debuted in 1971, and is seen prominently on-screen. This film is essential viewing for anyone who comes away from Woodstock desiring more.
Glastonbury Fayre was directed by Nicolas Roeg, the renowned director of Performance, Don’t Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth, and also Peter Neal. The reason for co-direction stems from Nicolas Roeg having departed early from the project to fulfil other commitments, with Peter Neal taking the helm and completing the shoot. Amid footage of stage construction chat and newly arriving festivalgoers engaged in almost pagan, tribal celebration, it’s obvious this was the place to be during the summer solstice 20-24 June, 1971. Although Glastonbury Fayre does not feature all of the performers who participated onstage that year (notably headliners Joan Baez, Hawkwind, and a young David Bowie are missing), nonetheless it remains a fascinating record of a place in time. The film kicks off with an intoxicating performance of “Dean” by Terry Reid. Nicknamed “Superlungs” in regard to his incredibly powerful voice, Reid exhibits the perfect look here (sharing the stage with vocalist Linda Lewis). In both style and wardrobe, Terry Reid seems to bridge the gap between the late sixties and where music was headed into the seventies. Singer-songwriter Melanie, who appeared at Woodstock in 1969 (albeit not in Wadleigh’s completed documentary), is thankfully seen here performing her own composition, “Peace Will Come (According to Plan)” in fine voice.
The legendary British folk rock band Fairport Convention is also featured, along with Family, Gong, Magic Michael, Trumpton and the Riots, Quintessence, and Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. While some of the more obscure performers are lost in time to a different era, others carry on today. There is truly an out of this world performance by Arthur Brown, appearing with his (then) newly–formed band, Kingdom Come. Occurring after dark, introduced by flares…Arthur Brown commands a near shamanistic presence. With bandmates in make-up, swathed in hooded robes and even a surreal clown outfit, three massive crosses are set afire and burn intensely adjacent to the stage. A musical exhibition of almost orgasmic strength, it serves as a drastic contrast to the sun-drenched love-in witnessed in the afternoon footage. You don’t get this kind of manic performance much these days. Arthur Brown’s birthday, which occurred during the festival, is announced live from the stage and the crowd showers him with positive vibes as witnessed on-screen before the film’s opening credits.
As integral a part the musical performances are within the film, they are not the sole raison d’être for Glastonbury Fayre. Directors Nicolas Roeg and Peter Neal also focus on the intensely colourful sea of attendees. The overwhelmingly (but not limited to) youthful crowd transcends an outdoor music festival into an authentic happening celebrating life itself. Memorable images of people interacting with each other and nature are beautifully filmed. Located very near Stonehenge, the festival became a mecca for spiritually-minded beings and not just another ‘hippie’ gathering at that time. We witness all within the crowd…lovers kissing, young and old travellers, children, elderly, animals, and bikers. The festival was planned as much more than simply a music event. Ecological awareness for the planet, and all spiritual philosophies, from mystics and pagans to Christians and Hindus, were welcomed by the organizers. As the film reveals, everyone seems to merge as one. There had to be a feeling in the air that the entire world was about to transform into a kind of utopia.
There is much dancing and merrymaking, as some folks are attired in near medieval garb, numerous others sans a stitch of clothing. Many celebrating around a drum circle in the grass or swimming in mud enjoying nature. We hear various religious persons ranging from ministers to a guru expressing joy and sharing philosophical teachings. A Christian man (appearing to be a minister) adds, “I was surprised, you know, thinking over the thing later, I was amazed how there was nothing suggesting indecency and pornography and that sort of thing…and yet there they were, all in the nude…and behaving perfectly natural…and I, as part of the crowd too, didn’t feel awkward at all. I was amazed at myself actually.”
The final on-screen performance in Glastonbury Fayre is a rocking version of “Gimme Some Lovin’” by Traffic featuring Steve Winwood. The music speaks for itself. Definitely a product of its time, Glastonbury Fayre will elicit extremely varied reactions from viewers. Some will immerse themselves in this amazing era of the counterculture and the music it spawned. Others will simply look at it from afar, interpreting it all as an aged relic of hippie culture never to come again. Beyond the film itself, however, this age of openness and experimentation may be considered philosophically timeless. There exists a touching scene in the film of a wandering man happily sharing flowers with others as the music plays on…camaraderie among peaceful strangers, I hope…will never go out of style. The film proves to be a fascinating documentary of the 1971 Glastonbury Fair, presenting equal time with the performers and crowd alike. Glastonbury Fayre serves as a worthy companion piece to Woodstock as a contributing record of an extraordinary time of art and expression like none other in human history.
The Glastonbury Festival, taking place in Pilton, Somerset, England, continues to this day and has grown to immense popularity. The music and styles have changed, but the spiritual embrace of art and music carries on. The last scheduled festival, billed as the fiftieth-anniversary event, was postponed in 2020 due to the worldwide pandemic and is set to take place in 2022. Glastonbury Festival will carry on, and Glastonbury Fayre remains an important document of how it all began.