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Music, merrymaking and mud!

12:00am | & News

As around 175,000 people converge on a few fields on a Somerset farm, the 2016 Glastonbury Festival gets under way today.

Now the UK's best-known festival, Glastonbury can trace its roots all the way back to 1970, when it was a very different event. The "Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival" was held at Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset, on Saturday September 19th, 1970. Inspired by hippie ethics and the growing free festival movement, it was organised by the 34-year-old owner of Worthy Farm, Michael Eavis. 

Around 1,500 people turned up to see T-Rex, Al Stewart and various support acts, after the original headline acts – The Kinks and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – cancelled at short notice. Tickets cost £1 and, despite the late change of acts, the day was a success.

The following year the Glastonbury Free Festival was held, the admission price scrapped partly because of the number of gatecrashers the previous year. Among the expanded line-up of acts was a young David Bowie, Fairport Convention, Hawkwind and many more. The event also featured the first incarnation of the "Pyramid Stage" and was documented by budding filmmakers Nicholas Roeg and David Puttnam, who called their film "Glastonbury Fayre".

Despite its success, the festival proper didn't happen again until 1979, although there was a small unplanned event the previous year when police mistakenly directed a convoy of vehicles from the Stonehenge Festival to Worthy Farm.

It wasn't until the 1980s that the festival, now firmly under the control of Michael Eavis, began to really take off, extended to three days and held every year except 1988. This was declared a 'fallow year' to give the land a chance to recover from the increasingly large crowds the festival was attracting, with more of these deliberate gaps in future years.

By the end of the 1990s the festival was attracting more than 100,000 people and featuring some of the biggest names in the music industry. By 2005 attendance had topped 150,000, though attendance figures for Glastonbury are always a little vague as evading the increasingly tight security to get on for free remains a tempting challenge for some hard-up festival goers.

Even this year the ticket for the full five-day festival is only £228, considered outstanding value for the number and calibre of acts gracing the may concert stages. This year's headliners include Adele, Coldplay, Jeff Lynne's ELO and Madness.

And Glastonbury was always planned to be much more than just a music festival, also hosting dance, cabaret, theatre, comedy and even circus acts. There will be more than 60 stages at this year's festival, which is still run by Michael Eavis, now aged 80, and assisted by his daughter Emily. Around 250 bio-diesel generators running on 60,000 litres of waste vegetable oil will provide more than 27 megawatts of power for the festival – enough to power the entire city of Bath.

One other thing that Glastonbury is known for is mud. Wet weather in many years, combined with thousands of trudging feet, has turned large parts of the site into a mudbath. Wellies are a vital part of the festival-goers kit, though many leave them behind rather than carry them home. Since 2013 the thousands of pairs of abandoned wellies have been collected by a charity and shipped out for free distribution in Romania.

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