The Glastonbury Tribe

the eighties, the Glastonbury audience was composed of a number of distinct groups.

Of course, there were students and the like - young people enjoying being young. But there was also a band of aging hippies who had "kept the faith" (usually in a cupboard under the stairs). Once a year, they would brave the scorn of their children, and dig out their faded, patched (possibly flared) jeans, and make their annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury - either in memory of their hippy youth, or in penance for not having the nerve to do it when they were young.

There was also a new brand of festival entrepreneurs. Early festivals had offered little more than bowls of brown rice and bean stew for the sustenance of festival-goers. In the eighties, things became much more sophisticated. There were crepe bars, sushi stalls, organic pig-roasts - food-styles from all over the world. There were also clothes, crafts, music, massage stalls. The open-air market at a festival began to rival an average shopping mall in its range of goods and services - without the muzak. (In 1998, there were 755 individual official traders.)

These stalls were run by a travelling band of traders who moved from festival to festival throughout the summer - very much in the spirit of mediæval town fairs.

Another section of the audience (possibly the largest) was composed of young, well-off revellers, for whom the festival was little more than an excuse to get off their faces with whatever drugs they could get their hands on, and to ogle the naked girls (something of a Glastonbury tradition). Many of these were foot-soldiers in Maggie Thatcher's army of stock dealers, estate agents and hairdressers who were doing pretty well out of the market economy, and were spending their money having fun. That their money was going to CND was an unconsidered side-effect (with some pleasing irony, however).

Many of these (along with some of the more arthritic hippies) indulged in something called 'glamping' - sleeping in luxuriously-appointed tents or yurts, erected and maintained by teams of servants.

And then there was the Peace Convoy.

The Peace Convoy were a group of people - mostly young, mostly unemployed, mostly homeless - who had decided to be young, unemployed and homeless in the country, rather than in some sordid inner-city squat. Since they felt (with some justice) that no-one in authority cared about the young, unemployed or homeless, they had an attitude.

They travelled about the country in a motley collection of old vans, lorries and buses. Some of them were thieves, some of them were vandals. Most of them were neither. They included families, the idealistic young and people rejected by their society or their families. They had a lot in common with the romantic image of the hobo - in Depression America.

This convoy travelled (mostly) from festival to festival, where casual work was often available. When there wasn't a festival, they tried to make one. They were particularly persisntent in their attempt to create a Free Stonehenge Solstice Festival. The authorities responded by turning this ancient monument into a passable imitation of a military zone.

Farmers hated them. Every rumour of theft, vandalism or shocking behaviour circulated wherever farmers met. Fields and lanes were blocked off to them, and every chance to make their lives unpleasant was taken with glee. Police in farming areas went to extraordinary lengths to harass and harry the travellers from their jurisdiction (a practise which was supposed to have stopped by the Elizabethan Poor Laws).

In 1985, the Wiltshire Constabulary ordered a large convoy into a beanfield near Stonehenge. When the travellers had obeyed, a mob of policeman proceeded to enact a systematic trashing of every vehicle in the field - slashing tires, smashing windows and lights (often while small children were still inside), and rendering these people's homes into wreckage. A disgraceful episode.

But this "Beanfield Massacre" didn't entirely finish the Peace Convoy. After all, these vehicles had originally been bought up for a few quid each, and the members of the Convoy had learnt resilience in their years on the road. Some of them are still out there. Some similar vans and buses still turn up to festivals in the nineties and beyond.

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