Glastonbury, 1971, and it's Arthur Brown's birthday, so the crowd sing him Happy Birthday. Why is there a crowd and why is Arthur Brown performing before them? Because this is the second year of the music festival, which is free to get in and is held in the field of custodian Michael Eavis's farm, a magnet of music and happening for hippies where they could let it all hang out under the summer sun and soak up the vibes. The centrepiece of this is the Pyramid Stage, a newly-devised construction where the bands and singers perform, its distinctive shape chosen for mystical motives, and first up to play is Terry Reid, who happily jams in front of the assembled with the assistance of singer Linda Lewis...
The name Glastonbury is now synonymous with that music festival which has been held almost every year since 1970, though it missed its fiftieth anniversary thanks to the coronavirus. This made the archive footage all the more precious for those wanting to be reminded of what the experience was like, and reignited interest in the 2006 documentary simply titled Glastonbury, and to a lesser extent this 1971 effort which was as close to the project's inception as it was possible to get, and therefore a valuable document of the early nineteen-seventies and those trying to hold onto the hippy dream that was beginning to warp into the so-called "Me Decade", pervading the culture but also mutating and souring as the decade progressed.
So this film captures the last holdouts of the hippies who were beginning to be left behind - but that's the narrative that most often gets related, was it true? Although the festival became attacked for eventually attracting the middle classes in their droves, it remains the most visible place for hippies who have kept the banner flying for the peace, love and mind-altering substances to gather, so maybe don't write them all off just yet. Here it's like a mini-Woodstock, only without the potential for humanitarian disaster and starvation: everyone looks to be having a great time, assuming your idea of a great time is sitting in that field, listening to endless drumming (oh so much drumming) and getting stoned out of your gourd. Plus, as expected, the casual nudity, at times combined with the mud.
Indeed, there are scenes of stark-naked hippies rolling around in said mud as if they were imitating what they had seen in the far more famous music documentary of Woodstock the previous year. The music was somewhat muddy-sounding too, but well-played enough to get the spirit of the tunes, ranging from Melanie belting out her anthem to the finale with Steve Winwood and Traffic getting the audience going in the darkness - David Bowie was present too, as headliner, but he was apparently on so late the camera crew missed him. Nicolas Roeg was the director, in between Walkabout and Don't Look Now, though it took him some years to be credited for boring behind the scenes entanglements reasons. There was a "point and shoot" quality to the footage that was not as polished as his feature film material, but it did have an immediacy that benefited the roaming festival goers, the occasional interviews (emphasising the spiritual), and of course the acts. As for the couple preserved for posterity in flagrante delicto, be thankful you were too far away to be identified.