Was the age of the pop festival over already, in summer 1973?

Some felt they were now too organised and lacked soul, others lamented the sanitary facilities

‘Many people have been saying the days of the pop festival are over,’ starts an Observer Magazine access-all-areas investigation from 15 July 1973. With only two proper festivals in prospect for the year, was the Woodstock moment over?

Money, venue and weather hassles would be familiar to today’s promoters, as would accusations of selling out. ‘The amateurs say my festivals are “too well-organised man; not enough soul,”’ complained Harold Pemberton, organiser of a new one in Reading (would it catch on?) ‘I say where’s the soul in shitting in the mud?’

For the punters, your fiver might not get you the full sex, drugs and rock’n’roll experience, though it was certainly loud. ‘As well as throbbing in your ears, it seems to seethe.’ There was little sex (festivals were ‘not that comfortable or suitable’), though plenty of nudity going by the accompanying photos, including one of a quietly industrious, completely naked man repairing his jeans. The drug squad were mingling with the crowd dressed as hippies and there was ‘less drunkenness than after a Cup Final’.

The free food counter at one festival provided a horrifying sounding ‘mixture of porridge, rice, vegetables or whatever lay to hand, cooked in a huge urn and stirred with a hefty stick’. Shitting in the mud still came as standard: ‘The ladies’ toilet was just a large round tent containing 20 or 30 buckets scattered at random around the floor.’

But the intangible magic, and sense of testing a different way of living, made it all worthwhile. ‘The feel of a pop festival is unique,’ mused the writer. An organiser of the free 1971 Glastonbury Fayre called it, ‘A beautiful picture of what society could become’; a festivalgoer described the feeling of ‘constant ecstasy’. It’s hard, really, to disagree with the Windsor Evening Mail’s verdict: ‘Jolly good show chaps, the hippies are really such nice people.’


Emma Beddington

The GuardianTramp

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