Nicolas Roeg’s “Glastonbury Fayre” captures the flower-powery essence of the outdoor festival

By on November 26, 2018

In the summer of 1971, from Sunday, June 20th to Thursday, June 24th, acclaimed director Nicolas Roeg — who passed away last Friday — took a break from working on his film Walkabout to lens the festivities at the Glastonbury Fair festival in Somerset, England, capturing the flower-powery essence of the early ’70s outdoor festival in all its peaceful glory.

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Roeg’s 87-minute NSFW (for lots of nudity) concert film — featuring live concert performances by Terry Reid, Linda Lewis, Fairport Convention, Magic Michael, Melanie, Arthur Brown & Kingdom Come, Quintessence, Daevid Allan & Gong, and Traffic, among others (but it doesn’t include David Bowie, and Hawkwind, who also performed) — was released in theaters in May 1972 as Glastonbury Fayre.

The film was released on DVD until earlier this month, and this past Friday (the same day Roeg died), we had just added Roeg’s film — Glastonbury Fayre: 1971, The True Spirit Of Glastonbury — to our Music Documentary section on Night Flight Plus.

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Everyone agrees that the festival lacks the overwhelming cultural significance of the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair (“An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”), the Glastonbury Festival (as it’s now known) still continues to this day, drawing over 100,000 concertgoers a year to its southwest England location in Somerset.

Certainly that’s worth celebrating while any nostalgia-tinged fondness for what really happened at Woodstock in August ’69 slips deeper and deeper into the fetid ether of our our fading collective consciousness.

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The first Glastonbury Festival was actually held a year earlier, on September 19th, the day after Jimi Hendrix died.

“The Pilton Festival,” as it was called then, was mainly a “pop, folk & blues” event, unfolding over a two day period as “word of mouth” spread around the UK that Marc Bolan, Keith Christmas, Stackridge, Al Stewart, Quintessence & other acts were playing a free concert at Worthy Farm in Pilton.

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In the end, only about 1500 concertgoers attended the free concert.

Organizer Michael Eavis was inspired to continue the festival, though, moving it to the Mid-Summer Solstice in late June and continuing the tradition of hosting a free-for-all medieval-styled event which would feature music, dance, poetry, theatre, lights and “spontaneous entertainment.”

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1971’s lineup of acts — including Hawkwind, Traffic, Arthur Brown, Melanie, Fairport Convention, Family, Linda Lewis and Terry Reid, among others — were the first to perform on the very first “pyramid” stage, constructed out of scaffolding and expanded metal covered with plastic sheeting.

Film producers Sy Litvanoff and David Puttnam approached Nicolas Roeg, who took up the assignment and got behind the camera himself — along with eight more cameramen — frequently turning the cameras upon the audience, who were smoking pot and dropping acid, and dancing naked and rolling around in the mud.

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Some 12,000 had attended this second Glastonbury Fair for free, so don’t expect to hear any on-camera whiny about “the Man” ripping everybody off with expensive ticket prices.

Read more about Glastonbury Fayre below.

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After editing a rough cut of Glastonbury Fayre, which producers used to shop around to film distributors, Nicolas Roeg left this project to begin work on his must-see ’70s horror classic, Don’t Look Now, which was to star Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in their prime.

Glastonbury Fayre was then worked on by various editor until Peter Neal — an amateur cameraman at the time who would go on to direct the Yes documentary film Yessongs — was brought in to finish Roeg’s film.

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Neal blended in 16mm film footage shot by other amateurs, which is why he was actually given the theatrical print credit as “Completion Director” back in the ’70s.

This new DVD release by Odeon Entertainment (distributed by MVD) clarifies that Roeg is now rightfully credited as the film’s director, according to Roeg’s own audio commentary and the 35-minute accompanying “making of” featurette (buy the DVD!).

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Goodtimes Enterprises — who had worked on Roeg’s earlier film Performance — were brought on board with completion funds for Glastonbury Fayre‘s post-production phase, and in the process further changes were made to Roeg’s cut of the concert film.

It should be noted that David Bowie — who performed new songs from his Hunky Dory album and a handful of tracks from earlier releases — was omitted from the theatrical print because he and his band actually took the stage at 4 a.m. and Roeg’s film crew were sound asleep at the time.

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Hawkwind, Brinsley Schwartz, and the Pink Fairies also did not make it into the final cut of the film for reasons we are unable to explain.

The musical highlights here include Traffic — particularly their version of “Gimme Some Lovin,” Steve Winwood’s hit with the Spencer Davis Group — and a grand performance by Fairport Convention, post-Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson.

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The real highlights might be what happened offstage, including footage of the crowd infused with a still-pungent peace & love vibe that was likely lingering over from the late Sixties.

Expect to see a lot of smelly mud-caked, sun-worshipping hippie beardos and weirdos intercut with various beaded and bedazzled gurus and wannabe preachers and Jesus Freaks spouting a lot of religious nonsense.

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Glastonbury Fayre was not a theatrical cult hit like the other festival films, and was a disappointment at the box office, so subsequent viewings have been rare over the ensuing decades.

A 1972 compilation album, Revelations: Glastonbury Fayre — featuring no performances in common with the film — has since become a rare collectors’ item.

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Watch Glastonbury Fayre: 1971, The True Spirit Of Glastonbury on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.