West Holts. It’s a Family Affair.
It’s hard to think of Glastonbury Festival with just one stage, but until 1983 it was just the mighty Pyramid. Recognising the need to cater for a growing audience, Michael Eavis invited the organisers of Bristol’s legendary Ashton Court Free Festival to produce a second stage at Glastonbury. So at 12 noon on Thursday 22nd June 1984, a collective called Musicians Against Nuclear Arms strolled onto a little stage to help kick-start the festival. Over the decades the Marquee Stage evolved into the Second Stage, the World Stage, One World and the Jazz World, before becoming today’s West Holts.
Throughout these changes two principles have cemented West Holts’ foundations, allowing its development into one of those quintessential Glasto experiences: it’s got to be about the music and the vibe has got to be right!
There’s the unique and eclectic musical programme that fuses cosmic world beats, pop, rock, soul and disco from around the world whilst showcasing both established and new artists to an audience keen to explore musical adventures with like-minded people.
And this happens in a way that stays true to the Free Festival roots. Rather than a corporate product as at many other festivals, you get an immersive experience highlighting the values of creativity, tolerance, care and fun.
As in all walks of life, success requires stability and here lies the untold story of West Holts. Since its conception a small, dedicated group of friends, volunteers and associates have lovingly steered the stage through its various transformations. A global family?
The West Holts’ Area Co-ordinator is Derek Dodd. He first worked as a car park attendant for the Shepton Mallet Lions at the Festival in 1981, then sold programmes for a couple of years before working at the original 1984 Marquee Stage. His son Simon now works in the West Holts transport team. Derek remembers the early times: “The first line-up was mostly Bristol bands with names like Rita Bix, Rent a Party, The Lozenges Soul Revue, Parole Bros and Kim & the Karpettes. The next year was a step change; we had a little outdoor stage and when Doctor and the Medics drew our first big crowd at the time of Spirit in the Sky, I think we all went into shock!”
Shona and Steve Symons have been involved with the Stage since 1985. Steve programmes the line-up for West Holts, Shona is in charge of Artists’ Hospitality and their daughter Flora now works as part of Shona’s team. Shona helps makes the “talent” feel part of the family.
“The great thing about Glastonbury is that artists will just have fun, relax and really get into it, instead of being another show on the road,” she says. “A couple of years ago (soul/r’n’b singer-songwriter) Maverick Sabre decided he was going to stay even though his crew were leaving. He ended up staying on a bed in the dressing room for three nights!”
Barbara Belt is another crew member from the ’80s – in fact she was at the very first festival. She makes the trek over from her home in La Gomera to West Holts every year with her daughters, Sophie and Zia, to work in our Passes Office. This year West Holts hits its third generation as we will welcome them with Sophie’s nine-month old daughter, Stella. The West Holts family just keeps on growing.
The momentum continued and over the years the Bristol connection has served the stage well with iconic sets from Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky. Also the world music scene gave us literally music from everywhere including Pacific islands, Guadalajara and Outer Mongolia. Thomas Matfumo and the Blacks Unlimited in 1990 stands out but the biggest shiver-down-the-spine moment was probably Neneh Cherry gracefully walking on stage to duet with Youssou N’Dour on their ’94 hit 7 Seconds.
West Holts has been the field’s name since back in the day – when the trains had to stop to let the cows cross to go to get milked – and the stage’s name since 2010. This has marked another step change with some massive acts like Major Laser, Disclosure, MIA, Chic featuring Niles Rogers Jurassic 5, Bryan Ferry, Bobby Womack and plenty of others putting on bigger, more technically challenging shows. This year looks like being another step beyond.
We hope to see you in a field.