This interview originally appeared on Spotify’s website, but they’ve kindly let us post it here.
Emily Eavis, daughter of Michael and the inheritor of the Glastonbury Festival that he began in 1970, knows what her favourite moment of each summer is.
“When the gates open,” she laughs. “That’s the best moment, really. Just seeing all the people, the determination, knowing all this fun is about to happen…”
This summer, of course, the gates aren’t opening at all – Worthy Farm is having one of its fallow years to give the grounds a break, but the site itself is still buzzing with activity. A film crew from Chinese State TV is on site documenting this most iconic of British traditions, while Danny Boyle’s vision for the Olympic opening ceremony includes a reimagined Glasto “mosh pit” under the watchful gaze of the nearby Glastonbury Tor.
And now, everywhere, teams of people drill, knock, nail, heave and secure various things to various other things in an attempt to get a head start on June 2013. Just across the field from where Spotify and Emily sit down to speak, the skeleton of the Pyramid Stage sits silently, ready for when the gates open again 12 months from now.
This year off doesn’t look much like a year off.
No! Right now agents are trying to reserve the bigger slots – they’ll probably be secured quite soon. Yesterday, someone big who we’ve really wanted for ages got in contact and so now we’re trying to negotiate the deal, to explain why we can’t offer millions of pounds, but we really want it to happen. I think this year we’ll be finished a bit earlier, but there’s only 3 days, and after a year off you’ve got twice as much stuff to choose from!
Now you’re getting this love from the Olympics too.
That’s very flattering. I mean, it really, really is. The fact that he’s decided to make the festival part of this huge ceremony representing Britain? I suppose Glastonbury is a very typically British thing now.
It also would suggest the country itself has changed, for you to be such a part of the nation’s self-image?
Yeah, hopefully people are more open-minded. There’s something very British about the spirit people have here. They’ve had to cope with some really, really hard years – when it’s hard, it’s really hard. A lot of people just leave, and you’re left with these people who are just so committed and determined to have a good time, and that is amazing when you see it. That is very British. I’m not sure how well that would work in other parts of the world!
Do you visit other festivals looking for inspiration?
I do and I’m hoping this year to go to a few. I definitely want to go to Camp Bestival and Port Eliot and I’d really like to make it to Sziget in Budapest. I took 12 of my nieces and nephews to Reading a couple of years ago, that was serious Aunt duty, but it was great. But the truth is, I don’t usually get a chance to visit many, because by the time we’ve cleared up here, it’s September – and then you’re really enjoying the peace! The closest thing to what we have here, I think, is the Notting Hill Carnival. It’s slightly wild, but really diverse, and there are sounds and life and music coming from everywhere. We have that carnival flavour because we go all night and we camp within the fence and I don’t know how many festivals do that now. At Glastonbury we’re all enclosed together and that gives everything a very special energy.
What’s the secret in booking a headliner?
Well, the best ones are the bands that step up to the occasion a bit. When we put on the White Stripes everyone was a bit, like, “What? They’re headlining?” But it was brilliant, because they really filled the place.
Who’s on your radar right now?
Definitely M. Ward – and Bon Iver’s coming back. I really love what he does and he headlined The Park, so we’ll definitely try and get a slot for them. Every couple of months we do a playlist and put together the highlights of what we’ve been listening to. We use Spotify a lot. My husband Nick’s a good example, because he has to listen to so much! It’s a great way to listen to new and old music. I was probably quite late to it, just because of the sort of person I am, but Nick was really, really early on it. So we just have this account for the house and people send us links to things and it’s great. I’m kind of quite selective about what I keep on my laptop, because I don’t want to get lost in it, but with Spotify, you can venture into territory that you wouldn’t necessarily venture in to, and discover music that is outside your own world.
Recently your father Michael was saying about how he’d love to book Adele for next year. How’s that developing?
Well, she played on the Park Stage at 10 in the morning a few years ago, so that’s not going to happen again! That was a really rainy year, but hopefully that’s not what put her off festivals. I think she’ll do what she wants to do, let’s face it! It would be great if she played, but obviously she’ll make that decision. There aren’t that many girls to be honest, so that’s another job of ours, to keep the balance right.
Glastonbury’s arms are open?
Yes. It would be brilliant to see her go all the way to the Pyramid Stage. But who knows? It’s said she doesn’t like playing to large crowds, but if you can perform at the Grammys, she could do it!
Who has never played here that you’d love to book?
The obvious ones are Prince and The Stones, both of which would obviously be great. There was a lot of talk of Prince last year, but I don’t know if that will ever happen, to be honest. The same with the Stones, but it’s hard for us to accommodate people that are used to doing their own thing, but, you know, that was OK for Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney! We can make anything work, we just need the band to be up for it. And obviously we just pay a lot less, but we offer other things!
Last weekend the rumour mill went into overdrive about the Stones “bowing out” at next year’s event.
Getting the Stones to Glastonbury is something that we’ve always wanted to happen. There really is no more news yet, but surely it’s got to happen soon? I like to think that they’d be up for it.
If they don’t do it next year, they’ll never do it.
That is so true. So they’ve got to do it. I mean, we can only offer our little measly envelope, but I’m sure they’re not bothered about that. We’d look after them.
Perhaps they could stay here in the house?
No! The only person that’s stayed at the house was David Bowie in 1971! It’s all changed so much since then, even since the 80s, which is when I first remember it. As a child it was Van Morrison and Elvis Costello and we didn’t really reach outside of that for quite a long time. I used to really love listening to Hothouse Flowers, for example, here in the sunshine, and that was, to me it was great. Shakespear’s Sister were a major turning point, because they came here and played this place that people still saw as scary and alternative.
Did people at school understand what happened here?
No! They knew we had these weird acts like Hawkwind, but suddenly there was Shakespear’s Sister, and that was really bizarre! I was about 10 or 11, and it was like this point where Stay was really big. People did wonder how we’d got this huge band to play at our weird thing that only their hippy parents had ever heard about. Happy Mondays was a big deal too as that was the first time that it was part of my scene. Lou Reed was really, really exciting for me too. And Blind Melon! I remember being desperate to try and get home, from school on the first Friday so I could bolt down to try and catch them. Blind Melon were the beginning for me.
What are your favourite playground rumours about Glastonbury from that time?
Ha! Well, the main one is Glastonbury was a sort of drug den and the further you went in, the harder the drugs got and eventually you got into Babylon, and that’s where you’d get anything you need. There was quite a lot of exaggeration in school!
From the outside it all looks really smooth, but there must have been very difficult years?
Yes! 2008, obviously, when we had Jay-Z. Because 2007 was really difficult. There were a lot of people who came because they wanted to be seen to be coming here, and they didn’t really want to be here. And they were clicking their fingers in front of the Pyramid stage saying, ‘So, where is the magic? This is crap, there’s no magic here, it’s raining, I can’t hear the bands!’
You had PA problems?
Yes, and some bands who we were really excited about playing, turned up to find it was really, really muddy, and they didn’t enjoy it. These were some of the most hyped bands of that year, and so for them to kind of say publicly, ‘This is awful, this is really bad’, combined with the fact that there were people standing at the Pyramid Stage going, ‘This is really crap,’ and it’s raining, and no one can’t hear the music, and all these things, suddenly it’s like a domino effect. We went from being really good to being really bad. And there was a lot of venom. When you give people a voice to be negative, they’re ready.
Did that effect the next year?
It did. We sold 80,000 tickets on the first day, but then we just couldn’t sell any more and that was really stressful. Michael lost quite a lot of weight, and he wasn’t sleeping, he was really worried about tickets, and we were going, ‘Please can you help us!’ to everyone we knew because we have to sell out in order to break even. And then we booked Jay-Z.
That was your decision?
It was, because I thought Jay-Z was brilliant and I felt like we couldn’t do another indie band. We had the Kings of Leon doing the Friday night, and I really just wanted something just a bit different for Saturday. So we booked Jay-Z.
And everyone thought Glastonbury had lost its mind!
Exactly. That was the final straw, people thought we were absolutely insane and they liked that idea because it meant we were finished.
And now he’s headlining the BBC’s Hackney Weekender.
Yes! It’s amazing to see Jay Z playing events all over the country now without any controversy. It’s testament to what a great performer he is and also what a great ambassador he is for hip-hop. Jay Z has shown that that music can cross over to many different audiences.
So there actually was a moment when you actually thought, “My god, I’ve killed the festival?”
Yeah. We really did think, maybe it is the last year. We’ve had a really good run, you know! And I knew that it wasn’t Jay-Z, because that had come right at the end of all this other stuff: it wasn’t just moaning bands either, but that had happened at quite a key time. It was a combination of things, and people were really pissed off – they were ready to be annoyed with Glastonbury.
And Noel Gallagher didn’t help…
Well, Noel obviously kind of stoked it up, but actually he really helped, because as soon as he spoke out on it that made it tribal. It was us and them. So when Jay-Z came on, it was absolutely amazing. The whole valley just united and it was like this was part of something new and everything felt fresh and exciting again.
Who has surprised you by asking for a tent?
To be honest, pretty much everyone’s had a tent, I think. There’s not many people who haven’t!
I think she and Jay-Z had a tent, yeah. I’m not sure: I can’t remember, because I’d just given birth. Maybe not a small dome tent though, more like one with four bedrooms!
What changes are you making for 2013?
There are some small changes going on now, but there are changes every year. Last year was Campo Pequeno and the futuristic tunnels – there will be lots more little things like that going on. A year off’s always a good time to review the situation, but we’ll have the Underground Piano Bar back too, that’s one of those things that everyone always looks for and no one can find!
Finally, what don’t people understand about Glastonbury?
Probably that just because we’re the biggest, and the most established, and we get most coverage that we’re not still the most vulnerable. Glastonbury is run by us – I’m not saying feel sorry for us, because we’re alright – but it’s a misconception that we’re the strongest. Everything that happens here is very emotional because this is our home, it’s not a hired place. This is somewhere with personal history and we really care about it. So if people say they’re having a terrible time, it really matters to us; you want to make it good and for people to be treated well. So security and policing is all at a minimum. When you scratch beneath the surface you see that all the elements that were here when it started are all still there. We’re always trying to make it better, keep it as unique as possible. There are so many events now, which is great, but it means we have to stay really special.