What did Glastonbury's first ever Pyramid Stage look like?

13 March 2021, 08:00

Michael Eavis and the iconic Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival site in 2005
Michael Eavis and the iconic Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival site in 2005. Picture: Andy Willsher/Redferns/Getty Images

Bill Harkin, the man who designed the iconic festival stage, has died aged 83. Radio X looks at the history of the Pyramid at Worthy Farm.

By Martin O'Gorman

"His enthusiasm and dedication led to what we have now," said Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis of Bill Harkin. Harkin, who has died aged 83, was the architect and set-designer who came up with the plans for the festival's iconic Pyramid Stage.

Along with festival co-founder Andrew Kerr, Harkin was one of the original group of people who met at Glastonbury Tor in 1970 and persuaded local dairy farmer Michael Eavis to hold an arts festival on his land.

Eavis remembers the pair approaching him with the idea: "They both became aware of very powerful feelings of spirituality and agreed the need for a new age of looking at life towards a utopian society.

"After more intense discussions these conversations led to the idea of a large music festival with a Pyramid as centre stage."

The very first Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury festival in June 1971, made from scaffolding, sheet metal and plastic sheeting
The very first Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury festival in June 1971, made from scaffolding, sheet metal and plastic sheeting. Picture: Vincent McEvoy/Redferns/Getty Images

Harkin later remembered the inspiration behind the Pyramid Stage: a vivid dream: "I was standing to the rear of an open-air stage next to a drum riser, looking towards the audience that someone was addressing.

"There were two beams of light forming a pyramid in the sky with some buildings on the horizon." Harkin jotted down the idea and worked it into a rough sketch that eventually became a fully-fledged architectural plan.

  1. The very first Glastonbury Pyramid Stage

    The very first Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in June 1971, as designed by Bill Harkin
    The very first Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in June 1971, as designed by Bill Harkin. Picture: GettyIan Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images

    The first Glastonbury festival in 1970 just had a regular open air stage, but for the second festival in June 1971, Bill Harkin created a frame out of scaffolding in the shape of a pyramid and covered it with metal and plastic sheeting.

    The pyramid shape is thought to have a powerful positive influence - which was an idea in keeping with spiritual movement of the early 1970s. The material on the Pryamid Stage was reflective so that when the film crew who were covering the festival turned on their huge arc lights, the structure glowed - and could be seen for miles.

  2. The second Pyramid Stage

    The second Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 1983, complete with corrugated iron roof
    The second Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 1983, complete with corrugated iron roof. Picture: Pete Cronin/Redferns/Getty Images

    Glastonbury festival was only held sporadically in the 1970s, but the 1980s saw the event come back in earnest. A new Pyramid Stage was constructed to usher in the new era - now supporting CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), the '81 festival saw a memorable performance by New Order on a stage made from decommissioned telegraph poles and iron sheets.

  3. The Pyramid Stage in 1990

    The corrugated Pyramid Stage gets a bit more busy-looking as the 90s arrive
    The corrugated Pyramid Stage gets a bit more busy-looking as the 90s arrive. Picture: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

    The second Pyramid Stage lasted into the 1990s, doubling up as a store for Worthy Farm's cows and their food reserves for the rest of the year.

  4. The Pyramid Stage in 1992

    A view from the Pryamid Stage in 1992... this incarnation of the structure would burn down two years later
    A view from the Pryamid Stage in 1992... this incarnation of the structure would burn down two years later. Picture: Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

    The Glastonbury site expanded in 1992, meaning the festival was on its way to becoming one of the biggest live events in the world. However, a week before the 1994 festival, the Pyramid Stage burnt down and a replacement had to be quickly built.

    The replacement main stage at Glastonbury 1994 - this structure would remain for the rest of the decade
    The replacement main stage at Glastonbury 1994 - this structure would remain for the rest of the decade. Picture: Niels van Iperen/Getty Images
  5. A new Pyramid Stage for the 21st Century

    The all-new Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2000
    The all-new Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2000. Picture: Jon Super/Redferns/Getty Images

    With the arrival of the 21st Century, the organisation at Glastonbury moved up a gear. In came the wall to stop people getting on to the site without tickets, and up went the all-new Pyramid Stage, in time for David Bowie's headline set in 2000.

  6. The frame of the Pyramid Stage in 2002

    The framework of the third Pyramid Stage in May 2002
    The framework of the third Pyramid Stage in May 2002. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

    The new Pyramid Stage was designed by Bill Burroughs, and is 40 metres square, using 40 km of tubing weighing 40 tonnes, according to the official Glastonbury site.

  7. The Pyramid Stage during Glastonbury downtime

    The festival site - and some of its inhabitants - wait for the 2004 festival to get underway
    The festival site - and some of its inhabitants - wait for the 2004 festival to get underway. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

    The structure of the Pyramid Stage remains at Worthy Farm for the whole year - including the months when the site goes back to its day job as a dairy farm.

  8. The Pyramid Stage stays solid against the elements

    Things get a little boggy on the first day of the 2007 Glastonbury festival
    Things get a little boggy on the first day of the 2007 Glastonbury festival. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

    Britain's unpredictable weather means that the stages at Glastonbury need to be made of strong stuff - but sometimes the elements get in the way of the music. In 2014, an electrical storm meant that the festival had to be shut down for several hours on safety grounds.

  9. Pyramid Stage fireworks

    The Killers end Saturday night at Glastonbury 2019 with a bang
    The Killers end Saturday night at Glastonbury 2019 with a bang. Picture: GettyOLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

    Now an essential part of the Glastonbury myth, the Pyramid Stage now plays host to the biggest stars in the world of music. The last time the festival was held was in 2019, with Stormzy, The Killers and The Cure all headlining.

  10. The Glastonbury legends slot

    Somewhere in there, behind the confetti and the flags is Kylie Minogue, performing the Glastonbury legends slot in 2019
    Somewhere in there, behind the confetti and the flags is Kylie Minogue, performing the Glastonbury legends slot in 2019. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

    Some of the biggest crowds at Glastonbury line-up in front of the Pyramid Stage on Sunday afternoon for the "legends" slot. Over the years, Kylie Minogue, Dolly Parton, ELO, Lionel Richie and Paul Simon have all delivered their hits to an adoring Pyramid Stage audience.

    Who has played the Glastonbury legends slot?

  11. Pyramid Stage clean up

    Clean up time at the Pyramid Stage, the Monday after Glastonbury 2019
    Clean up time at the Pyramid Stage, the Monday after Glastonbury 2019. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images

    And, with the biggest crowds comes the biggest mess. Hundreds of volunteers spend the week after the festival clearing up the open spaces in front of Glastonbury's many stages.

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