Who headlined the first Glastonbury festival?

19 September 2023, 16:10

The original Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival
The original Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival. Picture: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Michael Eavis held the very first festival at Worthy Farm on 19 September 1970… but who was on the bill? And which superstar band pulled out?

On Friday 18 September 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in a London flat. For many people, this event marked the end of the 1960s, as one of its brightest stars burnt out at the desperately young age of 27.

The sad news almost overshadowed the very first instalment of what was to become a fixture in the British music calendar, and perhaps the greatest festival of all time: Glastonbury.

The very first Glastonbury festival was held on Saturday 19 September at Michael Eavis’s dairy farm in Pilton, Somerset. It originally ran for just the one day and in those days was titled the “Pilton Pop, Folk & Blues Festival”.

Eavis charged the very reasonable price of £1 for a ticket, alongside free milk from his own dairy. Ads for the festival also promised “Sheltered fields for camping!”, “All food at fair prices!” and “Ox roast!”

Glastonbury festival from the air in 1971... it's TINY!
Glastonbury festival from the air in 1971... it's TINY! Picture: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

But who played the very first Glastonbury festival?

The original headliners were The Kinks: brothers Ray and Dave Davies had fronted the band since 1964, but since the days of the beat boom their music had mutated into something quintessentially English, most typified by their 1968 album The Village Green Preservation Society. In June 1970, the band had just released what was to become one of their biggest hits, Lola.

The Kinks in 1970: headliner material?
The Kinks in 1970: headliner material? Picture: Historic Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Also down as playing the first Glastonbury was Wayne Fontana, a Manchester musician best known for his 1965 hit A Groovy Kind Of Love. By 1970, he’d gone solo and the hits had dried up somewhat.

In ads for the festival, Eavis also promised: “At least six other groups!” and the DJ between acts was the reassuringly-named “Mad Mick”. This was Mick Ringham, who revealed to the Daily Mail in 2010 that the very first piece of music played at Glastonbury was a cover of the classic It’s All Over Now by a band called The Valentinos.

However, neither Fontana nor The Kinks actually played Glastonbury. They both pulled out of the festival, leaving Eavis to find a replacement… and it wouldn’t be the last time he’d have to do that - in 2015, Foo Fighters pulled out after Dave Grohl broke his leg.

Mickey Finn & Marc Bolan live at Redcar Jazz Club, 1970
Mickey Finn & Marc Bolan live at Redcar Jazz Club, 1970. Picture: Graham Lowe /Redferns/Getty Images

Stepping into the breach was the folk-rock duo, Tyrannosaurus Rex. This was the duo of Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn, who were in the process of moving their sound on from psychedelic whimsy to the glam rock stompers that would make them famous. At the time of their Glastonbury slot, they were working on the first, self-titled album under the abbreviated name T.Rex.

Reports claim that the weather was “foggy and damp” on the morning of Saturday, but the sun poked its head through the clouds, and by the afternoon it was actually quite hot.

Early Glastonbury Festival
Early Glastonbury Festival. Picture: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Opening the day’s bill at midday were English psychedelic rockers Quintessence, followed by a British blues singer Duster Bennett, Worthing-based rockers Steamhammer, Walthamstow’s Sam Apple Pie and a few local bands. The official Glastonbury site notes that Keith Christmas, Stackridge and soon to be famous singer-songwriter Al Stewart also performed.

A minute’s silence was held to pay respects to the late Jimi Hendrix, before Tyrannosaurus Rex took to the stage around midnight.

DJ Mick Ringham recalled: “There was only one stage and the whole thing was gentle, like a country fete, only with longer hair. It was Woodstock with scrumpy. I only saw two policemen all day, and they were sitting down.”

A group of hippies dancing during summer solstice celebrations at the second Glastonbury Festival.
A group of hippies dancing during summer solstice celebrations at the second Glastonbury Festival. Picture: Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Actuallly 1,500 actually turned up. “I have since been assured by many people in the business that if I had advertised Tyrannosaurus Rex as the main attraction, then I might have had ten times the number of fans turning up,” a somewhat disappointed Eavis told the Central Somerset Gazette.

But he wasn’t too downhearted, and he was asked if he’d hold another festival. He replied: “At the moment I am not contemplating doing so, but I wouldn’t like to say that the possibility doesn’t exist.”

Sure enough, another Glastonbury festival was held in 1971 - and that year saw the first appearance of an iconic part of the event’s mythology… The Pyramid Stage.