In photos: Three decades of Glastonbury Festival’s people and subcultures

In photos: Three decades of Glastonbury Festival’s people and subcultures
A new photobook explores the unique cultural experience and communal spirit found at the UK’s largest festival.

In 1992, a then 27-year-old Liam Bailey was working as a photographer for The Serious Road Trip, a charity that provided food, emergency aid and entertainment to war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina. Based in London, an itinerary was mapped that would take volunteers from its London head office to Eastern Europe in a red double decker bus. It would be a long journey, but the route took a fun pitstop at Glastonbury Festival, and when Bailey arrived, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I was a festival virgin at the time, I’d been to gigs but had never been to a big outdoor thing,” Bailey recalls. “I heard this music coming out of the background and I assumed it was coming out of the DJ’s booth, but it was ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ by the Manic Street Preachers, and then [lead singer] James Bradfield talking to the crowd. I was absolutely astonished that you could do this all outdoors with such energy and force with all these tribes altogether having a good time – I just found it amazing and immediately had to get my camera out.

Since then, he has returned to the festival 24 times. Picking up work as a photographer for newspapers and magazines, Bailey has built an extensive body of photographs of the event. With his 25th visit coming imminently, many of those shots are being presented in his newly published photobook Glastonbury: The festival and its people. Featuring grainy black-and-white film shots from his earliest festivals and vibrant, full colour photographs from more recent years, the book explores the unique cultural experience and communal spirit found at the UK’s largest festival.

Attracting around 200,000 people to Somerset’s Worthy Farm each year, the festival features some of the biggest names in music playing on it’s iconic Pyramid stage, receiving global media attention. Bailey’s work, however, focuses on that which you will not see in the pages of newspapers or on television screens. Instead the photographer takes viewers around the festival’s expansive site, looking at the wonders to be found in its various nooks and crannies, its characters and subcultures.

“I see the photographers with love, but they [usually] go 100 yards outside of the compound, and they’ll try and get somebody pretty on somebody’s shoulders,” he says. “I’m not interested in that generic feel because it’s not a generic festival and I think it should be reflected like that.”

Moving through sections such as The Green Fields – which remains almost completely unchanged from its earlier days – to newer areas including the dystopian dance music mecca Block 9 the book also highlights the huge creative and production effort that goes into the festival. It is the work of thousands of set designers, sound engineers, production workers, builders and more that brings the magic of Glastonbury to life.

“We have got a cultural gap in this country which is really filled by Glastonbury,” Bailey says. “A lot of people in the culture get paid and money gets returned into innovation and creative industries – we’ve really got to not underestimate how much money is returned to people who make Glastonbury work and then support them through their practices.”

The near quarter century of festivals documented also explore the festival’s evolution through the decades. The biggest bookmark of change though, according to Bailey, came with the introduction of the festival’s “super fence” in 2002, which was built to prevent people from breaking into it without a ticket. With now sky-high ticket prices, many have questioned the festival’s accessibility for working class people, labelling it a “bourgeois” weekender that has lost much of its radical edge.

“I think a lot of people talk about the lack of shenanigans, people not jumping over fences, the lack of containment and the idea that it’s all ticketed and perfect,” Bailey says. “But there was always going to be compromise moving out of a subculture domain, but they had to – the council was going to shut the place down. It’s lucky to be there, and it’s important to remember that this is a tree that has grown branches and is mahogany in the centre, but everything is vulnerable.

“I think it’s the mother of all festivals really, because it delivers on so many levels to so many people, and it rejuvenates itself so quickly,” he continues. “I absolutely love the peaceful vibe that it creates as well, that [attitude] of ‘we’re all part of Glastonbury that weekend’ – but it’s a dairy farm. It’s incredible.”

Glastonbury: The festival and its people by Liam Bailey is published by ACC Art Books

Enjoyed this article? Follow Huck on Instagram.

Support stories like this by becoming a member of Club Huck.

Latest on Huck

Sign up to our newsletter

Issue 80: The Ziwe issue

Buy it now