Glastonbury Green Gatherings (reprint)

This article is a reprint of a chapter from the book 'Free State - Glastonbury's alternative community from 1970 to 2000 and beyond'  written by Bruce Garrard and available from the Unique Publications - click the title above to visit the webpage.

Chapter 12 deals with the various gatherings that were organised from Glastonbury and includes many interesting quotes and comments. 

  1. THE GREENS ARE GATHERING

Another strand of the new way of life and thinking was ecology. In Glastonbury, this mainly manifested as a growing interest in earth mysteries, which “can be seen to stem from the need to co-operate once more with nature.” (1) It would be a long while before the town’s alternative community made serious efforts to gain representation on the Town and District Councils under the Green Party banner, but in the early eighties the green movement was becoming visible on the political scene nationally, and as already noted the first Ecology Party Summer Gathering had taken place at Worthy Farm in July 1980.

The organising group included several people who were either living in Glastonbury or who had strong connections with the community there. The event attracted 500 people:

They were a fairly mixed collection. On the one hand many were Ecology Party people who had come expecting to debate policy; on the other, many ordinary festival-goers came … without perhaps fully appreciating the nature of the event. (2)

The idea of holding a political event on a festival site was brand new – arising from the belief amongst the more radical wing of the Ecology Party that society needed a thorough-going change of lifestyle, not just a new political party. A second gathering took place in 1981, again at Worthy Farm but with acoustic performers on site rather than amplified entertainment in the farm’s wagon shed. Once again it took place over six days at the end of July, most of that time taken up with workshops and discussions, and was advertised mainly through the Ecology Party. The party’s National Executive Committee met during the 1981 Gathering (as well as in 1982), with committee members expected to be there. This time 1,500 people attended altogether, and the ‘wider green movement’ was far better represented.

A group of greens from West Germany presented the organisers with a remarkable ceramic jug, inscribed with the lyrics from the Incredible String Band: “May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide you all the way on.” This ‘Green Grail’ had been commissioned by the leader of Die GrÜnen, Petra Kelly (who had been expected to attend). It was taken along to meetings and gatherings from then on.

At the end of the 1981 Gathering “we decided, unanimously, to become a Green Gathering and to invite people from all parts of the movement.” This was still some time before the Ecology Party decided to change its name to the Green Party. The Green Collective was set up as an autonomous organisation to put together the new-look event for 1982, holding weekend-long planning meetings at Chris Black’s house Higher Rockes in Butleigh (near Glastonbury).

When the gathering took place in July, “It felt very much like a birth.” 5,000 people came, and “for the first time we began to feel like a movement.” There was a large involvement by feminists, with Women For Life On Earth organising a women-only marquee and workshops. The Greenham-led women’s peace movement and Green CND (formed as a ‘specialist section‘ of CND at the 1981 Gathering) used this forum to talk about co-operation, in the context of national CND being somewhat wary of its more radical and direct-actionist elements.

The Greenham Common peace camp had recently declared itself strictly women-only and this was a major issue, even amongst green activists. Towards the end of the week a major meeting was called in the site’s central marquee to discuss the peace movement and a collective way forward. A large and densely packed circle was facilitated by two or three Greenham women, who held the centre of the circle and invited people to speak one at a time. This meeting was very constructive, but all the same feelings began to run high. Just at the point when maximum common ground and understanding had been established, but much less helpful bickering was beginning to surface, a thunderstorm came down and heavy rain rattling on the canvas brought the discussion to a timely close.

The Green Gatherings were conceived as coalition-building events, and they contributed to the emergence of a real green movement:

The ‘Grail’ was at the centre of an important workshop on the birthing of the green movement. It was filled with Glastonbury holy spring water and passed around the circle with everyone putting into it their thoughts and wishes for the future of the movement. It was noticeably heavier by the time it had gone around the whole circle. It was then passed around again with everyone imbibing from the charged waters. For me this was a very special moment. Some years later when Petra died in somewhat mysterious circumstances, a group of us visited the German Embassy with the Grail, full of Chalice Well water, and performed a short and moving ceremony, with embassy officials, in her honour. (3)

This coming together of different elements of the movement led to a Green Declaration that defined the key principles on which the green movement was being built, and significantly broadened the definition of ‘green’ beyond just ecology. It linked the seven principles of ecology, co-operation, non-violence, feminism, direct democracy, social justice and personal development. For the gatherings, a further element was the link with Glastonbury, which has “long been associated with the Earth Mother. What better place for a Gathering of feminists and ecologists?”

From the start we wanted to link in with the Glastonbury legends and help awaken the spirit of Avalon … We all feel the Gatherings have generated a very special energy, an Avalon energy which we are now taking to all parts of the world. It was the 1982 Gathering though, that had the most magical quality. It was the first Green Gathering. (4)

For three years in a row these events had taken place at Worthy Farm, where the terms of Glastonbury CND Festival’s new licence made clear that any additional smaller events on the site could only take place there with the approval of the planning committee. 1983 was the first year of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (the ‘Festivals Act’), which meant that local councils could impose far more stringent conditions than under the former Night Assemblies Act. With the smaller event getting quite large, as well as taking a political stance that would not have found approval even amongst the more left-wing of Mendip’s district councillors, Michael Eavis decided that hosting the Green Gatherings on his land was no longer tenable, and he found the Green Collective an alternative site a few miles away.

This was Teddy Stone’s farm at Lambert’s Hill near Shepton Mallet, where the 1983 Green Gathering featured the largest tipi circle that had ever been seen to date outside north America. The gathering was planned as a ‘child-centred’ event, “and we tried to plan the entertainments and workshops accordingly.” However things took a different turn when a large contingent of new travellers, who had come together as the somewhat notorious ‘convoy,’ arrived after a big confrontation with the police at Inglestone Common in Gloucestershire. As a result the police, for the first time, mounted a large-scale operation at the gathering – indeed, it was the first time that the green movement had experienced such heavy policing anywhere in this country.

Thousands of people, travellers and greens alike, were searched and had their personal details taken; the Green Collective’s treasurer had to run the gauntlet several times a day on his way to and from the bank in Shepton Mallet. This was the kind of treatment that the convoy had got used to, but for the greens it was completely over the top and they responded with a much-photographed naked protest march. At the same time the so-called ‘green bug’ (which may or may not have arrived with the convoy) went rapidly through the site, causing widespread and virulent diarrhoea. Health clinics and hospitals across the south of England were alerted.

The convoy soaked up resources amounting to something like £2,000 in extra car parking space, water, wood, and lost gate money from frightened punters; and they brought half of Somerset Constabulary with them so that the site was almost under siege ... By the end of the gathering most of the event’s organisers, and their bank account, were exhausted. All they got in return was a bad name. (5)

The Green Gatherings did not come within the legal definition of a festival and so did not require a licence; but after the events of 1983 – and in particular, opposition from residents of Pilton – the horrified council put pressure on Michael Eavis to ensure that the Glastonbury Green Gatherings did not continue. He did this by offering the Green Collective a field to organise at the CND Festival – which by now had become regular, successful, and rapidly growing. The first Green Field has been described as a “quietly ambitious affair”:

We sat in a circle and did a visualisation of what we wanted to create in the Green Field – and then we did it. We had a tipi circle in the middle, with open space inside it (that nearly got filled with nylon nightmares, but we did save the space in the end). We created a different atmosphere to the rest of the festival site – and that was one of our aims and, more importantly, one of our achievements …

There were some tensions between us and the established festival. I remember arriving to comments from heavy duty and macho scaffolders and stage crew about ‘these hippies.’ Jokes like, ‘Let’s build a tower so we can view the mating habits of all the Greens.’ We then set ourselves apart a bit from that aspect of the festival, in particular setting up our own site kitchen … [but] there was a tremendous energy generated from that Green Field – and look what it’s led to in the fifteen years since. (6)

It was the noticeably ‘different atmosphere’ that so many people really liked – a freshening of the senses as you walked into the field. In 1984 the Green Field was a popular addition to the festival site; the following year its budget was doubled and advance publicity referred to it as “one of the greatest successes of last year’s festival.” Before long it had grown to become an important part of the festival’s overall geography. After the 1984 festival, however, the Green Collective still wanted its own event.

The problem was finding a site, until it was proposed by David Taylor – who later moved to Glastonbury, though at that time he was living in Huntingdon – that they could occupy part of the Molesworth air base in Cambridgeshire. Although still unfenced, this was Ministry of Defence land and the proposed site for the next cruise missile base after Greenham Common. Holding a Green Gathering there would make a significant contribution to the campaign for nuclear disarmament. The Green Collective had met at Higher Rockes in April 1984:

I remember it in some detail because I was the facilitator for the meeting … ‘This is an illegal site’ said David. ‘We have to think about it very carefully.’ ‘Look deep into your consciences everyone’ I said. ‘Do we want to put on an illegal Gathering?’ Everyone looked deep into their consciences for a fraction of a second, then laughed. The decision was made. (7)

During the Glastonbury festival, a Harlech TV crew came round filming material for a series called Alternatives. They interviewed me, as the Green Field’s site co-ordinator that year, sitting in front of a tipi:

‘What are you going to do next after this?’ ‘We’re having a Green Gathering at Molesworth. It’s going to be a much more political event …’ There were a number of people around, and at that point someone standing to my right gave a cheer, ‘We’re going to Molesworth …’ I stopped in mid-sentence and looked up at him and grinned. That was the end of the interview. Next stop was Molesworth. (8)

The Molesworth Green Gathering in August 1984 led to the formation of Rainbow Fields Village; the following February its high profile eviction by Ministry of Defence personnel led to heated exchanges in parliament, created front page headlines in most of the national newspapers, and caused Minister of Defence Michael Heseltine to be for ever more associated with the ludicrous tin helmet and flak jacket that he was wearing when he landed by helicopter in the middle of the site.

The Rainbow Villagers, after an eventful summer during which most of them were also caught up in the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ at Stonehenge, eventually arrived in Glastonbury in July 1985, seeking sanctuary.

Notes and References:

(1) Frances Howard-Gordon, ‘Glastonbury – Maker of Myths,’ p viii.

(2) David Taylor and Bruce Garrard, ‘The History and Ethos of the Gatherings,’ Green Collective Mailing 1, March/April 1984. The first half of this chapter is largely based on the Green Collective article.

(3) Email from David Taylor, one of the instigators of the Green Gatherings (2013).

(4) David Taylor, quoted in ‘The History and Ethos of the Gatherings.’

(5) Bruce Garrard, ‘Rainbow Fields is Home,’ Unique Publications 2013, p 16.

(6) Bruce Garrard interviewed by George McKay, ‘Glastonbury – A Very English Fair,’ p 176. ‘Nylon nightmares’ refers to small hiking tents, looked down upon by people used to living in tipis and benders.

(7) Bruce Garrard, ‘Rainbow Fields is Home,’ p 2.

(8) Ditto, p 3.


The whole book gives an interesting account of Glastonbury's emergence as a leading 'alternative' centre. Our thanks to Bruce for making this chapter available here. The book is available for purchase at a discount at http://www.unique-publications.co.uk/free-state.html

 

Sources:
  • "Free State - Glastonbury's alternative community 1970 to 2000 and beyond" by Bruce Garrard.
    Published by Unique Publications. 2013. http://www.unique-publications.co.uk
  • Other references listed as endnotes in the chapter.
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