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A ‘then and now’ surf through the V&A’s Glastonbury archive

black and white photo of a desolate field with random hippies i the foreground and a ramshackle pyramid shaped stage of scaffold in the distance

Pyramid Stage 1971. Photograph by Peter Ball (c) Glastonbury Festival

From Steamhammer to Stormzy, the V&A’s Glastonbury Archive is a social history of hedonism, festival going and an alternative social history of modern Britain

In 2014, the V&A became the home to the Glastonbury archive for the nation, documenting the cultural importance of the world’s leading performance festival.

The collection brings together a huge range of ephemera ranging from posters, stage designs, costumes, interviews, films and other memorabilia, with the aim, says the V&A, of “safeguarding the history and to enable the continuing documentation of the festival today.”

This September, which saw the 50th anniversary of the festival pass with just some virtual coverage and re-runs courtesy of the BBC as the UK festival season was curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the V&A announced a new funded partnership with the Art and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to develop and share the archive more widely.

The project will create an online database to provide unrivalled public access to the massive archive of everything Glasto-related.

a photo of the Galstonbury Pyramid stage with three large pairs of eyes projected on to screens centre and either side

Adele at the Pyramid Stage 2016, Photograph by Iwona Pinkowicz

a red poster for the Glastonbury Folk and Blues festival

1970 Poster. Copyright Glastonbury Festival

Glastonbury poster listing dozens and dozens of bands in 1986

1986 Poster. Copyright Glastonbury Festival

a photo of three naked hippies dancing at night with a crowd of festivbal goers around them

Glastonbury Festival, 1970s (c) Brian Walker

photo of a blike lying in a sea of mud as hundreds of people stand around in the distance

Festival-goer stuck in the mud, 1990s (c) Ann Cook

photo of a woman with long hair dancing as hundreds of people sit around on the grass

Glastonbury, 1970s. Copyright Brian Walker

photo of people at a festival at night in rain ponchos and laser light beams moving across the night sky

Festival-goers, 2011 (c) Charles Gervais

The move comes on the back of a recent project, announced by the V&A in June 2020, to collect Glastonbury audience memories, and this will continue to form an important part of the archive as it grows in future years.

“It will allow us to increase public, digital access to the festival’s performance history,” says V&A senior curator Kate Bailey of the latest development, adding that the project will “create research opportunities which trace the extraordinary creativity and impact of the festival’s past, present and future.”

Looking at the brilliant, and quite often hilarious, then-and-now images of the festival in the archive, you get a pretty good shorthand view of how the Glastonbury phenomenon has grown from a small Somerset farm festival for bunch of sixties rock and blues fans, into a mutli-million pound worldwide brand that encompasses everything from the underground to mainstream pop acts.

Describing it as “a unique social history and an invaluable archive of modern music” Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the AHRC, says “the digital database has huge potential to engage new audiences with the festival’s fascinating development over fifty years”.

“It will also provide an exciting resource and model for other events and institutions as they look to archive for posterity their festival and performance events. This project is part of our wider commitment to working with museums, galleries, libraries and archives to find innovative new ways to bring the riches of the UK’s heritage to the world.”

a photo of a bunch of long aired young people in a field with a horse

Glastonbury Festival, 1970s (c) Brian Walker

an aerial photo of thousands of tents with a pathway running through the middle of them

Tents, 2011 (c) Jason Bryant

black and white photo of a pyramid stage lit up at night

The first Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival, 1971. © Brian Walker

colour photo of a crowd in front of a pyramid stage

Pyramid Stage at night © Glastonbury Festival

photo of black grime sueprstar stormzy wearing his balck union jack vest onstage at Glastonbury

Stormzy on stage, 2019 © Jason Bryant

The Glastonbury Archive sits within the V&A’s extensive Theatre and Performance collection, which documents current practice and the history of all areas of performing arts in the UK, including drama, dance, opera, circus, puppetry, comedy, musical theatre, costume, set design, pantomime, popular music and more.

The collection was founded in the 1920s when the private collector Gabrielle Enthoven donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the museum. Since then the collection has continued to grow to include significant objects and works of art, books, manuscripts, audio-visual recordings and ephemera, as well as the archives of performing arts companies, performers, directors, stage designers and private collectors.

The aim is for the new, open source, fully searchable Glastonbury database to be available to researchers and the public in 2021, enabling users to navigate and trace the rich performance history of the festival across time, stages and performers.

Anyone with Glastonbury memories to share is asked to email glastonbury@vam.ac.uk. 

venue

Victoria and Albert Museum

London, Greater London

As the world's leading museum of art and design, the V&A enriches people's lives by promoting the practice of design and increasing knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the designed world.

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