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June 19-21st 1981

Aswad, Decline and Fall, Gong, Gordon Gilltrap,Ginger Baker, Hawkwind, John Cooper Clarke. Judy Tzuke, Matumbi, Nick Pickett,Robert Hunter, Roy Harper, Supercharge, Taj Mahal, Talisman,New Order, Rab Noakes,The Jazz Sluts, The Sound , Hinkleys Heroes, Beverley Martin, Chicken Shack, Pete Drummond.

Early Sunday morning Glastonbury 81 . © Ruth and Kevin Dear


Aswad onstage © Kevin and Ruth Dear

   After a years sabbatical, the festival returned , with a new name and a new purpose, to raise funds for the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament . Its now largely forgotten in these times, but the cold war tended to concentrate the mind wonderfully . The Nuclear threat was one that we were all too aware of , its still there, but nowadays many of us are too busy acquiring plasma TVs and other goodies to bother to worry about it.

   Whatever , Mr Eavis WAS one of those people who were prepared to put his money where his beliefs were and he heroically presented festivals throughout the 80s on the grounds of Worthy Farm with the express purpose of funding CND. The 81 festival raised 20,000 pounds - a tidy sum in 1981 .

   Weatherwise, it was all over the place , sunny, heavy rain, typical changeable British weather. Rain ,mostly caused issues in the carpark, where vehicles churned up the roads and created instant mudbowls for the loonies to jump into and have a mudbath.

  CND did publicity and bookings and the folks from the esteemed Worthy Farm booked the acts , built a nice new stage and generally did the rest of the organisation . Around 18,000 bods showed up , in mostly good weather , to see a wide variety of bands over three days .

  Several changes were made to the advertised program- Judy Tzuke did not show up and she was replaced by Ronnie Lane and Friends .The Sound are also reported to have played , though were not advertised to do so .


Right : Harry Williamson of Mother Gong plays a solo set © Nigel Sivyer

follow link to see many more great Glastonbury 1981 photos by Nigel



Mother Gong © Paul Seaton

This very early Sunday morning shot gives a nice view of one of the PA stacks. © Kevin and Ruth Dear

Glastonbury 1981 © Bodge



  Even though the organisers had shed the earlier title in favour of ' Festival " the 1981 event had all the variety and extravagance of a full size Fayre. There were many craft stalls, workshops, play parks for the kids (which featured three huge trampolines ) , mime troupes and performance artists wandered through the site. There was also much scrumpy consumption and a number of people were very much the worse for wear by the end of the weekend.

Left: Impressive toilet blocks at Glastonbury 1981, they overflowed as well....

© Nigel Sivyer

    The audience were a mix , many described as ' young couple who see the festival as an opportunity to take the kids for a holiday in the country ) but its fair to say that mostly hippie orientated alternative types predominated .

There were some punks , but they were in the minority, one told the press

" we've made friends with each other as there aren't very many of us. The best time is at night when you get really drunk and stumble round from tent to tent. Last night we had a really good time as we scored some glue , a gallon of cider and some good Leb . "

Yeah right glue, just what every festival goer needs ........


Mother Gong onstage © Nigel Sivyer

     Hard core travelers tended to go to the Stonehenge Free Festival, which was held around the same time. As the ubiquitous Convoy Steve sez" I never went to glasto between 79 and 85 - us proper festival types looked down upon glasto in those days and went off on our own merry way squatting land and frightening the locals: -)."

Friday evening © Ruth and Kevin Dear

Crashed out © Ruth and Kevin Dear

The first in a long series of great Glasto mudbowls of the 80s © Nigel Sivyer

   There were a number of speeches delivered from the stage concerning Nuclear disarmament, the best being that by EP Thompson .Other speakers included Meg Beresford , who appeared somewhat nervous in front of such a large crowd.

    Friday night was possibly the best music wise, although Roy Harper's set was gate crashed by Ginger Baker .

Roy Harper put it thus

'Later I'm playing the gig, going down quite well, building up to the finale. Then Ginger starts walking on with drums, setting up right in front of me, destroying everything. I couldn't believe it. So I left the microphone and said 'Hey, what you doing?' And he said, 'F--- off, you've been on here to f---ing long, you c---' and his band started bringing all their gear on.

'So I started to seethe, nudged one of his drums with my left foot and he lunged at me. I just burst, turned round and gave him one right in the guts. Ginger goes, 'Urrgghh you c----.' Then we were fighting and the stage was full of people. I completely flipped my lid.' '

There we were at a festival dedicated to peace and love man and I hit someone. He may have been the thickest idiot at the festival but I'd actually hit him.

After that I was filled with frantic remorse and basically just wanted to hit everyone, everything I could lay my bloody hands on.' 'So they got hold of my arms and carried me off, looking like I'm ripe for Broadmore, wearing this human straightjacket, screaming 'You f---ing bastards. 'I'd lost it altogether, I was fighting f---ing mad.'

   According to Harper the crowd then proceeded to bottle Ginger , one hitting him on the head , whereupon he was taken to hospital . Another source says that Ginger carried on playing .Yet another source says that Ginger threw a can at Harper and it hit him on the head. Strange how tales become distorted in all directions by memory . Whatever happened , it was a pretty silly scenario , these two seasoned musicians should have been able to sort out their differences in some other fashion.

Mother Gong © Nigel Sivyer

Hello... I want to add my piece about the fight onstage between Harper and Baker... Glastonbury 81.
    It was the most unforgettable thing i ever saw on a stage. Harper was doing fine... we were warmed up and enjoying the show; after a handful of numbers I recognised Baker onstage and a fist fight kicked off. I remember Roy H hitting out and people grappling and tumbling around. Harper got forced off-stage by people holding his arms as he struggled furiously.

    There were boos and bottles as Baker started up... They impressed us but rocks came at the band.. sharp chunks of granite or similar. A near fist sized chunk arked from a long distance and smacked Ginger on the forehead. It should've killed him surely but he didn't miss a beat. He continued with furious energy till the end of his set.

    Next day I saw Baker walking around the site with a thick black gash on his forehead, obviously in need of stitches. Baker was asking people if anyone knew who the bastard was who threw the rock.

Keith Emslie Mitchell

Kevin in the campsite © Ruth and Kevin Dear

Possibly Ronnie Lane and Friends onstage © Ruth and Kevin Dear



© Ruth and Kevin Dear

The vague blur known to the world as Mother Gong perform in the twilight.

© Ruth and Kevin Dear


© Bodge

   There was also a cinema tent (you can get info on this piece of Glastonbury history here on the efestivals site ). The laser light show which was to become a longstanding highlight of Glastonbury was in action , after Tim Blake finished off the 79 festival with his lasers, it obviously went down so well that the decision as made to keep them as a feature for future years .


The stage was made from telegraph poles and sheet metal and was used as a barn when the festival was not running .

Photo© Bodge


The Timeline for the 81 festival was not exactly the same as the advertised program .


Roy Harper

  • His set was interrupted by Ginger Bakers Nutters trying to set up their equipment - so Harper did not encore.



Featured Matumbi (who were to have played on Friday night,)

  • Rab Noakes
  • John Cooper Clarke,
  • The Sound,
  • Decline and Fall,
  • Jazz Sluts
  • New Order
  • Hawkwind.



Supercharge, followed by

  • Gong
  • Gordon Giltrap
  • Judy Tzuke
  • headliner Taj Mahal .

© Steve Bayfield

© Paul Seaton

Stage at night . Photos © Paul Seaton

© Paul Seaton

'I'd forgotten lots from those early days................... especially the mud ! BUT, Never the Fun !

A Pyramid builder (one of about 20 or so) at Glastonbury 1981, I worked continually on the Pyramid stage as a, er, "Diplomat"
thereafter, every year (when it was on) until '90.

I've still got my 1981 "I was a Pyramid Builder" T-Shirt, given to me at the time for 'services rendered'; the pattern and colouring of which was, way over my embarassment level at the time,( a 60's London Mod), but of which I'm now immensely proud !

Apparently, it's about the only one left of about 10 T-shirts and 15 sweat shirts. They all just got worn out, it seems.

I was working, finishing the apex of the pyramid with Roger Chopin and the lovely Jodi Brake, when said T- shirts were handed out, 50 -odd feet below us, in June 1981, in one of the 2 or 3 1950's/60's single decker coaches that served as our base camps !

One of 'em was full of sound gear which pumped out 'Dub' Reggae as we worked through April - June '81.

Michael has many shots of that period (I'm the tall, dark, handsome one!), which I must try to get hold of.....................

John Story

The Archive is as usual interested in this topic as regards to it being an aspect of social history of the counterculture , traveller and rock festival scene of the 60s to the late 80s and does not condone or encourage the consumption of any substances ,illegal or legal which may lead to mental or physical incapacitation by those who consume them .

Glastonbury Festival pages .

Glastonbury Fayre pages 1970-79

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