Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival 1970 (aka The Very First Glastonbury)

*Playlist at the bottom if you want to head straight there.

Today I should be heading down to be part of celebrations for Glastonbury Festival’s 50th Birthday, sadly due to Covid 19 none of us are but I wanted to mark the occasion still, so I’ve put a few dedicated playlists together.

The first is a celebration of the festival’s very beginnings, right back to 1970 when Michael and Jean first decided to open Worthy farm to a mixture of hippies, freaks and curious locals for the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival. A very different affair to what we see today, even the name is completely different, although more geographically correct at least.

If it wasn’t for what Glastonbury grew to become, Pilton Pop would most likely be a footnote in UK Festival History at best and there is little chance I would have given the majority of the bands here the time of day. It had nothing like the all star commercial draws of that year’s final ill fated Isle Of Wight Festival or the very same Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music which inspired the couple to try their hand at putting on a festival. Nor did it have the counter cultural clout of Phun City, arguably the precursor to the free festival scene of which Glastonbury would become a part of the next year when Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill came on board. However here we are 50 years later, the small gathering of around 1000 – 2000 people has grown to a 200,000 capacity city of discovery, experimentation, inspiration and escapism and I’m relishing the excuse to dig back through that first line up and introduce a few new fantastic acts to you.

In fact the only real household name booked in 1970 was probably The Kinks, who actually pulled out last minute. I’m not even certain how many of the bands Michael Eavis actually knew before he booked them. Although he was (and still remains) an avid Pop music fan, by his own admission once he’d set his mind on the idea of a festival, he simply got the phone book out and decided to ring round some agents, the majority of which I assume would have been Bristol based.

That’s certainly the case with the Plastic Dog Agency and amongst the acts that agent Mike Tobin put forward was a relatively new band he was managing called Stackridge. Briefed by Eavis to fill in any gaps in the programming should any of the other bands not turn up, they ended up becoming the first ever band to play Glastonbury, opening with ‘Teatime’ the first track on this playlist, a wonderful tune which starts relatively twee and lovely before building up some powerful momentum and energy, given the reports of this first year and where they are now I found it rather fitting.

A progressive rock band with some folk leanings, Stackridge would sign to MCA Records later that year, eventually working with legendary Beatles producer George Martin and recording a number of sessions for John Peel’s Radio 1 show. They never quite got the recognition they were after and split in 1977 with a couple of members finding some success as part of The Korgis (remember this one?).

I’ve tried to keep the artists within the order they performed, however with no film cameras or recordings and only hazy recollections, there’s obviously no guarantee of that. Also not all of the acts that played have music on Spotify. As far as I can tell though, Keith Christmas went on relatively early and he’s next on the playlist.

Keith was a respectable name on the British Folk scene and his agents, The Village Thing, had their offices above Bristol’s legendary Troubadour Folk Club. His debut album ‘Stimulus’ had been released on RCA the year before and I’ve included his excellent ‘Travelling Down’ from that plus two songs from his 1970 follow up Fable Of The Wings. An interesting aside is that Keith played guitar on David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ after he had performed at the 1969 Beckenham Free Festival which Bowie had organised. He’s still doing his thing too, his ‘Life, Life’ album was released just last year.

Representing the other side of the progressive folk rock spectrum and scoring high on the twee spectrum was Amazing Blondel. They were a lute wielding troupe from Scunthorpe, inspired by Renaissance music and Elton Haye’s faux medieval minstrel works whose debut album had come out in 1970.

Their next album later that year came out on Island Records, as did 3 subsequent others and they supported such luminaries as Genesis, Procol Harum and Steeleye Span. Despite never quite reaching those heights and being included in the Torygraph’s ‘Worst Acts To Play Glastonbury’ they actually had some great tunes as you can hear on this playlist and under that friendly folk exterior were some pretty solid bluesy grooves at times.

We get a little bit further out there with Marsupilami, another band who had just released their debut album. They were signed to Transatlantic Records whose roster up until then had included a mixture of jazz, blues, folk and experimental artists such as Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, John Cage, John Coltrane, Pentangle, Ralph McTell, Jimmy Witherspoon, Richie Havens and Alex Korner. I’d say their prog rock offering probably sat somewhere in the middle of that lot whilst also betraying just a little of their rhythm & blues background.

They had been the first act on at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1969 but there seems to be little else to tell before they eventually called it a day in 1971. To be honest though the music they left behind in their short lifespan kind of speaks for itself, I can totally see myself tripping balls in a farmers field to them and loving it back in 1970.

Another band who had a similar musical journey through r&b to prog rock was Alan Bown. They had been running for 5 years prior to the festival, relatively ancient compared to most of the rest and had just replaced their singer with Robert Palmer of ‘Addicted To Love’ fame.

The only album I could find on Spotify was their 1968 debut which came out on Verve Forecast, a rock subsidiary of the legendary Jazz label that ran from 1967-70, however they had a follow up in 1969 on Decca subsidiary Deram in 1969 and an album out on Island Records in 1970 called ‘Listen’ so do hunt them down if you want a better idea where they were at around the time that we’re talking about (although the UK release of their second album ‘The Alan Bown! Is the only one to feature Palmer on vocals, the US version of the same album still has their previous vocalist Jess Roden).

Quintessence were another jazz influenced prog rock band who were also signed to Island Records. They were based in Notting Hill and had a heavy Indian influence, undoubtedly inspired by the band’s spiritual Guru, Swami Ambikananda. To be fair the tracks I’ve picked here from their self titled second album perhaps don’t show that influence as much as some others on there but I’d recommend checking out the whole release. Also Raja Ram from the band went on to form Psy-Trance pioneers Shpongle and still plays with them occasionally.

The next three acts came on as it got dark at the festival, all had a heavy Blues leaning: Duster Bennett, a one man band who was backed on some of his early recordings by members of label mates Fleetwood Mac. The 3 tracks I’ve picked from his 1970 album ‘12DB’s’ feature Peter Green and original Yardbirds guitarist Top Topham and I’ve also included his live version of ‘Bright Lights Big City’ as a Somerset Gazette report from the time picks it out as the last tune from his set and a highlight of the weekend. Bennet sadly died in a car crash in 1976 but was very much respected in the Blues community and definitely had the potential to be a star by the sounds of it; following Bennet was Steamhammer who, although very much based in the blues, ventured more into rock music. I’ve included a couple of tracks from their 1970 album ‘Mountains’ which was released through B&C Records but also a couple from their previous 1969 album ‘MKII’ which came out on CBS; then Sam Apple Pie, a band from Walthamstow who ran their own Blues Club. The tracks I’ve featured are from their debut 1969 self titled album, but they named their second album after their postcode – East 17 and I can’t help but wonder if any followers of the 90s boy band ever purchased it by mistake.

Although the reporter from the Somerset Gazette then jumps to the headline band, Michael Eavis has previously said how glad he was that Ian Anderson played such a great set just before, as Marc Bolan was late arriving, so I’m going to assume he was up next.

Not to be confused with Jethro Tull’s frontman of the same name, Ian was another act that Michael had booked through The Village Thing agency and in fact Ian co-ran both agency and the record label of the same name. All of the tracks here are from 1970 releases but two are from his Book Of Changes album on Fontana which still shows influences from his previous incarnation as Ian Anderson’s Country Blues Band, whilst the others from ‘Time Is Ripe’ on The Village Thing label showcases more of the folkier alternative side that the label would be known for (Ian also went on to edit fRoots magazine, pretty much the folk lovers bible).

To be honest I have no idea what music his set leaned towards that evening but certainly his later offerings would have worked nicely before the psychedelic Folk sound that Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn were just about holding onto as Tyrannosaurus Rex around that time, albeit with an ever growing rock sensibility as you can hear here.

Edit: I’ve actually just been introduced to Ian and he says he would have been playing songs from “Royal York Crescent”, performing with the same musicians that were on the album (his debut for The Village Thing). You can check tracks from it on the excellent ‘The Time Is Right’ compilation over there at Bandcamp

Of course just one month after Pilton Pop they released “Ride A White Swan” the first single under the shortened moniker of T.Rex. Next came glam rock super stardom before Bolan’s untimely death in a car accident on 16th September 1977.

Originn is the only other band I know that played the festival but I can’t find any releases from them, Wayne Fontana was down to play but was a ‘no show’ and although there have been reports that both Roy Harper and Planxty performed I can’t find any credible evidence for this, despite which Planxty didn’t actually form until 2 years later!

It would seem that nearly all of the acts that played were relatively unknown but just on the edge of bigger things, I would guess this was likely a budgetary issue more than anything else. Even the headliner fee of £500 was a far sight less than the £20,000 paid for Led Zeppelin at the Bath Blues Festival earlier that year (Eavis eventually had to pay Bolan off in installments as they hadn’t actually broken even) but often this is the most exciting time to catch acts, also the fact that none but T.Rex have remained household names means their histories will be forever tied closely to this very first Glastonbury Festival. Regardless of that association though, there are some fantastic songs in this playlist that deserve to be heard more so as we can’t be back on Worthy Farm this year, what better way to kick off this long weekend in lockdown, then cranking up these songs, taking yourself back to 1970 and celebrating the very humble beginnings of the world’s most iconic music festival.

Next playlist up is Glastonbury 1982 – the first year I found myself there. Also I’ve been making a playlist a day since lockdown began covering lots of different music scenes, genres, acts, years and events. You can find the rest here.

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