Glastonbury Festival is one of the biggest music festivals in the world, but what you may not know is that founder Michael Eavis first caught the bug at the Royal Bath & West Showground in 1970. And having been President of the Royal Bath & West Show for two years, his legacy remains in the Pilton Tent, a hub of live music, bars and fresh local food.
“I’m very keen on the Pilton Tent, it’s a wonderful area, and brings a real festival atmosphere to the Show – I started introducing it on day one of being President and wanted it to continue every year,” he explains.
It seems rather fitting, given that Mr Eavis was inspired to create his first festival at Worthy Farm, Glastonbury, having attended the Bath Blues Festival at the showground almost 50 years ago. “I was completely bowled over by that – it’s what started my festival career; it all started at the showground,” he says.
As a boy at boarding school, Mr Eavis had a passion for pop music and he even got caned for listening to Radio Luxembourg at midnight when he was nine years old!
So the Bath & West Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, which took place in 1970, was just up his street and he fell for it hook, line and sinker. He started his very own festival on the farm that same year, which he called the ‘Pilton Pop Festival’. It cost £1 to attend, which included free milk from the cows.
It’s much bigger now though, with over 200,000 people attending. “It’s wonderful to see so many lovely people enjoying themselves – not unlike the Bath & West Show,” he says. “It has so much of our rural heritage to see, from cheese and butter to cream teas from the Women’s Institute. There are amazing cattle and sheep shearing – the skills and talents of the countryside people are unlimited.”
So how does the farm run smoothly alongside the festival? “We have 500 milking cows and 500 young stock – the dry cows graze away from the festival site, but we have to keep the milking cows in to avoid any e-coli issues for our visitors,” says Mr Eavis. “We have 400 people who clean up after the festival, with magnets to pick up any metal, and then we can turn the cows back out. The grass comes back pretty quickly after reseeding, and on a year off from the festival, the cows will graze all summer – it’s lovely to see them out.”
Because he has to buy in so much feed for the cows when they’re housed, it’s not feasible to be organic, but Worthy Farm is as green as possible in other ways. “About 20 years ago we were among the first farmers to have solar panels on the barn roof, and we have an anaerobic digestion plant which produces electricity from slurry,” he explains.
As the festival takes up all of Mr Eavis’s time and energy, he has two farm managers. John Taylor oversees the herd and milk production while Steven Kearle runs the whole farm and takes care of the crops and feed management.
“We all speak most days, and are currently moving to a local feed supplier,” says Mr Eavis. “The farm is really important to me – the family have been farming for 150 years. I’m a farmer first and foremost, and it felt like a tribute to my great grandfather when we won the NMR Gold Cup after five generations of milking.
“But I also go and listen to gigs all the time and run competitions for bands at the Pilton working men’s club every couple of weeks – that’s my job.”
From a farming perspective, Mr Eavis’s links to the Royal Bath & West Show go way back. “We always went to the Show, even before it settled at the permanent showground, when it was a travelling show,” he says. “My father let me drive the car to Exeter one year when I was about 12 years old – I loved it. He was urging me to drive faster and overtake people – I think I’ve got some of his habits!”
John Taylor and his wife Pam have exhibited cows at the Show on occasion, too, although it’s a lot of work getting the animals used to walking on a halter, he adds. “We’re producing 16,000 litres of milk a day, so it’s a big operation. There is huge demand for milk in the UK, and for cheese and milk powder worldwide. It’s a massive industry and we should be proud of what we’re doing – our food is needed worldwide and the climate and grassland in Somerset is just right for milk production.”
Visitors to the Bath & West Show will be able to sample plenty of local dairy produce and get up close with dairy and beef cattle in the showing rings, which is real highlight, says Mr Eavis. “It’s really nice to speak to producers, there are so many lovely people dedicated to making cheese, butter, yoghurts and honey – there’s an incredible array of skills at the Show.”
So what is he most looking forward to doing at the event? “I could spend half my time looking at the rural crafts area, then have lunch at the Pilton Tent and listen to some great music. Then I’d like to go off and see all those wonderful people putting their heart and soul into what they’re doing.”
For anyone who wants to enjoy the festival atmosphere into the evening, camping is available on-site.