The Sun’s Got to Keep Shining! Michael Eavis talks to Giles Adams about cows, music, solar panels and tourism.
During the 'Glastonbury Festival' there were 180,000 people on the farm generating over £100m, images beamed worldwide.
"Where are you taking that fridge?” Michael Eavis inquires, of one his staff as we take a short tour around, 'Worthy Farm', in his Land Rover. I suppose an equivalent would be, Richard Branson asking why seat 34F on Airbus no. 56 has a wobbly arm-rest?
It’s an amusing question to overhear, bearing in mind, only a few weeks earlier, during the 'Glastonbury Festival' there were 180,000 people on the farm generating over £100m, images beamed worldwide. On this quiet August day, however, there is just grass, a few flies and cows. The only evidence of the Festival seeming to be this recalcitrant fridge. I daren’t ask what had been in it?
“My overdraft is £1.2m but being able to give £2m each year to the charities (Glastonbury supports Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid) is more important.”
It is this contrast, that is doubtless one of the reasons why 'Glastonbury Festival' is so successful. “People understand that it is a real dairy farm,” says Michael. “It’s authentic. It’s not a soulless aerodrome or MOD site, where some festivals are held. Here there is more warmth to the site, it’s a living thing. The visitors love the cows; they’re fond of them for some reason.”
Well there are 400 of them, thriving on the verdant grass the vale produces. Little do the cows know that they form the backdrop to the world’s most famous music festival, indeed voted as the best at the Pollstar awards in Los Angeles for six consecutive years. The cows have now also have a famous barn as well. The roof of their living quarters has had solar panels fitted. £600,000 worth.
“It is the biggest private scheme in the country,” Michael announces, “producing enough power to run the farm and 40 houses and we earn £60,000 a year selling our excess units back to the National Grid. It also charges my amazing all-electric car, a Nissan Leaf, which F.J Chalke down in Wincanton have lent me for a year".
"We built the cow shed with a mono-pitch roof facing the sun deliberately with this project in mind. What I love about it is that there are no moving parts, no wear and tear….it just sits there, all that has to happen is that the sun has got to keep shining!”
Michael’s eco-credentials are well known. In the early years, he supported CND. “In 1971 the word ecology didn’t register, but old fashioned hippy types spoke of nothing else, they discussed pollution of rivers and rising sea levels even then, so it rubbed off on me. I didn’t believe everything they said, but I did see on many things they had a point".
"The establishment just thought these people were off their heads but they got straight to the point on deforestation and global warming. That’s why I was in front.”
He went on to say, "All these things cost though. Some of the generators at the festival run on recycled fat bought from factories. It costs £6,000 more to do that than run them on diesel".
The money for the solar panels was lent by Dutch Bank, Triodos, who specialise in environmental investment, but Michael had to put £50,000 of his own money into it as well. “My overdraft is £1.2m but being able to give £2m each year to the charities (Glastonbury supports Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid) is more important.”
This man in his farmyard discussing fridge's was heralded by 'Time Magazine', as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. “I thought the letter from them was addressed wrongly, it was a real surprise.
Michael’s work for good causes is well known already here in Somerset and he has recently become Patron of the new Somerset Tourism Association and Visit Somerset. This will help maximise the county’s appeal to visitors and build on the important tourist industry already established. “It’s outstandingly beautiful here; I notice Wells and Glastonbury being a real draw, especially with foreign coaches.
There is a real sense of history, going back to the year dot. Joseph of Arimathea came here looking for tin and copper, then with the Christian basis in Glastonbury it developed into 2,000 years of history that’s not going to go anywhere. It’s permanent, along with the Parrett, the Brue, moors, Mendips, brewers, cider makers, farming….it’s all going full pelt. I can help tourism businesses in the county stand side by side and promote Somerset and bring business and develop jobs here.”
Michael’s enthusiasm for all things Somerset is very evident and he is clearly proud of how the Festival contributes. “There is a huge knock-on locally from the Festival. It has crept up over the years. No-one really knew what was going on, least of all me! Look where we are now, but I don’t take anything for granted, I am not complacent. Other festivals want to copy us, we are in a good position but it did not happen by accident. It was built up over time, we had to get people on board including the local authority and other farmers, whose land we rent for the Festival. We employ so many people now.”
It’s not main rock acts that are Michael’s favourite part of the Festival however. He loves all the non-music items. “The big names are fantastic of course but they want to come here because we are the best. This is due a lot to the huge variety of other acts we have nurtured. I take special interest in all the avant-garde areas including Shangri-La, Strummerville, Unfairground, Block 9 and Arcadia. These are night performances that come alive after the main stage finishes at midnight. They run until 5am with fire and steel acts. I have worked with them for 25 years, given them more money over time to develop their acts and now they take their show to Japan"!
Michael clearly loves all aspects of the business and it must bring joy to his heart that his daughter Emily is involved with the Festival. “She is fantastic, we work so well together. We have some lively discussions about predicting which acts will be big for the following year!”
The Extravaganza in August is another popular project organised by Michael with previous headliners including Robert Plant, Brian Ferry, Status Quo and Madness. The latest information can be found here.
Glastonbury Festival arouses huge interest, the unique mix of the stellar and the urbane all coming under the paternal eye of Michael Eavis. Some farmers who have successfully developed other businesses lack charm, humility and self-effacing humour. Not so Michael; he is of course hugely proud but retains a genuine gentleness, whilst no doubt being acutely aware of the financial figures of the whole operation needing to be at his fingertips.
This man in his farmyard discussing fridge's was heralded by 'Time Magazine', as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. “I thought the letter from them was addressed wrongly, it was a real surprise. But my highest honour was a comment years ago from the historian E.P. Thompson, who spoke at the festival. He was amazing when he spoke from the stage, he was on fire. No one else could speak like that, apart from perhaps Bill Clinton. He gave me a copy of his book, 'A History of the Working Class of England'. It was inscribed ‘Thank you Michael for your contribution to the real England’. I was so pleased with that.”
Written by Giles Adams Editor on What’s on Somerset. www.whatsonsomerset.co.uk
Glastonbury festival photography: Jason Bryant