Top pop critic and DJ Stuart Maconie’s latest book is a snapshot of British social history through 49 songs: from Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again to Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers. Riffing off Maconie’s BBC Radio 2 series on the same theme, The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records, includes essays by Maconie on each song with the 50th track to be picked by the public. Now you’ll never have to wonder again why Ebeneezer Goode is a significant moment in the making of modern Britain.
Ahead of Glastonbury, we asked Maconie to raid the archives for five festival performances that together form a history of Britain’s best annual get-together.
1970 Ride A White Swan – T. Rex
The first Glastonbury Festival began the day after Jimi Hendrix died. 1500 turned up and, for the entrance price of one pound, they famously got free milk from the farm. A couple of days of bucolic fun in the Somerset sun were headlined by a couple of hippies with acoustic guitars and bongos, Marc Bolan and Steve Took, beloved of DJ John Peel. He would later reject them when they had the temerity to become the UK’s biggest pop stars.
1981 Silver Machine – Hawkwind
1981 was the first of what might be thought of as the modern Glastonbury’s, with Michael Eavis at the helm and the involvement of CND. As an anthem and an icon of the great travelling unwashed, it would be hard to beat arch-hairies Hawkwind and Silver Machine.
1986 How Soon Is Now – The Smiths
The year marked the changing face of the Glastonbury experience, with the indie kids and the mainstream rock fans joining the counter-cultural convoys and forcing the ‘heads’ out to the teepee villages. The Smiths brought Northern urban swagger and streetlit romance to the agrarian mudbath.
1995 Cigarettes And Alcohol – Oasis
When Jay-Z was confirmed as headliner for the 2008 festival, Noel Gallagher took great umbrage, pronouncing, “I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.” Which shows just how much rock lads felt they had taken possession of the event, for better or worse.
2010 Single Ladies – Beyonce
My favourite Glasto moment, if only because it flew in the face of the above. Seeing an all-female band command the Pyramid stage in front of row-upon-row of young women was more thrilling than a thousand meat and potatoes indie rock acts. Single Ladies may have a mildly reactionary bent, but that night it was incendiary.
The People’s Songs by Stuart Maconie is out now, on Ebury Press