Last weekend the BBC broadcast a special compilation programme of the Glastonbury festival. Glastonbury itself has a unique place within English legend as it is situated on the Vale of Avalon. According to legend Avalon was the place where King Arthur forged his sword Excalibur and as a consequence it is an area with a strong and enduring connection to magic. This aspect to our culture is barely recognised or celebrated and some of our proudest stories and traditions have been ignored. The renowned musicologist Joscelyn Goodwin once decried this stating that,
“(The Legend of) Albion stands for the soul of Britain, which like every race and nation, has its own potential perfection that enables it to sing its own melody in the chorus of humanity”.
An entirely new generation is now consumed with bitterness and hatred. The marches that we have witnessed recently are entirely negative and appear to focus entirely on the destruction of our heritage.
It is a uniquely modern and nihilistic movement and a stark contrast to the youthful idealists of the past. In the twentieth century at least young people sought connection and solidarity with each other and any notion of “race” was disregarded as divisive and unhelpful in the larger fight for human rights. When I was 16 or 17 I had cultivated a political conscience and became an activist of sorts. That time was very heady and rather strange and I encountered a distinctly different group of people with roots in a quintessentially English sensibility.
These were people who were rather unkindly dubbed “crusties”. They were mainly middle class kids who dropped out of college and lived an itinerant life, they would often appear at political rallies. They would also haunt the Glastonbury festival as if it was a church or holy place. During the early nineties the festival had a harder edge to it and the music was defiantly anti-establishment and raucous.
Crusties sought alliances with New Age Travellers and Anarchists as they shared similar values. They were often from similar communities and unlike today they believed in a world of peace and harmony. The Stonehenge site also held a festival which attracted generations of young English dreamers. It was a symbol of our ancient past and also a holy gathering for those who yearned for unity and simplicity.
Stonehenge and Glastonbury were also regarded as holy places by our ancient Pagan pilgrims who would traverse the land on a spiritual quest. Their faith was so strong that they were convinced that they would uncover the mysteries of the universe. These pilgrims were no strangers to the problems that blight our world today, they too had experienced war and tribal hatred. However they believed that the key to understanding these problems lay deep underground.
These were the “ley lines”, ancient tracks containing all of the mysteries of the universe and ultimately the meaning of human life itself. These ideas were resurrected in the middle of the twentieth century by English hippies and revived again, perhaps by their children who were college kids in the early nineties and in turn became pilgrims themselves. The hippies of the 1960s were inspired by gentle folk melodies and the strident messages of the protest singers. Their children had their own soundtrack, a mixture of raucous punk and the repetitive tones that emerged from the Detroit wastelands. Nonetheless spiritually they all came from the same place.
However the tragedy of young idealists is that they eventually have to face the real world and its problems. I remembered that some of them tried to mask reality by succumbing to the oblivion of drugs, others could not cope with the harsh realities that faced them and were hospitalised in mental health facilities. The most important lesson that I drew from those heady summers of the nineties was that we could all share the same dream and sing our own melody in the chorus of humanity.