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Glastonbury Fayre
featuring: Terry Reid, Linda Lewis, Fairport Convention, Family, Arthur Brown, etc

director: Nicolas Roeg

87 minutes (15) 1972
widescreen ratio 16:9
Odeon DVD Region 0 retail
[released 8 June]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Nicolas Roeg's Glastonbury Fayre happened when Sy Litvanoff found a sum of �20,000 and offered Michael Flint the opportunity to take that money and produce a film of the second Glastonbury festival in 1971, the cost expected to take it up to the point of editing. Roeg was fresh from Performance and Walkabout, and Flint was rightly excited about the prospects for the finished work with a buzz-name director attached to it. The common expectation of all concerned was that it could be nothing but a critical success and on a budget so small surely find profit. Not all was foreseeable, however, and the first 'edit' was no more than a cut as rough as a ragged rock when Roeg had to move on to his next real pay and movie history.

David Speechley was brought in to reconstruct the footage. It did not matter how perfect as it could be the next prospective cut was it failed to match the tastes of the honchos of a dated generation who could cope with pop modernity when they could exploit it in tandem with a story but what on earth was all this frolicking that coincided with the unfathomable music. Those who believed in the movie recall for us how EMI were nonplussed at the mention of names like Traffic and Bowie. Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock: The Movie aside, that, after all, had a technical showmanship and access par none, but where were the split-screen and meretricious epic landscape shots here. No, this was a hop-along shambles of festival and the filming was in kind. This is hard to believe. Glastonbury Fayre needn't be Woodstock. ITV had, in 1969, televised the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, and cameras had also run on the Medicine Ball Caravan, and Jimi Hendrix on the Isle of Wight, both to form forthcoming films.

The obvious difference was that this was a very British alternative life and music festival. Attempts to move the finished film sound half-baked. It is almost as if everyone involved in the post-production was as stoned and uncoordinated as the Glastonbury celebrants. "The film reflected a time and reflected an attitude," offers Roeg. This was a time, however, that most recall for strike action and power-cuts and not for wigged-out, loved-up doolallyism. Glastonbury was lived by a crowd fleeing the reality that was Britain in 1971 and hanging on to a few of the summer of love's tasted freedoms. Glastonbury was largely unknown at the time and one of the contributors to the supporting 34-minute documentary tell how the music papers New Musical Express and Melody Maker failed to pay it attention at the time.

Glastonbury Fayre is a record. Even in its finished form it is a rough diamond. There are valuable performances which are caught by a significant number of cameras; enough trained on both the act and the audience but with only enough film to cover one song. Not every act is afforded this attention as the producer and director had to make snap decisions on which bands to cover based on what the artistes were advising them. If an artiste told them that the possibilities of clearance were slim the band did not make the cut. The chaotic organisation, largely so because it was performed in a big bubble of dope smoke, saw acts delayed and the reason that David Bowie does not appear is because he performed at four in the morning and the cameras were mostly asleep. Linda Lewis was so off her head she smiled past her performance time and crews catch her only joining Terry Reid at the end of a terrific set. The live performances are all thrilling. Coarse 16mm textures add a crucial historical authenticity but more importantly the sound is solid and the fretwork and vocals are forever worth capturing.

Not many numbers are featured but it is in these sequences that the film peaks with Fairport Convention, Family, Quintessence, and Arthur Brown and his band in an impressive range of acts having you wish you were there. Melanie sings soft and then shatteringly loud, back into soft, back up to loud. The Pink Fairies troop the ground early one sunny morning and start a noisy procession of banging and clacking ad-hoc instrumentation. It was perhaps not planned to build to the cacophonous mass that it does, but a deliberate intention to rile up the over-sleepers from the previous long night was always the plan.

When not on the bands the content can be embarrassing as fantasists get lost in their damning claims of visions and the festival denizens are too mind-altered to realise how badly they are dancing. The chronology seems to be off and the result is an allusion to a long day into a long night into a very short day and into a short night. The editor feared that closing the film with the moping farewells and a few stubborn bodies in a field would not have been an appropriate end to this celebration and rewinds to a performance by Traffic to take us out instead.

The supporting featurette is highly informative but the commentary by Nicolas Roeg is shambolic and should have been abandoned following recording. The director sounds addled and mumbles loose thoughts, shows faint recognition of the performers and identifies default themes in lieu of adding to the vague recollections. Either Roeg does not understand the purpose of commentary or he is too worried about misinformation and denies us any facts at all in its place. It seems that he does not really recall the acts. Sometimes we might bemoan the use of film experts when the participants are still alive to provide commentaries but here we would have been better off with a music historian. The film does not identify artistes and numbers on-screen and the extras could have offered more information for those unfamiliar but interested. The package instead completes its extras with a promotion on Melanie at the Meltdown Festival 2007 instead. The DVD may include more information not supplied with the screener. Note: Fairport Convention and Linda Lewis appear at this year's Glastonbury.
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