When David Bowie made his debut at Glastonbury Festival, he was on the brink of superstardom and didn’t take to the stage until 4:30am. It would be another 39 years before Bowie would make his long-awaited return to Worthy Farm as a headliner on the prestigious Pyramid Stage.
Bowie’s first appearance arrived at what was only the second edition of the festival, and Glastonbury was yet to become the internationally recognised institution it would later become. It was a much less slick, less professional operation, and Pink Floyd would even pull out after the muddy weather prevented them from getting their vast equipment on stage despite arriving at the festival.
From its inception, Glastonbury carried on from where Woodstock and Isle Of Wight left off. Thankfully, however, it didn’t descend into total anarchy. It was a hippie utopia; tickets were free, as were the spirits of those in attendance. The inaugural festival cost just £1 to attend, and only 1,500 people were willing to pay the fee. After removing the omission prices, 12,000 descended upon Pilton, and Glastonbury made its first leap towards becoming the kind of event it is today.
At the time of the event, Bowie was sixth months away from releasing Hunky Dory, a record that would send him into the stratosphere. Despite the singer already being an established talent, Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis didn’t even know who he was before the weekend. “He came in 1971 and he stayed in a farmhouse, and he went on at half past four in the morning I reckon, at sunrise on the solstice,” Eavis remembered to Somerset Live. “I didn’t know who he was mind you, but he looked pretty good and had lovely long hair and he had lovely clothes on and everything, but he looked the part. He sounded quite good, and he was very nice.”
When Bowie eventually made his return to Worthy Farm decades later, it was a stark contrast to the reception in every imaginable way to his debut appearance. Bowie reminisced as part of Glastonbury: An Oral History of the Music, Mud & Magic, stating: “It was 1971 and I was bottom of the bill. I remember my going onstage time being shoved later and later (I was originally scheduled to go on about midnight or so) but things got so delayed that I didn’t make it onstage till around five in the morning.”
The delays would encourage Bowie to turn to narcotics, and he ended up getting so intoxicated on mushrooms with Terry Reid that the memories of his performance were blurry-eyed. “So, what better than to spend the intervening hours ensconced in the farmhouse, along with a crew of latter-day hippies, singer Terry Reid and all kinds of mushrooms,” he continued.
Adding: “By the time I was due to perform I was flying and could hardly see my little electric keyboard or my guitar. I have no recollection of the show itself, although I seem to recall a strange girl getting up onstage and whirling away, mostly without any music playing, while the audience cheerfully awoke from its slumbers.”
Fortunately, audio exists from Bowie’s quaint performance of future classic ‘Changes’, which sounds naked in comparison to the recorded version, but equally captivating. Close your eyes, picture being in attendance, and dive into a listen.