On this day in 1994, the peace, love and lark-about that Glastonbury Festival benevolently blights our summers with every year, was marred by barbarity and mayhem as a madman wielding a gun thrust the festivities into turmoil in a senseless act of violence.
The thousands were gathered in their masses to take in what was set to be an iconic 25th anniversary of the festival, which has been described by Arctic Monkeys, David Bowie and various other huge names in music as the greatest in the world. The line-up was rammed with quintessential 1990s stars from Oasis and Björk to The Lemonheads and Elvis Costello. Sadly, however, it would descend into mayhem following the actions of one crazed spectator.
At around 10pm on Saturday evening, urgent police support was requested to assist with an incident after a man began firing an automatic pistol into the crowd at one of the festival’s stages. Miraculously, nobody was killed in the incident, and only five people, aged between 18 and 44, incurred minor injuries. They all thankfully fully recovered in hospital thereafter.
A witness at the time said the gunman “went mad, shooting indiscriminately.” It was believed that the shooting followed an argument between two drug dealers, who also happened to be on drugs.
In retrospect, the fallout to the incident seems baffling downplayed by modern standards. The festival continued, a man was questioned over the shootings the day after the incident in a “bid to assist with inquiries”, and the police announced that “there is little [they] can do to tighten security anymore,” according to a BBC News report. With one fan saying, “I thoroughly enjoyed the festival, it was excellent,” before casually adding, “It didn’t really worry me at all… the shooting’s and that.” It is not even clear from corroborated reports at the time whether anyone was eventually charged as the handgun was never recovered.
Festival organiser Michael Eavis said in the days following the incident that he believed it was drug-related but ensured: “I’m not going to stop the show because there’s one crazy guy with a pistol. There has been more violence this year than we’ve ever had before, but the overriding mood is one of a peaceful event.”
Among the peaceful revellers in attendance that year was a 92-year-old villager from Pilton, who had travelled down to fulfil an ambition of witnessing his hero, The Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. While charming stories such as a 92-year-old attendee help bring balance and provide a clearer picture of the 80,000 in attendance, there is no getting away from just how catastrophic a drugged-up gunman firing shots into a crowd of people could’ve been.
While synonymous with peace, love, and exultant partying, excessive drug use has always represented a problem for the event. During the 1994 edition, the festival saw its first death after a 23-year-old Londoner overdosed. Once more, however, this didn’t seem to worry people at the time who, by all accounts, seemed more worried about increasing commercialisation. That being said, the anniversary was heralded by many other fans as a scintillating triumph with the shooting only a minor blemish incomparable to five-star performances from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the Beastie Boys, Tool and many more.
Thankfully, despite the police saying little could be done on a security front, checks now reach a rigorous standard and no such incident has occurred since. This flashpoint remains a pertinent reminder of just how important security is, and while it might seem tedious when eagerly trying to catch a band, we all must play our parts.