Cerys Matthews: 50 years of Glastonbury, its myths & legends and ‘97’s sinking stages

BBC Radio 6 Music presenter and Catatonia singer and songwriter Cerys Matthews speaks to Headliner about her personal Glastonbury experiences, from Worthy Farm highlights and the location’s myths and legends, to her ill-fated 1997 debut and the festival’s upcoming 50th anniversary.

Taking place from June 22-26, this year’s Glastonbury is arguably the most hotly-anticipated in its history, not least because of the two-year wait fans have faced for this special anniversary outing. Headlining the Pyramid stage this year are Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively, while the likes of Sam Fender, Noel Gallagher, Lorde, Elbow, Diana Ross, Herbie Hancock, Foals, Megan Thee Stallion, Pet Shop Boys, Burna Boy, Glass Animals, Little Simz and many, many others will be appearing across the festival’s many stages over the course of the weekend.

To mark the anniversary, the BBC’s new documentary film Glastonbury: 50 Years and Counting will air on June 19, before being made available on iPlayer. The film looks back at five decades of Glastonbury and features interviews with the likes of Michael and Emily Eavis, Billie Eilish, Chris Martin, Lars Ulrich, Johnny Marr, Florence Welch, Orbital, Stormzy, Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien, Noel Gallagher, Dua Lipa, Norman Cook, Ed Sheeran, Robert Smith and many key figures from across the different areas of the festival, including NYC Downlow, Lost Vagueness, Cinemageddon and the Silver Hayes dance tent.

Here, Matthews, a regular Glastonbury performer and broadcaster, shares some of her most memorable Worthy Farm moments and discusses the reasons she believes the festival has been able to maintain its unique spirit for half a century…

What was your first experience of Glastonbury?

Going to play there with Catatonia in 1997. I think we were due to play the Other Stage. We got there - it was literally a bowl of mud. The stage had sunk into this porridge. We didn’t even get our guitars out of the cases. Bin bags were de rigueur that year.

What have been some of your personal highlights from down the years?

Jerry Dammers on the West Holts stage. Hearing the opening bars to Maggot Brain coming across the fields from the West Holts stage and watching raggedy lines of zombie-like people heading towards the speakers.

Broadcasting for BBC Radio 6 Music for first time from Glastonbury in 2009, interviewing Status Quo after their headline Legends slot, where they pumped out single after single after single. Seeing Dolly Parton in the same slot in 2014, interviewing B.B King, Baaba Maal, having the Rajasthan Brass Band play on my show, and seeing Sturgill Simpson in green wellies (he is from red neck country USA, so it seemed amusing to see him in very English muddy green wellies). Also, during that first broadcast, I’d put on a mobile pack and had a microphone and stood on a green hill overlooking Glastonbury Tor. I’d spent much of the show sharing the ancient history of the area. While looking over these auspicious fields, I did a closing link where I imagined we, the Glastonbury festival goers would, at the end, - just like the mythical characters of these local legends who'd slunk away to the underworld - ebb back to our homes, and there wait for the next year’s date to come around, before reappearing again to worship together on these lands. That felt special. Ageless.

The festival has grown and evolved so much through the decades, how do you think it has been able to expand so much without compromising its unique identity?

It’s this rich and auspicious history of the surrounding area, in addition to the farm element, and Michael Eavis’ eccentricity and the welcome he has always shown to leftfield thinking. All these start to mark it out as different.

Also Vince Power, aka the Mean Fiddler, also needs some credit here for turning it around - making it one of the earliest festivals to move from being a more casual affair to become the user-friendly, charity earning colossus that we know and love the world over.

How will you be celebrating the 50th anniversary on air this year?

My Sunday show will be airing live from the heart of the site.

How special do you think this anniversary edition of Glastonbury will be, especially given the two-year wait?

Seeing live music, which has been curated well and shows great players and a massive variety in styles will all be special, regardless of which festival, given that we’ve not seen and heard so much of late.

You can listen to Headliner’s interviews with fellow BBC Radio presenters Craig Charles and Matt Everitt below, in which they talk all things Glastonbury, from its “naughty side” to convincing Prince to perform at Worthy Farm. You can also read the interview Charles here and Everitt here.

BBC Music brings Glastonbury Festival 2022 to viewers and listeners from Wednesday 22nd - Sunday 26th June on BBC television, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio and BBC Sounds. Glastonbury: 50 Years & Counting is on BBC Two on Sunday 19th June (9pm), then available on BBC iPlayer