A Tribute to Arabella Churchill
Some very sad news for all those who love Glastonbury and the huge diversity
which makes it still the best festival in the world. Arabella Churchill,
co-founder of the Festival and a much-loved figure to all those who perform
there, sadly died aged a very young 58, just before Christmas. Deepest
condolences go to her husband Haggis and all her family and friends from
myself and my wife Robina.
Arabella, granddaughter of Sir Winston, had rebelled totally against the
Churchill dynasty and was very much part of the 60s hippie scene. When
Michael Eavis decided to start a festival, Arabella took on the role of
creating and organising a Theatre and Circus area. As many people know, the
first Glastonbury Festival happened in 1970 with the legendary Marc Bolan
headlining, typically arriving in a pink Cadillac... as you do (or he
certainly did!) and from then on it grew year by year, very slowly at first.
Arabella booked me for the first time in 1982, to do a show in her Theatre
Tent. It is a weekend I will remember vividly as long as I live, and in
tribute to her I'm going to share a memory which has never come out of
(painful, ointment-sodden) wraps before!
I'd only been performing for a couple of years at that point, hadn't done
many festivals, and certainly not one where you camped on site. My main
knowledge of Glasto before I went was that a) Bolan had done the first one
and b) it was full of hippies. I, of course, was a full on ranting punk
poet, fresh from all kinds of high octane gigs and confrontations with
Nazis, I ate hippies for breakfast, and I was fully intending to do so at
I'd never put a tent up in my life, and just thought I'd get so pissed I
didn't care where I slept and then crash in a corner somewhere. So I turned
up with just my mandola and, once I got there, bought an enormous plastic
container of the roughest and strongest cider I could find. I did my first
performance in the tent just after Rik Mayall (who at the time was doing his
Kevin Turvey routine, fellow old gits will remember that) and, despite
taking the piss out of the hippies, went down very well. Then I went out
into the bright sunshine, sat on the grass and got stuck into the cider. I'd
never drunk much rough cider before, and very soon it, and the heat, were
having a very strange effect on me. I was very tired. Enthused with the
spirit of Glasto (or maybe just the spirit of a 9% brew which tasted as
though a dead rat had fallen into the mash) I stripped naked, lay down in
the sun, and went to sleep........
JOHN!!!! JOHN!!!!! WAKE UP!!! YOU'RE ROASTING!!!
It was my ranting poet mate Seething Wells. Shouting at me and shaking me. I
groaned. Then came the bucket of water. SPLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASH!
Freezing cold water brought me back to my senses - lying naked on the grass,
sunburnt to an agonising frazzle. The fascists had always called me a red
bastard, and their assessment was never more accurate than at that moment.
Then I looked down in shocked disbelief to see that certain bits were even
redder and more tender than the rest of me and looked like something you'd
expect to find in a butcher's display case. Ow. Mega-big ow. I somehow got
some underpants and jeans on and staggered back into the corner of the tent
feeling very sorry for myself. As the sunburn agony increased, I drank even
more cider, and then I passed out.
When I woke up again it was dark outside, the tent was nearly empty, I was
freezing cold and boiling hot simultaneously, and Arabella was gently
'You can't sleep here in that state, Attila. Come and stay in my tent......'
And I did. No sniggers, please. Nothing was intended, and even if it had
been, nothing would have been remotely possible! She simply looked after me.
Gave me a cup of tea, some organic cream or other to smother my misery with
and a comfortable corner of her tent to crash in for the two or three days I
was there. Of course, the immediate couple of days after extreme sunburn are
the worst, and the pain was awful. But I did see the funny side. (And
Seething bloody Wells made sure every other bastard at Glastonbury saw the
funny side as well. Thanks Swells.)
Over those few days Arabella became not just a gig organiser, but a friend.
And she must have liked my performances, because for the next 25 years she
booked me for every single Glastonbury.
I watched the festival grow into a full-blown commercial event, one of the
biggest in the world, with huge mainstream headlining bands and a rapidly
expanding and changing audience base, many of whom I'm sure don't venture
much past the main music stages and the beer tents. But Michael Eavis was
still determined to keep the original spirit of Glastonbury alive, and
nowhere more was, and is, that spirit to be found than in Arabella's Theatre
and Circus area. Out in the fields, hundreds of visual artists and
performers of all kinds, shapes and sizes: a Cabaret Marquee which is
precisely that, not taken over by big time TV comedians but celebrating all
kinds of spoken word and music: a vibrant and diverse theatre and circus
programme in the marquees. Arabella and her colleague Chris booked all the
performers themselves, and Arabella wrote to each one personally. It was
truly her creation. She will be missed so much by all those who knew and
worked with her, both at Glastonbury and at the Childrens' World charity
which she established.
She'll certainly be missed by me.
Attila the Stockbroker