We Interviewed a Druid About Glastonbury

When Martin Glover was 22, he found himself standing on the street in just a kimono, tripping on acid, and burning £20,000 in cash. Soon after, he became a Druid.

Jun 23 2016, 10:00am

Martin Glover has more accolades than Taylor Swift has ex-boyfriends. He co-founded Killing Joke in 1978, is one half of The Firemen (the other half being Paul McCartney), and produces as Youth—a moniker under which he has worked with everyone from Pink Floyd to The Sugarcubes. In 2012, he won The Man with the Golden Ear Award at the International Festival of Music Producers and Sound Designers SOUNDEDIT—and while I’m not entirely sure what that means, it certainly sounds impressive. In September he’s putting on his own ambient arts festival called Puretone Resonate, which brings electronica and holistic therapies to their logical coalescence at the foot of a Spanish mountain range. The festival aims to “create a connection with the pulse of nature through the mystery and beauty of music, literature, film and art,” and takes place on the full moon.

Oh, also, Martin Glover is a Druid. As in, an actual real life Druid involved with an order and everything. Druid spiritual tradition can be traced back thousands of years and has evolved to take many forms—some philosophical, others more religious—but the general gist is it's based principally on a veneration of nature and respect for all beings. Modern-day Druidry usually involves the observation of eight festivals ("The Wheel of the Year") of which four are solar and four are lunar - the most recognizable being the summer solstice, which thousands of people celebrate at Stonehenge every year regardless of whether they're a Druid or not. To put it crudely: it is the ethos of Glastonbury festival applied as an entire way of living.

Martin has been to Glastonbury Festival over 20 times in his quadruple-decade-spanning career as a musician, and will return again this year to play a gig in a tree. Obviously, we wanted to give him a call to gain some insider knowledge about his experience of the festival over the years, what Druidism has to do with it, and gong baths. Here’s how that went.

Photo by Glen Burrows

Noisey: Hi Martin. So, you’re a Druid. How did that happen?
I was introduced to the idea of Druids when I co-founded Killing Joke. Two members of the band were very adept at magic. Both of them had joined The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn—which is sort of a western magical tradition—at the age of 15. They were both practicing members. Ironically at the time, I was quite cynical about magic and religion and mysticism and spirituality. I was interested but also very dismissive of it. I was far more interested in psychedelics then, and it was through psychedelics that I had my own kind of initiation [into druidism].

Oh yeah?
I had a sort of infamous meltdown when I was on LSD when I was about 21/22, in 1982. I ended up in a kimono and swimming trunks on King’s Road burning money. Prior to that, the NME reported that I’d gone into my local bank manager’s office and withdrawn £20,000 in cash and burned it. This all precipitated The KLF burning a million quid and more recently Joe Corre’s threat to burn his £5 million punk collection. I was just having a sort of epiphany and illumination at the time that was very acid-drenched, like Californian sunshine—but I ended up having a breakdown, having my ego shredded, and I had to crawl my way back out, narrowly avoiding being sectioned after being arrested on King’s Road burning money.

Why were you burning money?
I had been trying to give the money away but no one would take it… Anyway, that breakdown kind of precipitated the awakening of my own spiritual expression, really. Two guys who helped me through it at the time—Lee Harris and Brian Barratt. Both were big psychedelic heads. Brian had written a couple of books with Timothy Leary and they both basically said, “Don’t worry, you’re not mad, you’re just going through this shamanic initiation and you’re going to go through all these levels.” Brian gave me The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Lee gave me Be Here Now by Ram Dass. From there I began my journey of finding some kind of real spiritual expression.

Festivals in general hark back to pagan ritual. In fact, Glastonbury is happening this weekend and there are gonna be hella Druids there. What can you tell me about that?
The whole tradition of festivals in this country goes back to Druid times—back to Stonehenge and the solstices. It’s a long, ancient tradition and I think that’s ingrained in our psyches here—as I think it probably is everywhere, but especially here because we’re an island and we’ve been doing it for so long. The whole point of those festivals really is for us to come together to dance under the sun and the moon, to reconnect to our natural selves and each other in a natural setting, to reconnect to the stars and the sky and the earth through dancing and celebration and joy. To make new friends, and to cement old friendships. The value of it is endless. It’s where we return to being human. The rest of the year we’re locked up in concrete caves being worker bees—that’s not to say we can’t be human there as well, but it’s an unnatural way of living, I think. The only time we can go back to a timeless ancient naturalness is when we’re under canvas at a festival celebrating the seasons.

I think Glastonbury exemplifies that, not least because it’s part of the Glastonbury Zodiac and you can see the Tor, which is an ancient Druid sacred site, from the festival site. The stages have been aligned consciously, and I think in that sense it recreates Avalon, that that timeless eternal city of our imagination, and we call all go there—if we’re lucky enough to get a ticket [laughs]. But you can experience that at Wilderness, Green Man, and many other festivals. There are so many festivals now, we spend most of our summers at them.

What do you think of the present Glastonbury compared to how it was?
I love Glastonbury. I’ve done over 20 Glastonburys since the early 80s, and I think it’s evolved into what it is. Even people in the 90s were bemoaning that it wasn’t what it was like in the 80s. Clearly when they put the fence up properly to stop the travelers coming in the mid-90s it really did change things, but it always had that Babylon area down by the mainstage that was full of greasy burger bars, and it always had the counter-points with The Green Fields and The Healing Fields. Sometimes I’ve felt the [sense of] Avalon wasn’t there and the only people I saw in The Stone Circle were smoking crack and playing football, but then I’d be surprised and find it in some corner and there’d be a party on a double decker bus hidden away somewhere. Last year actually, with The Dalai Lama being there, there was certainly a lot of Avalon spirit floating around. The Eavis’ are a great family and they’ve done an amazing job of creating the most incredible festival in the world, next to Burning Man, and most of the money they make goes to charity, which is commendable. They have a terrible reputation for paying DJs [laughs] but they have a great ethos. I’m looking forward to going up this week, even if it’s going to be a bit of an endurance with the mud.

Someone experiencing “Pyramidal Memories Transmutation” at Glastonbury 2015. Photo by Jake Lewis.

What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you at Glastonbury?
Waking up in a tree was pretty memorable.

I can imagine. Do you remember how you got there?
Not quite. I was lying on this fault on a branch and my friend Chris Lee, the writer, was asleep on the next branch, and people were pointing up at us laughing.

Aren’t you performing in a tree at Glastonbury this year? Will that be sort of a homecoming for you?

What else do you remember about Glastonbury pre-millennials?
In the early 80s the only music you had in the evening after 10/11 PM were two soundsystem tents run by generators and all they played was heavy dub. There was nothing else, but that was enough, actually. That was absolutely incredible. I also remember being chased around the festival by Keith Allen. I was with Phil Drummond and [name inaudible] and we’d all taken some acid.

Go on...
We were in some backstage tent and [Keith Allen] was wandering around with a bunch of heavies with a baseball bat going “who’s tripping, I’m gonna tweak ‘em out!” He was just trying to wind people up. So Phil just sat down at this trestle table with all their food and I looked over to him and I went “by the way, we’re all tripping” and then I leant on the table so all the food went in their laps. And for the rest of the day I had [Allen] and his merry band of heavies trying to find me and Bill to beat the fuck out of us with a baseball bat.

Amazing. So you’re holding your own music festival, and the site promises that there will be gong baths. I’ve never had one. How would you describe it?
Oh it’s incredible. It’s like pure jazz, in a way. It’s very abstract. There’s so many sub-frequencies and harmonies in those gongs. It’s totally de-stressing and relaxing and enables you to go on visionary quests in your imagination. It just recalibrates your cellular structure somehow. You’re not being seduced by melody so much - or very subtle ones if there are - it’s the tonal frequencies together that create this resonance that facilitates a deep relaxation and healing.

That sounds fantastic. What else can you tell me about relaxing tones?
A big one is the 111 kHz frequency, which weirdly enough brings us back to the Druids. All the megalithic chambers in the UK and Europe are tuned to this 111 kHz frequency. Interestingly, in chambers that are aligned to the summer solstice—like Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesey—if you have sounds of that 111 frequency what will happen is a standing wave will occur because the chamber is attuned to that frequency. So even if you have just four or five people chanting in there it will create a standing wave which will make it sound like fifty people. It creates an aural illusion. That frequency has a very powerful effect on people and their psyche. It’ll also create a wave in the air form, so if that chamber was full of incense and smoke—imagine you’re doing an initiation ceremony at dawn on the solstice—as the smoke comes out of the corridor it would weave out in a serpentine fashion with the standing wave created by the 111 feedback. Really, that’s probably the first rock and roll light show.


This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

Puretone Resonate takes place at Space Mountain studios in Spain on September 16-18. Find out more here.

Follow Emma on Twitter.