"The festival spun out of control": when the Happy Mondays brought chaos to Glastonbury in 1990

Happy Mondays in 1989
(Image credit: Getty Images)

By the end of the 80s, the Happy Mondays had established themselves as the most exciting, dangerous and maverick band in the UK. The Manchester rabble, led by Shaun Ryder, were booked as Sunday night headliners at Glastonbury in 1990 but rather than just close the festival, they brought the curtain down on a whole era for the Worthy Farm event. Basically, Somerset was not equipped to deal with the chaos Shaun, brother Paul, dancer Bez and the rest of the group wrought on an otherwise serene corner of south-west England.

Their weekend began as it meant to go on – the coach transporting the Step On hit-makers to the festival got lost on the way and reversed into a sign reading ‘Glastonbury’. It smashed the back window. As recounted in Simon Spence’s hair-raising tome about the group Excess All Areas, the Happy Mondays had requested over 200 complimentary passes for their entourage but it was not deemed enough, with over a thousand of their Mancunian pals deciding to join them at the festival. The band brought along a printer with them, making copies of their backstage passes and handing them out. “We took all our friends,” Bez later told NME, “and the backstage area was like inner-city Manchester because everybody had an AAA backstage pass that we’d printed.”

A new security team had to be called in, tasked with looking into reports that a large amount of Manchester gangsters were on site robbing tents, selling drugs, “taxing” stallholders and pretty much making Worthy Farm the scene of a mini crimewave. “The festival spun out of control,” Spence writes in his book.

The band themselves were no more harmonious – Shaun Ryder spent the day and a half before stage-time on the tour bus smoking heroin, Bez was ingesting a large amount of acid and Paul Ryder was trying to drink his way out of a weekend of non-stop cocaine taking. Somehow, they pulled it all together for a triumphant performance, but Glastonbury were not happy.

“There were a record 235 arrests at the festival and £50,000 worth of damage,” Spence reported. “As a direct consequence, the following year’s Glastonbury was cancelled.” That wasn’t all – when Glastonbury did return, there was now a massive ten-foot fence erected around the entire site. Glastonbury chief Michael Eavis said there were not welcome back. He did eventually relent, though – after reforming in 2000, Shaun Ryder & co. returned for another, more well-behaved visit. That was for the best, nothing could have lived up to their original stop-off.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.