Podcasting Material Culture! Our MA History Students Get to Grips with Historical Items in the Archives

Episode Two: Amy Longmuir and a ‘Partnership Like No Other’: The Commercialisation of the British Music Festival Industry

Continuing our podcast series for the Historical Skills and Resources Module, MA student Amy Longmuir takes up the baton to use material culture to talk 90s music, the New Music Express (NME) and Glastonbury! Drawing inspiration from a badge held at the Museum of English Rural Life, this short podcast is a fantastic insight into the history of the commercial music festival industry.

“This was a really challenging and unorthodox module that gave me the opportunity to move away from historical theory and really understand the importance of objects in history.” – Amy Longmuir, MA History Student

Listen to Amy’s podcast below, or read on for her report on the material history of ‘Behind NME Lines’!

Amy Longmuir, ‘A Partnership Like No Other: Music Festival History in the Archives’ (2022)

Intended for a general, albeit historically enthusiastic, audience, this podcast attempts to shed light on the beginning of commercialisation within the British music festival industry in the 1990s.

As Britpop groups like Blur and Oasis emerged across the UK from the late 1980s, music festivals were slow to rise to the occasion and begin embracing this new musical wave. Glastonbury Festival failed to incorporate these bands in their early days and this, combined with audience violence that forced organisers to postpone Glastonbury 1991, created a sense of decline in the festival industry. They would be essential to the inaugural NME stage though, with Britpop band Blur headlining. So, in 1992, Glastonbury needed to come back with something new and exciting, and this was provided by music magazine, the New Musical Express.

The NME had gained notoriety through their coverage of punk in the 1970s, employing innovative punk journalists such as Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons. This earnt them the reputation of the magazine of the underground and subversive. As with Glastonbury though, Britpop looked to claim another victim with the magazine’s failure to cover the emerging and influential genre.

Both parties thus looked doomed to fail by the beginning of the 1990s. It is here that the ‘Behind NME lines’ badge at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading comes into being to commemorate the establishment of the NME, now called the Other, Stage. 1992 was an attempt to turn around the fortunes of both parties involved. For Glastonbury, it seemed to work; there was a clear change of fortunes and its commercial success quickly became noticeable. Ticket prices tripled in the 15 years following the establishment of the NME stage, corresponding with the rise of commercial interest in music festivals more generally. The NME did not share in these fortunes, however. Only six years after the establishment of the NME stage, they moved to online publications, this becoming its main format by the beginning of the 2010s. It was thus evident that they were losing their appeal and, although they continue to have worldwide editions today, they have been forced towards free online publication to promote readership, a move completed in 2018.

The mixed fortunes of the NME and Glastonbury Festival all stem from their partnership in 1992 with the rise of commercialism and corporate sponsorship in music festivals. The ‘Behind NME lines’ badge illuminates the story of modern British music culture far beyond the world in which it was created. The badge forms part of the ‘Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures’ collection at the MERL and is currently exhibited in the ‘Rural in Vogue’ display.

Further information about the history of Glastonbury can be found through the Victoria & Albert’s online pilot project ‘Performing Glastonbury’ and Glastonbury Festival’s own history pages. – Amy Longmuir

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