“WE were the first electric band to play on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.”

It’s some claim to fame - a place in the history of the world’s most famous festival.

But Leary Hasson can make it - and he remembers his time at Worthy Farm well.

Keyboard player Leary formed a band with his brother, Fred, based at Bindon Home Farm, the family farm in Wellington. It was 1968.

“At the time, my father owned the farm,” Leary recalls.

“I had formed a school group in the last year of doing A levels and had managed to get over to the Costa del Sol in the summer holidays with Fred and other members of the school band to perform in a night club.

“On our return, Fred and I were hooked on band life and looked around the local area to find like-minded musicians and started practicing in the attic of the family home.

“We were making so much racket in the house my father said ‘go and live at the farm’ because the farmhouse was empty - and we ended up with most of the band living out there at one time or another.”

The band was Marsupilami.

The name came from a cartoon character created by Belgian cartoonist Andre Franquin, a cross between a monkey and a cat, somewhat symbolic of the band’s progressive sound, blending a number of styles, from jazz, blues, electric folk, to rock.

Success came quickly and after supporting the likes of the Joe Cocker Band in Taunton, they signed with Transatlantic Records and recorded their eponymous debut album.

At that point, alongside Fred and Leary, the band was completed by Mike Fouracre (drums), Ricky Hicks (bass), Dave Laverock (guitar) and Jessica Stanley Clarke (flute).

Later, they were joined by Paul Dunmall who went on to become one of UK’s top free jazz musicians.

Somerset County Gazette:

AMBITIOUS: Marsupilami in the early 1970s

And it was Jessica, now known as Jekka McVicar (and who has gone on to be a successful organic herb grower and has won gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show), who was behind the band’s appearances at Worthy Farm.

”Her parents lived in Pilton, and they knew Michael Eavis,” Leary explains.

“I don’t remember very much about that very first 1970 Glastonbury Rock and Pop festival except for the atmosphere.

“There was an uncovered stage built on scaffolding poles with a lot of Pachouli smelling, hennaed haired, flared-trousered hippies floating about, although not everyone there was smelling sweet.

“There were bands milling about and about 1,500 in the crowd, most of whom had paid £1 to get in.

“It was very typical of events around that time – hippy events – where no one seemed to know what was happening, but it happened anyway.

“There was no sense of rush or keeping time slots.”

But what of their set, on September 19, 1970?

“To be honest I can’t remember much about it!”

The band went on to enjoy more success, particularly on the continent, and returned to Worthy Farm for the legendary Glastonbury Fayre, in 1971, organised by Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill - again thanks to Jessica’s parents’ connections in Pilton.

“When Andrew Kerr set up the ’71 Glastonbury Fayre, that was definitely through Jessica’s parents that we got a slot on stage,” Leary says.

“We were invited round to Worthy Farm before the festival and met up with Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill.

“There were some musicians there and other people, all talking about ley lines, cosmic energy, organic farming, and getting back to the land.

“Andrew took us for a tour of the festival site and explained that they had dowsed to find the perfect spot for the stage which was where several ley lines crossed to create a high energy hot spot.

“One of the ley lines passed through the Tor and another the Abbey.

“He said that the ‘Ancients’ had known about these energy lines and would use them to build monuments and for large gatherings of people.

“The pyramids in Egypt were built on similar energy lines, Andrew informed me, hence the reason for the shape of the stage.

“This knowledge had been lost by society in modern times!”

And so Marsupilami became the first electric band to perform on the first Pyramid Stage.

Leary remembers: “We played really well and we were definitely happy with it (our set).

“I stayed on for the rest of the weekend, saw some of the other bands including Quintessence and The Edgar Broughton band.

“I saw a mind-expanding set from Melanie, the American singer songwriter, in the early hours of Sunday morning, while on acid, and I remember hearing Guru Ji Maharaj speak later that day, having not slept all night.

“It was a lot better organised (in 1971). Andrew Kerr had managed to accrue a whole army of volunteers. “There was this amazing feeling of love and peace I suppose, and all working for the common good.

“Entrance was free and there was a free whole food kitchen (basically a huge cast iron pot hanging over a wood fire into which chickpeas, lentils and anything that the volunteers could clap their hands on was tipped in and boiled up with no seasoning).

“Nourishing at least.

“Michael was also giving out milk I think.

“So, in essence, all revellers needed to do was turn up (with no money) to enjoy the spirit of the event.

“In 1971, in June, I was still 20.

“I had lived a fairly sheltered life until then, at boarding school and living in the country, so wasn’t streetwise about the hippy culture in London etcetera.

“We used to end the set with (Howlin’ Wolf classic) Spoonful, which started with the groove and went into a really long rock jam that would last 15, 20 minutes, even half an hour, and it was great because the audience would be waiting for that, when they could get up and “freak out” – and it went down really well at Glastonbury.

“The camera crew had planned to film us, but were still setting up their equipment when we did our set so we didn’t get to appear on that seminal film Glastonbury Fayre, which evoked well the atmosphere of the times."

The band went on to record a second album, Arena, a concept album written as a rock opera.

The subject was the Roman games during the time of the Emperor Nero.

“In Rome the people were starving,” Leary explains.

Somerset County Gazette:

PROG OPERA: The band's second album, Arena

“There was a merchant fleet at anchor in North Africa and Nero was asked whether they should bring back wheat to feed the people or sand for the the arena to hold the Games.

“He ordered sand of course!

“The work was attempting a comparison between the fall of The Roman Empire with the decline of The British Empire.”

Both albums are still available for prog rock fans.

After the second album, the band toured the UK and in Europe, particularly in Holland.

“We were very popular at The Paradiso Club in Amsterdam which at the time was the epitome of the hippy class culture.”

The band split up in 1971 but, as happens with so many who attend, echoes of the Glastonbury Festival could still be heard throughout the lives of those involved - particularly Leary.

“It inspired me to work the land here (in Wellington),” he added.

“It was the beginning of the anti-capitalist movement, where music should be free.

“The whole hippy dream eventually ended up sort of stalling.

“It was based on good feeling - and idealism – but, I suppose, money does make the world go round.

“It’s like that now, really, with the virus going on – whether we should look after people’s health or get the economy going again.

“But meeting with Andrew Kerr and that energy was an eye opener for me – they were already into eating organic whole foods.

“I remember they fed us with brown rice and organic vegetables and we all thought ‘what the hell’s this’, but it later became the staple of our diet at the farm.

“It was definitely an important part of the journey I took.

“What they were talking about made a lot of sense.

“They were talking about climate change, factory farming and agrochemicals – that was all very prominent, even then, but within a much smaller section of society.”

Somerset County Gazette:

ICONIC: The Pyramid Stage under construction in 1971

After the band broke up, Leary turned his thoughts to farming, and used many of the concepts he had been introduced to at Worthy Farm to set up his own organic project - self sufficiency and later organic seed potatoes.

“When I converted the farm, people thought I was a complete nutcase, a naïve hippy sort of thing,” he says.

But despite growing a successful business, his relationship with Glastonbury did not end in 1971.

“In the early 90s, when I was still farming pretty much full time growing organic wheat and potatoes, a friend and I started one of the first organic food stalls at the festival – Leary’s Organic Spud Experience.

“When I started doing it, it was the most exciting part of my farming year.

“Instead of selling a 25kg bag of potatoes for a fiver, we could sell one baked potato with filling for a fiver. That’s how it started.

“We got a crew of people together and that was wonderful.

“We had live music playing close to our food stall in what then was called the Jazz Field. The stage was facing us directly and we could stand at the counter with binoculars and watch the music.

“We saw some wonderful performances.

“After the stages closed down for the night I would organise local musicians and we would put on a show in front of the stall in the early hours.

“One time, we had a big band – with a rhythm section, two or three saxophones and a couple of singers – playing outside the stall with a crowd of several hundred people.

“Halfway through the gig, this short guy with a bit of an attitude pushed his way through the crowd, came up and said ‘I want to sing with you guys’, grabbed up a mic and picked up in the middle of a song with the most amazing voice.

“It wasn’t until later we realised it was Jay Kay from Jamiroquai.

“But after 16 years of that I sort of burned out on going there and doing the kitchen.

“I’m going to be 70 and the thought of going to a festival now with all those kids just makes me think ‘I can’t take the noise and the crowds anymore’!”

More on the Glastonbury Festival:

But those times in the early ‘70s - and the impact they had on his life - will never leave Leary and Marsupilami.

“I think in those days, we were just living more in the present, not thinking about the future,” he recalls.

“I have always been, instinctively, an environmentalist, a nature lover and quite wary of capitalism.

“I was aware, as a teenager, I just wanted that way of life, to develop spiritually.

“It was a positive time, hoping things would get better. But looking around at the present time, things don’t look so good.

“I could go either way when we finally get back to a more normal life. But I don’t think life will ever be the same as before.

“There has been progress, but like life in general, there’s always good things and bad things.

“I was always hopeful about what the festival represented.

“I always thought, even at the time, that hippies left on their own wouldn’t achieve very much.

“You have to be more serious about it, have more purpose, with both feet on the ground, not just ideas without a grounding.

“That was why I gave it up music and started with the farm, I had a chance to do it totally on my own in my own way.”

The journey didn’t end there, however, and Marsupilami returned to Worthy Farm in 2011 to perform on a special stage - The Spirit of ‘71 - remembering the formative years of the festival, and organised by Andrew Kerr once again.

“The original poster from 1971 was reissued but they managed to spell the name of our band wrong,” Leary says.

“The festival now, I think it has changed so much, it’s a much more commercial enterprise than it was.

“1971 was completely the opposite end of the spectrum to what it is now.

“I know Michael Eavis had this original idea of celebrating Midsummer with art and crafts and music. It was a Midsummer, Pagan-type thing for the crowds that used to come.”

Somerset County Gazette:

REINCARNATION: Marsupilami performed at Glastonbury once again, in 2011

“Michael is the grounding force for the festival, I think. He had the inspiration and his personality has kept the festival alive.

“It’s funny, but there is research, they have discovered that Stonehenge was a meeting place for all the clans to meet at Midsummer – it was like a big Glastonbury Festival.

“They would trade, eat, drink – I’m sure there was a lot of sex going on – it was their way of enjoying Midsummer the longest day of the year with the most light.

“Michael Eavis wasn’t so Pagan about it but had a view of how it should be. It’s become much more about ‘manufactured culture’, people with vested interests – selling merchandise, promoting bands, TV rights, big catering companies, social media.

“But the crowds still love the music and I did experience in 2010, the last time with the kitchen, being in a massive crowd completely immersed in live bands, feeling the energy from the musicians being picked up and amplified by the crowd creating a euphoric blast of energy swirling around in the air.

“I think it’s developed in the same way society has developed.”

But that development is no cause for negativity for Leary, who remains philosophical about his time in music, at Glastonbury, and his life in general.

“I haven’t got any regrets. What I did, here at the farm, is the lifestyle I always wanted,” he says.

“I read a lot of what happens to some musicians, how celebrity can be destructive. But sometimes I look back and have some regrets that we were a bit arrogant.

“We didn’t want to make any compromises to commercialise our music and were, I guess you could say, a bit too narcissistic about our art.

“That’s probably the reason we didn’t get more success than we did.

“But being a successful rock star is not necessarily the best life there is.

“A lot of people look up to celebrities and want to emulate them, but I’m not like that. I respect and love talent and great musicianship.

“It’s how life turns out – you make your choices and take your chances – and that’s the road Marsupilami ended up going down, rightly or wrongly.

“I have lived the life of an organic farmer.”

And the life of a musician who was part of the first electric band to play the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury...