When Adele takes to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury this year, she will be the second British female headliner at the festival to do so this century. The first was Florence Welch last year, but that was only by default – the singer stepped in when Foo Fighters were forced to pull out at the last minute.
Out of the 91 headliners at Worthy Farm since the festival began in 1970, only 15 have included a woman. Beyond the main stage the statistics don’t get much better. Last year, some 86 per cent of the line-up was male.
The gulf between the sexes was really highlighted last summer when critics reproduced copies of the festival line-up with the male musicians removed. It left enough white space to pitch a two-woman tent – and went viral.
And the message certainly hit home with Emily Eavis, who organises Glastonbury alongside her father Michael. She consequently announced that this year the festival’s line-up would be “strong on women”. With Adele performing on the Saturday evening and Jess Glynne, Ellie Goulding, Laura Mvula, Wolf Alice, Róisín Murphy and Cyndi Lauper all appearing, the line-up is certainly strong, but women still only make up 29 of the 74 performers on this year’s poster (last year it was 23 out of 74).
“To be fair,” says Eavis, “there’s always been a lack of balance in the music industry when it comes to opportunities for female performers, but it is slowly changing and hopefully we’re doing our bit to support the new female artists coming through.
“It was brilliant to see Florence stepping up to headline last year after Dave Grohl’s accident led to Foo Fighters pulling out. It was as if she was born to that space, like she’d been ready to headline the Pyramid for ever. That was definitely one of last year’s great moments.
“And Adele is the biggest artist in the world right now! I think she will make Glastonbury 2016 really special for everyone, from the tens of thousands of people in front of the stage to the millions watching and listening around the world.”
Adele is a huge coup for Eavis and a particularly poignant one, as “Adele also has a very real connection to the farm and its history,” she explains. “She has been coming here since she was a small child. I think that will make it even more special.”
While Eavis has consciously tried to redress the balance, it seems the other festivals have yet to get the message. V Festival is the only other weekend that can also boast a main stage line-up where women are really represented, with performers like Rihanna, Jess Glynne, Little Mix and Sia.
Across the other festivals, bankable old rock bands still dominate the headliners: Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden at Download, the Stone Roses and Red Hot Chilli Peppers at T in the Park, the Cure at Bestival.
The UK chart in the past year has been full of female acts with Adele, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Little Mix, Jess Glynne and Ellie Goulding all having top-selling albums. So why isn’t that reflected in our festival line-ups? Perhaps the problem lies in the people booking the acts and organising the music weekends? Emily Eavis has spoken out and is trying to make a difference, but the teams behind the rest of the festivals still seem to be dominated by men.
“What’s also really important and special to me,” says Eavis, “is the number of women working in really key roles in our festival, from all the creative areas right through to the offices. We’re a proper women’s army down here!”