Indie-pop legend and BBC DJ Cerys Matthews, once named sexiest woman in rock and now a MBE, has set up her own 5,000-person festival in Flintshire, near the Welsh border. The festival, The Good Life Experience, is celebrating its fifth year on 14-16 September at the Hawarden Estate, with DJs Norman Jay and Trevor Nelson, and Cerys warns that day tickets on Saturday are limited.
Specially this year, the lake on the estate will be open for wild swimming and there’ll be fire walking, axe throwing and tree climbing for the wild-at-heart. Cerys will be there, with her five children, who are eight to 26 years old.
She’ll be sitting round the fire listening to historians tell stories about Llywelyn the Great, the Welsh leader who fought on those lands. She says, “For me it’s totally and utterly where we’re supposed to be. I’m imagining the battles that used to happen there. This is where our great leader used to stand.”
Cerys Matthews takes on the music festival
The Welsh music lover says she felt she wanted a festival that had everything and that wasn’t to do with celebrity and the marketing and headliners, but was about the individual and curiosity. She says, “There wasn’t the festival that I thought had that, and the chance to reconnect with the natural world and the enabling of children and adults.”
There’ll be cooking lessons for children and adults at her festival, and forest-foraging for mushrooms with an expert and learning how to cook them after. All the cooking will be on open pit fires, not in these “shiny chrome kitchens. It’s really quite hands on and open armed.”
There will be a bilingual bar at the party, giving you a chance to practise the Welsh for beer, ‘cwrw’. “After a couple of pints you’re completely bilingual,” Cerys assures me.
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The idea behind The Good Life Experience, she says, is “to just get away from the surface. It’s really the opposite. It’s go wild in the country and the beauty of that. You just can’t make it up.
“This makes a great time and great experience and great memories. I love fires, I love music, I love books. I love watching people who are passionate about what they do, whether that’s cider-making, whittling, black-smithery, bow and arrow making, carpentry. It’s practical, it’s the knowledge of joining the dots that make it such a lovely experience, especially living in the digital age. It is a lovely, lovely antidote to that.”
“Make hay not war, or else we’re done for”
Cerys has 700,000 listeners to her Sunday show on BBC Radio 6 and says, “For me it’s about gathering experiences and hanging out with like-minded people. I don’t want to see a band because people have told me it’s the next big thing, I want to hear that and see it in the playing.”
The Catatonia and solo singer has chosen the musical and artistic acts for the festival that range from classical, jazz, indie, Indian, Rajasthani, folk. She’s curated over 40 expert craftspeople, who are world class chefs, explorers, poets, authors, speakers, designers and social activists.
There will be axe throwing, foraging, campfire cooking, daily feasts, wild children, mass sing-a-longs and abseiling. The line-up includes adventurer Ben Fogle, poet Hannah Jane Walker, Purple Ronnie creator Giles Andreae and Jeff Buckley’s manager. The first Chester Pride will march their parade through the festival to drums and whistles.
Cerys cites her favourite living artist as Bob Dylan, “because he’s mischievous, he’s challenging, he’s funny, he’s enlightening, he makes you cry with a turn of phrase and melody. He’s raucous and raw but tender. He’s like a map, and he definitely doesn’t play the game. He is contrary and I enjoy that contrariness.”
She lists names of artists and musicians, “legends in music” she says she’s privileged to meet. “This moment in time” is the highlight of her varied career, she says. And now is the chance to join Cerys and join in one of those moments.