Step back in time a few paces, to when small was beautiful
Cerys Matthews tells Adam Shaw that she and her husband had a vision of a small, friendly, old fashioned festival.
In 1975, a British sitcom called The Good Life was first aired. It followed Tom Good, a disillusioned draughtsman, and his wife, Barbara, as they abandon all modern commercial living and adopt a policy of total self-sufficiency. Out with making plastic toys for cereal boxes, in with allotments, farm animals and ‘peapod burgundy’.
The stripped down lives of the Goods might not have been the inspiration for a 21st century festival in North Wales, but this concept of an escape to simpler times certainly was.
In 2014, four friends – Cerys Matthews, Steve Abbot, Charlie and Caroline Gladstone – got together to create The Good Life Experience; a festival centred on ‘the things that matter’.
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“A lot of us spend so much time in offices, or indoors in front of screens and what I feel, personally, is, I hanker for the old-school; of building a fire or making a wooden spoon or seeing how a blacksmith works,” Cerys said.
“So we set-up this festival in the beautiful countryside that not only gives you the normal things you expect from a festival but adds a huge dollop of the great outdoors.”
This last point is a pertinent one, as there are endless activities visitors can take part in, almost all of which are entirely associated with the natural world, while “90 per cent” of them are included in the ticket price. There’s everything from axe-throwing to tree-climbing, with whittling, vintage fairground rides and fire-building in between.
Last year, Cerys’ daughter built her own straw-bale slide down a hill, and had up to 50 children queuing up to have a go.
“You can fill your brains, get your hands dirty or just sit around and enjoy some great music with a craft beer,” she explained. “There’s so much going on – we also cover exploration, history, politics, literature and so on.
“People just come and have a bloody good time and that, essentially, is what our festival is all about.”
The good times, it seems, are reaching a wider audience year-on-year, with roughly 4,000 making the pilgrimage to Flintshire in 2015 and a similar number expected this time round. To cater for this expanding number, Cerys and the organisers have thought of new ideas to help the festival grow, though she is wary of it morphing into an uncontrollable mass gathering.
“We don’t want to get too big. The great thing about the festival, particularly for a newcomer, is that it’s really welcoming and doesn’t have the intimidating hordes of ravers,” she said. “It’s a very informal, very natural atmosphere. We try to stay away from all the hype and the image of ‘celebrity’ and corporate branding.
“We’re tired of being sold things and there’s a lot of BS about. We’re not in it to sell a load of products or make a lot of money, we’re here to have a good time and share it with like-minded people.
“If we have the same number as last year, we’ll be pleased. If we grow a bit, we’re prepared.”
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The Good Life Experience’s mantra is clear, and it is one that is very much in line with Cerys’ own attitude towards life. She spoke of her ever-growing library of interests, her gratitude of being able to explore these interests alongside her successful music career and the opportunity she has been given to bring it all together in the form of a festival.
“I’ve got an insatiable appetite for all things in the world and for the world in general,” she explained. “I find it infinitely interesting and my favourite thing in life is finding similar, like-minded people who might be interested in history, literature, botany, tree-climbing or whatever – people who have got interests and passions.
“And I’ve been given a platform to create this festival in beautiful North Wales, where I can bring people together and we can share our experiences. It really is a privilege.”
Given that the festival is “an extraordinary collection of experts and musicians”, Cerys believes that it will provide all visitors with something to enjoy, whatever their taste.
As ever, there will be a healthy contribution from Ireland, a place the Welshwoman has “always felt connected with” and the birthplace of her husband.
“My family spent a lot of time in Pembrokeshire, which is much closer to Ireland than it is to London. “My husband is originally from Donegal and we visit a lot. Last year we had The Clameens from Derry, and this year we’ve got The Booka Brass Band from Dublin.
“We have a lot of visitors coming over on the ferry, and there’s always a warm welcome for the Irish – as there is for everyone, of course.” Cerys described the festival as “her baby”, though she quipped that it requires a lot more work and attention, and costs a lot more than an actual baby.
One of her own actual babies told her that the weekend she spent at The Good Life Experience last year was “the best of her life”, and this is coming from someone who is “very much part of the Snapchat-YouTube generation”.
This doesn’t mean that modern applications should be abandoned, and Cerys was quick to point out that the festival isn’t about downing your phone and following a strict set of rules surrounding electronics.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love my internet and I love my gadgets, but I also love the wonders of the natural world,” she said. Tom Good would no doubt faint at the idea of an iPhone, while things such as smart watches and hi-tech glasses would tip him over the edge. But he would be the first in line to buy a ticket to Cerys’ festival, and would agree with her sentiment that “being able to share joy with people is just the pinnacle of life”. This attitude, in fact, is something we can all take heart from.
• The Good Life Experience takes place at Hawarden Estate, Flintshire on September 16-18.
• For more information and ticket details, visit: www.thegoodlifeexperience.co.uk or call 01244 784122 (Mon-Fri) or 020 772 77799 (Sat-Sun).