Looking for a last-minute festival for all the family? You’re about to find it. Hazel Davis prepares for a slice of The Good Life, and gets parenting tips from possibly the coolest mum in the world.
If they were ever going to remake The Sound Of Music, ‘they’ need look no further than a little corner of West London where Cerys Matthews and her husband and manager Steve Abbott live with most of their “blended family”.
The Abbott-Matthews brood comprises a 23-year-old, a 19-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old and a five-year-old. Pretty sure they MAY stay and taste their first champagne* (unsubstantiated).
Matthews captured the heart of my generation as the charismatic and lairy lead singer of Catatonia, rendering us all forever unable to say the words “Mulder and Scully” in anything but a melodious Welsh accent. She’s now a 6 Music DJ, writer, documentary maker and the woman my other half has told me several times he would leave me for.
I have never wanted to live in a house as much as I want to live in Matthews’ house, though she gently reminds me that she’s not around on a Sunday as she’s doing her (ruddy brilliant) radio show, so actually it’s probably rubbish. “Where’s our roast beef, Mum? Errrr… dunno but here’s Lord Keep Me Day By Day by the Caravans.”
Sunday lunch disappointments aside, there’s nobody I’d rather get parenting tips from. And Matthews is keen to oblige. “I think as a parent my main job is to prepare them for the adult world,” she says, simply. “I try and teach them independent thinking and confidence and to encourage them to question things.”
“It’s absolutely fake but that’s not the point. Who cares? So many of us are spending so much time on computers we’re hankering after the good life and the old traditions.”
She remembers her first child seeing an advert in America for a swimming Mermaid Barbie and being horrified that it couldn’t actually swim. “I said, ‘You have to know that adverts are not always going to be accurate.’”
The same child, says Cerys, with glee, “very much has her own opinions. She is a member of a generation that talks freely about transgender issues and gender fluidity. She absolutely will not tolerate being told to have gender-specific opinions.”
Her kids, of course, listen to a wide variety of music and between them they crank out The Smiths (19-year-old), Motown (10-year-old), Nirvana (12-year-old), meanwhile: “My five-year-old’s really into old-time music,” Matthews laughs, “and my 12-year-old plays me Nicky Minaj a lot. They are all very opinionated about music and are always finding stuff on YouTube. The internet is actually extraordinary and we’re living in exciting times.”
With views like these Matthews seems like the very best person to curate a family festival and last year she took the hint, launching The Good Life, on the Hawarden Estate in Flintshire, Wales. I went for the day and it was a glorious celebration of (from memory) knives, axes, arrows and fire. Perfect for children then.
“We cosset children,” Matthews says, firmly. “For me six, seven, eight years old was the most magical time for me. We were allowed out in the woods all the time. We experimented.”
It shows. This year’s festival line-up features sessions on bushcraft, wild swimming, campfire cooking and scrapbooking. “Don’t get me wrong,” Matthews says, “I love my gadgets but it’s about making sure the balance is right.”
But the balance isn’t always right and that’s how our new passion for the good life came about, she thinks. “For every action there is an equal and possible reaction.” Hence beards and Pashley bikes.
To the criticism that all this is inauthentic, Matthews guffaws. “Of course it is! It’s absolutely fake but that’s not the point. Who cares? So many of us are spending so much time on computers we’re hankering after the good life and the old traditions.”
“A cigar once a year isn’t going to do much harm. We know smoking’s bad for us but half the time we don’t know what we’re eating.”
In addition to a bunch of hands-on events, naturally, the festival is still much about the music. “Everything is curated with quality in mind. We don’t care about the next big thing.”
Wilco Johnson headlines on the Friday night and Matthews says she is “REALLY EXCITED” about Cuban band Revolucionarios Cubanos, playing on Saturday.
Sunday is all about reading the papers, listening to harpist Catrin Finch and having a hog roast.
Though it’s all about the great outdoors, in many ways it’s also a music nerd’s dream. Elsewhere, Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle is there doing a talk on her brother and Wizz Jones is waxing lyrical about John Renbourn.
The Cuban theme extends to the dance classes and cigar-rolling sessions on offer. Controversial? Not a bit of it.
“I don’t patronise people. We’re killing ourselves by being vulnerable to the marketing man in terms of the food we’re eating. A cigar once a year isn’t going to do much harm. We know smoking’s bad for us but half the time we don’t know what we’re eating.”
We do at Good Life. The food is all (of course) field-to-fork and it’s deliberately held at harvest time. “Last year we had all these free pears,” Matthews says [I can attest to that], it was glorious.” There’s also going to be more food choices than last year, all of it local. “More people came than we expected,” she laughs; “this year is bigger.”
As someone who paid several hundred pounds to go to a family festival this year and who’s still cross about there being so many children there, the very thought that tickets to Good Life are but £45 (yes, £45!) makes me want to torch a Loom Band factory.
Matthews’ logic is pure: “It gives me pleasure to meet people who have a similar outlook. I don’t like there being an elite who can enjoy wholefood and enjoy culture.”
*A reference to So Long, Farewell for those crazies who aren’t familiar with the Sound of Music songbook.
The Good Life Experience takes place on 18–20 September. www.thegoodlifeexperience.co.uk1956 Views
Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".