Hazel Davis can emphatically confirm: there’s something for everyone at September UK festival The Good Life Experience.
“Back soon, we’re just off to a lecture about William Gladstone’s legacy. See you at the apple pressing or for the Cuban dancing…?” Shall I continue?
Since it started in 2014, Cerys Matthews’ (with Steve Abbott and Charlie and Caroline Gladstone) September UK festival, The Good Life Experience, has brought together the most eclectic lineup on this good earth. I know EVERYONE says that these days but trust me, this North-Wales beauty is truly unique.
Set over four days in September, the festival pitches up on the Gladstone estate in Hawarden (Charlie himself can be seen constantly around the site, whether it’s answering eight-year-olds’ incessant questions about the castle or having a jive over in the main tent).
Though Matthews is known as a musician and radio presenter, the event is an all-round celebration of making, with equal emphasis on talks, crafts, food and music.
This year we tried our hand at sign-writing, raku pottery, weaving, life-drawing, choral singing, screen printing, apple-pressing and much, much more.
My eight-year-old budding Julia Child spent much of her time glued to the front row at the Campfire Cooking stage making mental notes about all the amazing vegan food she’s going to make me this year, while my six-year-old had 765 goes on the (free) helter skelter.
Don’t make me be the person who says there’s something for everyone at The Good Life Experience but, really…
Though I felt a lack of focus on music this year, we saw some amazing acts. Matthews’ knack for showcasing an up-and-comer was in full force in the form of JNR Williams, and angry Welsh folkie Gwilym Bowen Rhys, whose sets held me enraptured. The Turbans, with their “manywhere” music, delivered what they promised and had us all making utterly joyful prats of ourselves down the front.
The (mostly) spoken-word Caught By The River stage, a popular hangout for my nerdy fam, brought us treats in the form of a filthy but brilliant short story from Anna Wood which had my oldest child wide-eyed and prematurely aged, and a tear-jerking and masterful set from one of my favourite poets, Salena Godden, whose powerful rendition of Red made me spend more money than I had left on a signed copy of her new pamphlet.
We didn’t stay tent-lurking though, because this gorgeous little festival encourages you not to.
We went for a walk up Hawarden Castle, we meandered into the village for a tour around Gladstone’s Library, we went to the lake; though I didn’t swim, many did, including several dogs (welcomed with open arms here).
The books we’d all brought to read leisurely lay, untouched, in our tents, replaced with the new ones we’d bought in the Caught By The River tent (one about owls, one about Joy Division and one with loads of “really good drawings of hands”). We returned home with screen prints, homemade T-shirts, too many books and way less money but heart-full and quite a bit plumper…free samples at the Campfire Cooking stage? Why, yes, thank you.
Erm, did I mention there’s something for everyone?
September UK festival The Good Life Experience 2020
Early bird tickets for next year’s Good Life Experience, from September 10-13 2020, are available now.
Words: Hazel Davis for Feet on the Ground
Images: Vic Phillips, Paul Johnson, Hazel Davis, Rachel Kay, Charlie Budd & Hollie Harmsworth
With thanks to September UK festival The Good Life Experience