Cerys Matthews looks ahead to the Good Life Festival in Hawarden

Cerys Matthews at the Festival pic by Nenad-Obradovic-

Cerys Matthews at the Festival pic by Nenad-Obradovic- - Credit: Archant

Cerys Matthews has lost none of her fire, in spite of joining the BBC establishment, there’s a rock rebel still lurking within.

The Good Life Pic by Simon Shoulders

The Good Life Pic by Simon Shoulders - Credit: Archant

The Good Life Festival which she set up on the Hawarden Estate in Flintshire three years ago with Charlie and Caroline Gladstone may look like a gathering of like-minded people cooking over campfires and enjoying music, the spoken word and the kind of experiences Bear Grylls might thrive upon but it has a wider meaning for the Catatonia singer.

She says the festival, which takes place on September 15th-17th, is a response to the rampant consumerism that has landed us all in a world of make-believe.

‘We’ve had so many festivals that have got so corporate and so much about being a consumer rather than being part of the story,’ she explains over the phone from the London home she shares with her husband Steve Abbott.

‘The way that modern life is going, with us frantically working 24/7 on the internet we thought it would be lovely to really purposely focus the festival on hands-on things in the real world. The make-believe we have at our festival is the wonders of the natural world.

Hawarden Pic by Vic Phillips

Hawarden Pic by Vic Phillips - Credit: Archant

‘Another reason for starting it is that I’ve been very lucky, I’ve got a lot of great jobs, like my radio job on the BBC World Service and BBC Six Music and I’m also the cultural reporter for the One Show so that means I get to meet a lot of interesting people, artists like Quentin Blake, writers like Michael Morpurgo and so I’d like to bring them to Flintshire and introduce them to others.’

The Good Life is perfect too for those who wish to ease themselves gently into festival culture.

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‘If you’re a first time festival goer it’s a good place to start because it’s not what you see at Glastonbury. It’s a lot less crazy,’ explains the mother-of-three, who is no stranger to the vagaries of Glasto.

‘It’s in rolling hills and surrounded big oak trees. It’s about an hour from Snowdonia and it’s very close to Chester - an eight or nine minute drive. The site is on Gladstone’s land so it has two castles and you can hire a pre-erected bell tent in front of those castles and it looks beautiful. It’s like a futuristic pod has landed. Or you can just stay in an hotel or B&B.’

Steve Abbot, Cerys Matthews, Charlie and Caroline Gladstone Pic by Nenad-Obradovic

Steve Abbot, Cerys Matthews, Charlie and Caroline Gladstone Pic by Nenad-Obradovic - Credit: Archant

The first Good Life Festival was organised in 2014 in just three months. For 2017, there’s an action-packed schedule that includes everything from music by Norman Jay MBE to talks by Michael Rosen and Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

‘When we say festival, it’s really like a mix between the Great British Bake Off and say The Tube and a Bear Grylls island exploration,’ laughs Cerys.

‘It’s got international chefs coming; it’s got over 50 makers, including hat makers from Manhattan and denim makers from Shoreditch, really hip makers because there’s a renaissance in the small crafts and handicraft world. And then we’ve got bushcraft, activities for children such as abseiling from trees and archery. We’ve got two tents with lectures and talks from passionate people, from the meditative qualities of chocolate to trying to use less plastics into our lives. All of the things that I think make up the Good Life are what we try and share as part of this festival.’

‘ I’d bore you to tears if I went into it all. We cover any topic I find interesting.’ The festival gives Cerys the chance to visit her beloved Wales. Although she’s Cardiff-born and was brought up in Pembrokeshire, she knows the north well. She likes to celebrate a diversity of cultures, including those of her homeland.

‘I’ve been coming up all my adult life, driving along the coast road and I’ve got so many friends in North Wales. Two of my band members in Catatonia are Llanrwst boys so yes, I know North Wales very well.

‘I’ve always been interested in culture full stop,’ she says.

‘I happen to be born in Wales so I first of all turned to my own culture of Welsh traditional songs and being interested in all the myths and legends. I’m an ambassador for the Year of Legends this year and fascinated by the history and if you’re that interested in your own culture inevitably borders are not permanent, these are wriggling things.

‘My interest is never contained by a border. Music doesn’t respect borders. I started early collecting Cajun songs and early blues songs, I learned Spanish at an early age and sang Spanish protest songs .

‘ I just think the world’s cultural goods are what makes life, for me, interesting.’

It’s all about bringing together a community of like-minded people, something she failed to find when she lived in America with her first husband, music producer Seth Riddle.

‘Without community you have nothing, as far as I’m concerned. I left America because dollar is king there and I just couldn’t stand it and now you see the greed taking over here,’ she says.

‘I’m heartbroken with the system at the moment because it is just not working.’

Cerys has good reason for thinking this as she lives in Notting Dale within the shadow of Grenfell Tower and has witnessed first-hand the devastation of the blaze that killed at least 80 people.

‘We literally opened the door and our windows and looked out on the fire. We can never forget it and it will be a giant crematorium for at least a year apparently.

‘As I’m getting older my eyes start opening to the value of community in terms of quality of life. I’ve always loved being in a pub and having a sing-song and always loved the great mix of people in my pub in Pembrokeshire where we used to spend all our childhood.

‘It sounds idyllic but I think it did enrich you. We should not put ourselves in different ghettoes and shut ourselves off as we make more money.’

Hawarden estate, Chester Road, Hawarden Flintshire, CH5 3FB