The Good Life Experience: Day Two and Three – Report

Superb selection of music and activities under brilliant skies and a harvest moon

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The Good Life Experience was bathed in brilliant sunshine and bewitching moonlight and both looked down on a fantastic weekend of music, talks and a wide range of activities.

Star names talking on Saturday included festival founder Cerys Matthews, Jeremy Vine who was discussing the very real change in the role of the individual and how power may well have shifted in that direction. Saturday afternoon saw a packed main tent for the much-anticipated appearances, firstly of the explorer Ben Fogle and then of Michael Morpurgo who had the audience spellbound with story-readings and a question and answer session that cleverly blended the autobiographical with fiction. Elsewhere, as part of the excellent Caught by the River line-up, a discussion was taking place about the influence of landscape on music and musicians with a panel including Rhys Mwyn, Georgia Ruth, David Wrench and the Flint Male Voice Choir. Don’t run away with the idea that it’s all valleys and hillsides as Rhys Mwyn pointed out, the post-industrial impact that has decimated so many Welsh communities has spawned some lyrics and music as heavy as anything churned out of the Black Country during the birth of Metal.

Saturday had been hotly anticipated on the music front by many and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Caught by the River hosted two contrastingly beguiling acts in Aldous Harding and The Hooton Tennis Club. New Zealand’s purveyor of Folk-Noir, Aldous Harding, emerged from the darkness to take a grip on the senses and the soul. Here is conclusive proof that the most powerful music isn’t always played loud and fast. Rocking just an acoustic with the occasional keys, Harding held us spellbound with songs of darkness and a voice that could chill to the bone. Superb.

Talking of chill, the temperature drops like a stone this time of year. I’m caught in a moon shadow and I hope I die before I get cold! One thing that can warm the blood however is the superb Hooton Tennis Club. This Wirral-based four-piece release their second-serve on October 21st and the songs premiered tonight indicate it’s certainly going to be one of the highlights of autumn.

The main stage had begun warming up nicely with The Shirt Tail Stompers and The Booka Brass Band but the appearance of Senegalese sensation Diabel Cissokho saw the evening well and truly catch fire. This Kora virtuoso blends traditional West African sounds with a more contemporary groove to get the crowd well into party mode.

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However, the next act onstage were introduced by Cerys Matthews as the best live act in the world – no pressure then. Fanfare Ciocarlia don’t betray too many obvious signs of feeling pressure as they launch straight into a Balkan brass brainstorm, accompanied by a shout of “let’s party” The room is transformed into a rollicking good knees up as the universal language of music once again weaves its spell.

Hailing from the village of Zece Prajini in Moldavia, Northern Romania, this twelve-piece rose from obscurity in the mid-nineties, boasting that their village didn’t even appear on maps, to a point where the frantic time signatures and easily accessible rhythms and tunes became a key influence on dance music. This is a stomping and infectious sound that hints at swing and Latin rhythms alongside what has been called ‘Balkan Beat’ but doesn’t dwell in either. What it does do however, is create a wall of sound and an atmosphere that, once experienced, is not forgotten. All this is achieved without sheet music or conductor, just the use of impeccable timing and the driving power of a drummer using the most minimal of kits. Oh yeah it was electric, so perfectly hectic!

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A new day dawns and I can’t stand the pain of being by myself without a little help on a Sunday afternoon. Luckily there’s no shortage of choice with campfire cooking including Thomasina Miers, talks and a dog show in aid of Shelter Cymru which saw loveable Labradors, perfect Poodles and a terrific Welsh Terrier that trotted off with first prize.

The final highlight on the main stage was ‘Recomposed’ by Max Richter performed by Mari Samuelsen and the 12 Ensemble. This proved a fitting finale, offering a challenging and thoroughly modern interpretation of a traditional masterpiece.

The Good Life Experience has offered inspiration, relaxation and education alongside a superb selection of music and activities under brilliant skies and a harvest moon. Leaving the site for the final time a thought springs to mind, “look after the senses and the sounds will look after themselves”.

The Good Life Experience will return in 2017. See the website for further details.

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