The Good Life Experience is all about the things that really matter: friends, family, the Great Outdoors, books, craft, food made with love and, of course, music with soul. It’s a boutique festival co-curated by Cerys Matthews, acclaimed singer, songwriter, author, broadcaster and eclectic collector of songs; Matthews was the founder member of the multi-million-selling band Catatonia, and she’s duetted with Tom Jones. Basically, she really knows her stuff.
Your music itinerary in North Wales, Manchester and Liverpool
Days 1-2: North Wales
You’ll be forgiven for wondering if you’re in Britain when you arrive in Portmeirion. With its cliff-top location and Italianate white-washed buildings, it’s often compared to a Mediterranean village, but the spectacular coastal views are 100% Welsh. Visit when Festival No 6 is on and the wow factor increases tenfold: torchlight parades, comedy shows, film previews, street art and, of course, some of the most exciting musicians from around the world.
Gregynog Festival has been going since 1933, making it Wales’ oldest surviving classical music festival. It started as a private house party, and the same atmosphere pervades today. Most of the action takes place in Gregynog Hall, mid-Wales, an elaborate timber-framed historic building surrounded by Grade I-listed gardens. Each year, the festival’s programmes, talks and exhibitions explore a theme from Wales’ history through music, from the medieval to the 21st century.
International Musical Eisteddfod Llangollen is like an audio trip around the world: around 4,000 of the world’s best folk music and dance performers together in one place in the north-eastern corner of Wales, performing to crowds of 50,000. The festival began as a way to bring people from across the world back together after World War II. Since then, it’s hosted stars such as Pavarotti, Katherine Jenkins, Nigel Kennedy and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, but the highlight is the prestigious ‘Choir of the World’ award.
Days 3-4: Liverpool
From Portmeirion, it’s a 2-hour drive or 3 hours 30 minutes by public transport to Liverpool, a buzzing waterfront city that’s a UNESCO City of Music. This is the birthplace of The Beatles. Start at The Beatles Story, which explores the lives of the Fab Four, and don’t miss The Cavern Club, where they played 292 gigs. For a wider history of Britain’s pop music scene, head to the British Music Experience (from February 2017).
How better to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Beatles hits Day Tripper and Yellow Submarine than exploring the place where Beatlemania began? Hop on the Magical Mystery Tour to visit Penny Lane and Strawberry Field, then head to The Beatles Story exhibition to journey through the Fab Four’s lives and times. Sing along to the Cavern Beatles tribute band at The Cavern Club where they played their first gig, then drift into a luxurious sleep at Hard Day’s Night Hotel.
The glorious Philharmonic Hall is home to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. One of the UK’s oldest concert-giving organisations, the orchestra has been performing since 1840 and gives over 60 concerts per year here. The hall itself is a little younger. It opened in 1939 and quickly took its place among the great classical music venues of the world. You’ll find all genres of music here as well as comedy shows and film screenings.
Gothic in design, Liverpool Cathedral dominates the cityscape. Designed by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also created the iconic British red telephone box, it’s the largest Anglican cathedral in Britain and the fifth largest in the world. Attend one of the Choral Evensongs to hear the enormous space fill with spine-tingling music, and go on the Tower Experience for a bird’s-eye view of the city.
Day 5: Manchester
Just 30 minutes by train or 55 minutes by road from Liverpool, Manchester’s music scene is just as legendary. For the past forty years, Manchester’s artists and musicians have helped turned this ambitious city into a musical powerhouse, spawning famous bands and remarkable movements like the ‘Madchester’ scene, and the music scene is still thriving. You’ll find cutting-edge venues, uber-cool record shops and a tantalising range of musical genres.
Choose between a 90-minute walk or a specialist bus tour to get the inside story on how Manchester’s artists and musicians, including The Smiths, Joy Division, Oasis and The Stone Roses, helped turned this ambitious city into a musical powerhouse. The tours draw on host Craig Gill’s first-hand knowledge of the city’s music scene; he was a founding member and drummer in rock band Inspiral Carpets and resident DJ at the famous Hacienda nightclub.
Manchester’s ingeniously designed, 2,400-seat international concert venue is the home of 3 resident orchestras – the city's Hallé Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic and the Manchester Camerata – but you can hear rock, pop, jazz and world music here too. The building’s design is the result of a collaboration between specialist architects, acoustics experts and Manchester’s musical organisations, with a focus on producing great acoustics and intimate shows: it worked.
The Northern Quarter in Manchester’s city centre is a uniquely ‘Mancunian’ neighbourhood: alternative, bohemian and creative. You’ll spend hours browsing through its art galleries, boutiques and vintage stores. Afflecks is the area’s most famous shopping emporium, with four floors dedicated to an eclectic selection of independent designers and traders. DUB Merchant, which specialises in reggae and SKA vinyl records and music memorabilia, is on the third floor.