Edith Bowman on how to enjoy music festivals

Edith Bowman . Picture: Getty
Edith Bowman . Picture: Getty

If music festivals conjure up images of rank toilets, waterlogged tents and muddy wellies, then maybe you’re missing the main act. So says festival veteran and former Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman, who has watched more than 1,500 bands play at more than 80 festivals over the last 20 years – and still gets as excited as ever about them.

“It’s that whole arrival thing, when you can be a mile away from the site and you can start to feel that thud of the music. The air begins to feel a bit different and people, like ants, are making their way towards the site.”

Picture: Getty

Picture: Getty

Her sons – Rudy and Spike – are a chip off the old block, says the 41-year-old, who is married to Editors frontman Tom Smith.

“It was amazing watching my son watch his dad for the first time at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. You could almost see his little brain working away, thinking, ‘Ah, that’s what he does!’ I spent most of the show watching him, rather than watching my husband.

“Rudy’s been to Glastonbury four times, Latitude twice, Hop Farm, Bestival and Big Weekend. He’s done his fair share and he’s only six. Spike’s not been to as many – he’s just turned two – so he’s got a bit of catching up to do.”

She agrees festivals used to be for the hardiest of music lovers. “You had to be pretty thick-skinned and suffer the consequences of what festivals used to be like, but now it’s a far cry from that. The weather and the loos are our two favourite subjects, but accommodation has changed. If the thing that’s putting you off going is the camping, then you can’t use that as an excuse any more. There’s every form of accommodation available. You can stay in a Winnebago, in a B&B near the site, in a human equivalent of a dog kennel, teepees…

“One of my bugbears is that when people talk about festivals, they always talk about the weather,” she continues. “Listen, the weather in the UK is unpredictable! As soon as you get your head around that, you’ll have the best time.”

Bowman, who was born in Fife and now lives in London, credits her parents with fuelling her love of music. “It’s down to them that I have this amazing memory bank of being around this diverse mix of music. My mum took me to my first gig when I was seven, which was Rod Stewart at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow,” she says.

“There was always music around, whether it was mum taking me to a gig or dad loving Eric Clapton, Cream, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Mum was really into musicals as well, so there was always a singalong going on in the house.

“I was able to repay her by taking her to T in the Park for the first time, which was brilliant.”

This year, Bowman will be working at the Isle of Wight Festival and Latitude in Suffolk, Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion, North Wales, and is hoping to go to Glastonbury, where The Who are headlining.

“Glastonbury always gives something to those stalwart fans who have been going for years. People are really quick to forget how The Who are one of the few surviving bands of an amazing era of British music that really put the UK on the map.”

She juggles the job with raising her two sons, with the help of a nanny and her husband.

“I would be lost without Nanny Helen, and I have an amazing husband who is about to start on his full cycle of madness with a new album,” she says. “But in the last couple of months he’s been around and has been more than supportive – he’s been my total rock.

“I would not have been able to do all this without him. And the kids come with us as much as is feasible. It’s getting that balance right of making them settled, but also making sure they understand what we do.”

She has now written Great British Music Festivals, which takes in her festival experiences and backstage observations from over the years, and interviews with bands and artists, including Kylie Minogue. Many of the photos in the book were taken by Bowman too.

She had time to work on the book – and pursue other projects – after leaving Radio 1 last year, amid a round of budget cuts.

“It was time for me to leave, on both sides. I wasn’t getting anything out of it any more. I’d been there for ten years and had an amazing time, but I wanted new challenges, the book being one of them.

“Change is a really healthy thing,” she adds, “and especially change that scares you and takes you out of your comfort zone.” It’s now 20 years since she worked at her first festival while studying at Edinburgh University, working at T in the Park in Perthshire for a local radio station. “I wormed my way in through pure persuasion and borderline stalking of the local controller, and was taken along as a runner,” she says.

She later clinched a presenting job on MTV alongside Cat Deeley, who remains a close friend, and has worked extensively for Radio 1.

Bowman met Tom through a mutual friend, and three months later, they went to their first Glastonbury together. “It was the year of the swimming tents, one 
of which we woke up in!” Bowman recalls.

So, what essentials should the novice festival-goer take?

“They should always take an open mind when it comes to music. There are going to be bands that you want to see and hear, but you should always be prepared to discover a whole batch of new bands. Just go with the flow.”

She has learned the hard way not to party too hard on the first day.

“I remember going to the V Festival with a crowd of girlfriends for someone’s birthday weekend, and went for it on the first day and never saw a band on the second day. I woke up after that, thinking it was such a waste.

“One of my main pieces of advice would be, ‘Just pace yourself’. Take sunglasses, not just for the sunshine but for the hangover the next day, the dry shampoo to make you presentable, wet wipes are always a bonus and sunblock is a must if you’re wandering around a field for the entire weekend.”

Away from festival mania, she’s hosting a TV talent show called Guitar Star for Sky Arts, which starts next month, to find a world-class musician in the UK. Auditions have already been held in major cities, and the winner will play at Latitude and record with producer Tony Visconti.

She has an idea for a novel, would like to pursue her photography hobby, has completed a Sky Arts documentary entitled Songs To Have Sex To and frequently covers for her pal Dermot O’Leary on Radio 2 when he’s away.

She’s not worried that, at 41, she’s being hailed a “festival veteran”.

“I don’t worry about getting too old for festivals because they’re not ageist. As soon as you step through the gates, you leave everything at the door.”

Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals, published by Blink is out now, £16.99; her new weekly BBC Radio Scotland show, The Quay Sessions, begins on Thursday, 9pm-11pm.