Jan Etherington in a hat at Latitude festival Credit: Jan Etherington

“Grandparents should resist all attempts to be child carers at festivals” 

Comedy writer Jan Etherington on her wild love of music festivals, and what to take with you if you’re a first-timer (clue: not your family).

One afternoon, after school, in 1962, I ran up the road to my friend, Patsy’s house, shouting “Turn on Radio Luxembourg! They’re playing a band called The Beatles!”   

That day, my crush on Ricky Nelson ended and I lost my teenage heart to John Lennon. Sixty years later, I’m still in love with music, and some of the best times in my life have been spent standing in a field at sunset, with a happy, flag-waving crowd, singing along with a great rock’n’roll band.   

As time passes, and without really thinking about it, many of us drop some of the things we used to do. Maybe the motorbike went, or the surfboard. Going to gigs and concerts became less frequent, and it wasn’t “practical” to take children to festivals (as it is now), so we didn’t go.   

We are living through a golden summer of incredible music

Now, however, if grandparents mention that they’re off to Glastonbury, there’s likely to be a less than subtle assumption from your children: “Oh, great – we can all go! You can keep an eye on the kids while we watch Foo Fighters!”   

But hang on… we want to watch Foo Fighters, too.   

Grandparents should resist all attempts to be child carers at music festivals. It’s not selfish to say “no”, and you shouldn’t feel guilty.

I have been to Latitude music festival with my grandchildren, but they are in their late teens, and have introduced me to some new bands like The 1975 and Wolf Alice. However, I’ve spotted friends there who were not so lucky, rolling their eyes as they push baby Woody back to the tent for his nap, or have to rush wriggly three-year-old Violet into the toilet queue, just as Noel Gallagher takes to the stage.    

Guilt-free pleasure

I was lucky enough to start my journalistic career, in the 1970s, writing about rock music and interviewing everyone from The Rolling Stones to Barry Manilow. It was a decade that saw a huge rise in live music events. I was there to see Bruce Springsteen’s first ever British gig in 1975 and Bob Marley at the Rainbow in 1977. 

Our lucky generation enjoyed an explosion of creative change in popular music, and many of the stars I met then are still topping the bill all over the world today.  

The Who, Elton John, Lulu, Paul McCartney, Debbie Harry of Blondie – all of them have taken to the stage this summer. Recently, I watched Paul Jones from Manfred Mann, 82, dancing to Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, looking the same as he did in 1964, and a week later, Bruce Springsteen, 73, tossed his guitar in the air, in Hyde Park, laughing with joy at still doing the job he loves. Pure gold. 

We are living through a golden summer of incredible music – so if the stars we grew up with, our contemporaries, are still performing, going out and having fun, on their own terms, why should any of us feel guilty about doing the same?  

A new image

When I moved to Suffolk 10 years ago, I was thrilled to find that Latitude festival, on this weekend, was held just up the road.    

Covid years aside, I’ve been going every year since, and I’ve encouraged everyone I know who loves music to come and join me and fall in love again with live music. 

People walking around, sitting watching music, dressed in festival wear at LatitudeCredit: Shutterstock
Latitude festival – where music and the arts meet “foodie culture”

I know why some might be reluctant. Images of torrential rain, mud-caked revellers and flooded tents (whether from Woodstock back in 1969, or more recently, Glastonbury in the late 1990s) undermine the belief that the sun always shines on a rock’n’roll band in a field. Indeed, many are still convinced that going to an open-air festival will mean junk food, filthy loos and being crushed by throngs of hyperactive youngsters. But while you can’t control the weather, festivals have changed.  

A young friend (in his twenties) was apprehensive about visiting Glastonbury for the first time this year but returned with tales of a relaxed, spacious “vibe”. He reported seeing festival-goers of all ages “from babies in buggies to great-grandparents”, mixing, chatting, looking out for each other, making way for pushchairs and wheelchairs by the stage – and everyone smiling.   

The “Latitude attitude”

Latitude Festival is held on the Henham Estate in Suffolk, close to the sea. Dubbed “Radio 4 in a field”, in recent years, it has included a pop-up Waitrose and a Gardeners’ Question Time enclosure, with the panel giving advice to a rapt, cross-legged audience.   

The music is eclectic – from The Proclaimers and Pulp, to Sophie Ellis-Bextor and George Ezra – and there are multiple assaults on many other senses. Laugh yourself silly in the comedy tent or ponder some prose with the literary group; sauna beside the lake and then go for a swim.

The Latitude crowds watching Damon Albarn performCredit: Jan Etherington
Jan’s enjoyed many acts at Latitude, including this set from Damon Albarn

The other things that matter to me – and I suspect many around my age – is that there are bewilderingly magnificent food choices from all over the world, and the loos are clean and plentiful. Families picnic in front of the stages, blowing bubbles and dancing.  

Best of all, there are hundreds and hundreds of our generation, some still in hippie hats and floaty cheesecloth, completely at home and at ease – not wanting or pretending to be young, but simply gloriously ageless, uplifted, loving the freedom of choice, the multi-generational company and feel-good music – the soundtrack of our lives.    

I wrote my long-running Radio 4 comedy series Conversations From A Long Marriage, starring Joanna Lumley and Roger Allam, about a couple who met in the “Summer of Love” and are still full of passion for each other – and for music. It resonated with so many listeners – because there are a lot of us about.    

If you love music, it will always be with you. It’s the joy-bringer that makes you want to sing in the car and dance in the street, with Martha and the Vandellas. It brings back memories and creates new ones, especially on a hot summer night, with a great band playing and smiling people all around.  

Five years ago, as I walked out through Latitude’s exit, the security staff said: “See you next year.

I laughed. “I’m not leaving. Just going to let the dog out. I’ll be back to see The Killers.”   

And I was.   

Firsttime festival-goer? 

Do 

  • Go with a positive attitude, a charged phone and sensible shoes. Flip-flops are useless for a day in a field.  
  • Take tissues. Just in case…  
  • Be open-minded and try new things. Google some of the newer acts beforehand and seek them out. 
  • Remember where you parked the car! Take note of a flag or a pillar. Or put a bright ribbon on the aerial. You may be returning in the dark. 
  • Drink lots of water. It’s easy to get dehydrated – especially when you’re bopping by the stage. And DO bop by the stage – at least once!   

Don’t 

  • Agree to babysit. Sorry, but you’re a music fan and you can babysit another time. 
  • Take chairs, food or drink. There are plenty of places to sit and festival food is varied and wonderful.   
  • Go with ‘complainers’. Negative companions, moaning about everything from the bumpy ground to the ‘noisy’ music, will ruin your day. 
  • Do everything together with your group. Split up and arrange a time and place to meet up again.  
  • Worry about getting lost. There’s a map and anyone you ask will help you.    
Jan Etherington

Written by Jan Etherington

Published:

Jan Etherington is a multi-award winning comedy writer, journalist and broadcaster. Her most recent success is the Radio 4 comedy Conversations From a Long Marriage, starring Joanna Lumley and Roger Allam, which won the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Award in 2021. A fifth series will air in 2024 and all four series are available on BBC Sounds. A book of the scripts for series 1 & 2 is published in hardback and a paperback edition publishes in November 2023.

Beginning her a career a music journalist, Jan went on write star interviews and personal, humorous columns for national newspapers and magazines. She still writes regularly for many publications.

With her husband, Gavin Petrie, Jan has written many long running radio and TV hit comedies, including Second Thoughts, Next of Kin and Faith in the Future, which won a British Comedy Award.

Jan has two children, four grandchildren and an English Setter, Jagger. She lives on the Suffolk coast and sea swims every day.