Audio: Edith Bowman on the best of British music festivals

AS the countdown to Leeds Festival begins, DJ Edith Bowman speaks to Duncan Seaman about her new book about music festivals.

Edith Bowman

As a music lover and broadcaster for the BBC, MTV, Sky and Channel 4, Edith Bowman has been to her fair share of festivals over the past 20 years.

Her new book, Great British Music Festivals, is a colourful, photo-filled celebration of some of the UK’s best and lesser-known open air events, from the massive city-on-a-farm institution that is Glastonbury to the niche, artist-curated bills of All Tomorrow’s Parties staged at a holiday camp in Minehead.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I wanted it to be accessible for a wide range of people,” the 41-year-old former Radio 1 DJ says of her book. “For people who’ve been to festivals a lot I hope there’s some interest in there in terms of the history of a lot of them, and with first-timers it’s giving them a snapshot of a wide variety of festivals.”

Edith Bowman

One chapter of Bowman’s book focuses on Leeds and Reading Festival. “I actually prefer Leeds to the Reading site, if I’m totally honest,” she says. “It’s prettier, it’s bigger and it’s louder.”

Her favourite festival experiences have been numerous – “whether they be seeing a band for the first time or rediscovering a band or finally getting to see one of my heroes”.

“When I was growing up there weren’t that many around and they weren’t as accessible as they are now. I kind of think we almost take them for granted so it was a way of me reminding people how brilliant and wonderful it is that you have these amazing things that go on pretty much every weekend throughout the summer.”

Bowman’s first festival experience came at T in the Park, in her native Scotland, in 1995. At the time she was a student doing work experience at her local radio station, Forth FM, when they invited her to be a runner for their outside broadcast.

“I remember going on the back of this double decker bus that doubled up as our studio as well as our travel on site and that thing of getting close to the festival and there’s signs of it, you can smell it almost and definitely hear it – that rumble of a bass or soundcheck of a band onstage. I was wide-eyed and ‘what is this?’ kind of thing.”

She was “thrown into the deep end” when she asked to roam the site with an audio recorder. After talking to festival-goers she was heading backstage when she spotted pop princess Kylie Minogue on her way to the loo.

“I kind of loitered outside the toilets and thought, ‘Shall I?’, then I threw my hand into hers and introduced myself and bless her, she was very gracious and generous with her time and gave me my first ever interview.”

Her first Glastonbury with her future husband, Tom Smith, singer with Editors, was especially memorable.

“Tents were floating away in a river of mud and we woke up in half a metre of water and we’re still together ten years later, as if that’s some sort of cementing sign in our relationship of what we could cope with.” Glastonbury was also the first festival she took her elder son Rudy to so it’s a “really special place” for her personally.

Broadcasting from festivals for television and radio has meant that Bowman hasn’t always been able to enjoy as many performances as she would like, but, she says: “It depends as well on how you’re broadcasting. If you’re broadcasting live from an event it kind of frees up the first half of the day, so maybe anything before 6pm you can go and watch.

“Being there getting on site early or waking up early and making sure you can see some stuff, otherwise you can’t report on the festival genuinely because you haven’t seen anything.

“But the Isle of Wight at the weekend, which thankfully I’ve been to just as a music fan on numerous occasions, because we were were pre-recording it there were very long days where you’re constantly recording interviews throughout 
the day and links you really don’t get to see that much.

“I was lucky enough that we got to see Blur, a bit of The Prodigy, we saw a bit of Fleetwood Mac which was phenomenal, some Paolo Nutini and Ash.

“I can’t not see something if I’m at a festival, that would be too painful, really.”

Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals is out now, priced £16.99.

To hear more of the interview visit