Family Life: Joe Muggs and Natasha Morabito

Boiler Room, FACT, Guardian and Mixmag writer Joe Muggs, and his wife Natasha Morabito – director of communications for Big Fish Little Fish events – discuss how life has changed since having kids

Joe Mugford (writer name Muggs), 41, and Natasha Morabito, 42, live in Sydenham, south east London – where Natasha was born – with their two children: Alex, five and Marianne, three

When and where did you meet?
Natasha: Ha, rather embarrassingly we met on the Popbitch messageboard about 13 years ago. Back when it started out it was a place for journalists, PRs etc to tell stories about famous people that wouldn’t make the press. We met a lot of people who are still really good friends on it. We weren’t even the only Popbitch marriage.

You both work in music/events, what are your roles and when did you begin doing this?
Joe: I’m a journalist first and foremost, but I do all sorts: a bit of A&R, DJing, putting compilations together, copywriting and publicity, and I’ve worked with Boiler Room on getting their site editorial together and a couple of big upcoming projects they’re doing.

I’ve worked in and around music all my life, although that was essentially unpaid mucking about while signing on or washing up in horrible kitchens until my late 20s, and even after I started taking journalism seriously circa 2001 working at The Face and the Daily Telegraph, it was many years before it was actually anything approaching a living.

Natasha: I’m the director of communications for Big Fish Little Fish family raves, I work with Hannah Saunders putting together our DJ roster, fancy dress themes and booking performers and guest artists but my main role is to publicise the events to magazines, websites, blogs and on social media.

I’m also the door-person on the day. I started in 2013, Hannah and I were on the same Mumsnet post-natal thread: she asked us what we thought of her idea when she was hatching plans to leave the Civil Service, and I suggested that with mine and Joe’s contacts we could help and it went from there.

Did you switch career after having kids, or change your work life in any way?
Natasha: Yes totally – before I had kids I was working full time at ITV, then when Alex was born I took three years out from work and started doing BFLF when Marianne was one. Now I work part-time and mostly from home.

Joe: No. The only real shift was that I discovered how much more it was possible to fit into the day and really stepped up my game as a freelancer. Having proper responsibility made me pull my finger out, and when there’s a baby in the house you realise there are some tasks that don’t have flexible deadlines…

In what ways has life changed, socially, since having kids?
Natasha: Less late nights, obviously! Neither of our kids were great sleepers (Marianne is three and has only been sleeping through for about six months) so I simply didn’t have the energy to go out at night but it’s coming back now. Also we tend to take it in turns to go out rather than go out together.

That’s what raving at its best has always been about – everyone participating and contributing to the experience

Joe: We’d made a conscious effort to calm down and stop going out all the time a couple of years before we had kids, so it wasn’t really a shock to the system. In any case I still get opportunities to let off steam with work assignments at festivals or big gigs a few times a year.

We’ve missed meals out together, mind… that’s something that’s just starting to come back now. There are lots of new friends through nursery, school and other kid connections.

Big Fish Little Fish has quickly grown into a great big extended family – and we’re still getting our heads round the concept of actually arranging to go and visit old friends rather than seeing them “around” as you would pre-parenthood.

What does an average day look like for your family?
Natasha: I don’t really have a typical day – they are divided into days when I’m with the kids, my working from home days and working at the events at the weekend.

We usually wake up around 7am – the kids shout “SUN!!!” because the sun has come up on their Gro-clock, if we’re lucky. If we’re not lucky they might wake up before 7am and start arguing within seconds (like today).

Joe gets me a coffee in bed and gives the kids breakfast because he works outside the home and doesn’t see them for the rest of the day until teatime or bedtime stories.

If it’s a work day I’ll be on my laptop on the sofa checking that BFLF listings are all up on the various listings websites, maybe emailing journalists and bloggers letting them know about our latest events and what’s new with Big Fish Little Fish – a bit of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The day goes too fast and I have to pick up from school/nursery at 3pm. The children have about an hour of telly while I either sneakily carry on working or do some cooking.

I love to cook (my dad is a chef and has a restaurant in Italy – when I was a kid I used to run around his kitchen at his place in Greek Street in Soho) and luckily they aren’t very fussy eaters. Today we had Hemsley and Hemsley’s butternut squash, red lentil and coconut curry and yesterday oxtail with gnocchi.

Kids’ dinnertime is 5pm and bathtime is 6, they go in together, then we have stories on our bed all four of us. We usually have two or three picture books (Alex’s favourite is The Yes by Sarah Bee) and one chapter of Winnie The Pooh or an Enid Blyton (we’re currently doing the Wishing Chair books).

Joe Muggs and Natasha Morabito - theearlyhour.comIn the evening I will often do a bit more work – top tip: more parents are online at 8pm then at any other time so it’s a great time to hit social media – have a sherry, watch some telly and go to bed later than I intended (I try for 10 but it’s more often 11 to 11.30).

Our son Alex is flexi-schooled so he’s at school from Monday to Wednesday and then with me on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday mornings the kids and I go to Nature Play in Sydenham Hill Woods – I co-host the group, it’s a child-led play session and it’s a total (and necessary) contrast to the family rave stuff!

Friday is the day we do cultural stuff – theatre, museums, trips ‘up to London’.

Joe: The days Alex goes to school, I take him on the bus, then go to wherever I’m working from, which can be anywhere with wifi (right now I’m outside a cafe on Peckham Rye Common working in the sunshine, but as often as not I work in Shoreditch House).

I’m mostly home around bathtime at 6pm, and we usually have bedtime stories all together then get the kids to bed at 7 or 7.30. Sometimes we both have work to catch up on in the evening, and as I’ve been stepping up my DJing I may have a bar gig in the evening.

Otherwise, we watch TV (currently Carnevále and Marvel’s Agent Carter, with America’s Next Top Model, University Challenge, Antiques Roadshow, Australian Masterchef and X Factor being default viewing if they’re on).

Is it possibly to stay connected, culturally, after having kids or do you sometimes feel out of the loop?
Joe: In terms of music and related stuff, it’s not an issue. It’s my job to spot good stuff, and there are enough PRs and musicians that I trust to keep me supplied, so that’s all fine. I’ve been incapable of reading anything that requires the slightest bit of commitment for the last five years though, mainly down to lack of sleep and lack of free time. Just starting to rectify that, but it’s an uphill struggle still.

It’s amazing: people start approving of you on social media! Honestly, it’s like you won a Nobel prize or something

Natasha: Yes but maybe not in the first two years of your child’s life. I’m not as ‘up’ on current music as I used to be but I see a lot more theatre than I ever did – I’m a big fan of the things they put on for families at The Unicorn – shows that are really entertaining but not ‘dumbed down’ for kids. I’m also a big fan of sound/light/interactive installations, which is something we want to get more of at BFLF.

Natasha, you put on family raves – why is it important to have events like this for families?
I think it’s really important that parents get a chance to re-live their carefree youth with their kids in tow and for the children to have fun alongside their parents.

It’s fab to see two (or even three) generations dancing together and enjoying themselves. We’ve been told by mums it’s like getting a piece of their ‘old self’ back and one said it was the most fun she’d had since having kids.

I also look at BFLF as a starting point into fostering a love of the arts for children. I think a lot of kids get put off by performances that they have to just sit and watch – we make everything interactive. We had a fantastic dancer at the last party and he interacted wonderfully with the children.

When kids are fully engaged and free to choose which impulse to follow I think they get a lot more out of the experience and ‘own’ it. That’s what raving at its best has always been about – everyone participating and contributing to the experience.

Joe, you’re a music journalist – has having children affected your path in any way; has it changed how you listen to music, or what you listen to?
That’s a tough one; it’s very hard to tell. I’ve pretty much indoctrinated the kids with whatever I’m listening to so no it hasn’t changed what I play, and they’re used to music, from pop to really weird stuff, being omnipresent.

Alex has always been super responsive to different types of music since he was a baby, and he now asks a lot of questions about things I play so I guess that has been really good: I have to make sure my knowledge and descriptive skills are good enough to be comprehensible for a child.

It’s great having his preconception-free opinions on things – I even got him to do some record reviews, which I was worried might come over a bit twee but actually got amazing receptions.

He’s got very specific tastes, he likes quite sophisticated and smooth stuff – Al Green and The Eagles were the first things he ever expressed specific preference for. He loves techno too, he’s already got his own little Korg Monotron synthesiser and loves making new sounds. Marianne just seems to like things rowdy on the whole so far.

What’s the best thing about family life?
Joe: Oh, it’s amazing: people start approving of you on social media! Honestly, it’s like you won a Nobel prize or something.

Natasha: Cuddles, laughter, when we’re all in the same bed. Watching the children grow and develop – seeing bits of myself in them and seeing their own personalities and interests develop. Feeling like part of a little gang. Getting to go to the cinema to watch all the new Disney/Pixar movies.

What’s most difficult?
Natasha: Dealing with noise, mess and conflict, early mornings, the relentlessness of it, little time alone (I’m an only child and I need my alone time as much as I need human interaction).

Joe: Not being an arsehole to your kids, even when they’re punching you, throwing food, screeching for ice-cream in public, coming downstairs saying “I’m hungry” for the sixth time in the hour since bedtime and after three or four nights without real sleep you’re struggling to keep up with your work as a result etc etc etc.

Any advice for other working mums and dads, desperately trying to juggle everything?
Natasha: I don’t necessarily always follow this advice myself because it’s not always possible but – try not to let work time bleed into your family time. Compartmentalise. Make time for having fun by yourself or with other adults – you come back to the kids fresher and with more patience.

Joe: If you get an opportunity for an early night, take it. Don’t kid yourself that three cans of Red Stripe, a bag of Snyder’s Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces, random TV watching and three hours idly farting about on Facebook until the very second you fall asleep at midnight is “unwinding”. Sleep is really, really precious.