I just spent the weekend in a field, under canvas doing what people do in summer which for many is attend attend festivals, I cant claim to be a hardened camper, I’ve done it before on quite a number of occasions but never to the degree that it became a lifestyle choice.
So it was with cheap and shitty two man (yeah, right!) tent and sleeping bags and just enough clothes and toiletries to survive that I set off for Hertfordshire, more particularly Eastnor home of The Big Chill. Now in its fifteenth year and this time around incorporating The Green I arrived on Thursday afternoon.
Traveling to the festival by coach is not nearly as stressful an experience as you might expect (back and forth journeys to London have for me proved to be hellish in the past). I was traveling down from Sheffield and we actually arrived at the site in just under three hours. There was some traffic buildup as we moved through Ledbury but not nearly as bad as you might expect. Although the driver did have a bit of a stressful negotiation of the site as he tried to weave a bloody great coach through some of the site’s narrower entrances.
First impressions when you disembark from the coach and set off to find somewhere to camp is the site looks dauntingly big, at first glance it stretches off into the horizon but that’s not strictly the case, it just stretches off nearly into the horizon. One thing you need to prepare yourself is plenty of walking.
The site proved to be family friendly so if you are bringing kids and didn’t fancy being kept up at all hours then sites further from the action were specifically located further, the braver (read younger) element generally camped that little bit closer so the general expectation of things getting a bit louder later at night was one to be prepared for.
Things started on Thursday night with the primary event being Noel Fielding (The Mighty Boosh) and his latest vehicle “I Spit On Your Rave”. A comedy collaboration between Fielding, Warp Films and The Big Chill itself. It was also a chance for all concerned to have a go at breaking the world record for the largest filmed congregation of people dressed as zombies (they succeeded).
As is always the case at festivals buying food and drink can be pricey and I’m not saying the Big Chill was particularly cheap but as opposed to lifting your leg so high it squeaks you could get a pint of beer (or pear cider) for something akin to club prices. The same applied to food which was varied and of good quality (the smoked bacon was almost enough to tempt a vegetarian back to the ways of the flesh).
Of course what goes in, must at some point come out again and stories of festival stories are of course legendary. You have to think of the logically however, there’s a lot of temporary toilets servicing the needs of a lot of people, it’s never going to be a pristine experience. However I have to say with the exception of one festival (in which I thought I had died and gone to festival heaven) these were the best kept f I had encountered at an event. There were the occasional ‘apocalypse cubicles’ but if you reported them they weren’t in that state for very long.
One of the biggest problems with festivals of this size is making the hard choices over who to see and who to skip. For me I had a rough itinerary of who were on my “must see” list. Most of my choices were sound, the odd one disappointed (more on that later). However the thing about The Big Chill is the variety is clearly there and most people should be able to find something of appeal.
During the day the family friendly aspect of the festival looms large and everything kicked off at a leisurely midday with the main stages providing you with more laid back vibes which took in the genres of world music, acoustic and some lightly dubby sets. The further you ventured into the site though (and the further you moved away from the family areas) the tempo tended to get a little harder.
By nightfall the families are for the most part slipping back to their tents and the clubbers who seemed to spend the better part of the day asleep are shambling down to the central areas ready for their “shift”.
The Big Chill at night really does defy it’s namesake, over the weekend the likes of Jon Carter and Hexstatic put in some thunderous sets on the Rizla and main stages respectively. On the Sunday Jazzie B proved he could still work a crowd with a functional blend of reggae and contemporary crowd pleasers. Elsewhere The Disco Shed played host to a variety of DJ’s who literally played out of a garden shed. Toddla T was the official Zombie event DJ and stepped a little more mainstream (to good effect) for the occasion.
The big guns headlining were none other than Basement Jaxx who received something of a mixed reaction from a generally mixed set. Combining strong elements of their solid back catalogue with new material made for a somewhat lukewarm reception from a band that generally have a rock solid live reputation.
Orbital meanwhile rolled into town and rolled out a ‘classics’ set which generally tore a new hole in the ozone. The usual suspects like ‘Chimes’ and ‘Halcyon’ are always going to dazzle, the latter involving an oddball mash up involving a Bon Jovi track and a Belinda Carlisle vocal and for just a second the crowd was like a dog that had been smacked over the nose with a rolled up newspaper. I was told they tried the same trick earlier this year at the Sonar festival to a less rapturous reception, but then again I don’t think the purist element is so prevalent here.
Supreme legend of the event however came in the form of David Byrne, concluding a year long tour at The Chill with a show that encompassed his entire body of work taking from his solo material, his work with Brian Eno and of course all his years with Talking Heads. Its been over twenty years since his seminal live film ‘Stop Making Sense’ yet Byrne still has the vocal range and power he had before (same as it ever was?….sorry). His stage performance incorporated some well choreographed dancers who made appearances in the most appropriate fashion on some of the uptempo numbers (Crosseyed and Painless, I Zimbra, Help Me Somebody). Elsewhere in his set unexpected tracks like ‘Help Me Somebody’ (with Byrne convincingly taking over the ‘preacher’ role from the original) made for compelling listening while elsewhere he wasn’t afraid to step off the gas and give you pin drop moments on tracks like ‘Heaven’ from the ‘Fear Of Music’ EP.
All in all it made for a fitting conclusion to the event, by the next morning I was ready to go home, at festivals you sleep but you don’t get quality sleep and it does have a cumulative effect of catching up with you. In layman’s terms I was pretty much fucked, despite my saintly approach to the festival lifestyle over the weekend (cough), there is only so long you can sleep in a tent designed for Snow White’s mates before you start to run out of steam.
Saying that though, I’ll see you next year…definite recommend as a festival for families and/or party heads.