by Jon Spanyol
I can’t remember exactly what I was doing around the time of my fifteenth birthday, but I imagine that my life at this stage was most probably filled with listening to music, drinking cider and being somewhat slothful. It was therefore quite appropriate that this year’s Big Chill festival, also celebrating its fifteenth year of existence, should contain the very same splendidly relaxing ingredients.
Set in a lush green valley in the shadow of the magnificent Malvern Hills, the idyllic Eastnor Castle Deer Park was the perfect location for the festival, which this year attracted an estimated 35,000 people, ranging from sleeping babies in pushchairs to visitors who were seemingly advanced enough in years to comment on the authenticity of the charming Victorian Fair. The long-awaited ‘barbeque summer’ had finally arrived, and this seemed to bring out the party spirit in all of the fancy-dress-wearing revellers. Not wanting to feel left out, a bright blue felt top hat was purchased within hours of arrival.
The programme was wonderfully diverse, from household names such as the fantastic Basement Jaxx, to a hugely random but thoroughly entertaining mini-opera entitled ‘The Girl Who Learnt to Beatbox from Her Ass’. Other musical highlights included Hypnotic Brass, Friendly Fires, Magistrates, The Invisible and Alice Russell who, accompanied by a massively slick band, belted out soul tunes so powerful that they induced a nosebleed.
The festival also included performances by some of the country’s top comedians. Tim Minchin’s comic songs had the crowd in stitches, and stand up shows by Russell Howard and Dylan Moran for Sunday’s ‘Comedy in the Coop’ went down extremely well with the huge capacity crowd. However, Noel Fielding’s inane babbling and massively underprepared patter was a real disappointment for most of his fans and after a shambolic opening 20 minutes, even he admitted that it was the worst gig he’d ever done.
The official website proclaims that ‘the Big Chill is more than a music festival, it’s a way of life’, and I’d be inclined to agree. The togetherness of the festival-goers was truly remarkable – acid house ravers integrated seamlessly with young families, all in the pursuit of one thing: relaxation. As David Byrne rocked out an extremely polished art-funk set on the final night, accompanied by scores of ethereal orange lanterns floating across the beautiful Herefordshire countryside, I found myself reflecting on what had been a truly memorable weekend.