this year's Big Chill preserves the spirit of the original

The Big Chill 2010 review

published: Wed 11th Aug 2010

around the festival site (1)

Thursday 5th to Sunday 8th August 2010
Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1RL, England MAP
£155 for the weekend
daily capacity: 30000
last updated: Mon 2nd Aug 2010

Waking on the sunny Sunday around 10am, I was confused to see a substantial number of people walking past my tent already in head-to-toe body paint. Where had they been so early? I later discovered it was all part of New York artist, Spencer Tunick's latest naked landscape photo project, which involved around 500 festival-goers stripping naked for his first festival installation. The naked participants were completely covered in vibrantly coloured body paint by a huge team of make-up artists, before posing for Tunick's contemporary art photographs, said to represent the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

around the festival site (2)
I was pleased and slightly relieved to find that art still plays a big part in The Big Chill landscape, with The Arts Trail remaining a staple feature of the event. This year The Arts Trail included a giant rubber duck and it's 'babies' on one of the lakes, a cluster of large light-up globes on the west hill, and Bompas and Parr's Ziggurat of Flavour. The Ziggurat, a black and white striped pyramid found in the Enchanted Garden area, was an experiment by 'food architects' Bompas and Parr, who worked with scientists to invent a way of vaporising fruit provided by Fairtrade farmers, enabling people who pass through the Ziggurat structure to breathe in their five-a-day before sliding down a large slide back into the real world.

As we knew we had to leave early on Sunday, we decided to pack the car before heading into the arena proper for the day. Getting to the main Deer Park stage just before 2pm, we were gutted to discover we had missed Norman Jay's annual Good Times party set, which this year seemed to be on far earlier than usual. I should've checked my set times...gutted!

Taking a seat at the Deer Park stage, we bought a paper and settled in for Morcheeba. With original vocalist, Skye Edwards now back on the roster, I was interested to see how her seven year absence from the band might reflect in their performance. I saw Morcheeba many times between 1997 and 2003, and its fair to say that little has really changed in their performances. It's still the very same songs that get the biggest reaction from the audience - 'Part of the Process', 'Trigger Hippy', 'The Sea' - and Skye looked perfectly at home singing them again.

Heading into the Castle Field, we were a little saddened to find the old Castle Stage, traditionally the festival's second stage, replaced with the tiny Clash stage. The Clash stage is very much smaller than the stage it replaced, and seemed a pale shadow of it's former self, while the festival's new second stage, The Revellers tent, has now relocated to the Uptown field. On Sunday afternoon electro-troubadour James Yuill once again delivered the goods to an appreciative crowd, nailing a solid set of electro-meets-acoustic ballads from his much under-rated two albums.

Back in the Deer Park usually reliable festival favourites, The Magic Numbers did not appear to be having a good time. It's now been 5 years since 'Forever Lost' and 'She Don't Love Me Like You' troubled the charts, and I personally had already consigned the band to the Indie Also-Rans list. The set was OK, although far from as joyful as times I've seen them before. Backing singer Michelle seemed to be having some pitching problems, while lead singer Romeo kept imploring the audience to sing along with the band in the style of summers gone by. But the crowd didn't seem eager to respond to his pleas, and I was left with the impression of a band disappointed by their audience's lack of enthusiasm.

around the festival site (1)
En route to see Alice Russell, we were waylaid by a Broadway dance workshop outside the Mr Scruff Tea Tent in the Lake Field. A small crowd of people had formed, taking lessons from the professionals who lead them through the fancy footwork of the 20s and 30s, backed by appropriate music. It looked like a lot of fun, and I'm told it was fairly representative of the kind of interactive events going on there all weekend.

We eventually arrived at the small Chill X tent about 15 minutes into Alice Russell's storming soul set. As a Big Chill veteran who has played at pretty much every Big Chill I've ever been to, I wondered if being consigned to a small and rather obscure tent was something of a comedown for Ms Russell. Previous years have seen her on more major stages, and even headlining the main stage as a vocalist with Quantic Soul Orchestra six years ago, so this tent seemed surprisingly small for such a well-known Big Chill stalwart. Naturally the tent was packed, and the Brighton-based soul singer's set did not disappoint, with all the usual flourishes you've come to expect from an Alice Russell gig; perfect harmonies, choreographed dance moves, theatrical flourishes and lots of lots of fun being had onstage. If this band don't actually enjoy playing together, then they do the best job of faking it that I have ever seen.

around the festival site (1)
Leaving the festival that evening, I was still undecided about the festival's makeover. Booking the likes of Lily Allen seemed a clear step in the wrong direction, and pop diva displayed a clear lack of respect for the festival by playing the bratty card on Sunday night, banning interviews, and even instituting a last minute ban on photographers in the pit, on pain of her pulling out of the event all together. I was already home by the time Allen took to the stage, but reports from friends suggest her set was "alright", although no one seemed to want to offer a stronger opinion for or against.

As someone who has attended the last 6 Big Chill festivals, for me the festival represents something quite unique on the summer festival scene. Perhaps it is not seen to be quite so bleeding edge of now as some other festivals, with its paper-reading Guardianistas sat on picnic blankets, but for the 25-40 year old festival goers who return year after year, it is a peerlessly relaxed and unhurried affair.

While this year's Big Chill did seem to preserve the spirit of the original for the most part, I really hope the new owners at Festival Republic don't try to impose too much of the V formula onto this event. I think it's fair to say that this year saw a small shift toward a poppier, more commercial musical direction; a subtle change that drew a slightly younger crowd than the event has been used to. However that was really no bad thing, and there were still plenty of families in attendance alongside the more youthful new crowd.

My concern is that if subtle movements towards a more commercial musical programme are increased year on year, it will not take many years before The Big Chill morphs into a very different festival all together, albeit with the same name. To move too far away from its diverse roots into something more obviously pop-orientated would be a sorry move indeed for the event, and one I hope Katrina Larkin and the original production team would resist. There is absolutely a unique place for The Big Chill as it was in 2010 and has always been before on the UK festival calendar, and I hope that it will be allowed to retain the musical direction and creative heart that has made it such a distinctive event in the past.

around the festival site (2)
review by: Lynsey Haire

photos by: Phil Bull

Thursday 5th to Sunday 8th August 2010
Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1RL, England MAP
£155 for the weekend
daily capacity: 30000
last updated: Mon 2nd Aug 2010

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