The Big Feastival is a distinctly civilised affair

The Big Feastival 2011 review

published: Thu 7th Jul 2011

around the festival site

Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd July 2011
Clapham Common, London, SW4 9DE, England MAP
early bird £35 per day, or £65 including food, child (12-17) £25, under 12s free
last updated: Thu 19th May 2011

Jamie Oliver's Big Feastival took over Clapham Common in south London for its inaugural celebration of fine food and good music last weekend, and eFestivals was there to see how it went.

As a new event The Big Feastival is committed to raising money for good causes – with 25% of profits going to The Prince's Trust with the other 75% going to the Jamie Oliver Foundation. Given this we were really hoping to like it and be able to say good things about it at the end of the day.

around the festival site
Things get off to a good start then when we rock up at the entrance gate just after midday to find the arena bathed in broken sunshine and filling up nicely with a steady stream of predominantly 30-something festival folk. Given that Under 12s get in for free and under-17s get a reduced rate plus £15 worth of food vouchers, we're not wholly surprised to see plenty of pushchairs and younger teenagers either.

Naturally enough, what with this being a foodie festival, our first port of call is The Big Kitchen, where the great and good of the restaurant industry have been holding cookery demonstrations all weekend. Right now the big man himself is conducting a seminar alongside Italian superchef, Gennaro Contaldo.

Given the all-star billing we're not surprised to find the tent absolutely rammed. Up on the stage, something fishy's going on – smoked salmon with a chilli flake, lemon and rocket dressing to be precise. After an animated performance and some impressive knife skills from Jamie, a tray of posh nibbles is readied. Gennaro dutifully steps down into the crowd with it and barely gets past the first row before the vultures have swooped.

around the festival site (the food)
Back outside and all this talk of food has made us hungry so we decide to make tracks for one of the numerous food stalls on site, where chefs from some of London's top restaurants are offering everything from papaya-chilli salad to haggis in redcurrant jus.

In order to keep things moving these stalls are operating on a token system rather than taking straight cash. Each of these tokens costs £5 from the main gate or one of the token stalls. Even with this system in place, the queues are already pretty daunting – it's lunchtime and a vast proportion of the 3500 or so other people now on site appear to be thinking with their stomachs too.

Eventually we settle for some okonomi-yaki, a type of Japanese savoury pancake made from cabbage, egg, mushrooms and several other bits and bobs, cooked up on an open grill and then garnished with fish flakes and special sauces. It might sound a bit weird, but it tastes great.

After this we're still peckish so we make for the Mango Kitchen stall where they're serving up Malaysian style grilled chicken and fiery hot papaya salad. Delish, as Jamie might say.

around the festival site
There's a bandstand next to the food stalls, where a brass section whose name we never do catch is playing all kinds of covers – from Radiohead to the Foo Fighters. After eating our fill, a trip to the beer tent seems in order although we're a bit disappointed to discover that the choice of beer on tap isn't anywhere near the standard of food on offer.

Never mind, with a pint of San Miguel in hand we decide to go for a meander around the site.

around the festival site (WI Tent)
Looking into the W.I. Tent we discover a hub of creativity, with everything from cross-stitching to paper mosaics being pursued. It's barely 1.30 in the afternoon but already a minor disaster has struck – the Beehive Bakery that's set up stall inside has run out of cupcakes.

From the W.I. Tent we stroll through the market area where Levi Roots is meeting punters and signing bottles of Reggae Reggae sauce. Actually, we might have made up that last bit. A little further on a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round mark out the mini funfair, where a long line of dads and their kids are queuing patiently. Next to this an old Romany style caravan is offering palm readings and such like.

around the festival site (education)
Being very much a child-friendly festival, the Little Dudes tent is in thrall to a special guest appearance from Peppa Pig herself. Meanwhile over at the Kitchen Garden area there's all kind of green education and awareness-raising going on – from Cultivate London's campaign to turn disused and derelict spaces into urban gardens to the London Wilderness Trust's preservation of green spaces within the M25.

So far so good, but what about the music? Well, the distant sound of some laid-back yet thumping bass alerts us to the fact that Levi Roots has just started up over on the bandstand. We're not overly familiar with his singing career if truth be told, but he’s brought a 9-piece reggae band along for the day and we have to say that both they’re sounding pretty good.

Levi Roots
After many messages of positivity and talk of how anyone can "slay a dragon", Levi hands over to his daughter for a song before chiming in with the 'Reggae Reggae Sauce Song'. No really, a real-life song about Reggae Reggae Sauce from Mr Reggae Reggae Sauce himself. Perhaps it's the beer, but we can't help but laugh out loud at the lyric: "goes nice with fish and chips."

Soon afterwards The Bees announce themselves on the main stage with 'Who Cares What The Question Is'. From the off it's a fun set from a band that never fails to impress, with a set list that includes a fantastic rendition of seminal Os Mutantes cover, 'A Minha Menina' to the rather more introspective 'These Are the Ghosts'. It's a bit of a shame (though not entirely unexpected) to see the vast majority of the crowd remain seated for the entire set, something that is perhaps on frontman Paul Butler's mind when he signs off the set with the words, "Enjoy your food."

Coming so soon after the laid-back, good-times grooves of The Bees, the somewhat overwrought anguish of the Guillemots initially sounds a little out of place. Lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield really gives it his all though, and it isn't long before we're won over. Having missed them at Glastonbury the week before, they leave us suitably impressed with their ability to cut it live.

And so to Athlete. If we're being honest, we're not entirely sure about these boys. They’ve always struck as one of those bands that nearly made it, but then for some reason never quite did. Talking among ourselves as they launch into their first song we can’t even remember the name of the one big hit they did have.

Sure, it's melodic and inoffensive, but to be honest we're not really being moved by it either. One person who clearly does like them though is Jamie Oliver, who's made his way into the pit in front of the stage and is busy singing along and taking pics of himself with the crowd. Fair enough, it's his party and, from what we've been told, his favourite band too.

As for us though, we're ready to make tracks. It's been a good day out, but we're not really feeling the need to eek out every last minute of it. And then, on the way out, the song we knew we knew but couldn't remember the name of starts up – 'Wires'. Ahh yes, of course.

around the festival site (Jamie Oliver)
So, what to make of it al then? Well the foodie aspect certainly gives the event a unique angle and is well executed too, from the education and learning tents to the posh food stalls. It's not a big festival by any means, but it does feel well organised.

They only real problem we have is with the price and portion control of the food stalls. Anyone who's ever been to Glastonbury will know how easy it is to exchange around £5-7 for a plate loaded with great tasting, healthy, organic food. Here, by contrast, everything seems a bit, well… measly. It's undoubtedly good food, but there simply isn't enough of it per portion. Not for a fiver anyway. Perhaps £3 would be more like it.

Truth be told though, there really isn't much else to moan about. The VIP area (which for £125 a ticket includes access to an exclusive stage-side bar, unlimited booze and 'posh' toilets) strikes us a bit divisive and unnecessary, but given that it's probably helping to subsidise the cost of regular tickets as well as keeping under-12 admission free, we'll let it be.

All in all, it's been a pretty good first-time effort from Jamie, so hats off to him. The Big Feastival is a distinctly civilised affair that delivers good family fun, foodie thrills and some reasonable live music in a relaxed, informal and civilised setting. If you're into fine food and good music, then you'll more than likely have a good day out too.

around the festival site
review by: Audley Jarvis

photos by: Audley Jarvis

Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd July 2011
Clapham Common, London, SW4 9DE, England MAP
early bird £35 per day, or £65 including food, child (12-17) £25, under 12s free
last updated: Thu 19th May 2011

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