How a place can feel like a home from home when only three or four days a year are spent there I’m not entirely sure, but that is exactly how it feels when we pitch up at Eastnor Castle Deer Park in Herefordshire. It may be partly down to the seemingly permanent sunshine it seems to enjoy and London’s grey clouds were duly replaced by bright sunshine within about fifteen minutes of leaving the big smoke.
Arriving on Thursday evening affords us the luxury of being able to watch the Big Chill Festival 2006 gradually come to life the following day, and to check out the Thali stall which seems to have burst into life 24 hours early as The Prodigy‘s Smack My Bitch Up gets punters and staff alike jumping around like goons.
The official action begins at noon on Friday and proceedings get off to a suitably chilled start on the Open Air stage with Natureboy‘s blissful, jazz-touched songs followed by Mozez singing sweet soul alongside the Zero 7 classics he made his name with. Beauty Room then continue the relaxed theme with their uplifting soul and laid back harmonies.
Jos Gonzlez is the first high profile name to appear and he plays Heartbeats very early on which generates a warm reaction. Having made his name on cover versions his set is strewn with them, including Massive Attack‘s Teardrop which goes down particularly well as a finale. Overall, however, his set proves a little bland.
When we head back to our canvas base we discover both tent and the bags left in the porch have been opened. Thankfully the thieves have been frustrated by a padlocked zip in their bid for valuables but over the weekend rumours abound about thefts and it seems the old utopian oasis of the Big Chill may be under threat. With the crowd having grown to 30,000 it is inevitable that crime will also become an issue but the secure, feelgood bubble that made the whole experience so amazing feels like it has momentarily burst. It may be what you expect at any festival, but the Big Chill is not, or was not, just any festival. The organisers have tried to pre-empt any light-fingered folk by setting up secure deposit boxes across the site though.
This eventually proves a temporary distraction as the quantity of quality music continues to enchant and beguile us into the evening as AIM take to the stage. Progressing in an even more vocal-based direction than previous album Hinterland, frontman Andy Turner leads a set that culminates in the title track of classic debut album Cold Water Music, providing what proves to be the first of many goosebump moments.
As the warm night draws in, the tempo rises with X-Press 2 taking to the main stage but, while they play their house classic Muzik Express, we head over to catch Echaskech on the Sanctuary Stage. It always pays at the Big Chill to check out some of the smaller acts and Echaskech provide one such pleasant surprise. The duo’s mellow, acid-streaked electronica and vocodered deep bass workouts prove to be subtle yet highly danceable. They end their set with some full-on dancefloor mayhem in the form of their brilliant electronic mix of Kelis‘ Trick Me ensuring another flush of goosebumps. Meanwhile, Rocky, Diesel and Ashley Beedle continue bashing out material from across their X-Press 2 career, lining up above three huge screens like triplicate Wizards of Oz. An extended version of Lazy forms the finale with a suitably fevered response from the sizeable crowd.
It never pays to try and swallow the world by seeing too much at a festival and seeing just the end of Nathan Fake‘s set may be doing him and his music an injustice. His messed up electronica may have a level of melody and movement to it, avoiding becoming mere abstract nonsense, but sadly it is only marginally more interesting than watching a bloke staring at a laptop can be. The crowd cheer each track enthusiastically though so perhaps there were more musical fireworks earlier on to maintain interest.
The duo that pioneered the whole cut and paste sampling ethic in the late eighties, Coldcut, then take over the main stage and their set is suitably eclectic. Drum and bass sits alongside slow, soulful breakbeats, reggae and house as political, Bush-baiting undercurrents provide an edge. They then perform the standout track from the recent Sound Mirrors album, Walk A Mile In My Shoes. It is just a shame that vocalist Robert Owens, who is on Sunday’s bill, could not make it on stage to sing live.
When the rain starts to fall, unusual and refreshing though it is, we duck into the club tent to see Franois K. Having made his name remixing Depeche Mode amongst others in the late eighties and early nineties, it is immediately clear he has learned how to work a crowd. A fantastic mix of The Doors Break On Through (To The Other Side) flows into African rhythms and smooth house before he ties his set, and the night, up with a chunky acid house stomper. A fantastic way to end a first day that seems, in the most positive way possible, to have lasted much longer. Roll on Saturday!