The sun may already have been out for most of the weekend but Norman Jay just seems to make it shine harder on what turns out to be the hottest day of the year so far. Kicking off with some dub and soul, the Good Times DJ gradually raises the tempo with some disco and Shirley Bassey’s Get The Party Started.
A traditional Sunday afternoon highlight of the Big Chill, Norman then takes Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 “I have a dream” speech and lays it over the instrumental D Ramirez version of Yeah Yeah by Bodyrox. It works surprisingly well. Having slapped grins on the faces of the heaving throng he gives the crowd a break from full-on dancing in the sweltering heat by playing Say A Little Prayer. As the sun beats down on the gorgeous countryside, Aretha Franklin‘s voice proves almost overwhelming.
It’s soon back to dance music of all flavours though before Love Affair‘s Bringing On Back The Good Times forms a fitting end. It’s a privilege as ever to hear a master of his craft plying his trade in his spiritual home.
Seminal band The Skatalites continue the perfect soundtrack to a beautiful summer’s day. Having been going since 1964, bringing ska to a wider audience and backing Bob Marley no less, they run through sunny classics like Guns Of Navarone, Rivers Of Babylon and the James Bond theme.
There’s not an instrument in sight over at the Castle Stage where Shlomo And The Vocal Orchestra form a beatboxing ensemble. It’s amazing what they can do with voice alone as they gradually layer improvised tracks of bass, drums, instruments and vocals. Their closing rendition of Paul Simon‘s You Can Call Me Al inspires goosebumps and applause all round.
Also demonstrating their vocal dexterity are Spanish act Ojos De Brujo whose skat-laced flamenco and traditional gypsy folk create a highly charged spectacle on the main stage. Speaking largely in their native tongue, they know how to work the crowd and the flamenco dancing is dumbfounding.
Also guaranteed to amaze is the Art Trail, which this year is spread throughout the festival for the first time. We head down to the Village Green to witness the final display of Ben Blakeborough’s Winged Self. Its carbon footprint may be the size of a small dinosaur’s but watching his flying machine, (that’s apparently as easy to fly as a bicycle), whir into life and take off is quite amazing to see.
Back to the music and Alice Russell‘s huge voice takes over the Castle Stage as she belts out her soulful version of the White Stripes‘ Seven Nation Army. We then head off for some more introspective sounds at the Sanctuary Stage where Roedelius, a member of seminal electronic seventies krautrock act, Cluster, is DJing. The melancholic, deep yet minimal electronic classical pieces, including some of his own compositions, are beautiful.
The modern jazz of Abram Wilson & The Delta Blues Project and the London Community Gospel Choir gets a little self indulgent so we head over to catch old hands Coldcut recreating their set from the Big Chill’s Goa event earlier this year. They start off mellow and ambient then turn up the pace, and the bass, as Indian instrumentation merges with an electronic backing and chanted vocals. The huge crowd show their passionate appreciation and we are almost treated to the festival’s first encore which takes the form of some call and response chanting.
The usual clash between the final acts sees Paul Hartnoll‘s live rendition of his debut album The Ideal Condition vying for attention with The Bays in club tent. The ex-Orbital man’s set features a full string section and vocals. It may not please those expecting more of the same electronica he and his brother used to produce, but anyone prepared to drop those preconceptions couldn’t fail to enjoy this. From the Halloween theme tune echoing Haven’t We Met Before to the haunting For Silence this is the sound of Paul Hartnoll coming into his own.
Having provided possibly the best set of the festival in 2005, however, we hop over to the Club Tent to see The Bays. Breaks, vocal samples, melodies, tunes and fantastic drumming are all made up on the spot by the band who don’t record, don’t rehearse and don’t have a record contract and they garner the usual well-received response from the crowd. It’s all over too soon though and the end of the festival is sadly upon us.
As if to signal this, the heavens open and it rains properly for the first time all weekend. There is still plenty going on though. A trip up the big hill to some Art Trail installations provides a bike-powered cinema and FT covered, dub-filled mud hut while back at the Club Tent, Mixmaster Morris is playing his traditional, after-hours ambient set. While people usually flake out in front of his decks, the wet muddy floor makes this impossible. It must be hard playing horizontal tunes when no one can be horizontal but it’s gorgeous music anyway, drenched in emotion.
The Big Chill Nights tent provides a somewhat surreal sight of a herd of people seemingly dressed as animals dancing to an indie version of Snap‘s Rhythm Is A Dancer. It’s all too much so we head back to the calm of Mixmaster Morris. The man who has been part of the Big Chill since the start surely deserves the covered floor of the Media Mix Tent so people can ‘lie down and be counted’ (his words, not mine) in comfort next year?
It’s a minor complaint and overall the Big Chill has delivered again. How they manage to maintain such high standards while taking a crowd of 29,000 revellers and still creating an intimate atmosphere beggars belief. The happy, creative, almost utopian spirit of the festival remains intact. It’s a place where you can see people in fancy dress, men in ballgowns and grown adults rolling down the hillside on their side in the lush, green grass. A place where you can hear everything from ska, house and Spanish flamenco to hip hop, folk, blues and beatboxing – anything goes. The Big Chill has so many life-affirming moments that take your breath away that you would find yourself gasping for air if you weren’t so relaxed.