It never rains at The Big Chill.
Well, it hasn’t for the past five years anyway, and the first weekend of August also proved dry and bright almost throughout.
But when we arrive in Eastnor Castle Deer Park on Thursday the heavens are pouring forth. Showers crop up throughout the weekend too – and the weather is not the only change.
But some things remain as they were: the stunning Herefordshire setting, with its valley and mist-covered lakes, the generally friendly and relaxed atmosphere and, of course, the wildly eclectic music policy that encompasses drum and bass, folk, indie, house, reggae, punk, brass bands and full blown orchestras, not to mention legendary septuagenarian singer songwriters, of which more later.
We start the festival’s first day proper by going to a completely different festival. Confused? Well, the Sunrise Festival was meant to take place in May but flash floods drowned its Somerset site on the very day it was due to start. So, much in the neighbourly spirit of The Big Chill, they were offered a corner of the Eastnor grounds to run a pared-down version of their event. This festival within a festival is ultra-chilled, moreso than the main Big Chill site itself, and proves great for relaxing around the peace circle fire with a cup of chai and the sound of bongos in the background.
We then head back to the main site to see the much-lauded Natty but he’s cancelled so one-man band, Son Of Dave (Benjamin Darvill to his mum), steps in instead. His funk and blues are all generated by looping and layering beats, instruments – including his trademark harmonica – and vocals. It all forms a madcap but highly entertaining spectacle.
Over at the stylish and comfortable Sauza Tent ex-Dodgy member Nigel Clark is playing new solo material as well as hits from the band’s back catalogue. He runs through hits like In A Room, Staying Out For The Summer and Good Enough with just an electric guitar as the crowd sing along.
It’s then time for CDR where contributions by fledgling producers that have been contributed by email or placed in one of the on-site letterboxes are aired. The quality of the tracks is remarkably high which makes for an even more nerve-wracking experience for this scribe but it’s so rewarding to hear your own track on a decent sound system and see how the crowd react.
Over at the nearby Media Mix tent the Sigur Rós film Heima is aired. It’s a shame the band can’t be here at the festival in person but their music still proves overwhelmingly moving and uplifting. It’s mesmerising and we only get across the site to catch Swedish quartet Little Dragon in time to see them perform the lazy, quirky soul of After The Rain as their set-closer.
The Rizla Arena is an enclosed area with a large stage just for dancing and a Model T Ford that forms the DJ booth. It’s got a house party atmosphere as 2020Soundsystem play Daft Punk and sunny disco house tracks but there’s more live music to be had so we make our way back to the main stage for Róisín Murphy.
Playing selections from her recent album, it’s electronic pop with substance and is excellent. Alongside the new material the former Moloko vocalist also plays older favourites like Forever More. Sadly, the heavens open so there’s a mass exodus to see Roots Manuva play drum and bass classics, heavy-bassed funk and reggae classics in the safe and dry of the club tent.
Once the deluge stops we head back to see Murphy finish her set which includes an acidy version of Overpowered. Changing her outfit for almost every track, she wears a halo one moment then falls to the ground on her back as the speakers spew feedback before standing up with what looks like a paper plate stuck to her face. Murphy is a great entertainer as well as an impressive and unique singer and following Ramalama (Bang Bang), indulges in a fake fight with her backing singers to end the set.
We catch the tail end of Gong Gong‘s hugely danceable, funk-laden electronica then await the arrival of ambient house godfathers, The Orb. Known for being somewhat contrary and idiosyncratic with their live sets Orb nucleus Alex Paterson and friends thankfully plump for a set of well-known classics and new tracks. They begin with A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld which is driven by a kickdrum that gets everyone moving before airing the music box driven Towers Of Dub.
Live drums, bass (manned by old friend Youth) and vocals/MCing are accompanied by Paterson’s laptop and vinyl and they combine beautifully for dub reggae track Mother Nature. Sampling has always been at the core of the Orb’s sound and Louis Armstrong‘s What A Wonderful World is mixed in with big dub bassline to brilliant effect before Little Fluffy Clouds is introduced by the Pet Shop Boys‘ It’s Alright. A dub mix of Blue Room then sees the vocalist get the crowd singing along to its main ‘Owoowowoowowoowowoowowaa’ vocal sample. A huge acid ragga tune ends the set which provides yet another Big Chill goosebump moment. And to think without the Sunrise Festival joining this year’s festivities The Orb’s appearance would probably never have happened.
Having made a recent comeback and released their first new album for many years, Orb contemporaries The Grid then take to the stage to play new material alongside seminal classics like Crystal Clear. As Richard Norris and Dave Ball unleash the uplifting Flotation they announce that the noise police are telling them to finish meaning there’s to be no Texas Cowboys or best know hit Swampthing. In spite of this it they have still provided a fantastic set of upbeat electronics anyway.
And so ends Day 1. Maintaining this momentum and level of quality tomorrow will surely be impossible, won’t it?
The Big Chill 2008 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire: Day 3
The Big Chill 2008 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire: Day 2
The Big Chill 2008 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire: Day 1