Live Music + Gig Reviews

Big Chill 2009: Day 2 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire

8 August 2009

Big Chill 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

The Big Chill is set in the stunning grounds of Eastnor Castle Deer Park so, having been boiled out of our tents at about 8:30am, we take a jaunt around the grounds, climb the huge hill, stand next to the giant obelisk and admire the amazing views from the hilltop.

A detoxifying massage follows, getting rid of some of the damage from alcohol consumption and late nights as the mellow, ambient sounds of Helios on the Open Air Stage form the perfect accompaniment to the whiff of essential oils.
Saturday afternoon on the Castle Stage is dominated by a triumvirate of female singer-songwriters, each with something different to offer. First up is Icelandic pop princess Hafdís Huld. Impossibly cute and smiley, her and her equally happy band – replete with her now to-be-expected pink flying-V ukulele – run through a series of irresistible pop songs, including The Kongulo (The Spider), which recently topped the charts in her home country.

She gives way to a modest and apparently overwhelmed Kathryn Williams, who puts together a nicely judged set of quiet melancholy. Hopefully nobody attending her performance expects any energy, because that’s not her thing, but she knows how to manipulate her listeners’ heartstrings. She ends with crowd-favourite Flicker and the more recent Grey Goes from last year’s Two album she recorded with Neill MacColl.

It leaves Emmy The Great a little upstaged, following Williams with a solid set but giving the feeling that fatigue has set in after a heavy summer schedule of gigs. As much as First Love and her cover of Skeeter Davis‘s The End Of The World are always enjoyable, she doesn’t manage to get excitement levels up.

Meanwhile, a true jazz legend is making his presence felt on the Open Air Stage. Pharoah Sanders, old school tenor saxophonist, wows everyone with his extraordinary ability at the age of 68. A man who came to prominence playing with John Coltrane, he at times goes off piste with his intangible jazz improvisations, but keeps everyone’s attention by mixing it up with some more accessible and familiar tracks, including a My Favourite Things refrain that he returns to a number of times. He even sings a little and, supported by an incredible bunch of musicians, this is something special to be lapped up on a Saturday afternoon.

In spite of the festival largely severing itself from its ambient roots, relaxation can still be had. Chilling out to the sounds of Germany’s To Rococo Rot while lying under a tree is bliss. Their jazz-edged, melodic electronica wafts across the field of horizontal bodies as drifting drums pepper each track. Over on the other stage though, there’s no chance of a slumber in the sun as the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble take over. Mixing rousing brass with hip hop, the Chicago band, formed of eight sons of Sun Ra collaborator and trumpet player Phil Cohran plus drummer 360, certainly know how to whip the crowd up. It’s celebratory, original and perfect to accompany what has turned out to be yet another hot, sun-blessed day.

The stage is then taken over by Music From The Penguin Café, the platform for Arthur Jeffes, son of Penguin Café Orchestra founder the late Rev. Simon Jeffes, to air some of his father’s seminal and hugely inspirational compositions. For the uninitiated, Jeffes’ sweet, folky instrumentals have been readily pilfered as ad soundtracks down the years. Standout moments include the familiar Telephone And Rubber Band, Perpetuum Mobile and the classic Music For A Found Harmonium.

Mercury nominees The Invisible find themselves in a pretty high profile spot, mid-evening on the Open Air Stage, but fail to attract the kind of crowd they would have hoped for. Blending angular, innovative rock with a touch of funk and a digital ethic, it’s impossible to refer to them without also referring to Brooklynites TV On The Radio. But with tracks that need to settle and become familiar before they can be adored, playing a stage this size in front of a largely unaware crowd was always going to be difficult, and the band are not quite able to pull it off this evening.

They are followed shortly after by Lamb, who do command a large crowd, hardly surprising with the genuinely moving vocals of singer Lou Rhodes. The drum and bass flavoured oldie Cotton Wool gets an airing with Rhodes’ heartfelt vocals providing the perfect balance between joyful emotion and melancholy. The Debussy-sampling Angelica sees the chilled, piano-led hook joined by thundering bass and breaks which opens up into a twinkling, beautiful orchestral number. Those strings carry over to What Sound, with its mellow start flowing into hard techno stabs before the strings come back in. Heavy breaks and those tear-jerking vocals combine for a bittersweet musical mix, but the finale sees Rhodes indulge in some rock ‘n’ roll behaviour as she picks up a guitar and engulfs the audience in a wave of feedback.

Somewhat less dramatic is the set of sweet, pop-edged songs from Icelander Emiliana Torrini. Singing with her eyes shut and lost in the moment much of the time, she is sweetly unassuming and open when she speaks to the audience between songs. Torrini runs through the Nothing Brings Me Down, the nicely mellow To Be Free and a song she says was inspired by a nail buffer, oh, and whiskey, and is all about falling in love at wrong time then hoping there’s a knock at the door in the future. A twinkling acoustic track is then perfectly accompanied by the scores of Chinese lanterns that float overhead.

Ahead of their run-through of their seminal album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space at the Royal Festival Hall later this year, Spiritualized are on hand with a superb collection of uplifting epic gospel-tinged anthems. Soundtracking the nightly release of the hundreds of lanterns into a bubble-filled sky, they converted even the most entrenched of cynics.

Over at The Coop, Oslo’s Lindstrøm plays a rare live set, mixing between Italo disco, trance and techno. Then acid drops in as the Norwegian nods away like Flat Eric, playing ever-changing, epic, melodic tracks which are lapped up by the whooping audience. He then drops in a funky, techno-styled Italo track with euphoric chord stabs which is so old school but yet so good.

Bridging the gap between Spiritualized and headliners Orbital on the Open Air Stage is left to Justin Robertson who does well to keep the crowd energised and warm in rapidly decreasing temperatures with an enthusiastic set.

Orbital take to the stage with their trademark headlights on, beginning with a remixed Impact, then an extended, chord-led rendition of Satan before the seratonin buzz of Belfast sends a wave of bliss through the heaving crowd. An epic and hugely well-received mix of Chime follows before Halcyon is aired, complete with the traditional live trick of dropping in samples of Bon Jovi and Belinda Carlisle. Another classic in the form of The Box goes down a storm before the Hartnoll brothers’ Doctor Who cover Doctor? is aired to end. While their reunion may just be a way of accumulating a nice retirement nest egg, the duo still give every track their all and deserve the rapturous response they receive.

The crowd then disperses to various late night venues including veteran Annie Nightingale‘s taking over from fellow legend Arthur Baker at the Frisky Bison cocktail bar and London club night Horsemeat Disco taking up residence in the Coop tent for a couple of hours. Their modern retelling of the Studio 54 ethic was a huge hit as punters boogied on down to a selection of crowd-pleasing, melody-driven disco and funk tunes. It may be slightly strange to employ female dancers with horse’s heads on stage, but there is no disputing the DJs’ ability to entertain.

And so ends another day of wildly varied entertainment and spine-tingling moments.

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