Live Music + Gig Reviews

Big Chill 2009: Day 3 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire

9 August 2009

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

It seems unbelievable that the final day of the Big Chill 2009 has already arrived and more unbelievable still that the sun is beating down once again. After a late Saturday night, people start to settle in at the Open Air Stage just after noon.

The acoustic folk storytelling of Tom Brosseau gets proceedings off to a mellow start, his music gentle and emotive. It perhaps isn’t quite what we’d hoped for on a hungover Sunday, but it is a fine accompaniment nonetheless.
The laidback thread carries on through Laura J Martin‘s set on the Frisky Bison stage as she feeds fluted loops through an effects pedal to create layer upon layer of sound and effectively become a one-woman band. It’s all overlaid with her hippyish delivery of Kate Bush style vocals.

Having seen German band To Rococo Rot at The Castle Stage yesterday, today we find them joining forces with Italian contemporary classical musician Ludovico Einaudi, shunted up to the main Open Air stage to showcase their collaborative effort in the form of the White Tree project. Promoting album Cloudland, they provide an intriguing balance of genres, and coming after Brosseau and Martin, the pace remains ambient and the day’s soundtrack remains unobtrusive.

That all changes when a man who even the Queen has recognised for his work with the Notting Hill Carnival and sun-bringing properties, Norman Jay MBE, takes over. Kicking off with a soul version of Don’t Look Back In Anger, Jay’s set takes in soul, Roy Ayers‘ aptly named Everybody Loves The Sunshine and Donovan‘s Mellow Yellow. From thumping house to Motown, drum and bass to and rave classics, the crowd love it whether they are dressed as tennis players, monkeys or giant bananas. Playing George Cutler‘s It’s Yours, Dizzee Rascal‘s Bonkers and more drum and bass to end, Jay once again provides the perfect selection to set everyone up for the rest of the day.

Throughout the weekend, there often seems to be a reggae legend playing somewhere, whether it was Edward II covering Gregory Isaacs‘s Night Nurse on the Castle Stage on Saturday, or Max Romeo with a selection of tracks designed to complement the sunshine on a day like this. Somehow reggae music and rainfall just wouldn’t have gone together as sweetly. Those not familiar with his work with The Emotions in the 1960s or his solo work in the 1970s would have enjoyed hearing I Chase The Devil, the track that provided the sample used by The Prodigy on their hit Out Of Space.

The Big Chill is about more than just music and over at The Coop, Dylan Moran is treating the sardined audience to some existential comedy on family life, his inability to understand drinking responsibly, and fatherhood and how it turns men into humans. There are also opportunities to get a bit of culture. Aside from numerous art installations and the chance to be photographed for a Rankin exhibition, the Words In Motion tent provides a spot for respite.

Today there is the opportunity to find out more about crazy alien theories from astrologer Jonathan Cainer or to get a handle on Luke Chapman‘s philosophy behind the artwork he creates with brother Dinos. The latter talk is particularly interesting and surprisingly eventful as Chapman, one of the highest profile members of the contemporary British artist movement, gives a refreshingly unpretentious and clear explanation of his work. Although even he is left speechless when a Big Chill casualty dressed as some sort of superhero invades the stage so that he can show the audience his bum.

Back over on the Open Air Stage, Detroit’s Sixto Rodriguez, rediscovered while working on a building site a decade ago, plays his intelligent acoustic songs. The crowd constantly scream for best known track, Sugar Man, and he simply replies, “Your wish is my command,” and plays it. With a very talkative, lackadaisical style between songs, Rodriguez finds himself telling enough jokes till the audience laugh.

Having taken a trip back to camp, we return in time to see Amadou & Mariam playing the final track of their unique blend of African pop. Thankfully it is an extended finale with guitar rhythms mixing with drums and the result is truly enchanting.

Jazzie B of Soul II Soul fame is indulging in some crowd pleasing at the Rizla Arena, playing Back To Life then a reggae mix of Sexual Healing, as well as classic house and hip hop. At one of the other smaller bar stages, The Frisky Bison Cocktail Bar, the Futureboogie DJs are luring more ravers to join in as they play an excellent house set, mixing in Inner City’s Big Fun along the way. Then mid-set the giant wooden zombie that has overseen the site all weekend starts moving and fireworks begin to shoot out of its head. The zombie then ignites and burns, eventually crumbling and falling to the ground.

As the flaming zombie goes up in smoke, David Byrne is on the Open Air Stage wondering where all the photographers and a big section of his audience had gone to. Cracking himself up, he comments that everyone is, “allowed to look over there, as long as they listen over here”. If people followed his advice it would have been a shame because it is the visual part of his act that made it.

Without doubt the Talking Heads songs he played, which include Once In A Lifetime, Road To Nowhere and Burning Down The House, get him his biggest reception, while much of his solo work was a little underwhelming. His quirks don’t quite overcome the MOR nature of some of his music. What makes it mesmerising though is the show that his dancers put on. The three of them cause havoc on the stage in a carefully and painstakingly choreographed show. With the entire band dressed in white and with the backing singers and Byrne himself joining in the well-constructed moves, it is brilliant, original and humorous. Tonight forms the last date of his long world tour; he’s had the opportunity to fine tune everything.

Audiovisual duo Hexstatic then take over immediately, playing Michael Jackson‘s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough and Thriller then Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock‘s It Takes Two as they mix sound and visuals. Clone gymnasts also take to the stage, followed by Capoeira dancing as film is used as part of and synchronised in time with the music.

The ever-amazing beatboxer Schlomo then comes on stage, creating house, techno, Billie Jean and Seven Nation Army purely with his voice. Hexstatic then play some of their own material including their ethnic collaboration with Coldcut, Timber, and the manic electro workout Bust. Monty Python visuals flash up on screen as hard techno plays before Daft Punk‘s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger rolls into a drum and bass remix and it’s all over. Big Chill co-founder Katrina Larkin makes a speech and so ends another year of the festival.

Or perhaps not, for there’s still fun to be had in a secluded location up the hill in the form of Stop The City where Mixmaster Morris is playing the most beautiful, chilled, melodic music in the fairy light laden woods. This is the Big Chill going back to its roots, roots that Morris understands all too well having been there during the early days when the Big Chill meant lazing about on mattresses in Islington’s Union Chapel listening to ambient music. Times have certainly changed over the past 15 years, with the festival seemingly moving further away from its roots with every passing year.

The Viva La Vida tent provides the grand finale for this year’s festival, where some very deep house, and disco is playing. The great music selection and party atmosphere finally come to a close with Michael Jackson‘s Off The Wall.

Perhaps it’s apt that a track from the shapeshifting King Of Pop should close a festival that is forever morphing and changing itself. This year proved to be another resounding success with the organisers’ attention to detail never wavering. There are also downsides too of course.

For the second year running, Sunday day tickets were available, creating an invasion of new faces and portable chairs which can feel intrusive. But the main issue with this year’s festival came in the form of the blue-shirted Customer Safety officers. Previous years have seen good-natured stewards manning the gates to and from the main site but, this year, stringent searches and frisking were carried out for alcohol every time anyone wanted to get back on to the main site. Not only did this cause huge crowds of people struggling to get through the gates to see artists on time, it took something away from the usually chilled atmosphere of the Big Chill.

Although it may evolve slightly every year, the Big Chill is still one of the UK’s friendliest festivals with a wildly varied line-up that has strength in depth and an atmosphere you simply won’t find at the majority of other festivals. Besides, how many other festivals this year can brag about enjoying three days of solid sunshine?

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