Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Big Chill 2005, Day 3 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire

7 August 2005

Desert conditions intensify as an icy cold night is followed by the searing heat of the morning. It does mean we are forced out of the tent early which is a blessing as it means we can make even more of the third and final day of the festival. The sun has his hat on, as does Norman Jay MBE as he plays a selection of northern soul, dirty disco and funky house. His Teenage Kicks tribute to the late John Peel reminds us that the great man is sadly absent from this year’s festival, just in case the lack of thundering gabba techno had been overlooked. He then moves on to more dance-oriented grooves like Precious Love and a stomping mix of Purple Haze with the crowd in the palm of his hand.

The Finlandia Bar plays host to All Back To Eva’s with Dr Steppings spinning Stevie Wonder‘s classic Superstition as cocktails flow by the jugload in the sweltering sun. But old tunes of a very different nature are soon being aired over on the Chill Stage as Sean Rowley and co. bring the concept of their cult London club Guilty Pleasures to a wider audience. We all have certain records we secretly love but would never dare admit to another living soul and today’s group therapy session involves The Proclaimers‘ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N Roses and Queen‘s Another One Bites The Dust – so no sign of the Crazy Frog thankfully. There are some crazy, lakeside ducks though, and it is here that we recline to enjoy Daddy G of Massive Attack‘s finely chilled DJ set. Starting with an excellent reggae version of Marvin Gaye‘s Sexual Healing, his laidback selection is awoken when the truly spin-tingling Unfinished Sympathy, is aired in its full fantastic glory: a moving, timeless track, not to mention Massive Attack‘s finest moment.

Shortly after, all 30,000 people seem to have descended on the Chill Stage to catch sight of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. This may seem like strange behaviour, until you discover they play hilarious, inventive cover versions of everything from Talking Heads‘ Psycho Killer to Should I Stay Or Should I Go to Chic‘s Le Freak, saturated with self-effacing humour. Words really cannot do justice to the sight and sound of a tuxedo-clad man with a ukelele performing Nirvana‘s Smells Like Teen Spirit. A cleverly layered medley then sees I Will Survive and Killing Me Softly performed simultaneously with a blast of Handel before the cries of “More!” from the huge and happy crowd are actually granted (a rare occurrence due to the tight schedule) with an encore of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie!

The Beat offer a return to normality of sorts with a pure ska knees-up featuring energetic, stage-lapping renditions of their hits including Tears Of A Clown and Mirror In The Bathroom. Meanwhile, Giles Peterson spins tune after tune, rarely letting the needle rest as he flicks through Uptown Top Ranking, A Message To You Rudy and countless other brief selections before ending with a spectacular Brazilian carnival-style number.

Bonobo‘s jazz-infused chill out may be warm and pleasant but now the sun has gone down the weather is anything but, so it seems a good time to hop over to the Club Tent to see Mr Fingers himself, Larry Heard in action. Heard serves up old school and deep house as expected but just quite how good it is, is staggering. The American mixes Joey Beltram‘s goosebump-raising Energy Flash into 1987 hit House Nation and lines up a selection that reminds everyone just how good dance music can be. In fact, his set proves so addictively entrancing it prevents us from leaving for the Open Air stage until Nitin Sawhney is well into the latter stages of his set. We arrive in the midst of the frenetic, vocal gymnastics of The Conference which amazes and enlivens the crowd as always before the classy soul of The Calling rounds off the night and, sadly, the festival.

The traditional Big Chill film finale, shot over the duration of the weekend, gets an airing as a montage of revellers, children and eccentrics jump out and over or simply kick back and relax in a couple of giant eggs, capturing the sense of warm-hearted, good-humoured fun that courses through the veins of the festival. Yet again organisers Pete Lawrence and Katrina Larkin have produced a festival so uniquely special that it can be confidently said all those here will be clambering to return in 12 months’ time. Not wanting it to be over, many go to the Sanctuary Tent to catch Mixmaster Morris, the walking personification of the Big Chill with his wildly eclectic, genre-oblivious approach before that too comes to a close at 3am.

The increased numbers may be noticeable at times but somehow the festival has retained its atmosphere of warmth and intimacy. The Big Chill forms the refreshing antithesis to the corporate soul-selling of say, the V festival and has a heart to it that will ensure it continues to grow organically through word of mouth, personal recommendations and ever-increasing media plaudits. It is a genuine wrench to leave the sun-drenched site on Monday afternoon, the past three days having provided the usual heady mix of superb music, beautiful scenery and life-affirming moments that will never be forgotten. It can only be described as sheer, unadulterated bliss. See you next year.

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