Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Big Chill 2006, Day 3 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire

5 August 2006

After another pleasantly warm night the sun shines as always for DJ Norman Jay MBE’s afternoon set even though rain is forecast. Starting off slowly he plays a soulful cover version of The Beatles‘ Yesterday and then gradually builds up the tempo through reggae, hip hop and soul, before launching into David Bowie‘s Rebel Rebel and then spinning a superb drum and bass remix of Kanye West‘s Gold Digger.

Following this with a beefed up version of Inner City‘s Big Life and a stomping version of Purple Haze ensures general delerium from the crowd as inflatable footballs get batted to and fro. Jay always provides one of the festival highlights and this year is no different. He winds things down with Bob Marley‘s Redemption Song to rapturous applause and general adoration from the massed throng in front of him.

A mass exodus over to the Castle Stage then takes place to see Lily Allen play. Her set is brief but the huge crowd lap up every moment. She gets the giggles fittingly during the now ubiquitous Smile before launching into the over-the-top oompah of Alfie. Written about her brother, he gets shunted on stage before scurrying back off again and it is not hard to understand his reluctance: it must be hard when your sister is singing “stop being a twat” to you in front of 30,000 people. It is all good-humoured fun overall but Allen has far to go if comparisons with Mike Skinner are to ring true, her lyrics more street talk than urban poetry. That said, pop should always be fun and her set certainly succeeds on that level.

Ex-Squeeze vocalist Glenn Tilbrook then takes over with his band The Fluffers, playing some fresh solo material alongside many of his old group’s greatest hits including Pulling Mussels From A Shell and Tempted. He is a great performer with a strong, unique voice. We then skip over to the main stage to see blind Malian musicians Amadou and Mariam whose music combines African-influenced funk with singalong choruses and some electronic after-touches. It proves to be entertainingly effective though perhaps not entertaining in quite the same way as the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain who make what is becoming a traditional Eastnor appearance.

If they have slipped beneath your musical radar, the orchestra perform classical, pop and rock covers using just ukeleles to often hilarious effect. This time they cover Should I Stay Or Should I Go, Caroline by Status Quo, Grace Jones‘ Slave To The Rhythm, Psycho Killer, Anarchy In The UK and Smells Like Teen Spirit and, as usual, the crowd dance, sing and smile along from start to finish.

Over at the Club Tent, Giles Peterson warms things up nicely with his usual varied selection encompassing hip hop, Latin, and house along with a dash of Bugz In The Attic to end. We then head to the Finlandia Cocktail Bar to see the Armitage Shankz Soundsystem where the interestingly-named Shit Bob and friends take to the decks.

A band who have always taken a similar delight in being slightly silly are Bent and they play the Open Air stage as part of what is rumoured to be their farewell tour. Nail Tolliday and Simon Mills began producing excellent downtempo beauties laced with tongue-in-cheek humour before the country excursion that was their Ariels album. Tonight sees tracks from their forthcoming Intercept! Long-player performed by singer/songwriter Simon Lords alongside old favourites such as Private Road and Invisible Pedestrian. The new material sounds like a return to form with their set going down extremely well so let us hope those rumours of a split are unfounded.

The live performance by Robert Owens of his Coldcut collaboration Walk A Mile In My Shoes that was sadly lacking on Friday is provided amid a DJ set at the Fat Tuesday stage. Probably most famous for the classic I’ll Be Your Friend, Owens picks up the mic and unleashes one of the best-known voices in house music as Coldcut offer accompaniment on the turntables. The Ninja Tune bosses then launch into a DJ set with a remix of Lisa Stansfield‘s People Hold On which helped break their early career way back in 1989.

Another blast from the past comes courtesy of The Proclaimers. They play some fresh material but everyone is really waiting to hear the denim-clad Scotsmen sing their big hits and they duly oblige as I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) gets everyone from the crowd to burger van staff singing and dancing along.

With the main festival action drawing to a close we settle down to watch The Heritage Orchestra of Great Britain. Their jazzy, cinematic sound overwhelms as they welcome conductor and arranger Deodato to the stage for a rendition of Richard Strauss‘s Thus Spake Zarathustra, probably best known for its use in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Brazilian has worked with Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Kool and the Gang amongst others and he guides the orchestra through an extended funky jazz version of Steely Dan‘s Do It Again before ending on a rousing rendition of Les Fleur, featuring Carinna Andersson (who covered the Minnie Riperton track with 4hero) on vocals. The organisers Pete Lawrence and Katrina Larkin then come to the stage to say their usual thank you and goodbye but sadly there is no farewell film as has become a traditional part of the Big Chill.

There is still the Art Trail to explore though so off we went to see glowing, tree-suspended jellyfish, a deceptively eventless black and white film of a statue and, most impressively, Brian Eno‘s subtly evolving 77 Million Paintings. We then disappear to the 24 hour caf for some sustenance to see us through to the very end of the festival at 5am courtesy of the ambient eclecticism of Big Chill stalwart Mixmaster Morris.

Bleary-eyed we make our way back to the camp for the final time, hanging on in the bright warm sunshine the following morning for some carefree frisbee before bidding farewell to Eastnor Castle Deer Park and the Big Chill. Until next year that is. The swelling in numbers may have led to a slight change in atmosphere this year but overall the usual wide variety of music, the spectacular setting and high quantity of genuine goosebump-inducing moments mean that the Big Chill remains the UK’s most complete festival.

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