What is going on with the weather? With the UK having suffered rain, storms and flooding for the past few months, Eastnor Castle Deer Park is again bathed in warm sunshine. There’s no better musical accompaniment than DJ Derek who plays his signature reggae and dub classics in the heaving Dub Shack as rum flows behind the bar to warm the crowd even further.
Selecting classics such as A Message To You Rudy, You Can Get It If You Really Want, The Harder They Come and a dub mix of Sexual Healing, the Bristolian septuagenarian doesn’t put a foot wrong, though Inner Circle‘s Sweat doesnt quite hit the spot.
Over on the Open Air Stage Seasick Steve serves up country and pure blues. The impressively-bearded Californian, whose cult following continues to expand, sings the blues about his dog before breaking into a song that sounds remarkably like Spirit In The Sky. Next up are the slightly more upbeat Go! Team.
Playing their usual, infectiously happy party tunes, singer Ninja can’t believe they’ve been invited to play such a sedate-sounding festival as the Big Chill: she obviously doesn’t know the multi-facetted nature of the festival. With American fifties and sixties visuals forming the fast-moving backdrop to a performance that is all about energy, passion and fun the set, which features strong-sounding fresh material, ends on the exuberant brilliance of Ladyflash. If anyone is new rave it’s this Brighton-based bunch as they do at least actually produce dance music, as Ninja’s Cossack dancing and Irish jigging at the end perhaps bears out.
Big Chill regulars Bonobo take to the Castle Stage with their stylish, jazz-infused tunes. Last year’s Days To Come album was a real coming of age and this performance is frontman Simon Green and his assembled band’s most accomplished to date. Vocalist Bajka sings all tracks in her distinctive style, including the usually Fink-led If You Stayed Over. The music has movement and drive above and beyond any restrictive notion of chill out: this is the sound of an artist maturing and hitting his peak.
One of the great things about the Big Chill is it never feels overcrowded and you can always find some space to flail your limbs, even when you’re eye-to-eye with the artist. A fairly small crowd get down to Black Devil‘s obscure, recently rediscovered seventies disco gems which are brought to us by creator Bernard Fevre’s laptop and a live vocalist. Rephlex geeks, disco freaks and, erm, Scooby Doo get down to the spaced out grooves in the Club Tent for what is one of the highlights of the festival. This is brilliant and, in spite of its 30 years, still sounds fresh. Wider exposure on its original release would surely have resulted in Kraftwerk-style worship from a loyal legion of followers.
A huge audience gather at the Open Air Stage for Hexstatic who begin with some old school style hiphop, complete with live rapping. They drop in a mix of House Of Pain‘s Jump Around then move on to some maverick material form their own When Robots Go Bad! album including the barmy retro electro mayhem of Bust. Renowned for their ability to mix up many different styles as well as the visuals they themselves create, the audio and video combine to form an impressive set.
The Sanctuary Stage is usually set aside for the more sedate artists but John Hopkins only adheres to this policy intermittently. Electronica with drive, melody and direction, this is machine music with a soul that puts smiles on faces and moves people both physically and emotionally.
Following another Big Chill moment – I’m sure you’ve never seen a bar with an orderly single-file queue before – it’s back to the main stage to catch the versatile Tom Middleton. Showcasing his new ambient outing, Lifetracks, there are breakbeats, mellow washes and an overall warmth. Anyone hoping for part two of his seminal Global Communication album, 76:14, that he co-produced with Mark Pritchard in the nineties may be disappointed but it’s strong and varied nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Ulrich Schnauss plays shoegaze and some of his own rich, densely-layered material from current album Goodbye during a mesmerising DJ set. The common thread is the absolute heartfelt warmth and emotional lushness within each and every track and it forms a fantastic end to a truly amazing day of music.
Surely day three can’t live up to these high standards?