Day 3 of the Big Chill in the overcast yet dry fields of Eastnor Castle Deer Park brings the realisation that Norman Jay‘s traditional Sunday set has this year been brought forward to an earlier slot on the main stage. We rush down to catch the remnants of what is always a festival highlight but only make it in time to see the MBE finish up his set with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys‘ Empire State Of Mind.
Had we been up for Spencer Tunick‘s mass nude art installation at 7.30am (which sees masses of painted people still wandering the site) then it would not have been a problem! Seriously though, it is genuinely disappointing that such an established part of the festival, not to mention such a loyal servant as Jay, has been shunted down the bill like this.
Up the hill John Shuttleworth is playing to the rammed patch of grass in front of the Lazyland stage, another artist who should perhaps have received more prominent billing. At one point shouts, “Everybody on stage!” referring to last night’s mass M.I.A stage invasion, one of many times he sends ripples of belly-laughs through the crowd.
Back in the valley, Broken Bells take to the main stage. Made up of Gnarls Barkley‘s Danger Mouse and The Shins‘ James Mercer, the duo plays mellow psychedelia, flitting between tempos and moods. They throw in elements of Beach Boys-style harmonies to the psychedelic melting pot and the results prove to be melodic and uplifting.
We then head over the Revellers Stage to catch the funk, soul and blues of Terry Callier. His set is really chilled and soulful with the musicianship throughout the band clearly honed over decades. The only complaint is that the music would be better suited to the great outdoors rather than the marquee that had been used more successfully as the Club Tent in previous years.
Just outside the marquee is the Starburst area where seminal DJ, and the man who apparently taught Norman Cook to scratch, Greg Wilson is playing disco and funk. We decide to head back over to the main stage, however, to catch the end of Paloma Faith‘s vaudeville style set.
Her passion, quirky style and genuine charisma engages the audience who are more than happy to join in when she sparks a mass singalong for New York. She ends on a brilliantly delivered cover of Etta James‘ At Last.
Back over at the tiny Clash Stage, Mercury nominees Villagers are calming and enlivening in equal measure. With clever, superbly written lyrics and songs like the charging, exciting rabble-rouser Ship Of Promises, Conor J. O’Brien and his fellow bandmates must surely stand a good chance of bagging the prize?
A brief visit to the Paradiso tent sees a set from Bristol’s Appleblim banging and grinding away before breakbeats and atmospherics ease the mood briefly. We fancy something a little lighter though and where better to find refuge than in the Revellers Stage tent where the legendary Roy Ayers is playing his soulful jazz funk.
The 69-year-old plays amazing solos on the vibraphone as funk basslines and beats loop in the background, creating a loungey, soulful jazzy vibe. In spite of his advanced years, Ayers proves to be a formidable performer. Following an extended session of crowd-pleasing call and response he gently launches into Everybody Loves The Sunshine which provides another one of those goosebump-raising moments that the Big Chill seems to specialise in.
A recently founded tradition then takes place with a bonfire and firework display. The huge wooden tower with an egg on top that has stood all weekend goes up in flames as the crowd duly respond with oohs and aahs.
Following this distraction, Lily Allen kicks off with a light reggae version of Sun Is In The Sky. She then excuses the leggings and lumberjack shirt look she’s sporting but says, “This is called the Big Chill and I am pregnant,” to much screaming from the crowd.
Never one to avoid being outspoken, she stops after one song to explain that somebody has thrown a potato at her with ‘I love your penis’ written on it. “I must have confused this audience somehow,” she says. “I’m not Lady Gaga!” before backtracking then airing Fuck You. Allen is certainly a professional and entertaining performer, much better than four years ago when she performed at the Big Chill while basking in the Number 1 success of Smile.
There is also an element of playfulness that runs throughout the set with Back To The Start turned temporarily into a dubstep track. Allen even redeems herself for rhyming Tesco with al fresco by turning Smile into a rolling drum and bass track complete with a rap from Professor Green. It’s a brilliant turn of events. More dubstep then flows into perfect pop song, The Fear, before the encore sees Not Fair receiving the piano house treatment and brings to an end potentially Allen’s last live performance for some time.
On the hillside at Lazyland, Mixmaster Morris spins a selection of deep ambient, mellow electronica and anything else that moves mind, body or soul. Sbastien Tellier‘s La Ritournelle raises goosebumps and draws many to stand up and dance while others remain horizontal on the grass, wrapped in blankets, staring at the stars or drifting away to the music with their eyes shut.
Morris, who has been with the Big Chill virtually since day one, spins everything from hip hop to kitsch French sounds and even manages to squeeze in an acid classic. Anyone that wants to experience the festival’s roots need go no further than absorbing this rich, soulful mix of the electronic and the organic, the mellow and the abstract, the minimal and the emotional. As ever, the silver-clad DJ provides the perfect ending to the festival.
The crowd may have been significantly younger and drunker than previous years, graffiti tags may have been poorly sprayed all over the site and Norman Jay should have received better treatment and retained his usual slot. But these are minor issues when you consider that the Big Chill remains one of the most varied and musically broad-minded festivals in the UK.
People will complain that the festival has changed, and indeed it has, but perhaps the takeover by Festival Republic was the only way for the Big Chill to survive? Also, let’s not forget that the Big Chill started out as an ambient-focussed Sunday social in Islington’s Union Chapel and now it is a three-day festival attended by around 35,000 people.
The Big Chill has always been evolving, changing hands, increasing in size and shifting its musical perspective. But while it may have been diluted, this year’s festival retained a strong enough element of the unique soul and atmosphere that has always made it such an indispensable part of the festival calendar. Long may it continue.