Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Big Chill Festival 2004, Day 3 @ Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire

1 August 2004

The blisteringly hot weather continues as we emerge from our sauna-like tent to get sunburnt and make our way to the rather-too-civilised-for-a-festival-but-welcome-all-the-same hot showers on the third and final day of The Big Chill Festival 2004. Norman Jay MBE spins some classic Motown followed by some old soul and then some house before finishing on the still fresh-sounding Strings Of Life: a tune that is always guaranteed a warm reception, just like festival hero Jay himself.

This is followed by some loopy disco and Miami Vice-style car chase electro complete with wacka wacka guitar from Crazy Penis. They then play their excellent chunky disco version of Inner City‘s Good Life before the words, “We’ve just got time for one more tune… Oh we have to go,” are spoken yet again. This keeps on happening with bands having little idea what time they are meant to finish leaving both the crowd and the artists feeling dejected and hard done by.

But there is still much fun to be had as Rob Da Bank and his unhinged MC prove. The set starts with some hard dance before Da Bank’s friend inspires the crowd into a Greek line-dance in celebration of Greece’s Euro 2004 victory. He then decides to indulge in some impromptu back-flipping before We Are The Champions and Nine To Five are aired and he then breaks into song for a startlingly good rendition of Lionel Richie‘s cheesy pop classic, All Night Long.

It is then over to Senor Coconut And His Orchestra to maintain crowd contentment and he succeeds with his Latino cha-cha style covers of Sade‘s Smooth Operator, Kraftwerk‘s Tour de France and The Robots followed by The Doors‘ Riders On The Storm and some Jimi Hendrix. Surprisingly every track works and raises a smile.

We arrive at the club tent just in time to catch the (yet again) early ending of Gilles Peterson‘s DJ set of happy sounding drum and bass rhythms before Bugz In The Attic take to the stage with their light and airy jazzy breakbeats, but something a bit more challenging is needed. And who better to provide a challenge than enigmatic ex-KLF oddbod Jimmy Cauty? “Ancients Of Mumu” blasts out of the speakers as he cooks up a re-brewed soup of old material for 2004 and absolutely anything goes – a two second blast of Chariots of Fire, sounds of cars passing, horses galloping etc etc.

Million-pound-torching Cauty swigs his beer, fiddles with his laptop and stares blithely at the giant screen beside him which features footage of a train journey through urban city wastelands, but his loyal legion of followers do not seem to mind. While the music may be intriguing there is a 10th birthday party going on at the same time so off we go to celebrate The Big Chill’s transition from chapel-based ambient Sunday club to all-encompassing festival experience.

The countdown of Big Chill classics reflects the truly eclectic musical melting pot that is the event featuring as it does Bill Withers, Candi Staton, Boards Of Canada, Lambchop, Coldcut and The Beach Boys with number one going to the 4Hero remix of Nu Yorican Soul‘s I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun. Why they played Celine Dion, however, remains a mystery.

We are then treated to an emotional speech from Pete Lawrence, a nod from co-founder Katrina and the customary end of chill film shot during the festival. The grand finale is provided by the specially produced and typically hippy “We Are 10” (“and we are one”) collaboration.

The Big Chill may be pricey, stall holders may make the most of their captive customers by charging the earth, the toilets may reek and turn stomachs and bands may not always know when they are due to finish but this is also a festival featuring an amazingly diverse spread of music, film and VJ-ing over two stages and eight tents, an art trail, an on-site radio station and stunning scenery.

The Big Chill is a place where country walks, feeding ducks, playing frisbee and blowing bubbles are just as acceptable as dancing (naked or otherwise!), marriage proposals happen by bi-plane and rainbows appear to smile in the sky. A place where 20,000 people can get together and the atmosphere somehow remains intimate.

If it sounds idealistic, it is, but it is also real. As the festival ended, so did the sunshine. It was finally time to pack up our over-heated home and drag ourselves away from the idyllic oasis of Eastnor and back to the big smoke. Let us hope the 11th anniversary is as good as the 10th. In the meantime, just chill.

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