The Big Chill 2010
It's easy to see why The Big Chill fest is often dismissed by certain sectors of the cooler-than-thou music press: affluent wine-swigging thirtysomethings can be found perched on picnic blankets among the younger ravers, there's a distinct lack of attitude (the bad kind anyway) across the festival site, and a lot of people look like they've - God forbid! - showered at least once. However, those who think The Big Chill might be a little too relaxed for them are the ones missing out, as its boutique nature and arty leanings draw both an eclectic musical lineup and one of the friendliest crowds of festival-goers you could hope for. Set in the idyllic surroundings of the Malvern Hills in Hereford, my Big Chill experience followed not six weeks after Glastonbury and the best compliment I can give it is that it distils the magic of the god-daddy of fests into a compact little beaut - only without as much walking!
The first full day of music at the festival began in similar style to the day that preceded it, with over-consumption of cider and exploration of the site's various hidden pockets topping our list of priorities. Come mid-afternoon, I thought it probably best that I take advantage of the festival's impressive musical lineup and, y'know, see a band. Off to theDeer Park Stage it was then, where I was curious to witness Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions. They opened with my favourite song Around My Smile and, after having that particular personal spot hit, I could sit back in the hazy sunshine and enjoy a set of dreamy ballads from the ex-Mazzy Star frontwoman and her band.
After raiding the onsite Oxfam shop for some new festival clobber and sitting beside the lake with scrummy cocktails, the sunshine had faded and the time for some moody evening ambience had arrived. Again, the Deer Park Stage was my goal, despite the promise of burgeoning chamber-pop quintent The Miserable Rich up in Lazyland and a poppier indie fix from The Mystery Jets at the Clash Stage; the main attraction was Thom Yorke though, so my choice to stick to the main stage was one that most Chillers concurred with. Cutting a lone figure on stage without his Radiohead buds, any worries that he might not be able to fill it were, ahem, 'erased' with the title track from solo outing The Eraser; from this point on, the acoustic/electronic tightrope of his solo work was balanced well and some interesting choices in 'Head tracks (no Creep here) went over well, especially when The Reckoner reared its beautiful head and swiftly became the defining moment of my night. Massive Attack followed and drew a huge crowd but, despite an impressive lightshow and genuine crowdpleasers in the form of Teardrop, Angel and Unfinished Sympathy, the crown for atmospherics was already being worn backstage by Thom.
Unable to stick out the previous night's early morning promise of a Magnetic Man / Layo & Bushwacka double whammy (I am over 22 these days, you know), I would have woken relatively rested if it weren't for the familiar sting of festival hangover proving my own 'good morning sunshine'. Thankfully, the easygoing nature of the festival meant nothing of huge import was apparent until two in the afternoon, when the delectable Husky Rescue took to the Revellers Stage. Ironically, considering the stage's moniker, almost everyone gathered to witness the Finnish band were horizontal and so I could continue my rejuvenation process without any pesky standing up. Despite the casual nature of the assembled though, I'm sure many were revelling inside as the band brought their impeccably crafted, hushed electronic pop songs to life for an hour-plus set. The length meant much of the sleepy crowd did not stay put for the entirety of the show but evocative beat-inflected songs such as Sound of Love, Beautiful My Monster and the anthemic We Shall Burn Bright were captivating, and made even sweeter by lead singer Reeta's performance. Another nice bonus came when, following Hope and Thom playing my personal faves the day before, Husky's Hurricane swept by in all its beautiful devastation.
Feeling positively reignited, it was time for further drinks - no, I do not learn - gathered around the tent. Tempted was I by the promise of a late afternoon slot by Metronomy, I managed to drag one friend away with promises of cocktails and tribute act Fake Bush (guess who?!) on the way. Both the woman with the child in her eyes - or her pretender, anyway - and the final destination dance trio provided the expected jollies, despite the latter's light-bulbs-on-chest look falling flat in the middling sunshine. With Patrick Wolf following Radio Ladio though, the Saturday was quickly shaping up to be one of my most enjoyable days at a fest; sure enough, the flamboyant singer's set was a little gift to fans (of which there are fewer every year, considering the thin crowd) and nothing could stop me enjoying a mix of jubilant pop - Accident & Emergency - and folk ballads - The Bachelor - and that's including an impromptu wrestling match with a crazy lady who pinned me to the ground upon my request for a lighter. Don't worry though, she swiftly proceeded to compliment my eye colour and then dance with reckless abandon to The Magic Position with me. Ah, festivals...
Back at the Revellers Stage, punters were actually alert and vertical for an energetic turn from hip diva Kelis. The heavy dancefloor influence on her new album meant a real party atmosphere was apparent and every breakdown or euphoric high was met with the requisite response. Despite new tracks like Brave and 4th of July kicking off, the biggest reaction was reserved for old hits like Bossy, Good Stuff and Caught Out There, while an ingenious mashup of Milkshake and Madge's Holiday was THE talking point of the festival.
Of course, another buzz topic was Saturday's headline slot from M.I.A.. Since her last UK festival appearances, Maya Arulpragasam's combat pop has blown up thanks to a little song called Paper Planes. Having caught her at Birmingham's Custard Factory at a relatively intimate show in 2007, it was gratifying to see her command a stage of this size and prove that she's every inch the global superstar. Joined by a backing of MCs, freestyling dancers and knob-twiddlers, this singular force of nature copy-and-pasted a kaleidoscopic rush of sonic anthems from her three albums. It was sometimes an oddity of a set, with bonus tracks such as Illygirl receiving play over bamboo bangas like Sunshowers and Birdflu, but it was a non-stop party nonetheless, helped by some colourful vids accompanying on the big screens. Hook-driven singles like Bucky Done Gun and Boyz were crowd-pleasers, but the agit-funk of a rocking Born Free and bombastic Teqkilla really stood out. The mammoth stage rush during finale Paper Planes (two-hundred plus folk, apparently) soured it a little, especially considering I ended up in the front row having to help panicking young girls over the bar, but such a ramshackle climax is the kind of surprise you expect from a non-conforming artist like M.I.A. Top dollar.
Ouch. Following Saturday's adventures, that when compiled easily result in one of my favourite days ever spent listening to music in a field, I was too hungover and energy-starved to witness Morcheeba at the main stage so decided on a nap instead. To be fair, I expect they may have invoked the same reaction from me anyway. When I did eventually stumble over to the Deer Park stage around four in the afternoon, taking fragile sips of the stuff in the cup, it was to witness Broken Bells play one of their first UK festival appearances. As a fan of both The Shins and Danger Mouse's various exploits, the pleasant curio that is Broken Bells was the perfect way to ease myself into Sunday's musical smorgasbord. A blend of country, soul and beats, the music is hard to pinpoint but James Mercer's voice rings clear and it was fascinating to watch innovator Danger Mouse jump between drums, keys and other instruments, as the band played around him. Giving Up the Ghost was the obvious highlight, and I'm sure to revisit their album soon after catching them here. Some summery singalongs courtesy of The Magic Numbers provided a sound follow-up, especially as the rays were shining down more than at any other point during the weekend, but it's just a shame that their new material fell on deaf ears - apparently, everyone still just wants to hear Love Me Like You.
Later on, it was time to venture over to the Clash Stage for the first time. On the way, I took the time to check out Paloma Faith's latest enormo-hat and wacky ensemble but, as much as her burlesque kook appeals to me, her music really doesn't. Nope, for me it was some emotionally cracked folk from Irish laddy Conor O'Brien aka Villagers aka that band you'd never heard of until Mercury gave them a shout in this year's shortlist. The poetic quality of the music makes it a more than worthwhile listen and, having caught him supporting Fyfe Dangerfield back in January as a solo performer, it was interesting to see how the band dynamic worked as O'Brien was joined by other players on the tiny stage. With songs like album title track Becoming a Jackal a mark of true quality, Villagers certainly deserves to be in with a shout come early September. Previous Mercury nominee Fionn Regan succeeded O'Brien on the Clash Stage and, while rockier cuts from new album Shadow of An Empire got the devotees dancing down at the front, it was Regan's own wordy and emotive folk songs from debut The End of History, especially an encore performance of Be Good, Be Gone, that were embraced tightest by an appreciative crowd.
And so to our final headliner (only after witnessing a bizarre ritual where a giant egg was set on fire, inspiring a prettyful fireworks show) and perhaps this country's most prominent female popstar - except maybe for whatsername, that one who had malaria. It's Lily Allen, everybody! And she's pregnant, don't you know? It's not like she let us forget it, pausing after the eternally smile-inducing opener LDN to explain her choice in decidedly non-glam attire (lumberjack shirt and leggings); the story goes, she attempted to pack high heels but The Boyfriend put a stop to that seeing as baby Allen is in the oven and mommy Allen is a bit clumsy. It seems apt that Lily should have been rejoicing in her news with this particular festival crowd, seeing as 'good vibes' were prominent throughout the entire weekend, and the familiarity of the material made for a smiley happy finale to a great fest. The setlist was a mixture of subdued tracks and the expected upbeat hits a la Smile, with Lily herself taking it a little easier than in previous shows and letting Professor Green take up some of the slack when he appeared for an 'impromptu' performance of Just Be Good to Green. Allen's sharp tongue is still in place, as evidenced when a message to 'show us your dick' found its way on stage and her rebuttal referenced Lady Gaga (who else?). No ill feeling was meant though, and a farewell of The Fear and It's Not Fair was proof that there's still fire in the old mama bird yet. Don't be gone too long, Lil!
All that was left to experience was an exhausted trip back to the tent and one of the coldest nights of my life. But really? It was utterly worth it, as this was easily one of the best festivals I've attended and for so many reasons: fantastic people, great food, perfect setting and a diverse programme of things to see and do. However, this is The Music Fix of course, so my final words should concern the music schedule. From reading above, you would have already guessed it threw up some wonderful surprises and unique performances - and I only caught a slim number of bands. If you don't manage to get your paws on Glasto tickets next year, do yourself a favour and uncover the picnic basket from the depths of your shed. It's time to get your Chill on.