I've Got 99 Problems but the Nazi's Aint One...
Raising your expectations of a festival, or anything else for that matter, can sometimes backfire when it doesn't reach the heights of enjoyment that you originally thought it might. The Big Chill looked and sounded like a festival that I was going to enjoy, some good music, comedy and also interactive art installations. Plus it is all set on Deer Park, complete with multiple lakes, a castle overlooking the site, and this year would be host to a sports day on the Sunday. We were going to be working for a new company called DC Site Services parking cars, not the best work but it couldn't be that bad, could it?
Eastnor Castle lies a bit further east than Tewkesbury, the modern day Atlantis, and overlooks the Big Chill site, a large deer park in the shape of a sausage. Quite a long sausage. The Big Chill was all sold out, capacity is around 35000, and the weather looked as though it should stay reasonably dry for the weekend with only the occasional shower. However, we arrvied on Tuesday afternoon, quite early in the hope that we might be able to get an early shift working for DC. The advantage that this work would have is that we were getting paid, not much to be fair, but some cash is always good, especially as we were now half way through the season. Also with car parking they only require 50 per cent of their staff for Saturday and Sunday, so we were hoping to get a couple of days off to properly enjoy the festival. However, finding the DC headquarters was proving to be a tough call. I don't think I can overstate the disorganised nature of DC enough, it was something quite amazing for a company that operates at a variety of festivals throughout the summer. To begin with they were operating out of someone's tent, and then we found out there were no early shifts, so we'd arrived early for nothing. Eventually when we did have to register we had no clue where to go, no obvious HQ, and the only way we managed to find out was through some people we recognised from another festival. Then the decision over day and night shifts was all done on a first come first served basis, with no real organisation. I quickly came to the conclusion that DC stood for Disorganised Cowboys.
Shambles aside, the site at The Big Chill is beautiful, albeit a little thin. The bad thing is that the main North carpark is located a long way from the main camping grounds. Mind you, compared to Glastonbury it's nothing so it's not that bad, but I've gotten used to turning up early and parking right near where I'm camping! For the general public though I was having to tell people that it was a good ten minute walk to the nearest camping, longer if ou wanted to be closer to the arena. Thursday was our first day of parking, and it wasn't too bad on the whole as we were mainly just pointing people in the direction of some other stewards who were parking the cars as they had done it before. However, it's not rocket science and before long we were up in the firing line getting people to park their cars as close to each other as possible, whilst leaving a fire lane all the time. The hardest aspect of the job was stopping people from just driving off and parking where they liked. Unfortunately most people seem to leave their brains behind as soon as they get behind a wheel, and the amount of times people asked me if they could park a little closer got a little tiresome after a while. Most people were ok, but another tiresome comment was people who couldn't understand why the parking needs to be done properly and when we kept trying to tell them just responded with : "Just chill out man, it's supposed to be the Big Chill." Jog On.
So ou first 12 hour shift was not bad, but we ended up finishing over half an hour late as our cover didn't turn up on time, I can't say I was surprised at all, in fact I was just glad that they turned up full stop. One problem was that we wanted to work on the Friday too, but when we got back they said all the Friday shifts had been taken, all because we were late because they were late relieving us. Not impressed at all, Amy and me managed to arrange to turn up at midday in the hope that they might need some extra people. So after getting a early night we turned up again on the Friday lunchtime and were lucky enough to get a shift, which would mean another 50 quid in cash so see us through the festival season a little longer. It was another day of repetition, but we just about managed to survive the same old questions. The end of shift saw us being moved to a different carpark, in the East, and when we arrived it was a scene of carnage. Triple parked cars, car alarms going off, the works. I felt sorry for anyone turning up around midnight on the Friday as it was chaos of the highest order. Thankfully we were done, and after picking up our money we relaxed in the knowledge that we could enjoy the rest of weekend with no more work planned.
Saturday turned out nice and fine, and we went for a good stroll around the site getting to take in the sights for the first time. One of the good aspects of The Big Chill is the artistic elements to the festival as they have art installations at various points on site. They try to encourage the public to get involved with the festival instead being passive in order to get more out of the experience. There's a couple of pianos dotted around the site, one is sat on top of the hill overlooking the lakes and the arena. It's often around these places that you have the most fun, and one of the installations on the hill was the Angry House, by David Bickerstaff. Imagine your Dad's old allotment shed getting covered in radioactive goo and mutating. This would be the result, as it's a house that as you approach begins to get angry, the doors bang and it generally doesn't sound impressed. It's a bit like that spooky shed in Lost where Jakob lives. At night time over the hill there the Fake Moon, a large helium balloon that slowly travels across the night sky mimicating lunar activity. There's also an arts trail with a variety of different art installations, which was only accesible after 10pm. Fashion also gets a look in here, with an ethical fashion show, as well as the chance to dress up and take part in regular shows throughout the day. One mistake the organisers did make was not ordering enough programmes on lanyards, which meant having to carry around an A4 programme the whole time which was quite annoying. The programmes themselves were being sold across site by Big Issue vendors, and a nice touch was the organisers letting street buskers perform on stage at certain points during the day.
It was something of a shame having to work on the Friday, the money was always handy though, and I only missed out on two acts that I wanted to see: Roots Manuva (who I've seen before), and Thievery Corporation (a little more gutted at missing this). However, there was plenty else left to see and we watched some of The Irresistible Force on the open air stage, who had some really stunning AV work on the big screens as well as some great electronic music. The were followed by Shoreline, who probably fall into the category nu-folk, and we watched a little of this before taking a walk over to the Comedy Tent in anticipation of Bill Bailey. We wanted to get there early so we would actually get in the tent and turned up over an hour before he was due to go onstage only to realise that it was already full. There were hundreds of people outside desperate to get in, and security had to erect a fence to stop people from overcrowding the venue. It was a big error from the organisers putting Bill on such a small stage, The Mighty Boosh warranted a spot on the main stage, and Bill Bailey would have too. Unable to get inside we listened from on the grass, and fortunately we were sat next to the Big Chill Radio which was broadcasting the whole show. Mr Bailey was brilliant as usual with a great range of jokes and songs. He started by talking about Jay Z's performance at Glastonbury and how he covered Wonderwall by Oasis. This mixing of British music was something that Bill commented on and he proceeded to give his own interpretation of a hip hop version of the Dad's Army theme tune. Worth checking out on youtube if you have a funny bone! The rest of set was incredibly funn and he proved to be a resounding success and despite not getting inside, it was well worth turning up to listen to.
After Bill Bailey and some cider we went to check out a great act called the Hot 8 Brass Band from New Orleans. Playing on the open air stage these guys got plenty of people grooving in the late afternoon sun with a great mix of jazzy brass, and finishing with a superb cover of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing. Probably one of the most talked about acts of the weekend was The Mighty Boosh, everyone I spoke to was going to watch them, and we were no exception. After getting some free food from the crew catering we walked back down the hill to the arena and it was already looking pretty busy.
They didn't disappoint, despite being quite clearly inebriated, and it was a funny set with some very amusing songs. Everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy it, including the people in Cheetah costumes right at the front. In fact the cheetahs were part of the walking entertainment as apparenty last year there were lots of zebras, and this year they brought in the cheetah's to cull them. It was quite funny watching the people dressed up in cheetah costumes stalking people on stilts dressed as zebras! After The Might Boosh we wandered for a while, checking out a DJ set from Coldcut for a bit before walking back over the main stage to watch Plaid who were going to be performing at one point with Random Dance, choereographed by Wayne McGregor. Their set was really good, and it culminated in a brilliant finale when the dancers came on stage, all dressed in white. They took the phrase "busting some shapes" to another level with an amazing performance that seemed to last forever. Dazzingly white, it was a mesmerising finish to a fantastic set, and we both left the stage feelig like we had seen a unique perfromance. A short stroll took us over to the Castle Stage where we watched the end of an African Tribute to James Brown, that included Pee Wee Ellis, James Brown's saxophonist. Although we only watched the end of the set, it looked like it had been a great show. There was a collection of African musicians on-stage playing a variety of instruments and everyone was having a good time. The night was finished up with some classic Mr Scruff pulling out a gret DJ set, and at one point I bumped into Lucy who worked in the Foredeck on Scilly, which just goes to show that even at 35,000 this was a small festival.
Sunday wasn't as fine, but it was good enough despite the occaowersional light shower, and we made it up to the Enchanted Gardens for 1pm so that Amy could take part in a Hula Hoop workshop. It proved successful and she managed to learn some new moves and in the meantime I had a lovely blueberry smoothie. We even bumped into a couple of people from Glade, some of the miniture hat people that we had a laugh with and we had a catch up with them for a while before taking a walk down to the croquet lawn. Just across the lake there was a large wooden structure built by a company called the World Famous, and later that evening they were going have a big fireworks display and burn the whole thing.
It was definitely on our list of must sees for the evening, but up until then we didn't get up to a great deal. We spent a couple of hours watching some comedy, and then we went to the Castle Stage to watch the Peatbog Fairies. These were a perfect act for a showery Sunday, playing an energetic set of Irish folk music that kept everyone dancing, and Amy hula hooping! We recharged our batteries with a thali from the Thali cafe before watching the Buzzcocks, who played pretty much non stop until the end of their set. They put in a decent enough set, predictably finishing with Ever Fallen In Love, and they had most of the aging punks in the audience jumping around. As it started getting darker we went down to the lakes to watch the fireworks and the The World Famous set fire to their creation. There was plenty of anticpation surrounding the bonfire, and quite a crowd had gathered and they were not to be let down at all. We were sat a good a good distance away and we could still feel the instense heat coming across the pond. The falmes licked high up into the night and I can honestly say that I've never seen a fire like it. The fireworks that accomapanied the burning were brilliant as well, not too many high altitude ones, but plenty small ones that exploded into a corkscrew down to the earth.
Needing to cool off somewhat we walked make over to the Castle Stage to watch Mum (pronounced Moom), though it was strangely empty. I've been a fan of Mum for a while now and I was looking forward to seeing what they would be like live as I had the feeling they might be a little too chilled out, even for The Big Chill. Fortunately I had nothing to worry about and they put in a top draw performance with some amazing visuals. They're simialr to Sigur Ros in many ways, but this performance was much more dance orientated than anything done by Sigur Ros. The variety of instruments played onstage was something else, and the female vocalist has an amazing voice; pretty much what you come to expect from any Icelandic band. As we walked away I commented to Amy that I felt we'd just seen the best band of the weekend. I turned out to be wrong.
The Bays are a group who can be best described as a improvisational dance act who don't record studio albums. Every live show is different and it means that you get some fantastic live dance music. However, whilst this is interesting enough, they were taking things to a whole new level with a collaboration with the Heritage Orchestra. With a composer onstage, as well as conducter, Orchestra, drummer, bass player and DJ, this was always going to be something different. Luckily for those of us who had no idea what to expect everything got explained before they came on stage. In front of the musicians were a bank of LCD screens, the conductor had one too, and the composer would stand by the side of the stage and compose music for them to play in real time. This then got displayed on their screens, and the conductor brought them in time etc. All of this whilst some guys freestyled a load of live dance music behind them. It has to be one of the most original performances that I've ever seen and I was completely captivated throughout the entire set. They moved through a variety of dance genres, from ambient to jungle, and all the time we could see on the big screens the composers writing music, the conductor running over to chat to him to receive instructions before running back and relaying it to the orchestra. It was a shortish set, around 45 minutes, but I was completely stunned by it. Totally unique and an unbelievebale finish to the weekend.
The next day we were still talking about The Bays and The Heritage Orchestra, and if you ever see these guys playing near you, buy a ticket as you will not be disappointed. We drove towards Tewkesbury, thankfully not resembling Atlantis, really taken with The Big Chill, despite the chaotic work that we'd had to do. I felt that I had not seen all this festival had to offer, and I would recommend The Big Chill to anyone who likes a good variety of dance music, and some artistic culture as well. The following week we would be heading to Bloom, a relatively new fesitval taking place not far from where 2000trees was. One thing was for certain, it would be hard for it to beat The Big Chill.