After the squalid indignities of Glastonbury, It felt like a bit of a homecoming to attend the Big Chill.
Fifteen years old next year, the festival is now firmly established in its niche in rural Herefordshire. Where The Big Chill succeeds is in its attention to detail.
Good food, beautiful surroundings, smiling, happy people and a first-rate musical bill. It’s a simple formula and it helps promote a sense of communal ownership in the event.
Nothing’s perfect of course, but the Big Chill has a policy of listening to feedback and implementing good suggestions.
It’s the music that concerns us here and the highlights were many.
Sunday night’s star was Leonard Cohen who was on superb form. His recent bout of touring has allowed the band to loosen up since the early dates in Manchester.
Although the show features the same songs, Cohen’s voice has transformed into a soulful burr that captivates from the first word.
Attracting the biggest crowd of the weekend, the sight of thousands of blissed out people raising their hands in supplication for the chorus of Hallelujah was an almost religious experience.
Sunday also saw a brilliantly ramshackle set from Jilted John, an earlier alter-ego of the beloved John Shuttleworth. His one-hit career from 1978 produced a single, Jilted John and an album, based on the trials of puberty.
There was something endearing about watching the 40-something John singing songs about the school disco. Despite frequently forgetting the words, the audience helped out by filling in the gaps.
One new song about Keira Knightley (Keira Knightley eat your dinner) signalled a possible comeback.
Also on Sunday, French singer Camille proved to be the year’s instant star.
Already popular at home, she’s now out to conquer the world.
Impossible to pigeon-hole, Camille’s astonishing voice could tackle everything from opera to gospel, to punk and torch-singing. Her sheer personality and energy will carry her through. Backed by a group of beat-boxers, her sound often strayed into pure avant garde territory but was never less than compelling.
She makes Amy Winehouse seem like Hilda Ogden.
Friday night was about nostalgia with The Orb and The Grid reminding us why ambient house was once such a big deal, while the Thievery Corporation played a solid set of ethno-tinged dance dub on the main stage.
Saturday’s treats fell in the middle of the afternoon with Rachel Unthank and the Winterset proving why they’re the biggest thing on the nu-folk scene. Their album has been nominated for the Mercury prize and it’s a dark and doomy affair. On an outdoor stage on a hot Sunday afternoon, it was perfect and the display of clog dancing at the end was just the icing on the cake.
Be sure to catch them at the Moseley Folk Festival at the end of the month.
These few highlights were just the tip of an iceberg. The only way to truly experience the Big Chill is to go there yourself.