Jon Perks heads to the Malvern hills for a weekend at the Big Chill.
What did you get up to at the weekend? If you were at The Big Chill this year, it could have been anything from getting naked for artist Spencer Tunick to invading the stage during M.I.A.’s set to sewing stuffed birds or sliding out of a fruit flavour filled giant pyramid.
You might have had a tattoo at the Sailor Jerry Ink City, or made your own graffiti’d T-shirt at the Monkey Shoulder Tree House.
You might have even seen the odd band or three, but that’s not essential at this festival.
Arguably the Midlands’ answer to Glastonbury, The Big Chill has been going for 16 years now, but was bought out last year by Festival Republic, organisers of the Latitude and Reading festivals.
The new owners have tweaked the site and introduced a few new areas and attractions – some of which worked, others that didn’t.
Camp sites have been reorganised so there is less hiking up and down hills in the picturesque Eastnor Castle Deer Park, while the Castle Stage, which was always second to the main stage, had gone – replaced, in location at least, by the Clash Stage. It looked pokey and lacked the same impressive line-up as its predecessor.
Most of the big names somehow not on the main Deer Park Stage were now in the Revellers’ Stage – one of the big striped marquees ‘Uptown’.
Plan B, Kelis, Bebel Gilberto and Roy Ayers could all surely have been on the main stage line-up instead of the likes of Newton Faulkner and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, whose Friday night solo slot was a little too solo.
He looked lost on stage all by himself, and even a few Radiohead favourites failed to make it appeal to all but the die-hard followers. He did join Massive Attack for the climax of their moody and atmospheric set, however.
The music was as varied and interesting as ever – Big Chill is often more about stumbling upon artists and discovering new favourites than charging around to see as many mainstream bands as possible, as you might do at the likes of V or Reading.
As well as the live bands and artists, there was music of the DJ variety courtesy of a myriad top names – Tom Middleton, DJ Derek and the ever-present Norman Jay to name but three.
The latter seemed to have a few technical problems during his traditional Sunday lunchtime post-hangover slot – and didn’t sound that impressed at having to play an hour earlier than usual. His set was, nonetheless, as brilliant as ever and the perfect appetiser to the day’s proceedings.
Norman wasn’t the only one to have problems; Kelis had several microphone glitches; DJ Derek – a sixtysomething Bristolian playing ska and reggae on the Starburst stage (imagine a dozen stacks of Rubik’s Cube towers that light up, dotted around a section of field) had his own struggles, while the great Roy Ayers fiddled with his vibraphone at the start of his awesome 90 minute Sunday evening set. Now 69, the soul/jazz legend arguably stole the show/weekend with his vibrant band of virtuosos.
Other musical highlights were ‘Britain’s Eminem’ Plan B – a stylish show that was part Motown, part rap, with an incredible human beatbox opening that sent the packed tent into delirium – and Paloma Faith, the ostentatious former magician’s assistant.
Dressed, in her own words, as her favourite Quality Street, she showed allcomers just how to do it – have a tight band on the top of their game, a great voice and crowd-friendly numbers, including a couple of covers. She also had a great line in banter. Headliner Lily Allen was going to have a top job topping that.
Aside from the music, artist Spencer Tunick was there for one of his famous nude ‘installations’; assembling 1,000 or so volunteers at 7.30am on the Sunday morning, he had them covered in various colours of cosmetic paint – from a vibrant blue to jet black – to create a stunning visual in the middle of one of the fields.
As a thank-you, each volunteer – that included a few children, a man in a wheelchair and heavily pregnant woman – will receive a print from the shoot. One such print from a previous piece was auctioned in Switzerland for about £4,500 – so a nice keepsake.
Other creative attractions in the Enchanted Garden included the Craft Work tent – a workshop by Selvedge magazine and Tatty Devine where festival-goers could sew and stuff their own fabric birds to be hung up on the nearby tree. A most relaxing way to pass an hour or so.
Nearby at the Monkey Shoulder (whisky) Tree House, spray artists the Graffiti Kings were a popular draw; queue up and you could create your own unique free T-shirt – a novel idea, and generous one too. The Mai Tais were wonderful too.
Havaianas had also come up with a clever idea; a designer footwear bar, where for £10 and your old shoes you could create your own uniquely styled flip-flops in all manner of colour combinations.
And the pyramid? That was fruit artists Bompas and Parr’s Ziggurat of Flavour. A black and white wooden pyramid high up on the hill, visitors passed through the dark interior, through a vapour of orange juice before exiting down a pretty steep slide with killer views of the festival. Quirky, popular and another great BC memory.
Whoever you were – whether cartoonist David Shrigley, actor Harry Shearer (Simpsons, Spinal Tap), Fonejacker’s Kayvan Novak, or any number of the folk who’d turned up in fancy dress (from shower caps and bathrobes to sailors to a hairy and butch Baywatch era Pam Anderson) – Big Chill 2010 couldn’t have failed to have left its mark.
And for some that might mean a random tattoo or some lingering patches of blue paint behind the ears...
Roll on next August.
In the meantime we’re working on anagrams of The Big Chill to beat this year’s rude offering from the wags who rearranged the white letters on the side of the hill. Let’s just say it was anatomical...