The Big Chill 2009: Rated!

United Kingdom United Kingdom | 17 August 2009

Overall - 9/10

Despite its name, The Big Chill doesn’t have to be all about lying on the grass, blissfully listening to music that’s so relaxing that you can’t remember the importance of anything else. The festival covers all manner of musical genres as well as comedy, plenty of art, films, healing fields, food, shopping and the frequent need to avoid giant bubbles. There’s so much on offer at The Big Chill that it’s impossible to fit it all in, which is such an exciting prospect that no-one sleeps a wink on the first night. Or maybe it’s because they’re taking their badly dressed, paint splattered status a little too literally in their attempts to be prominently cast in the zombie film currently being shot for release in 2010.

Getting there and back - 9/10

The Big Chill are keen to encourage festival-goers to reduce their carbon footprint by encouraging lift sharing and public transport and have set up various deals to help this to happen. They also charge a green parking fee for anyone who does come by car so that they can fund free shuttle buses (including specialised zombie bus) from the nearest town for everyone else. In short, it’s well thought out and easy no matter how you decide to travel.

The site - 9/10

With the glorious Eastnor Castle as the campsite backdrop, the main arena is chockablock with funky installations, crackpot ideas and countless performance venues. One tiny stage lays at the bottom of a little hill below a big tree filled with hammocks, while at the other end of the festival, pink and mirrored water lilies float on a small lake by an enormous spiky-haired zombie nod to the Wicker Man. Music drifts out of another lake while punters use the stationary bikes to inadvertently power up the nearby messages which flash subliminally: ‘leave no trace.’ It’s these little details at the Big Chill that make it such a heartfelt festival, which still feels fresh despite being 15 years old.

Atmosphere - 9/10

It’s one of the friendliest festivals around and everyone is as determined as each other to relax and enjoy. With sunshine to smile in, hammocks to snooze in, grass to lay on, comics to laugh at, circus performances to reel at, cinema tents to watch films in and groovy, upbeat or relaxing music to accompany your mood, it’s no wonder that everyone leaves the festival decidedly chilled and determined to come again. Even the undead have generally claimed their lives back by the end of the weekend. The only mild downer is how zealous some of the security guards are, mistaking innocent festival buffoonery for potential criminal activity.


Shackleton - 8/10

The superb Shackleton doles out visual confusion ranging from weird to humorous and including moments of pornography and violence on the way. He draws you in with something funny like a fantastically well edited lightsaber dual then freaks the hell out of you with imagery of Hitler and a weird looking girl speaking at you in serious tones of German. It’s a very dark show at times, but damned good stuff.

Basement Jaxx - 9/10
This is where the super chilled pick up their pace and join in the frenzied grooving going on at the main stage. With colourful costume changes accompanying every song, Basement Jaxx know how to put on a fantastic show, adding hip backdrop visuals to match. The audience loves them and they love themselves as they belt out all their famous tracks as though they were brand new, tripling the crowd within the first few minutes.

Hafdis Huld - 8/10
Are all Icelandic women bonkers or is it just the popster versions? In between sweet wispy voiced pop songs about vampires and synchronized swimming, Hafdis Huld’s bubbly babbling makes everyone smilingly wonder what on earth happens inside her head. The music stands up in it’s own right but she capitalizes on her unassuming little girl image of long blonde plaits and knee length white socks, by telling us that she sells homemade penguins on her website, just in case we’re looking for something more.

Norman Jay - 8/10

Sunday afternoon and there’s not a cloud in the sky or a raindrop on the horizon. “I promised I’d bring the sunshine didn’t I?” Norman Jay, the Big Chill stalwart tells the huge sunburnt crowd who bop and groove in blissful appreciation of his efforts.

Andrew Bird - 9/10
It’s so easy to listen to Andrew Bird on a Sunday afternoon bathing in sunshine. Not only does he sing lovely songs over finger-picked guitar, but he weaves his beautiful whistling over the top, perfectly fitting the horizontal audience’s relaxed vibe. But the best part about his set is the stunning, heart tugging violin, which loops itself over and over, bringing the music to a whole new emotional level.


Sweet Billy Pilgrim - 6/10

His songs are a little worthy at times but are well written, using modes and instruments not often heard in your average songwriter’s repertoire. But the stage is a bit big for him at the moment and he may be banking on his moniker a little too much to explain his lack of professional confidence.  

Kathryn Williams - 6/10

Maybe it’s something with this stage, but when Kathryn Williams performs in the same place as Sweet Billy Pilgrim the next day, she tells us she is terrified. Her beautiful voice wavers a little on the first song but although it warms up fairly quickly, she’s not got the persona of the confident woman who sings on her CDs. She keeps reminding us how unsure she is, which rather than being endearing, makes the set a little uncomfortable.

Random events

A frozen cinema shoots out fake snow onto sundrenched passers-by near to a car boot sale selling bargain priced artwork. One item to be later auctioned off is a ‘car of doubt’ where we can express our innermost fears, such as the girl who writes ‘I doubt u heart me’ while her confused boyfriend watches on.

A huge white arrow points to a red spot declaring ‘you are here’, while the Eastnor Airways crew wander purposefully around the festival site pushing a trolley.

There’s also a strange racing game hat takes place between a group of children and some peculiar looking giant birds in dinner jackets.
By Kate Rose.

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