The Big Chill 2008: Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Malvern

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Luke Traynor melts into the Malvern countryside as Leonard Cohen and friends provide at blissed out treat.


ACCORDING to one national broadsheet newspaper journalist previewing The Big Chill festival, this was a three-day meet up for old-time revellers who had already enjoyed their time in the sun.
It sounded very much like the lazy words of a hack penning a formulaic article from the mundane and comfortable confines of his London office.
Had the writer actually gone to the Herefordshire party, he might have come back with a wholly different opinion.
The Big Chill is an intriguing mix. During the day, the kids are out, the families with their big rugs, camping chairs and picnics. You know the sort.
They get their spec on the Main Stage field and they don’t shift from it all day.
Nothing wrong with that whatsoever.
Then there are the ravers. Those who are dancing in the club tent during the day, during the evening and cavorting around in front of a DJ at 4am the next morning.
Throw in some great comedy, recitals and poetry in the Words In Motion tent, some great old-time acts like The Buzzcocks and Leonard Cohen and you’ve got the most intriguing festival mix of the summer.
The make-up of the crowd is certainly noticeably older, but it makes for a better and frendlier atmosphere.
With 45,000 on site, there’s still room to quickly get to the stages you want to, without tiresome huge queues trudging from stage to stage.
On Friday lunchtime, after some folksy Spiro on the Castle Stage, the party really got under way as seasoned Radio 1 DJ Annie Nightingale tore it up in incredible fashion in the tightly packed Rizla arena.
It was pure hedonism under the hot afternoon sun and the day was bettered by another trip to the Club Tent where Alabama 3 were getting underway.
This was an unplugged set, and I was dubious that those cool American vibes could be translated from electro to a voice and acoustic guitar.
I couldn’t have been more wrong with a raging set fronted by Larry Love containing Woke Up This Morning, We Don’t Dance To Techno Anymore and Ain’t Gonna Go. To see the Club Tent screaming: “Whooooh, whoooh, that’s the sound of the police!” was something special.
Martha Wainwright‘s honed brand of strident guitar angst went down wonderfully at the time of the setting sun before Roisin Murphy (formerly of Moloko) unleashed her undefinable sexiness on the Main Stage as the rain started to fall.
Late on, The Orb drew a huge crowd to The Castle Stage and proffered a set heavily-influenced by Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld that sank us into a tranced-out oblivion before The Grid (remember them?) gave us a much welcome blast from the past with their hugely danceable 80s-house and techno.
Saturday was spent wandering between stages and listening to chilled sets from the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Portico Quartet, the Hot 8 Brass Band and Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li.
The evening truly kicked off in the early evening when The Mighty Boosh brought outrageous silliness to The Main Stage.
And Tom Middleton held onto that feel-good vibe by unleashing his set of Summer Classics with Candi Staton‘s You’ve Got The Love, Pump Up The Jam by Technotronic and S-Express spewed forth.
Cue hordes of 20 and 30 somethings basking in the golden era of dance music when tunes still mattered.
Deciding upon a headliner was tricky, but splitting our time between the souly sounds of Chicago underground dance legend Derrick Carter and Danish techno kingpins Trentmoeller sent us off into the night happy enough.
Onto Sunday – when the mind is willing, but the body begins to protest – a loyal following crowded at The Castle Stage for a fantastically funny set from John Shuttleworth, all slicked back hair and brown tweed jacket.
Tracks included Austin Ambassador Y Reg, I Can’t Go Back To Savoury Now and I’m A Serial Cereal Eater. Sheer genius.
Asian Dub Foundation were a massive draw in the club tent and their volatile breakbeats pushed hundreds of arms aloft.
The Buzzcocks cranked up the volume with an intense 50-minute set of four-minute power punk tracks before Leonard Cohen offered a completely different experience on the Main Stage.
The 74-year-old Canadian held the crowd in the palm of his hand with his chocolately bass voice reeling in the most dubious of listeners.
Bird On A Wire was one of the highlights and he finished with an emotional statement: “Friends, thank you for sharing this wonderful night with me.”
It was emotional stuff.
All that was left was to watch a huge Wicker Man being burnt alive on the banks of the stream and to dance from midnight until 4am to the sounds of Club de Fromage.
It was back to the days of handbag dancing, silly hairstyles and questionable chic as Van Halen, The Proclaimers, The Jackson 5 and The Prodigy were blasted out for delectation.
Randomly, it was a sports day theme with Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards hosting some athletic capers on stage.
So, at 3.30am, as the strange man dressed in tennis whites holding a wooden racquet shouted, ‘You’re the last people standing Big Chill!‘, we were so very proud.

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