Big Chill Festival, Eastnor Castle, Ledbury
Cool beats raise the temperature
Wednesday 12 August 2009
It was the final date of David Byrne's 11-month world tour and he was all set to give the Big Chill a Sunday finale to remember. Within a few songs though, the exodus began. A burning giant sculpture in the middle of a lake, complete with fireworks, had upstaged the Talking Heads icon.
"Look that way, but listen this way – we'll just provide a soundtrack," Byrne implored, clearly affronted that his stage show, and his plaintive vocals on top form, hadn't got everyone's attention. Even Talking Heads' hits "Once in a Lifetime" and "I Zimbra", which lit up a set made up of his more sober latest Brian Eno collaboration, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, failed to stem the thinning out of the crowd.
At 11am the same day, Eno's Music for Airports was drifting over the main arena at this truly lush festival setting; by the afternoon thousands were taking part in a mass karaoke recital of Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual". Chin-stroking music fans, formerly the Big Chill's staple, had been supplanted by cleverly crafted hedonism for all the family.
Without Orbital, there might well be no Big Chill, and it was a masterstroke coercing Phil and Paul Hartnoll to break a five-year hiatus to return. They more or less delivered a repeat of their infamous 1994 Glastonbury set with their trademark spectacles-cum-torches, acid bleepery, angelic vocal samples and dreamy classical textures sounding timeless, but also spruced up with bass squelches and heavier beats.
The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble's blend of Chicago horns and shout-and-response hip-hop drew an enthusiastic afternoon crowd. With a finale bringing in a live Chicago house beat and a dash of ska, the sun-baked masses came up with them.
Many reckoned Basement Jaxx were the highlight, their crazy cavalcade of ragga, house, soul-funk and punk accompanied by their own kind of bawdy hip-hop-style carnival. But there were few surprises for anyone who'd seen the Jaxx in the past few years.
I had been left swooning from an earlier set: Calexico's Arizona-Mexicana gothic spaghetti-Western sounds, complete with a version of the Clash's "Guns of Brixton", and the finale, their effervescent, triumphant version of Love's "Alone Again Or".
Spiritualized, though, provided our Big Chill moment. I've never been one for hymns, but when Jason Pierce and co opened their set with "Amazing Grace" and turned it into a psychedelic mêlée, this wretch almost felt saved.
The blind Malian couple Amadou & Mariam also blew us away with their fierce Afrobeat that took in disco, funk and searing, thrilling space-rock.
Others were convinced that the unbilled Lewis Floyd Henry was the ultimate highlight, a busking one-man band who played Stooges' songs by the lake and a 20-minute version of Free's "All Right Now" with a fuzzbox, tiny practice amp, toddler-sized drum kit and guitar solos played with his teeth.
It really didn't matter which big names played the Big Chill. It was all about the ambience, with quaking basslines to the fore.
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