The Big Chill, Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire
The relaxed vibe that pervades the Malverns charmed our man in the mosh pit
Sunday 15 August 2010
I'm not, I'll confess, a very "chilled" person.
A certain degree of permanent antagonism is inherent to the critical condition, even essential, and being around "chilled" people, paradoxically, sets me on edge and raises my hackles.
I feel my levels of anomie rising before I've even reached The Big Chill, when a barefooted twentysomething brays into his iPhone – in the Quiet Carriage – to his friends up ahead at the site, using phrases like "cool beans". Now in its 17th year, this is the British festival scene's first exclusively middle-class ghetto, but not the last: nowadays there's one happening somewhere, every weekend from May to September.
The concept of travelling across the country in order to relax makes no sense to me, but there's no question that by the time you've hiked from the insanely distant drop-off point, all you can do is flake out. The vibe here is all about bruschetta and smoothies rather than chips and lager, and the clientele are terribly nice people taking it easy rather than rowdy binge drinkers jumping in puddles of mud. I could barely be less in my element. Even the faux-handwritten font on Mr Scruff's Tea Shop makes me homicidal.
It isn't long, however, before a strange change comes over me. It only takes one jazz-folk-soul polymath and cult legend to soothe this savage's brow. Everyone reaches Terry Callier via a different route – for me, it was when someone with uncommonly good taste at BBC Sport played his swinging beauty "Ordinary Joe" over the credits after England's exit from yet another football tournament – but however you find him, his laid-back Latin grooves will make you glad you did. It's a fine line, however, and it's possible to take "chilling" too far: Roy Ayers, following Callier on the Revellers Stage, thinks he's in London.
The Magic Numbers are a revelation. The Stodart and Gannon brothers and sisters, with their timeless harmonic soft-rock, are so wonderful I watch them not once but twice, and whether it's the excerpts from the beautifully Prefab Sprouty new album The Runaway on the Deer Park Stage or the rendition of "Love's a Game" I persuade them to play in the VIP area afterwards, they make everything all right. The Magic Numbers are the world's loveliest band.
It's worth discovering some lesser-known acts, such as the Temperance Society, a Weimar/burlesque/ragtime jazz troupe with an evangelical preacher and a stripping chorister, or Katy Carr, with her ukulele breakbeat folk. Then there are the non-musical attractions, such as the Words in Motion tent, where you can hear the great Harry Shearer doing his Montgomery Burns voice and revealing that the cucumber down Derek Smalls' trousers was actually a courgette.
Shearer is rudely drowned out by the formidable lungs of Paloma Faith belting through the Korgis' "Everybody's Got to Learn Some Time". In her silk elbow gloves, leg-flashing purple-pink gown and oversized hair bow, Faith looks like Anthea Redfern circa 1975. A true showgirl at heart, her ditsy diva presence adds a much-needed dash of glamour, and her cover of Etta James's "At Last" shows she's more than just a well-stocked wardrobe. "I wanna see some more moshing!" she gamely calls out, although she does at least prompt an outbreak of arm-waving with the second-most singable song about New York this decade.
I'm enjoying Gregory Isaacs performing his classic "Night Nurse" when my eye is drawn to a strange object across the river. On top of a wooden tower glimmers a huge sparkling egg, reminiscent of the weird 1970s Anglo-Czech children's cartoon Ludwig. After dusk – but before the egregious Lily Allen, whose promised five-year hiatus cannot begin swiftly enough – Ludwig suddenly splits open, erupts into a firework display, then bursts into flames. Equally unpredictably, I realise I'm actually smiling.
Maybe I've learnt a lesson. Maybe I just need to chill.
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