But at The Big Chill, context is all. At the festival's opening afternoon on Friday, dancing to the marvellously funky Fatback Band amid a rainbow-coalition audience whose racial heterogeneity felt like a joyous rebuke to narrow notions of nationality, it was easy to take a kind of hard-won pride in the moment (although the ageing funksters on stage could have as easily been playing an Essex disco, and perhaps would be later that night). After all, apart from popular music, what other institutions of British life have celebrated - tolerated, even - racial difference? Education? Football? Do me a favour. DJ sets by Norman Jay, Gilles Peterson, Daddy G and Rita Ray also contributed to this sense of ecumenicalism, for The Big Chill is a very broad church.
It's also a very big church. Now in it's tenth year, and the fourth at this beautiful Deer Park site beneath the Malvern Hills, the festival has grown and grown, with this year's sold-out capacity hitting 27,000, plus another 3,000 staff. Ironically, the larger size of the festival has resulted in people paying more attention to the music, instead of just sitting in a field reading the papers. On these glorious sun-filled afternoons, festival-goers strolled from one stage to another with an air of bucolic indolence. Then, when night fell, they got trashed.
On Sunday afternoon, the guitarist Robert Fripp (leader of King Crimson; prog-rock polymath, hubby to Toyah) played a low-key solo show in which his delicate washes of guitar atmospherics created, through the addition of digital effects, the sound of a full orchestra. Fripp was followed by a DJ-set by another relative old-stager, Jerry Dammers, who mixed Hammond-organ cheese, weird film soundtracks, cod-reggae and off-kilter jazz and classics. You couldn't help thinking that 25 years ago he did all this with his own compositions and a proper band, The Specials.
While Dammers may well have played something by The Swingle Singers, it was still a shock when The Swingles actually appeared. Looking rather like a winsome, post-G4 franchise of Ward Swingle's famous choir, they sang beautifully on a number of canonical classics before the human-beatbox noises, the robotic smiles and the version of "The Girl From Ipanema" made you want to mow them down with a machine gun.
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